Sunday, 26 January 2014
King of the Missing Links -Part2
The King of The Missing Links
or The Crystal Sceptre by Philip Verrill Mighels 1901 Part 2 of 3
CHAPTER XVI. TREACHERY AND A
THE labour at the lake-shore, day after day, somewhat reduced the party-feeling brewing between the chief and our respective followers. He was with us often, but quite as frequently went hunting in the jungle at the head of a dozen fighters.
Our practice with the bows had proceeded so well that we bagged a good deal of our game with the weapons, squirrels, various birds and hogs proving to be the most abundant and easy victims. Of the skin of one of the hogs so secured, I made myself a clumsy sort of quiver, which held my arrows to perfection. Of another I fashioned some thick but serviceable leggings, which afforded me a much-needed protection.
What with sundry interruptions, for needed labours about the camp, it was more than a week before we finally completed the burning and hacking off of the log by the lake. Then we began to roll it and push it toward the water, a task requiring more patience than ingenuity, for we had an abundance of muscle although I found it not always easy to direct this crude force to the best advantage. I set my fellows to work getting out rollers, so that if necessary, later on, I could use a lever and get the log in the water alone.
Having brought it near the edge, I was tempted to proceed with my original plan of digging it out to form a canoe, trusting that the trouble which threatened between our divided forces would merely smoulder, at the worst, for a time and that before it broke out dangerously I might be better prepared to make my explorations and my attempt to escape. Deciding to try this plan, I had the log lifted up on two rocks, one under each end, after which I had my Links dig me a quantity of stiff red clay, which we worked up with water and plastered thickly over the sides and ends of the log, leaving a wide place uncovered on the under side. We then made fire all along underneath, and by constantly digging away the portions that were charred, and then by burning and digging again, we made considerable progress with the work. The clay, of course, protected the parts of the boat so covered from being consumed. By plastering more of the clay inside of the sides and ends, as soon as the boat began to be hollowed out, we protected them also, and thereby directed the flames in such a manner that they burned deeper into the wood all the time, without endangering the portions which I desired to leave stout and thick.
It was hot work and hard, to get in under that boat and dig out ash and charcoal, but several of my loyal workers conceived a tireless enthusiasm for the task, although none could have guessed what I was fashioning, to save his life. Their industry and tractability reminded me always of the faithful work which dogs will perform for a master.
While the burning-out was being done, I hacked and worked away to make the bow and stern of the craft a bit more shapely than they, were after our crude log-cutting process. Also I formed a clumsy keel, of straight, slender saplings, which we fastened firmly in place by boring several holes straight through them and then hammering plugs into these and into corresponding holes made, at the cost of infinite pains, along what would be the bottom of the boat when we turned her over for launching.
This keel was finally finished, and by that time all along underneath we had burned and dug away a foot in depth of the wood, which meant that after the log—which was about three feet in diameter—was squared off to form the open top of the hull, the inside hollowing-out was only three or four inches deep, and we had still to dig it out fully eighteen inches more. Altogether I began to feel no little amount of pride in the general appearance and promise of the craft, hence I worked at it with feverish impetuosity.
My affairs were still at this stage when, one afternoon, I headed a large party of the Links on a hunt in the jungle to the east of the camp. It was a sultry day, peculiarly still, for we nearly always had a cooling breeze. Doubtless our usual quarry had crawled away to various places of concealment. Certainly we found nothing stirring, and after we had tramped unavailingly for more than an hour, I fancied I detected signs of uneasiness among our fellows.
The chief was along, closely followed by Grin, whose malicious face seemed particularly wicked in the shadows of the forest. When a cloud rolled sullenly across the face of the sun, the Links came to a halt, as if undecided what to do. The chief gave a sign and uttered a word conveying his intention of returning to the camp. At that moment we started a hog from his wallow near a small marsh, and calling out eagerly to all to follow and surround the animal, I darted ahead, bow in hand, excited by the prospect of a shot. My enthusiasm carried the main body of the Links, who joined me readily enough.
I noted as I went that the chief brought up the rear, in a sulky mood, while the fawning Grin pointed a finger at myself and laughed in a manner fit to make a fiend of a saint, such ridicule did he heap upon all who would suffer themselves to be led by this power-usurping stranger.
The hog eluded our vigilance completely. We arrived at the base of a mass of rock which towered up like a heap of ruined masonry. Thinking I could command a wider view from its top, while my fellows thrashed the undergrowth about its neighbourhood, to drive the hog from cover, I climbed laboriously up, intent on having a shot if possible.
No sooner was I fairly on the peak and moving about to get in sight of all the Links below, than I noted Grin come dashing out of a jungle, making a noise for all the world like the trumpeting of an elephant. Undoubtedly this sound must have been their name for the huge pachyderm, and it was equally certain that the cry was a warning which inspired the greatest terror, for without delaying a second for anything, the whole force ran madly away from the place, back along the way we had come.
I bawled out lustily, to halt them, and then to try to make them wait, but again Grin sounded the startling trumpet and not a Link—not even Fatty—turned or paused for all my shouting. I scrambled along the rocks to descend as rapidly as possible. It was not an easy task to regain the lower level; I was occupied several minutes by the task. I fell the last five feet and the vines wherein I landed held me back a time which became exasperatingly long.
At length I started away in pursuit of my friends, but not a sign of one could I see, not a Bound of one could I hear. Soon I began to doubt if I were on their trail. However, I felt that I knew my way as well without as with them, and therefore made what speed I could to overtake the band.
Presently I paused to see if they had gone through the vines in the path I was attempting to follow. A low sound came from the distance; with amazing suddenness the forest began to grow dark and oppressive. I fancied for a second the sound was made by the elephant. This theory was abandoned a moment later, for an echo of the rumble proclaimed the noise as thunder. Like a flash, the thought came in my brain that there was no elephant—that Grin had purposely given his cry, knowing well what a terror and consequent flight would ensue, with the deliberate purpose of leaving me abandoned in the jungle. I remembered the uneasy feeling which had been manifested by all the Links; they had doubtless been aware that a storm was approaching.
Intent upon defeating this scheme of treachery, and reviling the whole Link nation for cowards of the most consummate type, I stumbled on, through the gathering gloom and through the vines that tripped my feet, growing a trifle anxious about the approaching shower.
Almost before I had gone a hundred yards, the sky was a sea of tempest and driving clouds of the blackest hue. Gusts of heavy, hot wind shook the tops of the trees and crashed through the creepers, swaying them roughly where they hung. The darkness of night descended like a mist of ink. I floundered forward and fell. A flash of lightning and a crash of thunder seemed to rip the very firmament in twain. I was blinded and utterly confused. I ran ahead, only to find myself confronted by an impenetrable fabric of vines and creepers. This I strove to go around, but it seemed to hedge me nearly all about. In desperation I hastened through the only opening I could find. This appeared to lead me into a trail, along which I ran.
Again a brain-scorching glare of lightning threw everything into weird relief, the trees like living creatures which struggled in the mesh of creepers, writhing like snakes, in the bluster of wind. Then a lesser illumination, when I had torn my way along for some distance, cut out of the ebon depths the great mass of rock I had climbed such a short time before. I reeled backward—it seemed preposterous—some enormity of fate—it could not mean that I was lost—no, no—I would turn about—I knew the way—I should reach the camp in an hour. What a child I was to be so confused and alarmed by a storm!
Again I started. The flashes and the deafening peals of thunder increased. In five more minutes I stood still, confused, for the fearsome play of lightning illuminated the jungle clearly and it looked all wrong—all unfamiliar about me—and all deadly thick. I must hasten back to the pile of rocks, I thought, in a sort of despair. I could wait there—wait till the storm had passed, and then, when the sky became clear again of clouds, I could easily find my way to the camp.
For fifteen minutes I fought my way through the vines and plants. The flashes were more intense, and nearer than before, but of rocks or of anything familiar I saw not so much as a shadow.
"I'm lost!" I cried at last, "I'm lost!"
The confession burst from my lips as if to mock me. The stupendous meaning of the truth burst in upon me ruthlessly. I was lost—alone in this terrible jungle and night coming on apace! Every horror of my night in the tree, above that ghastly banquet of the tiger, came vividly back. Every thought of the snakes and the prowling beasts, in search of blood and meat, seemed to burn deeper into my brain with the blinding shimmer of lightning. I fled in one direction, then in another—then anywhere, at random.
It was foolish and weak to race hither and yon as I did in my semi-madness, but the dark jungle created an unspeakable dread in my brain; its terrors were magnified by my contemplation of one danger after another. I foresaw nothing but a dreadful death, which might come soon or late. To find the camp of my Links I felt would be quite impossible, for I knew absolutely nothing, by this, of one direction from another.
Wildly and thoughtlessly I kept on going. A crash of thunder now split open the clouds and let down a deluge of rain. It made no difference to me, any more than did the darkness. But while I was pushing senselessly ahead, I slipped on a patch of wetted clay and slid to an unseen edge, over which I shot, going down below like a sack of bolts. I struck on my feet, landing on something half soft. Instantly a furious growl of pain and rage made me leap away forward. A brilliant dance of lightning made the spot as bright as day—and I beheld two hideous ourang-outangs, which had just been in the act of crawling into a cave, and on the legs of one of which I had landed. They came quickly toward me, in a frenzy of anger.
I dashed away, along a well-beaten path that was made through the growth, the two brutes hotly pursuing. The darkness that followed the glare of light was of only a second's duration, so continuous had the electric display in the heavens become. The beasts were gaining upon me. Across a leaf-hidden log I pitched headlong. The ourangs were nearly upon me when I sprang again to my feet and raced away. Still they gained; and the noises they made chilled the blood in my veins, so diabolical was the sound. My breath grew short, my bow, which I had continued to hold in my hand, got caught for a second, yet I dared not let it drop, though it caused me the greatest of trouble.
Behind me now I could almost feel my infuriated foes. I dared to dart a glance across my shoulder. What a snap-shot picture it was, of awful forms—half erect and fearfully active,—a picture of monsters, suggestive of most inhuman humans, with fiery eyes, with hideous muzzles, massive, prognathous jaws,—with terrible open mouths which were filled with drooling fangs, and with black, leather-and-iron hands, now on the ground, now up and reaching, as if to clutch and drag me down!
I knew they would certainly overtake me unless I could do something desperate at once. I jerked out my knife—recently whetted on a stone. By the continuously fluttering lightning-shimmer, I chose a spot, ahead, which was comparatively clear. Then while my flesh fairly crept for my dread of being reached, I slacked off my speed a trifle and let the nearest ourang gain a yard.
Suddenly leaping aside, when I bounded to the selected clearing, I swung around with my arm extended, the knife gripped hard, and quickly aiming at the monster's throat, stabbed him with all my might. So great was the impact of the blow, increased by the brute's momentum, that his head was nearly slashed from his body. I saw it lop limberly over on his shoulder. Then the larger brute behind struck the falling body and both were toppled together in a heap.
Again like a madman I darted away.—In a few seconds on came the now doubly raging creature, behind. My breathing had become so painful that it seemed as if I could taste my own blood in my mouth. I dared not stop and I dared not attempt my trick a second time. A fearful note of wrath was in the sound which the gaining monster now began to utter. I knew he was sure he should catch me soon. Before me, abruptly, the growth was as thick as a hedge. I saw that I must change my course. Baffled, not knowing what else I could do, I pulled an arrow from my quiver and notched it on my bow-string as I ran. Then stopping I turned, drew it quickly and let it drive point blank at my on-rushing foe. It flew too low, for the string was wet and in no fit condition, and struck the beast in the fleshy part of the thigh.
Emitting a scream of agony, the brute snapped the shaft short off in the wound, with his hand. I took advantage of the opportunity, nearly winded as I was, and plunged desperately through a maze of vines. It caught me, but I tore away a long wire-like creeper that dragged behind for twenty feet. And the gnashing ourang, limping on an almost useless leg, came after me, relentlessly. It seemed like a nightmare—endless, although, like a terrible dream, it had not been of more than a few minutes duration from the start.
My bow-string had apparently stretched, and this effect I had increased when I shot; the weapon was therefore temporarily useless. Had I now been fresh, I believe I could have beaten the wounded brute in the race, but I was ready to sink from exhaustion. He got nearer and nearer. What to do next was more than I could tell.
Panting and fetching my breath by the most painful of efforts, I blundered heavily through a net-work of branches—and got my second sudden fall over a bank. This time I struck sitting down in a stream of water which, swollen by the rain, was a roaring torrent. It swept me downward, gasping and battling to keep my head above the surface.
Then with a splash the ourang-outang landed headlong in the flood. He also came rolling and tumbling along with the turbulent volume of water. But he clutched an overhanging limb and hauled himself out and up on the bank, as if he found the plunge exceedingly hateful. Whether he lost the scent, or whether he was convinced that I also had scrambled out of the stream, would be hard to determine. Busy as I was to keep from being drowned, or dashed to death on the rocks, I yet had a flash of relief and thankfulness to find myself freed of the terrible pursuer.
My bow, to which I had clung with such a desperation, was lost from my hand when I fell into the torrent. As I righted myself, a trifle, on my downward sweep, and tried to mark out a branch or a creeper to clutch, a terrific bolt of lightning struck a tree not a hundred feet below. As if a thousand cannon had burst, the din and crash of thunder fairly stunned me for a second where I was. I got a mental photograph of the tree flying apart in monster splinters, as if a charge of dynamite had rended it asunder; and then followed a total annihilation of all light and a downpour of rain which was simply overwhelming.
I was bowled downward helplessly, tossed through a drag of vines that were growing over the bed of the stream, and then, before I had half collected my senses—scattered as they were by the stroke of lightning,—I was shot through an agitated run-way and plunged below my depth in what I thought to be a large pool of water.
Almost immediately, as I began to swim, on arising to the surface, I pushed against a great piece of timber on the top of which I climbed without a moment's hesitation. Then came a flicker of lightning a mile away, illuminating all the scene, when I discovered that I was crouching on a large section of the very tree which the fearful lightning blast had shattered, and which was floating on the surface of the sheet of water which I had previously dubbed "My Lake."
CHAPTER XVII. SAURIANS AS FOES
AS if the culmination of the electric discharge in that particular quarter had come with the bolt which struck so near myself, there was almost a complete cessation of pyrotechnics which would have been visible from the rain-pelted lake. Distant thunder grumbled incessantly, but the gloom which descended over water and jungle was only rendered more intense by the fitful glow of light which trembled upward so far away.
Inasmuch as my log was steady, I sat down as comfortably as possible. Soaked through as I was, I paid no attention to the drenching shower which continued. It was warm enough, and while it could hardly be pleasant, when thus continued such a time, I felt as if it were less than trifling, after all I had recently undergone. Naturally enough the shore had no immediate attractions which would tend to make me wish to paddle in. From the sound of my stream, tumbling noisily into the lake, I concluded the log could not be drifting to any considerable extent. I would wait for the light to come before I moved.
One usually feels entitled to suppose that a thunder-shower is fleeting, here one minute and gone the next, but I was in for a disappointment. Though the wind had ceased to blow, the lowering clouds continued rank with rain and apparently as dense as lead. The darkness of the storm continued till the margin between day and night was passed. I realised at last that there would be no light till dawn.
"What shall I do?" I muttered aloud, but I knew as I spoke that I would sit all night on that floating log, wet, somewhat chilled and ravenously hungry, to say no word of being alone and lost.
