Wednesday, 8 January 2014
King of the Missing Links Pt1
This story was originally published in 1901, very early in the history of science fiction. Now reproduced serially as it is recreated./drf
The Crystal Sceptre
A Story of Adventure
Author of "Nella, the Heart of the Army" etc.
R. F. FENNO & COMPANY
9 and 11 East Sixteenth Street, New York
COPYRIGHT 1901 By Philip Verrill Mighels
Philip Verrill Mighels
CHAPTER I. THE END OF THE VOYAGE
WE had lost all control of the wild balloon. It was driven ahead of the wind like a shred of rags, the car trailing behind at a fearful angle, for many of the ropes were broken and all the others were twisted in a hopeless tangle. Nearly all our ballast had fallen into the angry sea beneath us an hour after the storm first caught us in its whirl.
I could hear the ocean roaring and swashing, where its gigantic waves toppled over each other below. The sound must have been tremendous, for the wind blew such a howling gale that neither Ford nor I could make each other hear what we shouted two feet away.
Our hats were gone; Ford's face was haggard, whenever the lightning revealed him in the gloom. So intense was the darkness that I could not even see the vast bag above us. When a great flash illuminated the heavens, directly ahead, I noted the monster globe full of gas, silhouetted blackly against the glare, and knew it was slightly leaking. A small three-cornered dent was in its side already. I also observed that the sea was hardly more than fifty feet below, churning milk-white foam in its fury out of liquid ebon waves of mountainous size. The sky seemed like a solid bank of black. The darkness that followed the flash absorbed even Ford. Yet I knew that while he clung to the basket with his right hand, as I had done for above an hour, he was nevertheless attempting with his left to heave out the bag of provisions and the blankets. I helped him at this and we rose perceptibly.
Where we were it was absolutely impossible even to guess. That the balloon was driving ahead at more than sixty miles an hour we had long been convinced. This had been the state of affairs throughout the night. I had lost all' confidence in Ford's calculations at the end of the seventeenth hour out from Burma, for the twist which the storm had given us then threw out or broke every reliable instrument we had, leaving not so much as a compass. I was not an aeronaut like Ford, yet I knew we were doomed, unless some change should occur, and that quickly.
Ford, by the light of a flash, had seen a rope which was sawing open a seam in the silk, as it slashed and writhed in the tornado. When another blinding illumination came, I saw him climbing up in the ring to cut this rope away. The car tilted more than before; I fully expected to go hurtling out at every jerk. Suddenly two ropes, worn to a thread, on the ring, parted without the slightest warning. The car gave a lurch and all but turned bottom-side up. I heard a cry, as I swung out full length, suspended by my arms, and was even slightly struck on the foot, as Ford went plunging down. The balloon shot upward, relieved of his weight, and I was alone.
How long I clung there, swinging far out behind the wounded machine, is more than I would dare to say. My arms finally ached so intensely I could scarcely endure the pain. Dangling ropes beat me like knouts, for a time, and then wrapped and twisted about me like coils of a snake. Obviously these must have supported my weight at the last, for in a spell of dizziness and weakness I lost my grip and then was conscious only a second, when I thought, with the utmost unconcern, my end had come. Like a dummy on the tail of a kite, I dragged below the wreck of the car and was whirled thus unconsciously on, above the hungry sea.
It might have been hours, it might have been days after this last moment of despair, when my brain began again to work. I can only describe the sensations which followed as a species of dream. I thought I was dead; it seemed as if my soul, or something, was at perfect rest in a region of loveliness. Whereas I had been chilled through and through by the storm, I was warm now and filled with comfort. Music, which might have been the rustling of leaves or the songs of birds, made itself heard. I could not see for my eyes remained closed; but a sense of delicious odours pervaded my being; I seemed also to float, as if on the air.
At length I opened my eyes. The dream continuing on me still, I lay perfectly quiet, gazing aloft into a sky of matchless beauty. Doubtless I remained in this position for more than half an hour. Then a bright bird flitted across my range of vision, and brought me back to things of earth. I was still bound about by a piece of rope. Everything came back to me sharply,—Ford, my friend, the scientist and daring balloonist, our start, the storm, his hurtling down to death, my own desperation, and then oblivion.