The prospect was not exactly bright, but I felt so grateful for my miraculous escape, and so much more content to be on the water than alone again for a night in the jungle, that I entertained no fears for present or future. I tried to think of any duties I owed to myself, which I ought in-reason to perform, and then the obvious impossibility of doing anything at all made me smile.
It was still early evening when the rain ceased to fall. I laid out full length on the log, to see if I thought it safe as a position in which to sleep. It served to ease my joints directly, though I found it as a bed rather hard and lumpy. Sleep being about the last thing possible, I remained on my side, gazing absently at nothing, engaged in reviewing my own mental panorama of events. From time to time I dabbled my hand in the water, as I always had done when in a boat as a child. I was not so peaceful as this apparent mood of dalliance might imply, for my brain was painfully alert, both on the things already done since my memorable ballooning trip with Ford, and concerning what would happen on the morrow and the days, weeks and months to come.
In the midst of this business something gently "nosed" my fingers in the water. I jerked them away quickly enough to have startled anything alive out of all its wits, but nothing dived or swam away in alarm, so that after a minute I put my hand downward again and felt it come in contact with something which was touching against the log. Exultantly then I grasped this something and pulled it aboard.
It was simply my bow, which had floated down the stream, when I lost it by striking in the water, and which had drifted in the only current there was. In this current, of course, the log was also drifting, hence the coming together.
A feeling as if an old comrade had rejoined me made me joyous, as I held the weapon up to let it drip. Its return to my hand made me think of and feel for the arrows. Five were still in my quiver, and having been protected as they hung on my back, they were as good as ever, except for the wetness of the feathers. The string of the bow was flabby and useless. I held this friend in my hand for more than an hour, rubbing the wood with my palm till it felt as dry as an idol in a temple.
The night advanced. I sat down, lay down and then got up on my feet a dozen times. Once I fancied the log was drifting in toward the shore. With my hands I paddled it slowly away. The stars shone brilliantly at last, for the final cloud had disappeared from the sky. From the jungle issued sounds in plenty, repetitions of what I had heard before, but I thought myself secure and tried to catch a bit of sleep.
A night more long than that one on the lake I have never passed. It was made more interminable by the five-minute slumbers which came to my senses after midnight. I grew uncomfortably chilly. Two things happened before the morning finally dawned. The first was that weary nature asserted herself and I became lost in dreams of that horrible pair of ourang-outangs; the second was that a breeze sprang up and drifted my log where it listed.
I awoke with a start, for something struck the log such a blow that it lurched heavily and all but pitched me end-ways in the water. I sprang up, on my tossing craft, beholding myself less than quarter of a mile from the nearest shore and surrounded by the rings of a great ripple which something had evidently caused on the lake's surface.
It was morning and already warm. My bow string was not only dry, but it had shrunk to nearly its old condition. The stream of water down which I had tumbled was neither in sight nor hearing. I began slowly to realise the truth; I had drifted almost entirely across the lake. I scanned the scenery on every side. There were jungle-covered hills in front, the same, but more distant, behind me, and again the same toward the North, where the shore was two miles away. To the South I saw familiar slopes and features of the mountains. This meant that I was looking on the lake as I had when at work on the boat. Plainly my boat and "home" then, were northward a goodly distance.
Suddenly, while I was looking about, the maker of all the recent disturbance appeared—an alligator. He was not very large, but black, hideous and actively concerned about the log. He must have overlooked me entirely to have struck such a blow, and then doubtless he had dived for safety. Now as he jutted up darkly, dividing the waters which rolled off his revolting head, his two little eyes gleamed with a look which made me think of my weapons in a hurry.
He came toward me cautiously, circling slowly about. There was nothing to do but to get an arrow in readiness, and then to wait, but I shuddered to think of a fight with such a powerful monster. The creature, I am convinced, thought me a larger one of the monkeys on which his kind were fond of dining. He presently headed straight for the log. Knowing he would dive in a moment I shot at him quickly. The arrow struck him just beneath the eye. It broke and glanced from the tough wet skin, but a splinter actually struck in his eye-ball and ruined his sight on that side of his head. He sank like a thing of iron. A second later the end of the log went heaving up and I was thrown violently off into the lake.
The log came down with a force that beat up a fountain of spray. I was struck on the foot by the half-blinded reptile as I struggled to get back to my place and out of his way. He began furiously to lash the water as he rammed about in a circle. Rising to the surface like a small living island, he turned upon me again and came ahead with all his speed, making me think of a deadly torpedo.
There was no time for arrow or bow, and the latter was gone again in the bargain, but it took me only half a second to rip out that ever-needed knife. Over we went, more abruptly than before, the water churning and boiling up in foam about my ears. He had calculated poorly and now he closed his awful jaws upon the jagged end of the log, not a foot from my shoulder. I jabbed at him frantically—stabbing at his other eye which suddenly popped fairly out of its socket as I pried and gouged with the end of the blade.
The beast raised a snorting noise at this, which made me ill with fear. With the power of a whale and the ferocity of a shark he whipped the water into froth and snapped his jaws in every direction. He was head on, side on and tail on, alternately, feeling for me and grinding pieces out of the log whenever he found it. He clawed me once and knocked me clean over the log with his tail a moment later. I stabbed at him wildly, but with no effect, a dozen times. I was nearly drowned and the creature seemed to be everywhere at once.
Had he been able to see me, my life could not have been saved by any chance, in such a whirlpool of wrathful attacking. I was nearly blinded by the spray which flew from the waves. The log, which was pitching madly, with a force only second to the creature's own, arose abruptly from a plunge and, like a lever, pried the alligator fairly over on his back and threw me almost upon him.
I stabbed him twice in the belly, the last blow tearing a deep, wide hole, as he rolled to right himself, and then to my great astonishment he dived like a porpoise. I lost not a second in getting on top of the log. But the water grew calm and a deep red dye came floating up, to weave a strange device in the ripples.
Breathlessly I waited, for a time that seemed endless. Cautiously I drew in my bow, which was floating near. At last there came a small commotion fifteen feet away. The alligator rose, fought a second with the foe which is Death, and sank again from sight. I believed then that my knife had reached his heart.
Up to this moment I had taken not so much as a glance toward the shore. I did so now and discovered myself to be something like fifty yards off. The breeze had drifted me rapidly while the fight was being waged. Looking hurriedly about, I saw a rude sort of path, leading into the jungle from the shore, made through the growth, which all along was so thick that I could see no beach in either direction. At the same moment I beheld another huge alligator some distance away, up toward a jutting point of land.
It took me about an instant to decide that I had experienced all the alligator tactics I needed. Quietly pushing my bow downward, to sound the water's depth, I was surprised and glad to have it strike bottom at three feet only. Using it then to pole myself and the log forward, I headed for the trail on shore.
The alligator saw me before I had gone ten feet. He started, full steam ahead, to overhaul my craft. I worked like a maniac; the monster was closing up the gap between us with alarming rapidity. My raft was heavy and deep in the water. Nearer, nearer I drew to the shore, and terribly nearer came the fierce and hungry saurian.
I had twenty yards, fifteen, ten to make; the creature was hardly more than five away. In a second he would strike the log. Leaping madly into the water I dashed to the bank and bounded up a slippery way, less than six good feet from the creature's snout.
Knowing I could beat him on the land, I dashed along full speed. Forty feet up—Lord save me!—it seemed as if the woods were full of the monsters, several of which moved sluggishly as they heard me coming. These got no chance to be dangerous, for I ran the gauntlet between them almost before they were awake. In five minutes more I was clear of the marshy border of the lake and up on higher ground. Here a large tree, twined in a thousand folds of the creepers, offered an easy retreat. I climbed up among its branches and finding a natural seat, where my back was supported by the extra growth, sat down, weak and winded.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE ENEMY NEAR
IN fifteen minutes after I settled myself in the tree, in a position of comparative ease, I fell into a deep and dreamless slumber. I had not intended to give up in any such manner, but the warmth, the relief to my mind and my weariness, combined to send me off before I realised what I was doing.
It might have been a noise and it could have been pangs of hunger that awakened me finally. The hour was certainly that of noon, if not later. I felt hazy in my notions; it required no little blinking to get the webs from my eyes and brain. Then I heard voices. What was being said sounded to me like Link language.
I nearly cried out, thinking some of the tribe were near at hand, but fortunately I was still too lazy and exhausted to make such an effort. Then a movement attracted my gaze and I saw several Links, sure enough.
But they were black!
I was wide enough awake in a second. I crouched low and got a mass of leaves between these vengeful creatures and myself, for I knew it would be death, or worse, if once they clapped eyes upon my form. Peering furtively down, I saw that all of them were standing perfectly still, just as if they might have halted abruptly and remained in various poses of action. There were eight in all, every one of whom was looking intently at something across the little clearing.
Without moving my body I turned my head and discovered a small black bear, which was sleepily smelling about and moving through the grass and giant ferns. Wondering if presently the Links would dart upon the inoffensive animal and beat it to death with their clubs, I looked them over carefully. Except that they stood erect, they did certainly look like close relations of the savage ourangs. Their ears were large, foreheads low and receding, and jaws tremendously heavy and protuberant. Their noses were flat and broad, while their eyes, like those of my friendly Reds, were small, round, near together and nervously watchful. I was not at all gratified to see them here; I wondered if, being so near, they had discovered our settlement on the hill. Our settlement! Would I ever get back to my barbarous company and that "city" again, I wondered.
The bear shuffled off, with the utmost indifference to anything which might be near. Then I beheld those black Links, one of whom possessed the club with the nugget of gold on the end, do precisely what I had seen my Reds do, the day we were driven into the cave. They crept up to the tracks which bruin had left in the moist earth and kneeling, as if in adoration, each placed his forehead down where the bear had trod. Plainly the creature was held in great reverence and awe by all the family of Links, whatever their colour. This seemed to me a remarkable and wholly inexplicable thing.
Two of the fellows, I noted, had fruits and cocoa-nuts in their hands, having probably gathered them recently for the dinner of the party. They now parleyed a moment in monosyllables, with the others, the result being that all of the food was deposited on the ground, doubtless with the thought that the bear might return and be pleased to find something to eat. It was doubtless a primitive "sacred" offering. As silently as so many snakes, the fellows then withdrew, on the side just opposite to that in which their adored one had disappeared. I heard their voices die away in the jungle.
In order to be sure that I incurred no risk, I waited for fully fifteen minutes. The forest was particularly still. Slipping quietly down from my perch, at last, I possessed myself of those fruits in the twinkling of an eye, and devouring a part then and there, I ascended to my throne with all I could carry, and finished a meal, the relish of which surpasses all human imagination.
When I had done at last and that craving, inward system was fully gratified, I heaved a big sigh of content and gazed off listlessly into the ocean of endless verdure. A soft wind fanned lazily by; there was nothing to threaten my life; the tropics were at their loveliest. As naturally as it comes to a tired animal, sleep again came creeping across my senses. Without even moving into an easier position, I slept away the whole balmy afternoon.
I waked at last and found it was night. How drowsy it was, how blissful to sleep and sleep. My brain was too dull to receive an impression of alarm at my being alone in the jungle; I felt that I did not care what occurred. If anything wished to come and eat me up, it was all right, but I did wish they might not make me awake while the job was being done. Howls, death-screams, roars of the prowlers—all made a lullaby that soothed me more. I turned the other way about, heavily, and sank again into slumber.
CHAPTER XIX. ADORATION SCORNED
NOTHING was fresher nor keener than I when again the sun touched the tips of the trees. Asleep one second as soundly as a hibernating squirrel, I was as sharply awake the next as a ferret in a coop. I shook myself and stretched.
"Great Scott!" I exclaimed, "that was a nap!"
Swinging down from my berth I ate of the food which was still on the ground, where the bear had neglected it quite, and then taking my bearings as best I could, from memory of my imaginary map of the lake, I struck off through the jungle for "home."
Of the hours which it took me to force my way between tangles and around a marsh and over hills and down dales, to accomplish what I thought to be something like two miles on an air line, I have anything but pleasant recollections. That I met with many creatures, flocks of parrots and a troop of apes and monkeys; that I recoiled from a path in which a huge boa-constrictor was gliding, and that I cursed my luck repeatedly for ever having landed in such a place, is all a matter of small account, compared to the fact that I stood at last on a hill and saw our very camp. I came to it then in less than one more hour of hottest work and travel.
An excited yell announced my approach before I had walked ten feet on the slope of our hill. If the Links had been enthusiastic on the morning after my night with the tiger, they were crazy and flabbergasted all at once on this occasion. The whole population came tumbling and running down the slope. They were worse than a pack of great, rough dogs that nearly knock one endways with delight. They made me fairly wild, the idiotic things, for my patience was gone to the winds, after my struggle to win through the jungle, and besides, it was they who had plunged me into all the trouble. I batted them off with rare satisfaction and punched a couple of heads in the bargain, but the fools were more tickled than ever, though I would wager that some of them smarted.
They fell all over one another as they crowded me up the hill, but my temper rather rose than lowered, for I began to pile my accumulated grievances up against them. I wanted the whole outfit to understand that I thought them cowards, for running from a noise that day in the woods, and that I now owed nothing to any one in the tribe for my whole skin and presence once more in "My village."
When I arrived inside the walls I was made decidedly more angry to find that Grin had stolen the tiger-skull off my shelter to fasten it up on the one in which he slept at night, and also by the fact that every blessed arrow we owned had been shot away by the fellows, as a lot of inconsequent boys might have done, merely to see them fly and to meddle with the bows. These bows, by the way, were strewn about on the ground where everyone kicked them carelessly and walked on them with utter unconcern.
It took me about one minute to exhibit a bit of temper that scared the creatures so thoroughly that all but Fatty jumped smartly away and stood at a distance, eyeing me painfully, ready to fall dead, if such act could calm me down. Fatty had hastily and exultantly jerked the tiger relic off from Grin's abode and fetched it over to mine, after which the old idiot clung to me patiently through rain of blows and kicks, content to receive any amount of punishment, but wholly unwilling to leave the region of my feet. I believe he would have smiled affectionately up in my face and refused to run away if I had raised my knife to kill him on the spot.
"You Grin, there," I snorted in my wrath, "if ever I catch you in another of your beastly, treacherous tricks, I'll rip you in two and beat the pieces on a rock!"
The females, seeing in a moment that the fawner was the chief object of my anger, and cordially hating the fellow in the bargain, pinched him and struck him and bit him on the shoulders till he was constrained to run away to preserve his miserable hide. Had they killed him at once I confess I should have been delighted to witness the deed.
I moved about, with Fatty, in the fine large circle which the troubled but respectful Links maintained, while I drank some water and ate up a mango which was left in one of the baskets. This was evidently taken as a favourable sign, for immediately old and young, male and female made a great demonstration of procuring me anything and everything that Link or Link-governor could possibly desire to eat, in hopes of propitiating the demon of temper which they readily comprehended was raging within me.
CHAPTER XX. THE CHIEF IS PLEASED
MY INDIGNATION having produced a wholesome effect, I decided not to be placated readily by anything, and determined thereafter to maintain a certain strictness which should compel a greater respect. It is not entirely a human characteristic for a creature to grow too familiar when treated with easy-going indulgence, for I have often seen dogs and other animals impose on good nature with manners almost insolent.
For several days I treated the Links somewhat harshly, requiring much work on the boat and on more of the arrows. I encouraged also a species of fear which I found my conduct had created. It was high time, I knew, to dominate the creatures, unless I was willing that they should dominate me.
They were quick to see that I rarely even threatened physical violence, however, and this soon tended to give them a confidence about approaching my "sacred" person. I had been in hopes that my gruffness and show of impatience had so discouraged the albino female that she would keep her distance, for she did exhibit a becoming timidity for a time, but this gradually wore away. I was exceedingly annoyed to observe, not only that her disquieting symptoms were returning, but also that she manifested greater ardour than ever before. My efforts to appear disagreeable were producing an effect exactly the opposite of what I desired.
That trouble would be brewed again I felt was inevitable. The chief had somewhat manifested a spirit of doubt and alarm, in common with the others, when he found me aroused, but this he was daily attempting to overcome. I could see that the fire of jealousy, especially in regard to the manoeuvres of his fickle and silly mate was getting more assertive. It could only be a matter of time till his animal-rage would burst all bounds, and then—one or the other of us would get hurt, for I had early decided that my life was quite as important as his, and I therefore watched him narrowly, always.
The work on the boat and weapons was progressing, but I was all impatience to make things ready for my contemplated flight. In the midst of this state of affairs, the albino increased her advances, by bolder demonstrations. Exasperated beyond endurance, I seemed powerless to perform anything which should end the matter decisively. Upon coming from my shelter, one morning, after having been to the spring, I saw her down the hill, adoring my tracks.
She was on "all fours," worshipping, by placing her forehead on the ground where I had stepped, just as Reds and Blacks had done to the tracks of the bear. She was obviously in a state of ecstasy which was most insane. She had never before proceeded so far as this, to my knowledge. It made me boil with wrath. I should have liked to box her ears smartly. How alert and "secret" she was in her unseemly behaviour was demonstrated by the activity with which she made off when her chief appeared around the slope.
Two days later I was exceptionally provoked to find this female within a rod of my dug-out, indulging in more of this madness. Moreover she was being observed by the angry chief, although I was not aware of this at the moment. So disgusted and desperate did I feel that I stepped quickly to a rock, whereon my tortoise basin was standing, filled with water in which I had washed, and grabbing it up I jumped toward her and dashed the contents all over her head and body, while she was still upon the ground, adoring.
She was simply wild. A wet cat could not begin to be half so surprised, indignant and outraged as her ladyship became, instantly. She leaped to her feet, gasping, dripping, shuddering at the contact of all that water, her mouth wide open, her eyes afire with the light of sudden hatred and fury. Not even a "woman scorned" could have been so ready to shred my flesh from my bones. I thought for a second she would fly at my throat, in her passion, and gouge out my eyes, but the fiendish laughter of the chief and of ten or a dozen other females—who, of course, had seen the whole performance—turned her attention. This derision, however, made her face the more diabolical in its expressions of wrath.
Fortunately what the lady said to myself was wholly unintelligible, for I had mastered hardly as much as twenty of their "words" at the time. But I was left no room for doubt that the language was as "burning" as it was impetuous. I laughed with the others; indeed the whole thing struck me as being so comical that I was fairly doubled over with unrestrained merriment. This acted like oil on a blazing fire, and being no longer able to control herself at all, the drenched female dashed madly off to the edge of the woods, to vent her rage as best she could. The chief was immensely pleased.
In the immunity from the female's attentions and the consequent jealousy of her mate which I now enjoyed, I drove the work with hearty zest. The boat was all but finished, yet it needed digging out at least two inches more, and this I felt to be important, knowing how heavy was the log of which it was made. I had even fashioned a pair of oars, the blades of which were firmly lashed to the handles, but by then our tools of flint were almost entirely useless. Many had been lost and all had been more or less broken. The work actually ceased for lack of these necessary implements. I set my fellows to digging up the ground, in the hope of unearthing more of the pebbles which furnished the flint. In the forest, where the soil was damp, we found a white, efflorescent substance in great abundance, near the surface. This, from its peculiar taste and general appearance, I knew to be common saltpetre, doubtless of value to the commercial world, but of no account to me when I wanted flint. We tried the hillsides and various localities, but not one of the precious chalcedony pebbles could we find.
The suggestion occurred to me at once that we could go to the old camp and dig all we needed, but this presented difficulties which aroused my impatience. I desired to get away before additional complications could arise. As a matter of fact, I was watching Grin very closely for evidence of further duplicity, which I thoroughly expected to detect, soon or late. If once I could find the outlet of the lake, I thought, I would say goodbye to these half-animal beings without the slightest pang of regret, for they grated on me daily, more and more.
I determined to launch the boat as it was and begin my explorations. This work we undertook one sultry morning. The clay which I had plastered over the surface of the wood, where I had wished to protect it from the fire, was baked hard. We broke it away in pieces, and when it was off and the boat turned bottom downwards, I felt exceedingly proud of the work and gratified to find the craft in much better shape than I had thought to be possible.
It was placed on the rollers, after no little amount of pulling and hauling, and we were all engrossed with the preparations to shove her across the intervening beach to the water, when without the slightest warning there was a sudden rush and yelling about us, and we were almost instantly surrounded by a force of the savage black Links from the jungle.
CHAPTER XXI. WAR WITH THE BLACKS
WHOLLY UNPREPARED as we were for this attack, and with the only clubs we had lying about in the grass, it seemed as if we should be overwhelmed in a moment and killed where we stood. My fellows, however, were not only marvellously quick to regain their weapons, but they also set up a series of cries which alarmed the camp on the moment.
A score of fighters had been left in the settlement that morning, to prepare the skins of animals recently taken, and to point some arrows with what flints we had remaining. These now came running down the hill, not with the bows and arrows, as I had hoped they might, but with their usual weapons.
Before our reinforcements could arrive, the Blacks rushed in and killed two of my workers as if they had been a pair of helpless worms. We were in the midst of a mass of the black devils, about three to our one, making terrible sounds of triumphant yelling and snarling. Fortunately the chief was with us, and now his great crystal club retaliated on one of the foremost enemies and cleared a space for a moment, while I hurriedly pushed my fellows back to back in hollow-square order, and tried to let them know we must move all we could toward our hill, as we fought.
The Blacks were fiercely impetuous—mad to wipe us out. They dashed upon us with total lack of order, and therefore we beat down many before they killed one more of our number. Had my fellows not been used to obeying what I ordered, I could not have kept them formed together for a moment. It was only this condition of semi-order which saved us from total annihilation, for our mad antagonists rushed the fray with most inconsequent violence and force.
There was singular din of blows—clubs on flesh and clubs on clubs,—cries of rage and agony and shouted words—both of Linkish and English. It was a spectacle of wildest action, the quick, muscular Blacks, inconceivably savage, dancing, leaping about and hurling themselves upon us, their clubs fairly flaying the air, their faces fiendish with animal ferocity, teeth revealed and eyes darting fire of hatred, while we were equally wrought up, vicious and thirsty for blood, smashing them down, waging war of defense and war of vindictive aggression.
They were winning, crowding us too near together, beating our outside fighters to death and dragging them feet first into a melee of descending clubs, when our mates descended on the rear of the ones between ourselves and camp, and broke the cordon completely. They screamed with hideous delight as they bowled over a dozen of the foe, but over-confidence would have cost us every life—and the Lord only knows what after results—had my comrades not understood and obeyed my commands to fly, for we were still outnumbered by heavy odds. Pushing my Red fellows, guiding and endeavouring to retire them in order, I suddenly saw a club corning straight for my neck. I dodged, but got a scrape along the scalp and a thud on the shoulder, when I drove home my knife for the first time during the fight, and ripped it out from a three-cornered wound. Then we darted through the battered-down opening in the ring and ran as hard as we could drive for the camp.
Up the hill we surged with the Blacks swarming up behind us. We had gained fifty yards, owing doubtless to our perfect familiarity with the ground; nevertheless a pair of our wounded fell behind and were overtaken and beaten to a pulp at once. Through the gate in our wall we scrambled, and then I got my bow in hand at last and flew about frantically, shouting and urging my fellows to arm themselves with the others.
While only about twenty of us rushed back to the wall as archers, the foremost Blacks, outstripping their comrades, bounded through the opening, or over the wall, insane with the hoarded rage of former defeats, and ignorant of what they should find. The chief had halted just inside, with two of his mightiest fighters. They smashed down Link after Link that attempted to rush the gate. Then we with the bows arrived on the scene. The black demons in solid phalanx stormed the wall and came climbing up over its top.
"Now! Now!" I cried, "Shoot the pigs!"
It made me thrill to see those powerful fellows making crescents of the bows. My heart leaped exultantly to hear the twangs and to see the small but deadly shower of arrows suddenly pierce the air and sink in the scabbards of flesh. The very first flight toppled five of the creatures endways.
"Shoot! Pigs!" I shouted again, for these two words my Links comprehended.
More came running to join us with the bows. We spread out in something of a line. The air became thick with the hurtling arrows. Some struck the wall and some flew high, but we mowed down many a Black, dead or wounded, till the fierce attacking devils were appalled to see us and to see this mysterious work of slaughter.
They halted; the back-bone of their mad impulse was broken; they could not endure to advance in the face of fatalities about them, much less to carry the place, over the bodies of their fellows. Yet they were still more than we in numbers, and had they known of and adopted the bloody tactics which sacrifice many, in those heroic, irresistible charges by which men win a fearful battle, they would still have swept us off the hill to the forest beyond, for our meagre supply of arrows was nearly exhausted already.
Below the wall they rallied. The fellow who was armed with the gold-nugget club—which was dripping with gore—seemed to be in command. He flourished his terrible weapon and fired the Blacks with courage anew. They came for us, hot and eager to even up the score.
I saw the great ebon creature head their charge, and notching my last remaining arrow on my bowstring, I waited for him, in great excitement. They paid no attention to the gate, but crying out madly, swarmed up over the wall again as if nothing on earth could check their career. Those of my fighters who still had arrows shot with vengeance in every vibrating muscle. The Black who led, presented a splendid target, presently, though he was moving quickly. I let the shaft drive straight for his breast, but he was leaping downward at the second it arrived, and it struck him squarely in the top of the left shoulder, near the neck and just inside the collar-bone. It seemed for a second as if it had gone in half its length, but beyond stumbling forward a trifle when he landed, the fellow appeared to have received no harm.
I heard a cry of despair go up from the Blacks when they saw their leader struck, but I gave no heed to anything, so intent had I become on watching this active creature. I was so absorbed, indeed, that before I realised what was occurring, the fellow had bounded near enough to swing his club to slay me where I stood. Half falling backward to escape, I lost my footing. The club came swiftly through the air, my arm was knocked aside and the nugget thumped ponderously on my ribs and bowled me end over end.
It had all happened in a second. I was down and knew I was badly hurt before I could have winked. I thought the furious Black would rush upon me and batter in my head, for I could not have risen to save myself from anything. But the savage creature fell dead in his tracks for my arrow had found his heart and he had died even as he struck that powerful blow. Had he not been fatally hit, his blow would have slain me outright.
In the meantime, my fellows, having brought down three of the foe with arrows, had grabbed up their clubs again to beat in the heads of the Blacks who dared jump down in the field of death. Seeing their chief as he sank, without so much as the nicker of a movement, the remaining besiegers gave a yell of dismay and fled in a panic.
Our forces—savage and aggressive the moment the tables were turned—became the hunters instead of the hunted. They descended upon the flying Blacks, slaying all the wounded who hobbled in the rear of the wild retreat and all whom they overtook before the jungle received its defeated children back.
CHAPTER XXII. HOME JOYS AND TROUBLES
I MUST have swooned, for I knew no more of anything until I awoke, in a dazed condition, and found old Fatty bending down above me, while near at hand nearly all the beings of the tribe stood gazing on my prostrate form with expressions of grave concern.
Upon trying to arise I was so shot through with pain in my side and chest, that I felt things go dizzy directly. Then after a little I attempted to move to a more comfortable position. This was accomplished only at the cost of great agony. I found that my left arm was badly injured while all the upper portion of my body seemed quivering with pain. Never had I been so wounded in my life.
I asked for water, for the Links were but little better than so many faithful dogs, who could whine over my helpless carcass, but who had not the slightest idea of what to do to relieve my suffering. Never had muscular action caused me such pangs as I underwent upon trying to swallow.
The thump I had received, slightly back of the region of the heart, had come so near to being my pass to the world beyond that I believe another volt of power in the blow would have done the work. As it was, I refrained from crying out only by exerting my utmost will, when the chief and Fatty carried me bodily and laid me down on the skins in my shelter.
My consciousness went again as soon as my body touched the couch; yet I rallied soon and attempted to nod my recognition as the chief came back again, bearing the great gold-nugget club, which he leaned against the wall.
It became manifest early that if I survived the shock to my system and the fracture of at least one rib, which I felt sure had resulted from the blow, it must be through sheer good luck, backed by a hardy constitution, for of lotions, or bandages or skillful attendance there could be absolutely none.
That night I experienced the most excruciating torture it has ever been my lot to endure. Every beat of my heart was like the stab of a dagger, in feeling. Concussion, even that inflicted by a fist, has proved too much for the great throbbing organ of man full many a time. I thought of this afterward, but during that first twenty-four hours, I was utterly incapable of doing anything except living through the ordeal of pain.
All through the day that followed I lay there, feverish, yet too badly hurt to move on my bed. I ate nothing and drank water only, in single swallows. Fatty remained at my side as a mother might have done. Fifty times that day he ran to the spring for the fresh, cool water, as that which stood about in a shell for half an hour became too warm to be fit to drink. After a time he licked one of my burning hands, timidly, as if uncertain of how this ministration would be received. It felt cool and not at all disagreeable; I therefore made no motion to draw the member away. Presently the worried creature repeated the favour; and after he had done this humble office for both hands and wrists, I felt so soothed and refreshed that I fell asleep at last, and got a natural rest.
Day after day went by and I was still on my back, though I could see that improvement continued steadily. It was fully a week before I was able to move without suffering agonies, and for some time after that the pain in my ribs was exceedingly sharp. During all this time I was amply supplied by Fatty with fruits and with abominably cooked meats, for the females were neglecting all my former instructions, concerning the fire and the roasting and boiling of game.
As soon as I was able to sit up, propped against a rock, I worked a little every day at making arrows, and urged my most skillful assistants to do the same. These shafts could not be pointed, owing to our lack of flints, but we finished several hundred, as to all but the requisite heads. I was visited daily by all the tribe, except two individuals, Grin and the unforgiving Lady Albino. The little Links who had fled in uncertainty before, even up to the last, now began to make me more of a regular companion. They were near me, more or less, from dawn till dusk, capering about, sitting in groups in the sunlight, to watch me with ever-nervous eyes, and rolling over one another in rough, good-natured play.
The very smallest of these "children" were hairy little scamps most astoundingly like baby chimpanzees, except for their lighter colour. By the hour I watched them at their play and listened to their funny little words of talk. It was not an ordinary baby prattle, to be sure, but it made me think that all babies are very much alike. Their chief amusement consisted in making a noise, by striking any two objects together. The rarest things they did were crying and laughing.
There was one little chap who never rolled on his back with the others, never made a noise and rarely spoke. He was the only one that looked in my face with eyes that were human-like and steady. I fancied his quaint little face was wistful; it was certainly serious and therein widely different from those of all his companions. This little creature approached me most timidly and yet with a certain persistency that finally made me look about, in the morning, to see if he had come.