I was whole and sound, apparently. Removing the rope and attempting to sit erect, I found myself floundering for a second, in the top of a tree. The branch I was on let me drop. I fell toward the earth, made a grab for a limb, which somewhat broke my fall, and landed plump on the ground, in the midst of a circle of extraordinary beings.
CHAPTER II. A STRANGE ALLIANCE
NEITHER men nor apes, yet clearly creatures which were nearly the one and on the verge of being the other, these inhabitants of the place had evidently been observing my form, in a spirit of cautious curiosity, for a number now came swinging down from trees adjacent to the one I had occupied, and the ones upon the ground set up a series of singular cries.
Having landed on my feet, hatless, but otherwise stoutly clad, I threw my hand to my belt, instinctively, desiring to arm myself against possible aggression. I found only my knife remaining. This weapon I merely hauled around by sliding the belt, to bring the dagger directly beneath my hand. The creatures about me were a score or so in number, standing erect, apparently much excited, yet threatening no attack. Their movements were restless; their roundish, near-together eyes were constantly moving, like those of a monkey; they circled about me, uttering guttural monosyllables, with many inflections. Every one of them gripped in a powerful hand the haft of a rude sort of club, fashioned out of a rock, lashed firmly to the end of a stout piece of wood.
The mutual inspection between us lasted several minutes. I could detect but little difference between any two of the beings. They were nearly as tall as I, averaging about five feet six inches; they were thin, wiry, entirely naked, long-armed, flat-nosed, big-jawed and covered, on their legs and arms, with a thin and somewhat straggling growth of hair. Their skin was a reddish light-brown in colour; their feet were large, but much like hands, having the great toe set back like a thumb; their legs were slender and poorly shaped, but exceedingly muscular; their shoulders and backs were round.
One of the first to drop from a tree was a giant among them, a creature more than six feet tall, active as a panther, commanding in aspect, and possessing arms that reached fully to his knees. He carried a remarkable—club which was made of a great chunk of rock-crystal, secured at the end of a polished bone, large and straight. This crystal still had its gleaming points and facets preserved; it therefore inspired me with a dread of the jagged hole it could smash in the skull of the largest animal.
Amazed as I was by what I saw, my astonishment was instantly increased when I observed the only female creature I had yet beheld.' She issued from a copse and took her place beside the giant, who stood leaning on his club, eyeing myself nervously. She was a pure albino. Her hair, which was long and coarse, was as white as foam, her eyes were as pink as a rabbit's; her complexion was florid red on white. With a rudimentary modesty, she stood partially concealed behind the giant, although she was "clothed" in a patch of skin from a pure white gull, in addition to a sort of rude necklace of claws.
What were they? Where was I? What would they do? These questions I asked myself rapidly a hundred times, as the creatures continued to edge about me and to chatter obvious comments. I could only answer what they were, and my premature conclusion may have been wide of the truth, yet I dubbed them Missing Links without the slightest hesitation.
For a space of at least ten minutes I was subjected to the closest scrutiny, during which time I kept the keenest possible watch on every movement, behind as well as before me. Resistance, however, would have been madness, had they closed in for a battle. There was evident indecision among these Links as to what they should do, and I was equally at a loss to determine what I most desired with regard to themselves. I now underwent another sensation. Pushing his way through the circle came a fat, waddling "fellow," who afforded as great a contrast to the ordinary Links as did the female albino. He was entirely black. As if to render him quite grotesque, his legs were thick and bowed, his stomach was large and glistening, and his head was crowned with a skull, securely tied in place with thongs which passed beneath his chin. But his face was so irresistibly comical, with its broad, good-natured grin, that I smiled in actual forgetfulness of where I was.
At this he approached, holding forth in his hand a luscious fruit, the like of which I had never seen. A murmur—plainly of dissent, or warning—went up from his companions. Two or three made as if to drag him roughly back by the leg. I fancied I understood him to be an emissary of peace, and therefore deciding instantly that I preferred to be friendly, I took a step forward and held out my hand. With a look of gratitude, mingled with one of suspicious uncertainty, the fat chap gave me the fruit and capered clumsily away, out of possible reach.