For several days he sat near my feet, over which, finally, he laid his little arm. Gradually then he worked nearer and nearer to my head, as I sat against the rock until at last he cuddled unobtrusively up against me and permitted my arm to close loosely about his little form. Thereafter this was his one particular place. Hour after hour he would nestle close in this, his nook, turning his questioning eyes to mine, now and again, and blinking as if he tried to think out the great inscrutable problem of what we are and why we came to partake of the mystery of life. How foolishly fond of this little creature I became, I shall not attempt to say.
This was a time of laziness for all the tribe. The Links were sun-lovers of the most ardent description. Secure on our hill, undriven by any task-master, provided with food in plenty, they basked for hours, lying flat on the back, and played exaggerated pranks, sometimes in a languid spirit of ease and sometimes with the greatest activity of movement. They appeared to know nothing of family ties, nor of sorrow for those whom they had been obliged to bury. They had no remorse, nor "pricks of conscience" for any acts ever performed, nor did they seem to have conceived of anything superior to themselves, except in a purely physical manner. Thus they realised nothing of an occult, spiritual power of control and nothing of mystery, either in life or death. They therefore had not the slightest fundamental suggestion of a religion, and worshipped nothing and feared nothing, save that which they could see and which they had discovered, in their animal capacity, to be dangerous to life or limb. They could be made to feel a certain sort of awe, but this was one slight degree only above that emotion which in an animal would excite the expression "the creature is cowed."
I had ample opportunity to become acquainted with the various traits of my friends, for I was something of an invalid for more than two weeks. I came to the conclusion that the Links were keener than I in every natural sense; that is, they could see things more quickly; they could hear that which escaped my duller ears; they could smell odours which failed to convey themselves to me; and they could "feel" dangers by a sort of unknown sense, or instinct, of which I would always remain in complete ignorance. They were highly organised in the natural attributes; they were powerful and active above any animal of their size I have ever seen; but when thought of as humans, they ranked with children who just fail to clutch the ideas of older people and whose efforts in manufacturing are crude and worthless.
When at last I began to walk about again, performing small labours, I still had an occasional dart of pain through my side, which made a feeling of illness spread all through my system. However, the weather was beautiful, the food simple and wholesome and the work soon began to limber me up.
Before I was quite myself again, I commenced to be exceedingly annoyed by the actions of Grin. Although I had been the recognised superior, if not the governor, of the tribe at the moment when I laid low the chief of the Blacks and completed our victory, yet my wound and subsequent weakness had rendered nearly everything nugatory. Inasmuch as my nearness to death had robbed me of the power by which I kept the Links in awe, many had assumed an irreverent air which became positive insolence on the part of the fawner.
Having allied himself with the resentful female albino, this creature was never neglectful of an opportunity to perform some sneaking bit of meanness. For a time I was too weak to resent these impositions, and therefore the creature grew bolder in the liberties which he dared to take. Thus my tiger skull had again disappeared, and I knew he had stolen it, although I had no means of proving the theft. One morning, however, I caught the scoundrel in the act of smashing my turtle-shell basin with a rock. His reason for doing this was two-fold. First, it had contained the water with which I had dampened the ardour of Madame Albino, and second, it was regarded by all as something uncanny out of which I drew a certain power as I washed my face and hands—an operation of which none of the tribe was ever guilty. Grin may have thought to deprive me of my source of strength.
This wanton destruction of my property made me exceedingly angry. Before he could leave the scene of his labour I rushed up and gave him a kick which was decidedly swift. It assisted him to rise with great alacrity. He turned with a snarl and threw himself upon me. A fight was on in less than a second. I had feared this collision for several weeks. It had come at a bad time for me, inasmuch as the creature was twice as strong as I, even when in my normal state, and now I was far from being restored to my former condition. We wrestled for a moment, the beast attempting to bite, scratch and choke me and to bear me down to the ground. I threw him off for a moment and Fatty would have jumped him instantly—and killed him, no doubt, with his club—had I not waved him off abruptly. I was gratified to know that a friend was near, but I desired to show the Links, who assembled at once, that I was master when it came to a battle. This decision nearly cost me my life, for the brute gave me a wrench that brought back agonies which were well nigh insupportable, while I was knocking his hideous head aside from an attempted bite at my cheek.
For a second I regretted that Fatty had not batted off his head, for I felt as if I should drop from weakness. But when he dug his nails in my arm the smart aroused such a rage that my strength came flooding upward, like a gush of something hot in my blood. I had warded off many of his lunges and was waiting for an opening as if I had been engaged in boxing. The chance presented itself now. He was leaping toward me viciously when I "slugged" him with all my might, fairly in the pit of the stomach. My fist actually seemed to sink into the fellow's body. He was lifted off his feet, but before he could fall I fetched him a right-hander under the chin that jolted his head backward abruptly.
He fell like an effigy, arms outstretched, so that the back of his skull was the first thing to strike the ground. There he lay, limp as a snake and motionless as a stone, while a referee could have "counted him out" for the next twenty minutes. A great howl of satisfaction greeted this performance, which placed me again on my pedestal of incomprehensible power. The truth of the matter was, however, that I was ready to fall over, myself, so severe had been the strain and the injury done to my weakened frame. By the greatest of efforts I walked away and washed myself at the spring.
Grin, when at last he again assumed a perpendicular, was dizzy on his legs, ill and altogether a sorrowful object. I knew his head was aching and that his stomach would be morbidly sensitive for several days. He was hooted and picked upon also, having been utterly defeated, so that he was glad to retire from active service, muttering no end of what I supposed were threats and maledictions.
I was of precious little account to myself, or to any of the tribe, that day, but on the morrow I was mending rapidly again, and beginning to pick up various threads of the plans I had fashioned before our fateful day of battle with the Blacks.
It was long since anyone from the camp had visited the boat, but my thoughts had been there much of the time. I had feared, daily, another invasion by the enemy, whom I knew to be revengeful and who now understood the nature of our fortifications and means of defense. This feeling of alarm increased. Should they come, with a force still greater than the last, and find us armed with blunt arrows only, our resistance would be short indeed. I dared not contemplate undertaking my exploration of the lake, much less my escape, while we were possibly threatened with another attack and while I was weaponless myself, excepting for my trusty knife.
Being almost wholly fit again I determined to make an immediate excursion to our old cave-camp for the purpose of securing a supply of chalcedony pebbles.
CHAPTER XXIII. NEEDED MUNITIONS GATHERED
MY PREPARATIONS consisted merely of acquainting a score of the Links with my desire and of selecting six of the most suitable of our baskets for use in bringing the flints to our village. More of the fighters than I wanted were eager to be of the party, but I deemed it advisable to leave a number at home with the females and children.
We got an early start and headed in what I had calculated to be the right direction. In this calculation I had been guided solely by my memory of our camp and its position, relatively to the lake, as seen that day from the top of the old volcanic peak. Pushing ahead as rapidly as possible, and spending no time on the game which we naturally encountered in the jungle, we traversed several miles without coming upon anything with which my friends were familiar, so that I soon gave up hoping that they would be of much assistance in finding the former dwelling place. From what I knew of them now, I was convinced that none ever proceeded far from camp in any direction. Their longest marches were accomplished when they felt obliged to abandon a settlement, and I believe that even then they rarely travelled more than five or six miles at the furthest.
After another hour of pushing along we emerged from the forest into a small, low valley which was nearly all a swamp and at the head of which was a mountain of considerable height. This place discouraged me deeply for I had believed I should really discover some guiding landmark, on clearing the woods. That we had gone somewhat in the wrong direction there could be no doubt, for I was sure we had travelled far enough, by this, to have passed the old cave, had it been on our line of march.
The day was excessively hot and I was weary and sleepy, being still a bit soft after my troubles, but I was annoyed at the thought of being baffled. I determined to climb the mountain, for the sake of the enlarged prospect to be had from its summit, and therefore we toiled up, slowly, through a dense growth that covered the lower part of the slope.
Upon reaching the summit, I gave a cry of delight. I had recognised the elevation as being the very same volcanic peak which Fatty and I had ascended together, and which the party of us now had approached from the opposite side. This gave me my bearings at once. I could all but see the old camp below, when we had crossed the ancient, filled-in crater. I pointed out the lake, and I made out the true direction of our fortified settlement far away on its miniature hill. We started down in a hurry, for even the Links knew the way after this. I might have thought of nothing but the flints we were after had I not fairly stumbled against the out-jutting ledge of sulphur which I had discovered on the previous visit.
"Why here," I said aloud, unthinkingly, "I believe I'll take a load of this to camp. By jingo, boys, I'll make a lot of gunpowder!"
Two Links were required to each basket, when it came to bearing this cargo away, but I meditated that some wholesome labour was precisely what they needed. We reached the old camp shortly. There were the rocks thrown up to cover the mouth of the cave, which had threatened to be our tomb, but the grass and ferns had overgrown the spot and much of the rock heaps, to such an extent that no one could have guessed that a camp or a fire had ever been located in or about the clearing.
The ravine, where the tribe had buried its dead, presented its former appearance. We set to work without delay and in less than thirty minutes the pebbles were accumulating with gratifying rapidity. I was careful to select the ones best suited to our sundry requirements. Those in some of the baskets I covered with soil, in order to keep their moisture from departing before we should have the time necessary to split them and chip out the arrow-heads, axes and knives.
It was something of a giant task to convey our baskets away, when I finally had them loaded to my satisfaction, but the Links were tremendously strong, and all were willing to make the greatest possible exertion that day, to gratify my wishes.
We ate a lunch of fruits and some cold meat which I had carried along, after which we made a "bee-line" for home. But I fear that any self-respecting bee would have been much ashamed of such a line as ours became before we issued forth from the trees, at last, in sight of the hill.
When we arrived, a great surprise was in store for all. Grin, the fawner, had disappeared—run away. The news was received with indifference by the chief, and with evident gladness by not a few of the others. When at last it was made intelligible to me, I knew not whether to rejoice or to be concerned and suspicious of something impending.
CHAPTER XXIV. EXPERIMENTAL GUNPOWDER
OUR WORK of creating things of flint began that same day, although the afternoon was far advanced when we arrived. I was in a fever to complete our preparations against any future aggressions on the part of the enemy, particularly as I had a growing conviction that Grin, the deserter and treacherous devil, had gone straight away to hunt for the Blacks. I believed his sole intention was that of betraying his kind and thereby of wreaking a vengeance for all the punishments which he had rightfully undergone.
All the questions I could ask about the fellow, through the medium of my few words in Linkish and my signs, which were supplemented by my native language, failed to elicit any satisfactory information. Having too much to do to spend my time in thinking of the beast, I set my selected assistants to work at splitting out slabs of flint.
The greater part of the pebbles, I had my fellows bury in a moist, shady place, for, labour as diligently as we might, we could not complete the work on a third of the stone, as I knew, before the hot air would begin to render the stuff as hard as glass and quite unworkable.
During all next day we were at it, hammering, chipping and forming. Four fellows, clever at binding were heading the arrows already provided, and lashing hatchets and knives to handles. That night, by way of a pleasant diversion, I secured some fragments of charcoal, and reducing this and some of my sulphur and nitre to a flour, mixed the three together and ground the grayish substance for a time, between two stones. Such a dust arose that I was obliged to sprinkle the stuff with a few drops of water. This seemed to help it in combining, but do my best, I could not make the mixture resemble gunpowder in the slightest degree. Having just about decided to give the task over, as one presenting difficulties too great for me to cope with successfully, I took a palm-full of my material and, by way of experiment, threw it on the fire.
Instantly the well-known hiss resulted and a dense cloud of pungent smoke arose with such a quickness that I stumbled backward from the place, involuntarily. Only Fatty and one or two others of the Links beheld this exhibition, the others being already asleep. The fright depicted on the faces of this small but select audience was a wonderful thing to see. I determined at once to set about burning a quantity of charcoal, for already I had conceived an idea that it might be possible to utilise the explosive to advantage, and I intended at least to give my scheme a trial.
On the day that followed, the first thing I did was to have the Links collect a lot of wood, the softest and driest I could find. This I heaped up in a conical pile and walled in snugly with turf and a little of the clay, which was everywhere about us. When it was lighted and smoking slightly through various small chinks, I banked it up around the bottom and returned to the work on the flints.
Before we got through with those pebbles we had rough but serviceable arrow-heads by the hundreds, knives in plenty, hatchets for all, with some to spare, and sixty or eighty spear-heads, which were bound to long, stout hafts, in the regular course of finishing up. I reserved for my own personal arsenal two axes, two knives and fifty of the finest arrows in the lot. Also I assumed a general command, as custodian, over all the weapons and utensils in the tribe's possession.
No sooner were the armaments complete than I went to my powder-making with indefatigable vigour, thankful for every day that passed without bringing the foe, which I dreaded and thoroughly expected to see come swarming up the slope from the woods. I made my fellows pound up charcoal till some were nearly as black as the enemy for whom we were preparing. The powdered stuff we placed in the baskets, several of which I plastered inside with clay, which dried hard and firm. The saltpetre, which we dug and brought up the hill, was treated in a similar manner, as was also the sulphur. Anyone to have seen me directing this business would have thought I intended to supply an old-fashioned navy with explosives.
During these days I in nowise neglected the archery practice, which alone could make my warriors capable of using the weapons to advantage. We shot at a target the size of a man, which I fashioned out of skins and heavy palm leaves. This being backed by a sort of hedge, constructed of bamboo and more of the leaves, we lost but few of the arrows employed. And the arrows used were not from our pointed stock, though they were whittled sharp on the end, so that many pierced the target as neatly as a bullet. Thirty of my force grew decidedly efficient, being accurate, strong shots who could be relied upon to perform good work on any attacking party. We also used the spears, in the throwing of which the Links took great delight. I was sure that come what might, the fellows would never again be so primitive as they were when first I met them in the jungle. Whether I left them or not, they would hereafter possess weapons which would place them far above the Blacks in point of capacity to kill.
One of the greatest difficulties with which I had to contend, while making my powder, was the frequent coming of rain. This threatened to make it all too wet to be of any use. There were also many days when a thick, damp fog rolled upward from the lower levels, slowly evolving into a ponderous cloud which covered all the jungle-world. The baskets containing the pulverized materials were doubly protected, however, by skins, and the roofs of the special dug-outs which we made, but the roofs were never entirely water-tight.
Being unacquainted with the recognised formulae for mixing various powders, I simply took about three parts charcoal to one each of nitre and sulphur, and set the Links to grinding these substances together, slightly dampening the whole as before. The grayish stuff, which I regarded finally as the best product of which we were capable, I stored away, next to my own shelter. There must have been two hundred pounds of this powder, the making of all of which had only occupied us for a short time, after the several ingredients in their rough state had been assembled.
In order to impress the tribe with the urgent necessity of keeping all fire away from the baskets, I dropped a glowing coal into a handful as it lay on a rock. The vivid flash did so much to accomplish my purpose that I could hardly get the Links to approach the dangerous mixture under any circumstances whatsoever.
My next step now was to visit the swamp where the thicket of bamboo flourished. In this place, as I had expected, there were all sizes of this peculiar tree-reed, but the largest ones appealed to me most strongly. I carried off what I thought I should need, and selecting the driest of my stock, cut off a large section behind the joint, on one end, and in front of the next joint on the other. The piece then resembled quite a cannon, without further ado.
This thing I was aware was much too brittle to stand an explosion, but I meant to try it, nevertheless. To begin with I bored a vent through the hard, thick shell, near the end that was naturally plugged. Then I reinforced that plug by lashing a stone across the end firmly. Next I split some more bamboo and laid the strips lengthwise along the barrel, thus doubling the thickness, after which I had the whole thing stoutly wound about with tough, slender creepers, till I was sure it would resist a powerful tendency to burst.