Grunts of wonder and perhaps also of relief, greeted my acceptance of this overture of hospitality. The Links settled in their tracks, to see what would happen next, many of them standing with arms akimbo and glancing from me to the giant, rapidly, by which I concluded that he was a chieftain to whom they looked for a final decision of the case. Trusting that the action might create a salutary impression on the audience, I drew my knife from its scabbard and proceeded to cut away the thick, hard rind of the fruit, paying not the slightest attention to the exclamations which followed this exhibition of the sharpness and use of the gleaming blade. When the fruit was peeled, I put the knife away and ate as delicious and juicy a thing as ever a man has known, provoking thereby a feeling of undisguised pleasure in the Links and of apparent ecstasy in the breast of the fat one who had pro-vided the breakfast.
"Now," said I, when the thing was gone, "who are you fellows, and what do you want?" I was surprised at myself for thus addressing this half-ape gathering, but they were smitten temporarily dumb at the sound of my voice. I made a gesture of cordiality and turned completely around in the circle, finally holding both my hands extended to the giant.
The chatter was instantly resumed. One of their "words," in a language which seemed to me to be exceedingly limited and primitive, was, as nearly as pen can write it.
Having caught this I attempted to repeat it, pointing to myself meantime with my thumb, for it occurred to my mind that they called not only myself but also their species by the name, and I desired to assure them I was "one of themselves," for at least they were better than no companions in this unknown land.
My action evidently met with approval. They advanced, retreated, pushed each other near and otherwise exhibited a desire to know what I was. But still they had a fear of my presence, although they were now in a mood of timid friendliness. Up to this the chief of the Links had not "spoken" a word. He now gave a command, or something of the sort, when each of the others raised his club to rest it on his shoulder, as if in readiness to beat me to death in case a necessity should arise. The giant then came boldly up and extending a finger, touched my clothing. The feeling of the cloth caused him to tell something to his followers, all of whom were breathless with attention.
Thinking I understood his perplexity, I quickly unfastened my coat and shirt, exhibiting the whiter portion of my neck, for the part exposed was tanned very much the colour of his own. This action begot a great enthusiasm, responding to which I pulled my coat off entirely, when the amazement of all was complete. I repeated their word "Tzheck" again, whereupon they set up a clamorous conversation in monosyllables, among themselves, and came yet closer, the better to place their hands upon me. The impression was borne in upon me that they knew somewhat of what I was, but were puzzled by the clothing I wore.
All this preface to a mutual friendship and understanding, which I much desired as a guarantee of my personal safety, was progressing well when a sudden scream threw all into a state of violent alarm. No sooner did I turn than I beheld the appalling sight of thirty or forty huge, genuine ourang-outangs, descending upon us from the near-by jungle. Two of these had swooped upon the albino female and were struggling to carry her off. I saw the giant nearly smash the head from the shoulders of one, with his irridescent club, and rescue his mate in a second. Then a fierce engagement commenced about me on every side.
It was a horrible conflict. The monster ourangs, half erect, appeared like so many fiends, as they launched themselves in overwhelming numbers on the Links, their mouths drooling, and bristling with fangs, their hatred of the more human creatures expressed by the fury with which they attempted to mangle and murder all the band. The Links, screaming out a word which thrilled me as a battle cry of a courageous few whose fight was all but hopeless, smote lustily with their clubs, sinking the rock-end in many a skull, breaking arms, legs and ribs, yet wasting superlative effort from lack of skill and discipline. Although they fought their foe with more acumen than as many undrilled men could have done, I thought they must fly or all be killed, for the odds were too heavy by far.
In the midst of the uproar and turmoil, of which I had been the centre for a time, a singular snarl, as of triumph, issued from one of the attacking brutes. He had discovered myself. Immediately half a dozen would have rushed upon me, had I not been still somewhat surrounded by the Links. As it was, two ourangs rushed in, headlong, to do me violence.
I had been about to fight for my "friends," and therefore held my dagger in my hand. I plunged it quickly in the throat of the beast that gripped my shoulder, nearly severing the creature's head from its body. As he fell I stabbed the other to the heart, but felt so great a rib that I knew I had reached his life by the merest good fortune.
That I then grew hot and eager for blood, I admit. I received the next that came with a lunge which ripped him open entirely across the abdomen. My knowledge of boxing and fencing stood me well. I attacked a monster who was all but killing my fat, good-natured Link, and crashed the steel fairly through the spinal column at the base of his brain. The smell of blood and the flash of that gory knife seemed to affect the attacking brutes with horror. Yet the next ones that came would have killed me outright had not the fat Link beaten out the brains of one and broken the arm of the other, which then was readily despatched.
Seeing the advantage of a club, I clutched up one which an overmastered Link had dropped, and swung it madly. With this and the knife, I not only defended myself but became a champion of the Links as well. The fight, with its din of thuds and animal shrieks and screams of agony, began to concentrate about three Links and myself. A long, hairy arm, with an iron-like hand, was thrust across my shoulder and my throat was in a deadly grip. I dropped the club and slashed my blade across the wrist, severing the stiff, white cords. Then I swung in a blow that buried the steel to the hilt. The brute fell heavily, dragging the knife from my hand. Instantly two more great animals were upon me and over I went, already scratched and slightly bitten. For a moment I struggled in desperation; then a horrible black face came down toward my own, the jaws awide for a fastening on my neck.
Down swept a gleaming streak. The rock-crystal club knocked the face, head and all, away, as if it had been a potato on a stick. Another blow killed my second assailant like a fly might be killed on a window. I bounded up with a club in my hand. The giant Link was beating his way through the foe like a doomsman. With a cry of hatred and fear, the remaining ourang-outangs, and many of the wounded, suddenly turned and fled. The battle had been brief and bloody; it had demonstrated a fierceness and power incredible in the Links, a power which, if concentrated and properly employed, would excel that of twice the number of human savages.
I found my knife and pulled it forth from its sheath of flesh. Collecting his following about him with a word, the giant leader touched me on the arm and pointed toward the jungle. The wounded of "our" force limped from the scene; our dead, who were three in number, were carried by those who were still unhurt. With the albino mate of the chief I walked away, surrounded by the chattering Links, whose conduct toward me, I was sure, was that of a friendly "people." The fat fellow was next to idiotic in his gratitude for the stroke which had saved his life.
I had fought with them, bled with them, eaten of their food and endeavoured to show them my good intentions and wishes toward themselves. They were manifestly aware of all. I felt strongly drawn to the singular beings, alone with them and dependent upon them; I felt that for weal or woe I was at least a temporary companion to, if not an integral part of, a band of Missing Links.
CHAPTER III. THE HOME OF THE LINKS
FILLED with strange sensations, thus to find myself in the midst of a company so extraordinary, I kept my appointed place in the march, looking about me in an effort to discover what manner of country it was into which I had dropped. I wondered what I should do to get back to civilisation, and how this could be accomplished, and when.
About us the jungle closed in thickly. Huge trees, gigantic flowers and creepers, hanging like intertwisted serpents, and with others like the cables of incompleted suspension-bridges, convinced me at once of the tropical nature of the land. We were walking in a rude sort of trail, which I concluded had been formed by some ponderous animal, for the growth had been smashed down or beaten and trampled aside.
This trail became uncertain, in the gloom, for soon the light was almost entirely obscured by the super-abundant verdure. Had any of the Links meditated treachery, or to take advantage of me while unprepared, this jungle darkness would have afforded an exceptional opportunity; but on the contrary my fat friend waddled actively before me, clearing the way of branches, and the "person" next behind me was the albino female herself. Nevertheless I was grateful for a glimpse of light, now and again, which gave a promise that beyond we should find something less forbidding. During this march I noted how silently the Links glided onward, how lightly they stepped and how alert they were at every sound, in that silent region of growing and prowling things.
Thus we finally emerged from the forest, into an opening of limited extent. Here I noted fruit-trees and evidence of former occupation on the part, I thought, of the Links, but they left the place behind, to plunge again through the jungle. A shorter trudge brought us out of the trees once more, at the foot of a hill of no considerable height. This hill we commenced to ascend.
At last I could see for a distance about me. The prospect was disappointing, almost bewildering. Instead of a glimpse of the ocean, which I had thoroughly expected to get, I saw nothing but hills and valleys, clothed endlessly with the dense, luxuriant growth peculiar to the equatorial zone, all of it seeming to breathe of heavy blossoms, heat and the moisture from the universal green. The solitary exception! to this condition of verdure was a bare hill, not half a mile away, green in spots, but evidently volcanic in origin.