What to do for a fuse, when at length my piece of mountain artillery was loaded—with powder and rocks—puzzled me no little.
The thing was "mounted" half way down the hill, pointed toward an imaginary foe, and was amply weighted with rocks at the sides and on the top. At length I hit upon a plan for the fuse. It was simply to split a creeper, the outside of which we frequently employed, and to pull out the smooth, wire-like core inside, and then to fill the space so left hollow, with powder. In the sun this shell of the creeper dried out rapidly, rolling up so tightly in the process that it squirmed itself into several twists. This "habit" of the thing was exactly what was required, for when the powder was laid along inside, the chances for it to trickle out were exceedingly meagre.
About thirty feet of this fuse I laid to the "gun," with stones along its length to keep it properly in place. Then, with a thumping heart under my shirt, I proceeded down the hill, alone, with a fire-brand glowing hotly in my fist. I looked all about, when I came to the match, and selected my path back up to the camp. Then I touched the end of the creeper—and jerked my fire away, quickly.
There was no alarming sputter after all. I tried again. The creeper smoked, giving forth a pungent odour, but the powder must have fallen out for a short distance. I cut off six or seven inches and had the satisfaction of seeing powder in plenty. This time it lighted and began to spit in a hurry. I darted off, stopped, looked back, saw a tiny smoke-snake running down the hill, and again I ran as hard as I could, momentarily expecting something tremendous to happen behind my back.
To my surprise I reached the camp and nothing had occurred. I turned about and looked, panting and yet attempting to hold my breath. There was nothing to be seen, save the heap of rocks where my "battery" was planted. I waited and waited. The seconds slipped by; the Links behind me were as silent as the grave. My heart ceased its violent jumping; the thing was going to prove a failure; the Links would think me a fool.
"I'll have to go down and see what's the matter," I grumbled. "That fuse is no good."
I had taken two steps when suddenly a great flare of fire leaped upward, the side of the hill appeared to fly into fragments and a roaring detonation split the silence into a thousand ringing reverberations. A cushion of air gave us all a push, and a huge geyser of smoke went upward in rolling, billowy gushes. I wondered in that second, how many pounds of that powder I had put in the "piece" in my natural anxiety to give it a good, square trial.
Something screamed weirdly in the air, while we stood speechless, and presently it came whirring down, a rod below the wall, striking the ground with a sounding thud.
Yelling in dismay, the second they recovered power to do anything, the Links fell over each other helter-skelter, in their great confusion, and desire to take to the woods. As for myself, I laughed and laughed like a veritable maniac, and threw my arms about myself and jumped in the air repeatedly, as tickled with my exploit as a boy. Then I ran outside and found my cannon, the thing which had whistled as it hurtled back to earth.
It was a "goner" and no mistake. Black as a hat, ripped from muzzle to breach, blown to pieces at the plugged-up end, it certainly gave the appearance of having "gone through the war," but it pleased me not a whit the less.
"Why that's all right," I assured the surrounding stillness, "I'll go to work and make a lot of bamboo bombs."
CHAPTER XXV. THE TRIBE FRIGHTENED
THE SPOT with the pile of rocks, where my cannon had been planted, bore ample testimony to the high explosive quality of my powder, for nothing was left in place and everything which had been in contact with the piece was beautifully blackened.
My frightened Links seemed to be anything but confident that I was not likely to burst myself, with a loud report, and scatter devastation everywhere. They stood off a distance that was more than merely respectful and were not to be induced to return to my side by any persuasion or assurances for more than an hour. I had no doubt they thought me a bit of a devil, for even Fatty and the children were afraid to return to my side. The single exception to this unanimity of feeling was furnished by my little favourite chap who seemed so human.
This tot of a Link had been much neglected of late, so busy had I been with work. Now when he came and clung to my leg, as I stood in the camp eating a mango and thinking busily, I looked down in his tiny face and felt happy to see him so near. Sitting down against my rock, in the sun-light, I let him cuddle down in his usual place, and together we enjoyed a time of peace. It became one of those natural spells of rest. I felt like easing off on the pressure of work for a time, having accomplished really all that seemed to be needful by way of making ready to receive any invaders of our village who might choose to come.
The attitude of Tike—as I called my little friend—did much to re-convince the Links of my normal, pacific intentions. Fatty was the first to return, doubtless actuated by a trifling touch of jealousy. After him the others came edging back, one by one, every individual inordinately curious to see if I were in any manner altered by the extraordinary disturbance which I had so recently created. All that day they evinced alarm and a readiness to run whenever I stirred about. For the powder, carefully stored away, they possessed a profound distrust and respect.
During the next few days I sat around for much of the time, always with wistful little Tike nestled up under my arm. The tiny chap seemed more quiet than before, if possible, and somewhat thinner. All the other little Links were as fat, roily, bright-eyed and lively as so many Pah Ute Indian papooses, and equally red and naked, but Tike was almost a sad little fellow. He leaned his head against me by the hour, sighing now and again, and patting my big, brown hand with his wee, red one, as if there could be no greater content and happiness in the world.
The attack I had daily expected and against the advent of which I had laboured with such unremitting zeal, had failed to materialise. Day after day went by, with such a stillness and peace over all the world, that I began to forget the malignant Grin, who had kept the troubles simmering constantly, and to forget my fears of the savage Blacks. Without the slightest stir or bother, I kept my fellows in training with the bows, accompanied the parties on the hunt, kept the baskets and other essential properties of the camp in good condition and still found time leisurely to work at making my deadly bombs.
This labour I made simple and easy by selecting sections of bamboo which, when cut off to form cylinders open at one end only, telescoped together. That is the smaller cylinder, containing a large charge of powder, slipped inside the larger, and each being provided-with a stone reinforcement, where naturally plugged, I bound the two shells together firmly. Five of these bombs were enormous, containing probably twenty-five pounds of powder. Some of the others were only about a foot in length and three inches or less in diameter. These smaller ones I intended to take with me in my boat, if ever I started on my voyage of escape. I thought I could throw them at any foe which might approach too near. Each was provided with a tube-like fuse, stopped with clay, to prevent the powder from running out, and which could be broken off at a moment's notice to form a connection with the powder in a longer fuse, which could then be bound upon it. I also provided several coils of the match, made of creepers, each coil at least thirty feet in length. This became dry so that I determined that if occasion should ever arise I would make a fresh supply, keeping this other ready for emergencies.
The days of peace became weeks. So free from trouble had we become in the camp, since the disappearance of Grin, that my feverish desire to flee had somewhat abated. Moreover the albino female had partaken of such a thorough fright, on the day when my ordnance exploded, that she left me severely alone. Yet I did think constantly of the boat and should have busied myself more with my half-formed project of getting away, had I not been bound more closely than I realised to the links by little Tike, who seemed to me to be fading away.
He came every morning to my shelter, often before I was awake, and when at last I stirred and turned over, there he would be, sitting quietly by the side of my couch, looking yearningly into my face with his steady, thoughtful eyes, and holding his tiny hands together in his "lap." Always he greeted my look with a strange, quiet smile, which made his wee, homely face the very next thing to divine. I got to carrying the little chap about, as I went from place to place. I found that I missed him, when resting out in the jungle, after a hunt with my fellows. It also gave me a most unreasonable pleasure to talk to the tiny mite, who would answer with a faint, half-crooning sound of pleasure. I called him frequently my "Little Man." At intervals, sometimes of days, he would repeat the word "Man" in a way that caused me to feel a peculiar thrill whenever it came from his lips.
As before, my attitude of comparative passivity begot more or less of the symptoms of familiarity on the part of several Links. This did no little in the way of deciding me anew to quit the place, if possible. I was doubtful in my mind as to which method would be preferable, that of attempting to find and utilise the outlet of the lake in my boat, or to endeavour to induce about fifty of the fighters to escort me across the country to the sea. But one day which we spent in the jungle decided me without further mental debate.
We were stalking a pair of hogs, which were unusually clever at evading the flanking Links and at penetrating far into the jungle, when suddenly the great, dark form of a genuine elephant loomed up, as he smashed his way through a thicket. Instantly every Link in the party screamed out an imitation "trumpet" of alarm and fled incontinently, as they had on the former occasion. This time I had no intention of being left behind, nor of giving battle to the brute with my fists and knife. I joined the running fellows, endeavouring to make them halt and retire in at least decent order, but this effort was utterly futile; their panic was complete and not to be overcome.
Thankful thus to be reminded of the former incident, which I had been too near to forgetting, I decided, even as we hastened away from the monarch of the jungle, that the attempt to perform any long and hazardous march with such a cowardly "army" as this at my heels would be madness. I must launch the boat and proceed alone.
CHAPTER XXVI. SPORT AT THE
IT WAS NOT a difficult operation to bore some holes in the gunwale of my boat and to hammer in four stout pegs for row-locks, and then I put in a seat, constructed of thin bamboo strips, and all was ready. The craft was more than sixteen feet long, three feet in the beam and hollowed out to a depth of about eighteen inches. The launch was not effected until after I had secured a long, stout painter to the bow, the rope being made of creeper-fibre, twisted and braided. This was pliable and quite as enduring as hemp.
Although the Links were manifestly afraid of the lake, they were intensely interested when the craft upon which we had worked so hard and long, went splashing into the water. She righted herself in a second and floated high above the surface. But when I hauled her in with the rope and jumped inside, sat down and got out my sweeps, to row, the astonishment of the fellows was unbounded. They were frightened for my safety, uneasy to the verge of whining, as they ran up and down the beach, and still were all so fascinated that not one could look at anything else. Old Fatty acted precisely like one of those dogs who is crazy to join his master and yet dreads the water so greatly as to fear even wetting his feet. He lifted either foot, and half squatted and gave little jumps, as if about to plunge in and make a bold swim for the boat, till he appeared too ridiculous for words. Then he ran down the shore and back again and stood with his comical head on one side making me laugh uproariously.
The boat was great! She was inclined to roll a trifle, owing to the fact that she was the same size from stem to stern, and therefore minus the broad beam which makes a craft steady, but she was remarkably light to row and easily steered. Moreover I found, by throwing my weight to either side, that she had a powerful tendency to return to an even keel, which rendered her almost impossible to turn bottom upward. This I attributed to the fact that while her sides were comparatively thin, the bottom was at least eight inches thick, which made her light on top and heavy below, an excellent arrangement when to give her a larger belly was out of the question. I am bound to admit that she had no "lines," that indeed she looked like the log she was, clumsy and quite ungraceful. Nevertheless I was prouder as I sat in her hold than is any captain of the noblest ship afloat.
I rowed her this way and that, across to a nearby point and then straight away down the middle of the lake for half a mile. When I turned I made out a floating thing a score of yards from the shore on the left—one of my alligator acquaintances, swimming about. I was not afraid of any attack in so large a boat, especially as my nature could not have been so readily surmised by the hungry saurians, while I was rowing. I should not have minded a race anyway, for I felt secure on my own stamping ground and as saucy as a boy with a toy pistol.
Before starting back, I noted particularly the outline against the sky which our hill and its neighbours formed, thinking I might be much in need of some such guide when I came to go further from home. Then I drove my craft with all the speed I could force. Her prow was slightly above the glass-like surface and the water swashed backward from her keel with a sound that stirred me to immoderate delight in this my supreme achievement.
The oars were heavy and the row-locks a trifle awkward; we rolled a bit to one side and I was obliged to keep fetching her nose about to port at every dozen strokes, but I made satisfactory time and just before she shot across the last fifty feet of water and rammed up high on the shore, a startled fish of some description, leaped bodily out of the water and darted off in affright.
My friends gave forth various notes of alarm and fell back quickly to the shelter of the trees. I was not at all certain whether they were most afraid of the fish or of me and the magic which they seemed to think I possessed. Fatty, however, was too glad to get me back to care for anything else. He fell headlong over the boat in his crazy endeavour to get his paws upon me and to roll on top of my feet.
Inasmuch as the day was too far advanced to permit of any extended explorations, I decided to try for a bit of sport.
"Boys," said I, remembering an old-time joke, "which would you rather do or go fishing?"
I got them to fetch me a long line, made of thongs tied firmly together, while Fatty got a bird for bait and I cut a tough hard hook out of wood. For this I chose a V-shaped crutch, one leg of which became the shank, while the other was cut off shorter, sharpened and formed like a barb. With the line tied to this, a rock for a sinker and a piece of the bird spitted on my hook, I got out at the end of the boat and heaved the tackle out as far as the cord would permit.
I pulled it back with no result, save for a nibble when I had taken it almost in. I thought the fish must be small and near the shore. However, I tried again. The result was the same, only that I got two nibbles instead of one. The third cast was an aggravation, for some miserable sprat got my bait. We put on a fresh piece and tied it in place.
"Now," I grunted, as I threw the line again, "we'll see if you young sardines will—"
A sudden, hard jerk on the line nearly dragged me overboard, neck and crop. I had a bite which felt big enough to indicate a whale.
Bracing, I stopped the line abruptly from running through my hands; and then began a tug-o'-war. It was not a scientific fight, for I dared not permit Mr. Fish to take his head for a second, well knowing that when he turned and slacked the line, the hook would slip from its hold at once and let him escape. I therefore hauled at him hard and stubbornly, panting soon and leaning backward, for he felt as heavy as the bottom of the lake and quite as unwilling to be led as a mule. The strain came on the line and on the hook. If these held—what would we see?
I worked backward, inch by inch in the boat, till at last I was out on the shore. By that time the craft had been hauled off the bank and was all but ready to float.
"Fatty,—come here—and help,'" I panted.
Fatty understood and while he was filled with misgivings that made him actually tremble, he laid hold of the line and together we drew it in, hand over hand. Presently with a mad whirl our catch came floundering and slashing upward till it splashed the surface, in violent action, when it disappeared like a piece of lead. A minute later—we hauled the thrashing denizen to shallow water and then clean out on the bank. It was a good-sized tortoise, fairly hooked, dripping, fierce-looking and struggling with all its might to get away. Fortunately the Links knew something of turtles. Three plucked up courage sufficient to despatch our prize at my third shout of, "Shoot him! Pig!"
"Shoot" meant to slay, in any style or form, and "pig" signified anything in the way of game or a foe. The catch made my friends so enthusiastic that they wanted no end of fishing. It also provided a food of which they were fond, and it gave me a nice new basin. Deep-lake angling having proved to be hot, hard work, I bethought me of trying for something more quiet. Additional line was soon forthcoming, and a run up to camp provided a bamboo rod, after which I cut a smaller hook and baited as before.
At the second cast from the boat, I got a good sharp strike, and without the slightest ceremony jerked out a silvery fish a foot in length, of a species wholly unknown in my limited category of the finny tribe. In fifteen minutes I had seven of these, ranging in weight from one to four pounds, I judged, and all of firmer flesh than I had expected to find in water so warm. The enjoyable part of all this play was to hear the exclamations of wonder on the part of the Links, at every successive catch. Had I remained there a day, performing this feat every two minutes, I believe those child-like creatures would have stayed at my side, marvelling no less at the very last catch than they did at the first.