At the edge of the forest we had quitted, a thousand monkeys appeared to swing from the branches, into existence and then to sway back again and disappear. A snake glided off in the rank grass; a flock of birds, decked in brilliant raiment, arose with a great confusion of flapping wings and inharmonious cries. I believed myself to be on an island, perhaps of the greater Sunda group, but there was nothing in the visible world, either to confirm or to deny my theory. I felt that the sea, which had swallowed Ford and which had so nearly been a grave for myself, was in reality my best friend, but lost completely, and in which direction—who should say?
Soon I observed that the hill we were climbing was a sort of terraced mountain, low and broad. As we neared its summit it widened out, revealing endless features of beauty and natural provision. It was wooded with trees in great variety, many of them over-laden with fruits and nuts; springs of water bubbled forth from bowers of vines and ferns; birds and game abounded on every side; and its surface "rolled" sufficiently to comprise not only hummocks and swales but also ravines and walls of rock as well.
As we reached the edge of the largest clearing I had seen, a chorus of cries arose from the further side. Immediately the woods disgorged a great collection of Links, young, old, male, female, and babies. All were similar to those about me, save that the children were more like little chimpanzees, running about frequently on "all fours," swinging upward to the branches of the trees and otherwise exhibiting animal spirits.
More than a hundred of these "inhabitants" came running and walking toward us. Many of the males bore clubs, of the usual pattern, while the youths were to be distinguished not only by their looks of immaturity, but also by the undersized weapons in their hands, not a few of which were like toys. Of the whole population, none wore the slightest suggestion of clothing, excepting the female albino, mentioned before. What a lot of terra-cotta gorilla men and women they were, as they dashed out to meet us!
I found it difficult to be calm as they bore down upon us, yet I was forced to note what magnificent action was shown in their movements. A tremendous excitement arose among them when they had me surrounded. Evidently emboldened by what they were told of my nature, by my "captors," yet timid and suspicious of what I might do if aroused, they presented a singular study of primitive curiosity and caution. The "women" were bolder than the "men," a condition of fearlessness which I attribute to the fact that, like the animals, the males never fought with the females nor struck them for what they did. These females, however, although to be classified with animals because of this immunity from punishment by the "men," presently exhibited the rudimentary modesty noted before in the conduct of the chief's mate, which was distinctly a human thing. But this diffidence was not so great as their natural desire to investigate, and they plucked at my coat and trousers before many of the newly met males among the number dared to come so near.
The chief having continued to stalk ahead, we all made more or less progress toward the place whence the Links had come. In all the chatter I could occasionally distinguish the word "Tzheck," and this I again repeated, smiling and nodding as I walked. The creatures amused me, for I now began to note certain characteristics that made a distinction between one and another. Thus, one of the females carried a large baby. She was a sharp-featured "person," who employed one of her hands to brush a straggling wisp of hair from her eye, and the baby as constantly dragged this wisp again from behind her ear. Another was an "old woman," obviously deaf, for she placed her hand behind her ear to listen, and she nodded and grinned in the way of people who catch but fragments of a conversation. With this chattering, scampering escort I came to what was evidently the camp of the tribe. This was marked, principally by the trampled condition of the earth and the number of lively babies about, on the ground and in the lower branches of the trees. There was a large cave in a wall or terrace of rock. This was apparently used for purposes of sleeping under cover, or of other protection when needed. Into this place, the dead of the band were carried. There was no exhibition of grief, however, and indeed no one seemed to take any special interest in the corpses. There were no constructed shelters about, no signs of permanency nor of provision for the morrow. Except for one thing I might now have hesitated to place the creatures above the highest order of animals, but this one thing was conclusive. They made fire.
Animals may live together in a colony, and even inhabit caves or burrows of their own digging, but the animal will always be animal until he starts a blaze and cooks his food.
Their fire at that moment was merely a smouldering heap of ashes and charred ends of wood; there were no utensils about, no suggestions of a meal in process of cooking. Presently, however, an old female who muttered to herself and who paid no attention to me nor to any of the excitement, threw fuel on the embers and blew up a flame, after which several Links borrowed a burning brand with which to start other fires in various places. Soon thereafter a desultory cooking-bee commenced, each cook providing for himself.
Their process was crude; it consisted merely in spitting a raw piece of meat on a stick and thrusting it into the blaze, or the coals, according to the fancy of the chef in question. When this meat began to burn, the hungry Link blew it, to cool it a trifle, bit out the smoked and barely heated spot, and ate it greedily, the while he or she thrust the remaining piece in the heat for another bit of roasting.
The interest in myself had in no wise abated. The majority of the Links who had not been of the discovering party, having thrown aside their clubs, surrounded me still and placed their inquisitive hands on my shoes and clothing. My knife was a source of awe and wonder. Its bloody handle only was visible, yet scores of those who had not been present at the fight listened with manifest amazement to what I knew to be primitive tales of my prowess, and to explanations of the uses to which I put the weapon. Even the children, the greater part of whom were as shy as little foxes, gave over their play to stand behind the trees and behind their elders, from which places of safety they peered at me with shifty, bright eyes. One little monkey-like chap gave no heed to anything but a noise he was making by clattering several small empty sea-shells together with all his power and possible speed.
I missed my comical Link, whom I had mentally nicknamed "Fatty." He now appeared with an armful of fruits, and laid them down at my feet. There were cocoa-nuts, a melon (papaw), mangoes and other things of which I never learned the names. Being exceedingly hungry I assailed these refreshments with vigour, to the intense delight of all. Fatty disappeared again, returning soon with a bird, half plucked, ungutted and warm. He stabbed it on a stick, borrowed some fire and gave me the morsel to cook to my liking.
Without thinking, I glanced about for a pot or a skillet. In a second I realized the hopelessness of the situation. The incident served to set me thinking. I was lost in a land of which I knew nothing; I was safe, apparently, in the company of a tribe of Missing Links; I might not be able to escape from the place very soon and therefore I must rely upon myself, if I were to have anything like comforts, either of food or shelter. It was a situation to be pondered, carefully. It would certainly be folly to attempt to leave these creatures, with whom perhaps I might be able to exist for a time, without first acquiring a knowledge as to where lay the sea-coast. I should not only be lost in the jungle at once, if I started away, but I should doubtless be an immediate prey to prowling brutes. Yet already I began to feel as if I had stayed there too long and as if I ought to be starting for "home," or back to a land peopled by human beings. I could not imagine myself accepting the company of these creatures seriously, nor of remaining long where they were.
The present moment, however, was the most immediately important. I was too hungry to be appeased by fruits alone, but I felt no desire to eat scorched bird. As I looked about, a novel idea was suggested to my brain. Striding forward I picked up a fine large shell—which had doubtless once been occupied by something like a giant escallop—near the small ones with which the baby Link was playing. This I washed out at a near-by spring, and filled with water. Then I placed it on the ground and propping it up with stones, conveyed some fire beneath it, to heat the water. The bird was speedily prepared, and cut into bits, after which I held out my hand for more.
The Links had all abandoned their several pursuits to crowd about. They were eager to see what would happen. Fatty was inordinately tickled. He ran clumsily off, with others, and brought me three more birds and the meat of some small animal, already in the larder. I was not at all sure that my shell would do for a kettle, as I feared the heat would make it crack or scale off in pieces. It did crackle, as if about to split, but the water soon began to sizzle at the edges and was nicely boiling by the time I was ready. All my meat went in, and then I longed for a few potatoes and a bit of salt. However, I was gratified exceedingly by the whiffs of steam which floated away, and I thought of numerous things which I must soon devise.
Before my dinner was sufficiently done, I speared out pieces and found them good, especially the birds. Then to Fatty and also to the chief—who with his albino mate had watched proceedings with flattering attention—I gave pieces of the meat to try. The exclamations had been numerous when the water boiled; the Links were silent now until the leader had tasted and uttered a doubtful verdict, when grunts, eager questions and sounds of peculiar laughter ensued. Bits of boiled dinner were sought by many of the bolder fellows, after which I was obliged to laugh myself, for a dozen new fires were started and over each a Link or two prepared a piece of meat in their usual manner. Evidently stew was not to their taste.