I created an incredible excitement, finally by making Fatty take the rod in his hand for a cast. He got a bite so quickly that it made him jump inside his skin, from toes to crown. The fellow would have fallen down and rolled away had I not held him fast and compelled him to land his flopping shiner. At this the Links behind us nearly had a fit. Amusement, curiosity, timidity and desire to come and do likewise made them the most excited and entertaining group in the world. One by one they worked themselves up to the frenzy of courage necessary to try their luck, but the ticklish, unique sensation of catching a fish so quickly dispelled their fears that before we finished they were fairly scrambling for the chance to be the next to try.
Beholding the immense satisfaction with which males and females, young and old, cooked and devoured our catch, I wondered that the Links had never progressed sufficiently to fish for themselves. The only explanation I was able to give was that owing to their dread of the lake, about the borders of which were innumerable snakes and alligators, they had never discovered this food and therefore knew nothing of the ease of taking all they could wish, by various primitive methods.
A small quantity of tortoise and one of the smaller shiners satisfied my craving for a change of diet, for neither was cooked to my liking, nor was the flesh of a flavour to give me any particular delight. However, I thought the Links deserved the play which the nearness of the lake afforded, and therefore I cut them a score of hooks, that night by the light of the fire, and had them prepare a lot of lines to tie at the end of some bamboo rods which they fetched before the darkness descended.
For myself, I laid out a bit of roasted meat and some fruit, got my bow and arrows together, and otherwise made ready for an early start on my tour of exploration.
CHAPTER XXVII. AN EXPLORATION
LAKE was a shimmering mirror, dashed with endless splashes of colour, when my boat glided swiftly away in the sunshine of the early morning. From the jungles that fringed the shores came many sounds of birds, singing, screaming and calling out. The noise made by my oars in the crude locks seemed to travel far and to echo back from every side.
Believing in systematic investigation, I chose the shore off to the right, along which I intended to cruise that day. I would try the left-hand side the following day, if necessary, and then, if the outlet I was seeking were still undiscovered, I might be obliged to undertake a much longer trip than either of these would become.
The alligators had apparently not begun to stir about on the shady side of the lake. I skimmed along within fifty yards of the shore, constantly watching for any indication of a stream flowing outward through the trees. The first hour brought no results; in the second I came to "my" creek, the stream down which I had plunged that evening of the storm, with the savage ourang behind me. Its volume was normal now, and therefore much less than when it had bowled me into the lake, nevertheless it tumbled over its last rocky leap with a pleasant murmur which sounded familiar enough, and bubbles of silver floated away on the placid surface of the water. It was good to recognise this old "friend," for it gave me another guide and cleared up my mental map of the lake and surrounding country.
Beyond this point there were miniature bays and tedious windings of the shore, many of which I felt inclined to ignore, but any one of which might have hidden the outlet I felt so eager to discover. In not a few of the trees, which often overhung the water, I discerned troops of curious monkeys. Of these there seemed to be almost endless variety, but all were particularly shy upon beholding the strange creature out on the lake, though I had no means of determining whether or not they classed my boat and me among the 'gators.
From one rather narrow inlet I escaped as quickly as I could turn my craft and drive her back to the main body of water, for I nearly pushed my oar against a huge boa-constrictor, half hanging from a tree with its body partially submerged beneath the surface. Although I saw this reptile before approaching so near, I readily mistook it for a portion of the branch from which it depended. What it might have done, had I rudely disturbed the sleep in which it was quietly indulging, I did not pretend to know; it was quite enough for me that the creature was there, and that for all the snake family I have a great aversion.
The morning sped away. The heat of the day increased, so that rowing the boat became an irksome task, particularly as I found nothing but inconsiderable brooks, all of which flowed into the lake. Floating quietly, with the oars shipped, I ate my lunch and felt somewhat refreshed. A full hour of rest was spent in idly dabbling my feet in the water. Later in the afternoon I had a swim, but in this the pleasure was marred by a too persistent feeling of uneasiness about the monsters which the place might contain.
It must have been as late as four o'clock when at length I rounded a point and found a long, irregular estuary, not more than seventy feet in width, rank with grass and giving evidence of being the slack-water of a large stream. From its juncture with the lake, I was quite unable to determine its nature; it could have been either an inlet or an outlet, as far as I could see. Proceeding up the centre of this, I was not particularly gladdened to observe that my boat and oars were frightening three medium-sized alligators to the cover afforded by the growth on either side. Also there were great swarms of pestiferous insects, dancing above the water in the sunlight. However, if this did mark the outlet, I had to know it; the gauntlet would have to be run. It would be comparatively safe, I thought, as long as it was I who continued to frighten the alligators, instead of having them perform the office for me.
The place seemed literally alive with these monsters. I think it must have been a breeding ground, for there were little ones by the score. They all continued to be shy, but I confess I was not inspired with confidence in any of the creatures, nor yet with a large pressure of courage in myself. The insects settled upon me by hundreds. I slapped at them constantly, but in a few minutes I was bitten in no fewer than fifty places upon my hands, face and body and many of these spots had a drop or more of blood oozing out to mark their location.
Made desperate, I rowed as fast as caution would permit, being afraid every moment of incurring the wrath or exciting the hunger of some huge mother 'gator. The estuary wound away tortuously, into a realm weirdly luxuriant with creepers, giant exotics and trees overhung with parasitic vines. It narrowed down, also, which brought me nearer the banks, with their crawling life. I presently noted a number of water-snakes escaping in all directions, some of them near enough for me to strike them with the oars.
The sun was down toward the far horizon so that this place was in a dense shade, amounting to gloom. It was just as much as I could do to get my own consent to going further. It almost seemed as if I would prefer to live with the Links forever than to have the nightmarish features of this place increase or be nearer to me. I do not claim to be a man of bravery and this estuary, I confess, gave me the creeps. I was enormously relieved, in a moment, to hear a sound like rippling water. Then I rounded a point on which a brood of alligators had just made a landing, and saw where the water was in motion.
It was flowing into the lake, not out toward the sea. My investigation of the place had been time and energy wasted, not to mention nerves. In haste I swung my craft about and started back. As it stopped for a space, to turn, a water-snake crawled up, near the stern and glided across. The reptile was large, glistening and altogether as repulsively headed as Nature ever constructs.
I hit at it viciously, and it dodged and plunged into the slimy water like a shot. By that time my prow had drifted against the tail of an alligator which must have been lying asleep, concealed in the grass. He waked and gave the boat a bat with his great caudal extremity that made her quiver, as he scrambled to shore. There was such a chorus of dreadful sounds then that the creeps chased from my feet to the hair on my head. Added to the maddening torture inflicted by the stinging insects—some of which seemed large enough to be classed with vampires—the place gave forth an animal stench comparable only to that of a den of serpents. I grew "rattled," in my frantic endeavour to get out of the place, and rowed against the shore, in one place, and into a tangle of reeds and vines at another. All of this added to my own confusion as well as to the sounds of hissing, squirming away and floundering in the water produced by the creatures whose home I had rudely invaded. Had the beasts turned upon me in that maze of horrors, I should have been wild enough to jump out of the boat and try to dash to shore and away through the swampy tangle and the jungle.
As I neared the exit, I did have the misfortune to strike not only the edge of a sort of grass island, but also the head of a baby 'gator, therein hiding. The mother gave forth an angry snort and started to overtake the boat. An oar got caught for a second but I jerked it loose and plunged it deep for a stroke that shot me away toward the lake. The furious reptile gained for a moment, but then I got down to boat-race work and slid away in a desperate mood. Paying too little attention to where I was steering, I forgot the tendency of the craft to yaw about to starboard, and therefore sent it fairly through a mass of green drapery hanging from a tree on the right-hand bank; and the tail of a snake which was climbing hurriedly up in the branches, dragged slimily across my neck.
I shuddered and nearly fell forward, but the boat had gained such headway that it pushed through everything and was floating free on the lake in a second. I bent to the oars anew, but Mrs. Alligator had turned back, defeated. Without waiting for more experiences I headed for home and commenced a steady pull.
CHAPTER XXVIII. AMAZING DISCOVERIES
IT WAS nearly dark when at length I beached the boat and made the painter fast to a tree. The Links were in a state of great anxiety, fearing the dread lake had swallowed me down. They had fished, during my absence, with such success that they had lost every hook, snarled all the lines, broken several rods and procured about a hundred pounds of shiners for dinner.
A few of the fellows were attempting to fashion new hooks with the knives of flint. There was promise, in the work of some, indicating that in this direction at least there was chance for progress. Old Fatty, who had whined on the shore when I left in the morning, romped about me insanely, as usual. He and little Tike had occupied my shelter throughout the day, awaiting my return. My "Little Man" was asleep there when I entered, a troubled look on his serious little face. I carried him off to his mother, but he did not awake, so weary had he grown at his vigil that warm, long day.
He was crooning "Man, man" beside me in the morning, happily, yet so wistfully that it played upon every cord in my breast. How thin the little fellow looked as he gazed in my eyes with that dumb affectionate expression; how different he appeared from all the other Links, with the golden sunlight streaming in on his quaint, childish countenance. When I had taken my morning bath, I washed the tiny chap. He caught his breath in funny little gasps, but I think he liked it immensely. Then we ate my breakfast. He ate so small a portion that I shook my head and pushed the fruits aside before I had taken half my usual quantity.
Having vaguely thought of my exploration business as a duty to be continued faithfully, I had half intended to leave, later in the day, for a shorter trip. When the wee youngster nestled up to be comforted, the plan faded away. We would have a quiet day of rest and peace. The elders of the tribe, discovering my mood, gave up to the laziest of lounging and rolling about, playing at indolent games and wrestling, throwing bits of twigs and pulling at each other's feet and toes. The chief and his white mate sat about in a somewhat superior style, the latter eyeing me sullenly from time to time, while her husband gazed by the hour into the half-clear depths of the great rock-crystal at the end of his club. The fellow seemed to adore this stone, as well he might, for by its weight and his own overtowering height he had made himself chief of his fellows.
His chieftainship continued, although I had long believed I could overthrow the fellow and usurp his power to add to my own, did I wish to create a disturbance. But inasmuch as I was in no way hampered, and was obeyed, my position amounted to that of a ruler, while I gave this giant Link no offense. As long as he continued to feel himself the master of the family, my own sway could never be complete, but for this I cared nothing as long as I was enabled to proceed with my plans. More than once I might have taken advantage of the awe created by natural means to bring the chief under my rule, but I was waiting to see what he would do of his own accord. The day when my cannon exploded he had been so ready to acknowledge my leadership that a look would have brought him cowering to my feet, but I had turned my back upon him and he had refrained from doing anything impulsive.
In order to provide entertainment for little Tike, this day of rest, I selected a slender section of bamboo rod and cut him a whistle. By placing a second piece inside of this and sliding it up and down, I had a primitive trombone, which begot a craze of delight among all the—Links. I played this instrument about an hour during which time the fellows all came crawling up on all fours, to squat about in a circle where they remained, nodding, blinking and holding their heads on one side, with the greatest attention and pleasure.
I bethought me then of a drum and procuring a section of bamboo six inches or more in diameter, stretched: a wetted fish-skin across the end and let it dry there. This thing produced a fine resonant tone that made the creatures jump with astonishment at first and dance with excitement later. In point of popularity this instrument eclipsed the whistle totally. The Links took to it as naturally as a cat takes to mice.
Having pleased little Tike and having rested myself, while providing a holiday of amusement for the tribe, I decided to go at my navigation again in the morning. Agreeable as some of these moments appear to have been, I was fretting constantly to be away from the unclean, semi-animal beings, and once more restored to my kind and to civilisation, where I could lie on a decent bed, eat a decent meal and listen to something besides barbarous language. So desperate did I frequently become to hear my native tongue, that I spouted every quotation and sang every song I could conjure from my memory. This performance was always attended by a demonstration of surprise and unrest on the part of all the Links who were close enough to hear.
The following morning was the cool, still forerunner of another sultry day. Fatty waddled behind me to the boat, where he whined again and started convulsively every time I bade him "come along," but to master his fear of the lake sufficiently to enter the boat and trust himself away from the shore, was quite beyond his power. He wanted to go, but had he been thrust in by force, he would have scrambled wildly back to the bank, to run up and down and dance, like an unwilling dog who has been thrown in the water whether he would or no. I left him, sad and anxious, on the beach.
According to my previously formulated scheme, I directed the prow toward the left shore this morning, and rowed as before, about fifty yards out from the wall of foliage which marked the boundary of lake and jungle. In half an hour I passed the place where I had fought the battle with the alligator, while I was floating on the log. On this present occasion not a saurian could I see, but I knew the place where I was sure there were half a dozen.
The day was practically a repetition of the other, except that this western shore had a greater number of small streams, and none that were large, contributing to the body of the lake. I dipped into bays and inlets without number, many of which were of exceeding beauty. These were frequently so large that I travelled many miles without being more than three or four from camp, by air line. In the late afternoon, when I had worked perhaps two miles further away in actual distance—or about eight as I skirted the edge—I approached what appeared to be a deeper and narrower bay than any before discovered.
This arm of the lake presently curved about a point, which made me think it might perhaps be another tributary stream, or river, like the one in which I had passed a desperate fifteen minutes. I felt not entirely fond of such experiences and therefore regarded this place with suspicion. It was freer of insects than the other had been, although there were some I could have spared; while the alligator population was not numerously represented. There was the grass which I thought indicated flowing water, however, and the trees on the banks were like those of the other place which I dreaded.
When I had penetrated several hundred yards into the jungle on the bosom of this winding stream, the shadows from the overhanging trees were again exceedingly dense. I confess I had a poor stomach for doing much of this sort of thing at the end of day. My brain began to invent excuses for proceeding home and coming again when the light was better. A number of scares, to which I had been subjected during the day, had contributed largely to this lack of proper enthusiasm. Soon I conceived a brilliant scheme for determining whether this stream were inlet or outlet to the lake. In either case there would be a slight current. I would stop the boat and let it drift. If it went on "up" I could be sure I had found the outlet which in all reason should flow eventually to the sea; if I drifted back toward the lake, I must continue my search on the morrow.
Pulling slowly to the next turning, I brought the craft to a standstill and awaited results. For a long time I failed to detect any movement in either direction, so sluggish was the current. I became absorbed in studying a number of stakes, which stood in the water, near the bank. "Surely," I thought at last, "we are moving slightly—down the stream." Was it then actually the outlet for which I was seeking?
I grew excited as I watched the stakes. Then I began to comprehend something. These stakes suggested order. Could it be possible they had been planted? I could not see how they could get there at such semi-regular intervals, in any natural manner. How far did they extend? Where was the first one I had noticed? I looked back. Then I was convinced, abruptly, that the boat was drifting down the stream much more rapidly that I had suspected.
It was the outlet!
This truth flashed upon me with all the power of instantaneous conviction. I forgot the stakes and all the line of speculation which their mysterious presence had engendered. I looked toward that green gate of deliverance. Mentally I saw myself rowing and drifting down this gentle, winding current, hastening away from this extraordinary land—away from this jungle fastness to the great open sea. A thousand suggestions came tumbling in upon me, as to how to provision my boat, how to leave the Links, how to sleep at night on "Outlet" river, how to search for a village when I should find myself at last free, and how then to take a steamer and hasten back to the world which was really a world!
"The outlet!" I muttered in fervent thankfulness. "Freedom—Life—Home!"
I was wrought to a fever in my excitement of hope; I was all but transported, thus to find the gate that let me out of my prison of greenery, when suddenly I nearly froze from chills and paralysis of all my senses and blood-circulation.