CHAPTER IV. A RECONNOITRE
WHETHER the fruit I had eaten produced a soporific effect, or whether I was physically exhausted by my recent experience in the balloon and the subsequent events, is more than I know, but in the heat of that day, in the camp of the Links, I grew so drowsy that sleep was not to be resisted. For at least forty-eight hours and perhaps for sixty, or more, I had not so much as taken off my shoes. Feeling confident of the friendly attitude of the tribe of creatures, I finally removed nearly all of my clothing, made a bed in the shade of a tree and sank at once into dreamless slumber. The last thing I remembered was that Fatty had taken up a position near by, much as a faithful dog might do, to watch against intrusion. Necessarily my every movement had been observed by a large and appreciative audience of Links.
In the late afternoon I awoke, amazingly refreshed. Such a chattering and game of chase was in progress that I sat up abruptly. Every stitch of the clothing with which I had covered myself, had disappeared. In a moment I beheld it, then, in fragments. The male Links—all but Fatty—had gone off on some expedition, but the females were there in force and these had appropriated coat, vest, trousers and shoes. My trousers were occupied by two different "ladies," one of whom had a half, pulled wrong side out. She wore it jauntily on her arm, while the other had both her feet inside the other portion, and was consequently falling down at every movement, thereby furnishing no end of enthusiasm in her efforts at marching on dress-parade. My vest had become a breech-clout, ripped up the back. Evidently instinct suggests robing the legs, for my coat was employed in this manner by a female of peculiarly thin proportions. Her inordinate vanity, begotten of the attention she attracted, was quite human, as also was the savage jealousy of other females who made ineffectual efforts to rip the article off for themselves.
The fate of my shoes concerned me more than anything else, for my feet were too tender for tramping about without protection, not to speak of the risk incurred from the presence of poisonous snakes.
"Here," I shouted, "bring me those things, you critters!"
They started in alarm at my voice, but none made a move to restore my property. I then discovered one of my shoes suspended on the breast of the tall albino "woman," hung about her neck by the laces. The other had fallen to the lot of perfidious Fatty, who, having put it on his foot, heel foremost, was hopping about on one leg only, while he held the other, more precious, booted leg as high as possible, and pounded on his great glistening stomach as if executing an eccentric dance to his own music.
I strode over the ground gingerly, clad in a shirt, and the belt with the knife about my waist, going first to the dancer, whom I bowled on his back and divested of the shoe, literally before he could say Jack Robinson. After that I jerked the other shoe from the neck of the female so quickly that she ran away in alarm to the cave. This latter action incited a show of incipient resentment on the part of the old female who muttered to herself. But inasmuch as she beheld some of the other guilty creatures divest themselves of sundry pieces of my wardrobe and flee, leaving them on the ground, she conceived an idea of the respect my knife had engendered in the tribe. She therefore stood sullenly watching me as I made shift to put on my shoes, a pair of leggings and a loin cloth, which I hastily constructed of the pieces left of my pantaloons.
The "lady" with my coat had quickly climbed a tree to avoid being obliged to deliver the garment. Fatty, bearing no resentment and being obviously devoted to my interests, gave chase. Although the female proved the more agile of the two, she fell into the clutches of another of her sex and between them they tore the coat all in shreds many of which Fatty finally brought to my feet with excessive demonstrations of pride.
By the time my toilet was complete, nearly all the females were up in the trees, looking down upon me with nervous, questioning eyes. I reflected how fortunate it was that they were at least partially human, for their strength was enormous and had they been unreasoning animals, and therefore ferocious, they might easily have rended me to pieces for less exasperation than I had already given.
I felt ill at ease as it was; I began to be restless, worried, eager to be gone. Where had the wind-driven balloon landed me, I wondered? What course had I best pursue? What would these Links do, or attempt to do if I sought to leave? I could not remain here, under any circumstances, I said to myself. Think how absurd it would be to live with a lot of Missing Links!
From where I stood I could see the peak of the volcanic mountain, less than half an hour's journey away. Instantly I made up my mind to visit this eminence and get my bearings. I might be able to see the ocean itself; if I could, then the sooner I made a bee-line for the coast the better for me.