A voice rose clear in the silence of ended day—a human voice, in that wilderness of jungle and jungle-creatures,—a voice pronouncing words in English—a singular mixture of words with no reason. Then presently they settled into the musical order of poetry:
"There was a sound of revelry by night.
Belgium's capital had gathered then
Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright
The lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men.
And when music arose with its voluptuous—"
I arose to cry out at the top of my voice. A human being—a man, no doubt, was in reach of my voice—a friend, companion, perhaps, to share my fate and solitude! I filled my lungs for a mighty halloo—a cry to this partner in exile—when out from the trees on the bank, not a spear's throw distant, issued a black, ungainly form—and then another.
Links! They were black Missing Links!
Those stakes were theirs! I had found their camp. The voice—this human being—was he then a prisoner? What did it mean—and what should I do?
To cry out meant instant detection—perhaps immediate death. The two had failed to see me—they might go back. But I was drifting—drifting toward them. One of them turned about.
A yell went up immediately. I was known. The alarm spread like prairie-fire, up through the wood. I swung the boat about like mad and headed for the lake. A club came whizzing through the air, struck in the water beside the boat and splashed me with spray. A score of the villainous looking devils came running to join their companions. Along the bank they dashed in pursuit, crying out and making crazy gesticulations. The water foamed where it left the oars and it rippled and swashed from the prow of my craft. Club after club came hurtling toward me, end over end. One of these struck the stern a resounding thump; the demons cried out savagely and showered more. A small one would have dashed out my brains had I not been quick to duck to the bottom of the boat.
I shot across the river to the opposite side, but a curve gave my infuriated pursuers a slight advantage. It seemed as if the thickets and trees were simply bridges over which the creatures hurried the faster. Making as if to sweep along below them, I back-watered one of my oars and pulled with the other, at the turn, spinning the boat clean about to hard-a-port, and sent her ahead so swiftly that all the clubs, which the devils threw at point-blank range, plunged stone-head first into the ripples behind.
"Never touched me!" I bawled out in derision.
They screamed in impotent rage. I rounded the curve and sped away with all the advantage mine. They gave up the chase. Ten minutes more saw me out on the lake and well away.
CHAPTER XXIX. A SACRED DISGUISE
BEFORE I got home I had ample time in which to think. What a strange concatenation of events! The outlet discovered, deliverance almost assured me, and then to find the camp of my bitterest enemy on the very bank of my gateway to freedom! But that human voice—what could it mean?
I began to speculate and to reason from deduction. Inasmuch as I had lost myself and been found by the red Missing Links, it was evident that another man could have met with some accident which would have thrown him in contact with the Blacks of the same family or species. The Reds had treated me with marked consideration from the first, therefore the Blacks might do the same for another of my kind. More than this, the Blacks had manifested not only an extraordinary interest in myself, that day when first I met them at the volcanic peak, but they had also attempted to abduct me without injury to my body or feelings. I had made them my foes by allying myself offensively and defensively with the Reds, but they might not be savage to one who had not so given them cause. Undoubtedly, I reasoned, they knew man and what he is and had recognised me at once. They had desired also to possess me, an inclination, I reasoned, which had resulted from association with this other, mysterious man. What manner of person was it they held as prisoner in their camp? How long had they held him captive? To this latter question I mentally answered that they had kept him several months at the least, since I had been a considerable time with the Reds, myself, and they had apparently become acquainted with my species before my arrival in the country. Then about his capacity as a man, my thought ran quickly to the conclusion that he must be weak or at least a man of no inventiveness and of no particular inward resources. I arrived at this from two sources of argument. First, he had obviously done nothing to arm his fellows, even with primitive spears, or bows and arrows, to say nothing of never having headed their hunting or fighting expeditions; and, second, he had done nothing to escape, although he must have known that he was living on the very edge of that great outflowing river, which should suggest to his mind the sea beyond, as it had done to me.
Almost without—considering anything, my first conclusion had been that I must meet this partner-in-exile, enlist his services and make him my comrade in escaping. Indeed I had been conscious of a great elation of spirits, to think of such an encouraging piece of good fortune. Now, however, when I was sure that he was neither bold, nor alert, nor superior to circumstances, I doubted the wisdom of burdening myself with such a companion, in the midst of my accumulated adversities. This last selfish thought was hardly complete, however, before I banished it with scorn, as utterly unworthy of any man in my position.
Perhaps the poor fellow had been shipwrecked, under conditions that shattered his nerves; perhaps he was crippled, or otherwise disabled; perhaps he had undergone severe illness; he might even have been an invalid when captured; and it was always possible that the Blacks kept him bound or so closely attended that action was rendered impossible. I recalled then that his voice had not sounded strong. His recitation of verses and conning over of words, I could understand precisely, for I had done the same myself on many occasions. Whatever it was that made him helpless, he was a fellow-being and certainly in more or less distress. I felt my heart expanding toward him—my unknown partner! I would see him, help him and take him with me—or die at his side, fighting like a devil!
My plans, which had been nearly complete for my own escape, became immediately most uncertain and scattered. It was not a matter now merely of stocking the boat, securing my weapons and then proceeding down the outflowing river, but of bearding the Blacks in their stronghold, seeing this man and getting him away. Then would come the running of the gauntlet past their camp on the river. The first proposition, that of entering this village of the hostile Links and interviewing my "partner," loomed up, unsolved, for careful consideration. That the fellows were keenly on the lookout, I had demonstrated fully; they had seen me and sounded the alarm in a style truly masterful if not admirable. That they thirsted somewhat for my unwilling gore, I had precious small reason to doubt. If I got away with their captive and the demons discovered who it was that engineered the feat, there would be a warm jungle-region all about the lake.
How much could I count on the man I meant to assist? Not a great deal, I feared, for he was probably incapacitated in some important manner. However, he had doubtless superintended the hammering down of those stakes I had seen in the river, which evidently meant some sort of fishing operations, so that perhaps, after all, he was more inventive than I had previously supposed. All the way up the lake, I racked my brain for a suitable plan for invading the enemy's camp. There were wild ideas in plenty, but no one of these was practical or even worthy of a moment's consideration.
I gave up thinking, when at last the boat was secured on the beach, knowing how far away my thoughts would be driven by the welcome of the Links. All through my dinner, however, even with little Tike in my arms and Fatty languishing about my feet, I was lost in pondering over the doings of the day. That night, although I was weary, I tossed and rolled uneasily, catching but snatches of sleep between the spells of being vividly awake over my new discoveries and their attendant problems. Time after time I awoke with a start, thinking I had solved the difficulty, only to realise that my brain was indulging in the most fantastic of workings. My whole being was dominated and occupied by this scheme of uniting with that human prisoner on the river.
Sometime in the earliest hours of morning I sat up abruptly, having been tortured by a sort of nightmare in which there was an inextricable tangle of Links, alligators and bears. As before, this was intimately connected with the man whom I intended to rescue from the Blacks, but this time I got an idea out of the chaos and it fairly made me twitch, so galvanically did it grip my whole nervous system.
I would visit the hostile camp in safety, because I would go as a bear.
A bear—yes, a sacred black bear! Those superstitious creatures should worship my tracks and make themselves fools over my visit, while I spied upon them, planned against them and robbed them of their captive! I should be more than safe, more than free to come and go as I liked, more respected than the general of the world's greatest army.
Before attempting to get my plans in operation, I must kill a bear, skin him and cure the hide. This preliminary business presented no inconsiderable sum of difficulties, as I was thoroughly aware. "First find your bear," said the funny fellow in my brain. This part I thought I could manage, for I had seen a bear in the neighbourhood of the place where the one had appeared that morning after my fight with the alligator. I thought him the same identical animal, which might therefore abide in or about that quarter. But having secured my bruin's pelt, there remained the task of curing it,—a work which I must conduct alone and away from camp, inasmuch as the Links would be horrified to know that I had committed the deed on so sacred a beast.
There was no more sleep for me after thinking of this. At the first suggestion of dawn I crept out, silently, avoided old Fatty, who was curled down beside my door, and glided noiselessly down the hill, armed with a club, my knife, bow and quiver of arrows. When I arrived at the edge of the lake I went a little into the forest and dug some fresh saltpetre. With this substance I intended to preserve the skin, for not only are its properties well suited to the business, but I was denied the use of our spring of brine by the presence of my bear-adoring friends.
With my cargo of stuff thrown down in the end of the boat, I pushed away from the bank and rowed slowly off toward a point around which I meant to be concealed by the time the Links would begin to stir. The dawn was breaking as I neared my destination, but I waited for full day-break before attempting to go ashore. When at length the boat ran up on the beach I was a mile from the swampy region in which the alligators had proved themselves so numerous and hungry. A small clearing afforded an adequate retreat, where I felt that I could operate without interruption or likelihood of being observed.
With the club and quiver on my back, and the well-poisoned arrow, but the time being inopportune for regrets, I silently fitted my choicest shaft on the bow-string and stepped aside for a better chance to shoot.
The bear rose partially up on its haunches, to investigate the tree, presenting an open front, with a bit of white fur at the throat. With this white for a target, I raised my weapon and drew the arrow to the head. It leaped across the meagre distance like a flash of light and quivered a second, buried deep in that snowy fur, which was dyed with red before the creature could drop to a normal position on its feet.
I expected to hear a roar of rage, and then to be attacked forthwith by the infuriated animal, but instead the bear made a sound almost human in its vivid expression of agony. It staggered slightly and brushing at the shaft with its paw, started away toward a thicket. Not to be cheated of my pelt, I threw down the bow and dashed after the creature, club in hand.
In a second or two I was almost on his back. He half turned about—and met the descending club with his head. Simply moaning, this singular animal shuddered down in its tracks, breathed heavily a moment and was dead.
If I hunt till I kill a thousand creatures I shall never feel so guilty of murder as I did to see this harmless bear lying motionless there in the jungle. If only it had fought me, threatened my life, or shown itself malignant, I could have done the deed cheerfully. If only the creature had growled, or even torn up the grass, I should have felt a bit of relief; but to see it die as I knew it had lived, unaggressive, good-natured and retiring—this made me feel that I was the brute and the wanton destroyer of life. Even dead, the animal accused me of lust for blood.
"No," I finally said to the body, aloud, "I would never have done this merely for fun. I needed your skin,—hang it! there's a human life at stake and you ought to be glad!"
Fortunately I was easily consoled. I came to my senses in a business-like manner. The skinning did much to remove the last vestige of my sentimentality, for it was a tough, hot job. My knife was none too sharp, despite its recent honing on a rock, and the bear was heavy to turn. When at last I had the hide removed, with the feet and head left on, I rolled the whole mass up and got it on my shoulder. It was heavy and wet; I felt the need of haste, and therefore with my weapons duly gathered together and so disposed as to cause me the least possible inconvenience, I strode away.
CHAPTER XXX. AGAIN BESIEGED
THE SUN was ready to disappear by the time I reached the boat. Embarking as soon as I had cut a large quantity of leaves, I rowed until I was some distance out on the lake before completing my day's work, This labour consisted of skinning the head of my bear and then of wetting the whole hide thoroughly. With a generous hand I spread the saltpetre upon the fleshy side, after which I rolled the skin up in a bundle and stowed it away in the stern, where I covered it over thickly with the leaves, in order that my fellows might not see the beloved black fur.
Knowing the beach would be deserted as soon as darkness began to descend, I pulled homeward leisurely, reaching the landing after the stars had begun to twinkle. There I got a lot of clay and placed it on top of the leaves which covered the pelt. This I knew would serve the double purpose of hiding my treasure from sharp, inquisitive eyes, and of keeping the moisture in the skin till the saltpetre could permeate the whole mass and convert the perishable and evil-smelling hide into leather. In order further to insure the skin against anything which might be tempted to meddle, I tied a big rock to my painter and dropping it overboard anchored the boat about forty feet from the shore. After this I swam and waded to the bank.
As I had left in the morning before any of the Links were awake, I thoroughly expected a nattering demonstration on my return to the top of the hill. I was totally unprepared, however, to hear the wildest imaginable beating of our drum, the moment I shouted to let them know I had come. And when I came through the gate and loomed up in the glow of the fire, there was more than enthusiasm—there was madness rife in the tribe.
The fellows were nervous, wild-eyed, starting at every sound, chattering crazily in their few poor monosyllables, and they showed a readiness to bury me in a heap of their prostrate bodies, so eager was their supplication for something which they much desired. Males, females and children had evidently been huddled together in a trembling mass, at my arrival, but now the whole population was about me, mad to tell me news of some calamity, I thought, but rendered wholly unintelligible by their haste and fear. I pushed them away vigorously, convinced that something more than merely my unaccountable absence and safe return had wrought this excitement.
"Fatty," I demanded of my half-blubbering slave, "what's the matter? Stand still and tell me-like a man. What's eating all these idiots? What has happened?"
He made an effort that was truly heroic.
"Peegs," he said. "Gee wizz!"
The rascal knew I never exclaimed "Gee whizz!" till something extraordinary occurred. So poignant did the silly words become in this connection that I jumped at what he meant to convey at a single mental bound.
He meant that we were again invaded. The black Links had marched upon the village in force. I was almost carried to the further side of our wall, from which place I could see the camp-fires of the enemy, fitfully gleaming through the trees, below. The creatures were intrenched at the edge of the jungle, just at the base of our hill. But they had not yet attacked our position, that was evident. I was amazed at this and also at the fact that they dared to remain all night so near the haunts of the savage prowlers.
I worked for an hour endeavouring to calm my fellows sufficiently to get some sort of a "statement" of what had really occurred. The words I knew of their language and the little they tried to comprehend of mine served only to aggravate our confusion. By means of signs and various pantomimes I was able to make some guesses. The most important of these was that the foe had come there late in the afternoon, whereupon my friends had retreated inside the walls and waited, armed with their clubs, while Fatty made a hideous noise on the drum.
Attributing little virtue to the power of our musical instrument, and groping about for the reason why the invaders had not attacked the camp, I concluded that something in the way of a deeply laid "plot" was being formulated by the Blacks, who were perhaps intent upon our total destruction, in payment for all the defeats inflicted upon them by us in the past. Whether only a portion of their force had come up, or whether they reckoned on our disinclination to leave our stronghold and charge upon them and so intended to surround and starve us out, was a matter which time alone could determine. I thought of Grin, however, and wondered if the wretch were with them. Also I mentally nodded my recognition of the fact that my "visit" to their camp had been largely instrumental in bringing about this warlike advance. I thought it likely that the creatures concluded I had been spying upon them, with a possible attack for my object, and that then they had determined to be the first to strike. Doubtless, I meditated, they had long contemplated this war of retaliation, and my presence in their river had precipitated matters, which had been delayed for various reasons of state.
Inasmuch as their reasons and plans could never be known by any man, I gave up pondering about them and devoted my thoughts to planning my own campaign. On the whole I was not exceedingly sorry to have a chance to try my bamboo bombs. I entertained no doubt of the dire effect which these would produce on our foe. For that night, at least, we were safe from attack; no Link would dare proceed a score of yards from his fire in the darkness. If they crept up the hill and surprised us in the morning, while we were still in bed—then so much the worse for us, for being so extremely luxurious and confident in the noise of our drum.
I signified my desire for something to eat and then devoured a hearty meal, a proceeding which surprised and calmed the Links no little. They had been too much alarmed before to do anything but huddle together, like so many animals in a corner, ready to fight if pressed another inch, but more likely to be furious and savage through fear than through any sort of courage. They were not wholly cowardly, but they were mortally afraid of the Blacks (who came back so persistently for more punishment), especially while here on our isolated hill, with neither cave nor near-by jungle into which to run. They were awed by this implacable foe, and having depended on me to defeat the Black army, had become less confident of their own powers than they were when I first came into the tribe. However, they had always evinced the greatest readiness to attack a force smaller than their own, which fact, coupled with their present behaviour, was now as good as an accurate report to convince me that the fellows were sure the number of Blacks below was much in excess of our own.
Gratified to find that our supply of arrows had not been wasted again in my absence—an indication of sense in my fellows which I attribute to the wholesome dread they had of the powder magazine, in which the weapons were stored—I laid out the shafts, with the bows, and otherwise exhibited an assuring alertness and desire to be prepared. The Links did me the honour of picking up a bit of courage, under my influence, making me feel a half-affectionate regard and sympathy for the poor child-like creatures, for it was plain that they strove hard and constantly against their mental limitations. They wished to understand, to enlarge the scope of their brains, to be like men.
I felt a certain pride in knowing that my sentries, when I set the watch and bade the others go to bed, would remain awake and alive to their own responsible position; I felt like something of a general, to see my agitated fellows calmed down and proceeding to rest in an ordinary manner. If I could only hold them together, organised as warriors, shooting steadily in the face of a charge, I knew we could repel those Blacks much more easily than ever before and inflict upon them such a loss that they might be completely quelled for years to come.
Every personal plan had been driven out of my head by this unexpected advent of "war." I thought of nothing but what might occur in the morning and what would be our most effective means of conducting the hill-top part of the coming engagement. I was undecided, particularly about the use to which I had best put the bombs, for I realised that if I attempted to throw them, I might inflict half the injury on ourselves, not to mention the panic sure to be produced within our walls. Under the influence of such a feeling, my fellows might commit the gravest indiscretions.
Dismissing the whole affair from my weary brain at last, I retired, surrounded by my weapons, and was deep in dreamless sleep in a moment.
CHAPTER XXXI. LOST IN THE JUNGLE
WHEN I suddenly sat erect, with a feeling that the battle was on and I too late to assume my part, it took me a second to realise what had aroused me from sleep. It was only little Tike, who had come to my side in the semi-light of dawn and laid his tiny hand upon my face.
Not one of all the babies I have known in my life ever made a sweeter sound of crooning than did my Little Man that morning, as I held him snugly cuddled in my arm. It seemed to me the wee chap told how he had searched my deserted shelter all the day before, and all the other days, since I had been away so much; it seemed as if he forgave me and forgot this neglect and made himself a promise that I would not go away and leave him any more. The light increased, chasing the shadows away from his thin, little face, but under his wistful eyes were shadows far too deep to be dispelled by any light of earth. I noted this and observed that his lip was inclined to tremble; his eye-lids seemed to be heavy as lead. What a singular little face it was—such a homely, tiny, monkey face, with phases of child-humanism coming and going across its lineaments.
"Man," he said, "man," and he patted my hand and gave a little shiver of joy.
I carried him out with me when I went to investigate the situation. Below me, where I had seen the fires the night before, there was nothing visible of any of the foe. I noted a thin wisp of smoke, curling lazily upward above the lowest trees, and I presently detected the shaking of a brush, denoting the presence of one of the black fellows, who was spying upon us, unobserved. How I longed for a good rifle to rest on top of our wall with its muzzle aimed down there at the cover of the demons!
My fellows stirred about with commendable promptness, sixty of them armed with the bows, all of them eagerly watching to see what I intended to do. They commanded a certain thrill of admiration, for they were impressively muscular, alert and active. I could almost fancy them soldiers, some day, disciplined, efficient and worthy of trust.
As the sun began to warm the earth, the invaders below commenced to move about more freely. Although they brandished their clubs toward us and seemed to swarm all through that portion of the jungle, there was no indication that the creatures intended to make an immediate attack. I was soon convinced that they were there in great numbers. What their plan would be I found myself unable to surmise, but it was plain the fellows were being held in check for some extraordinary measure. I had been obliged to admit before that these Blacks exhibited certain marks of superiority over my Reds, in points of aggressiveness and stratagem, but this game of waiting and deliberate planning surpassed anything they had performed since I first made their honoured acquaintance.
As far as anything could be deduced from the position now occupied by the besiegers, I concluded they meant to surge up the slope, at this point of advantage, where the grade was easy and unobstructed. I own I should have felt relieved had the savages commenced the war at once. There was something ominous about this deliberation which I in nowise relished. While I was attempting to put myself in their place, for the purpose of thinking what I would do, knowing what they did of the reception they were likely to meet upon storming the 'summit, I heard distant yelling in the jungle. This drew nearer, after which the sounds receded again in the distance.
What might this incident portend? I inquired of myself, but I could think of no satisfactory answer. In our larder we had a limited supply of fruit and no meat fit to cook. I divided everything as equitably as possible, but none of us had enough for a hearty breakfast. Old Fatty, who observed me putting aside a portion of my share, put away the whole of his, like a faithful dog who refuses to eat while his master is in any way afflicted.
During our meal, and while I was concerning myself with the question of how we should manage to supply the camp with more provisions, I noted a distant tumble of mist, arising from the lowlands, like a cloud of smoke from heavy artillery. This grew and spread with great rapidity. I comprehended at once that a fog would soon envelope all the world. At first I thought this solved the problem of the Blacks' new game of war. I believed they had waited for this to occur, with a knowledge that it came reliably often, intending to swoop upon us under its cover and strike us down before we could realise the meaning of the charge. A moment later, however, I knew they would never dare attack in even semi-darkness. The fog was not a thing which a Link would think of employing.
Suddenly I had an idea that fog was exactly a thing of which man would take advantage. I would utilise this one to the fullest extent. Watching its progress now in excitement, for fear it might be too local to include our hill, I was aware of a repetition of the yelling in chorus, which I had noted before, out in the forest. I could think of no reason why a portion of the besieging army should thus be off in the jungle, making such a racket, but the fellows about me began to manifest the greatest alarm. The sounds again drew nearer and nearer; the fog rolled in, apparently on the heels of this party in the jungle. It seemed almost like a race between the mist and this battalion of the invading force.
I heard the yelling creatures swerve off to the right. Their very position was revealed by the rising of a large flock of parrots, all of which made a considerable noise as they flashed brilliantly in the sunlight a moment and swept down again, a hundred yards from where they rose. Just as I began to have an indefinite anxiety about the game being played below us, the fog enveloped that portion of the jungle where the foe were conducting their mysterious operations. I fancied a wail of disappointment finished their chorus of cries, after which the fog seemed to blot out all sound as well as all the panorama below our position.
Silently the great pall spread and travelled, till I saw it climbing the slope between ourselves and the camp of the Blacks.
"Now we'll fix 'em," I cried to my warriors. "They have played their game and now we'll play the joker."
Going to the magazine I hurriedly uncovered all my bombs and took out all but the smallest three, together with a quantity of fuse. This latter had become so dry that I felt the greatest confidence in the dryness of all the powder. Bidding my most intelligent and obedient fellows take these up with care, I lifted the two largest myself and led the way through the gate and started down and around the hill, toward the entrenchment of the Blacks.
At once my fighters halted, afraid of the fog and more afraid of the enemy in waiting. I stormed and coaxed and threatened before I could get them to follow, but Fatty came and then another, after which the others felt ashamed to remain behind. Thus I got the small force a little more than half way down the slope, where I directed them to deposit the bombs on the ground and to dig a long, narrow trench across the path up which I believed the Blacks intended to come when at last they made their assault upon the summit.
In the bottom of this ditch, which was made two feet deep in a time amazingly brief, I arranged my bombs, about a foot apart, hurriedly attaching a fuse to each, making the matches as nearly of a length as possible. The mines extended for so considerable a distance that I determined to lay two series of main fuses. This I did by bringing together the matches of all the bombs on the right, in one bunch, and all on the left in another. At these junctions I cut each fuse off to insure freshness and to guarantee ignition of the powder, after which I weighted them down with rocks, placed the end of the main fuse in contact with them and sprinkled powder plentifully about to unite them all in one train. A similar arrangement being completed for the second group, I had the whole mine covered carefully, with rocks and earth, when I trailed my main matches up the hill, had them weighted down and brought the ends together several rods below our wall.
The Links were willing enough to return inside our gate. I had them remove a few of the stones from the wall at a point just opposite my fuses, and then we conveyed some embers from the fire with which to kindle a special blaze wherefrom I intended to snatch a lighted brand when the moment should arrive for touching off the match.
All being in readiness I should have been gratified to see the fog roll away and the enemy starting up the hill in a solid phalanx. We stood on guard as an extra precaution, in case the Blacks should summon a courage sufficient to attack us under cover of the mist, but the world was silent and the objects about us were ghostly in the vaporous shrouds. The hours wore on and the fog continued thick and warm. We had all been hungry before the mist arose; we were now growing restless and desperate to satisfy our cravings.
To add to my own discomforts I began to worry about the fuse absorbing dampness. Should it be ruined by the fog the mines would be useless. What might happen then was beyond conjecture, for we should have no large bombs to use, and the small ones left in the magazine could not be provided with fuse. In the midst of my troubles, little Tike came stumbling against my leg. He fell down at my feet, but was up at once and gazing in my face with his odd little smile playing lightly on his lips. I took him on my arm and going to my shelter gave him all he would take of the fruits. Fatty, on seeing this, fetched his hidden, store and rolled about in ecstasy when he had placed it before me. I ate a piece of his hoarded fruit to please the old fellow, after which I endeavoured, vainly, to get him to eat what remained.
He was ravenously hungry, so much so that he could not keep his eyes from the tempting mangoes and papaw, nor keep his tongue from lapping at his chops, yet he still refused to eat when I signified that I should take no more. He concealed the hoard again, returning to his place with his stomach empty.
Only once, since my advent among the Links, had a fog remained all day to obscure the hills and forest, but this one threatened to perform a similar feat. From time to time it lifted for a moment from a local area, only to descend again more quickly than before. I began to believe that perhaps it might be possible for a party of us to deploy on a foraging tour and visit the grove of fruit-bearing trees. Unfortunately the Blacks had made their camp in the most accessible "orchard," which gave them a great advantage. However, I knew of several cocoanut palms, a little removed from the enemy's position, which I thought I could find, even in the dark. I decided to make an attempt to reach this grove.
It was well along in the afternoon by this, and the fog still hung heavily on the country. As before, I had considerable trouble in getting a force of fellows to back me in the enterprise. But the hungriest became the bravest and therefore with ten stout fellows, all armed, I left the wall behind and went cautiously down the hill.
Very soon I found that everything appeared so altered in the mist that piloting my party was not at all an easy matter. I disliked exceedingly the prospect of finding myself in the enemy's lines, but having started, I was too proud, or too stubborn, to do such a sensible thing as retreat and own myself baffled. We therefore proceeded uncertainly along, near the edge of the trees, getting deeper and deeper, it seemed, into the maze of fog and unfamiliar objects. The mist down here was much more dense than that which floated about the camp above.
As we prowled stealthily ahead, looking aloft at the shadowy trees, the curtain of vapour was rended about us, abruptly, leaving us bare—as it were—and completely revealed. On the second a cry of alarm broke from a Black, not fifteen yards away, and a chorus of yells made answer, as a score of the demons rushed out from the cover of trees, to give us battle.
My nimble fellows vanished like shadows, bounding swiftly up the slope and into the kindly bank of fog, before the Blacks could so much as count their heels. I also started to dash away toward the camp, but tripped over a rolling stone and fell down heavily, my ankle sprained and pain shooting all through my leg and body. Scrambling on hands and knees in desperate haste, I made toward the fog, conscious that three or four of the Blacks were dashing toward me. I breathed a great sigh of relief and thankfulness to see the mist close in upon the place.
Turning instantly, when this veiling pall was about me, I moved at the top of my speed toward the trees and undergrowth of vines. I heard the cry of triumph which burst from the lips of the creatures who thoroughly expected to leap upon me, and I heard even the quick, light tread of their feet as they ran, but the turn had deceived them and diving into the tangle of leaves and creepers, pushing my bow and dragging my aching foot, I lay at full length, to pant, for a brief time, when I crawled laboriously off in the direction which I believed to be opposite the camp of the foe.
My pursuers raced about at random on the slope, chattering in disgust and amazement, but they were soon confused by the fog. They searched about for several minutes, one of them coming almost upon me, as I lay beneath the vines, but at last all returned to their savage companions. I could now guess the direction of the camp they had formed by the sounds they made in retiring. This direction seemed entirely contrary to what I had mentally determined to be right. However, I crawled away from the vicinity which I now knew bordered on their position, and turned to go toward the hill.
Doubtless the pain in my ankle distracted my attention, but at any rate when I had crept a distance which I thought should have been sufficient to place me out of the forest and on the slope, there was no hill visible and the jungle seemed equally deep on every side. Thinking I had probably made a mistake of a point or more, by my mental compass, I started off again, in a slightly different direction.
This soon became hopeless. I realised that the fog had confused me a trifle, but it seemed too absurd that I should not find the clearing and then be able to go to the top of the hill. In fifteen minutes I had become so muddled that I dared not move another yard. It appears ridiculous, but I was lost.
Jungle, I had found before this, was quite sufficiently difficult to traverse toward a given point in the brightest light, but enveloped in a fog it became the most bewildering and maddening maze. To make matters worse, the day was nearly spent, my ankle pained me exceedingly and my dread of snakes became a factor which contributed much to my nervous excitement. I leaned against a tree, finally, convinced of the inexpedience of blundering about in a hit-or-miss effort to rectify my first mistake. If I got any deeper in the tangle, I thought, I might not be able to find myself, even by the full light of day.
To stand there in that inhabited place of horrors, knowing that the sun was departing in its race toward the western horizon, feeling anxious and uncourageous, aching from my foot to my thigh, and angry with myself for being such a fool,—this was about as comfortless a thing as I had ever undergone. I was sure the fog would lift from the hill while it still surrounded me; I was certain the Blacks would swarm up the slope, storm the place, murder half my Links and drive the others pell-mell to the woods; and I was not at all convinced that I should ever issue forth from that jungle alive.
I listened, expectantly, but not a sound could I catch, either of prowling brutes, nor of attack on our village; the silence was particularly oppressive. Darker and darker grew the forest. I knew at last the sun had set on an ocean of fog. Perhaps the attack had been rendered impossible, for that day at least, but wherein my condition was bettered by this descent of night was more than I could discover. My thoughts were hardly more cheerful when I pictured the breaking of dawn, the hill-top clear and distinct in the light, and the blood-hungry enemy sweeping the summit of every vestige of our work and genius.
One hour, two, perhaps three elapsed—a time that seemed a century. I had remained all the while at the foot of that tree, without attempting to move about. I was doomed to remain there, helpless and impotent, it seemed, for any time which might prove agreeable to the gods of fortune. My thoughts had wandered afield, so that doubtless I had forgotten to listen to anything but my own meditation. It is certain that I was conscious for several moments, in an automatic manner, of a dull, monotonous sound, before it reached my notice. At last I seemed abruptly to recognise that a thud and thud was penetrating the silence. Then I started so quickly toward the direction whence this disturbance arose that I all but fell, unsupported as I was by the injured foot. But I pulled myself together and feeling my way, hastened forward as rapidly as possible, crazed with a new delight. I had recognised the sound.
It was Fatty, beating on the drum to affright the Blacks.
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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.