There was considerable excitement among the "women" when I started away. They had doubtless been instructed to keep me there in safety till the return of the males. Fatty made an eloquent verbal protest, singularly plain to comprehend, although the words were the merest gibberish, but seeing that I intended to be master of my actions, he followed anxiously at my heels. Fortunately there was open country between the camp and the volcanic pile. Nevertheless the way was not all of grass and flowers, for we were obliged to fight our way through narrow belts of trees and vines and to scale the sides of several chasms, all but one of which had been formed, apparently, by earthquakes of the greatest violence. In the one exception, which was the bed of an ancient river, I saw much evidence of mineral deposits, chiefly iron. Strewn along here, in the sand, were bright, crystalline formations which I recognised presently as being pyrites of iron. Afterward I thought of these, having remembered that with this stuff and flint, a spark of fire may be procured quite readily. None of the mineral features held my attention above a moment, however, the peak being the objective point of my march.
It is difficult for me to express the feverish anxiety I felt to mount the summit of that hill. It seemed as if everything depended on what I should see from the elevation. Half way up the slope, which was not at all steep, my weight broke away the top of a ledge of crumbling stuff, which proved to be sulphur of great purity. I had never seen a deposit of natural sulphur before, although I had read of mines of the mineral on volcanoes of Mexico, notably Popocatapetl. I merely placed a bit in the pocket of my shirt and went on. Further up, my attention was attracted by innumerable fragments of glass-like substance, with dark, smoky lines woven through, in the form of a rude feather. Such stuff had often come to my notice on the mountains of Nevada, where, as boys, we called it flint, erroneously, I was afterward informed. A few pieces of this I likewise placed in my pocket, but my main desire was to hurry upward.
We reached the summit, from which all traces of the crater had disappeared, through lapse of time since the last eruption, and there my heart sank within me. There was no sight nor sign of the sea on all the wide horizon. Far and away below me lay the dark, undulating cloth-of-green, jungle after jungle and range after range of densely wooded hills. In one direction, about forty miles away, were mountains of greater height than the one I was on. These tempted me to hurry onward toward their peaks, but I knew how vain was such a desire. To the eastward I caught a glimpse of a shimmering lake, hedged about with forest which I knew to be practically impenetrable.
All this panorama was marvellously beautiful, but for me beauty was mockery. I stood as good a chance to fly over the hills and trees to the sea as I did of reaching the coast by tramping across the country. I realized that without a guide and a force of resolute, hard-working men, loyal, and afraid of nothing, escape was a dream—a hope as fatal as a will-o'-the-wisp.
Nevertheless I determined that I would regain the world I had left in such an amazing manner. Wild dreams of enslaving the tribe of Missing Links, whom I should make my warriors, and who would then escort me to the coast, danced through my brain. Prodigious schemes for accomplishing some superhuman feat—which was wholly vague and constructed of air—made me twitch with nervous energy. It seemed as if I ought to be able to grasp something big—to force the marvellous to come to my aid. Then the reaction of despair succeeded; all my intangible ideas mocked me with their silliness. I felt inconceivably helpless. The enormity of the tropical hedge by which I was completely surrounded—a hedge alive with venomous snakes, doubtless with tigers, with droves of savage beasts, and with perhaps more savage men,—this arose in my brain as a picture which made me ill with dread.
"Great Scott!" I finally said aloud, to myself, "are you such a miserable coward, then? By gracious—no! There must be some way—there has to be a way! Hang it, at the worst a man can merely die!"
This speech, which startled Fatty not a little, gave me a new sort of courage. I began to think of things I must do to live, and of plans I must formulate to explore the country. I nearly forgot that my lot had been cast with the singular man-gorillas, but this was presently thrust upon my notice by Fatty, who made a noise very like to whining, to indicate his uneasiness and desire to return to the camp. The sun was nearly set. I fancied I saw something move, in a tangle far below, but concluded this something was merely a shadow.
"All right, Fatty," said I, and we started down the hill.
CHAPTER V. HOSTILE NEIGHBOURS
DOUBTLESS I grew absorbed in thinking, as we made our way to the base of the hill, for I was startled by a singular cry from the Link.
What I saw confused me for a moment. Three Links, taller than any except the chief of the tribe I had joined, were darting toward us with the wildest of gestures,—three Links as black as tar. Inasmuch as Fatty was nearly as dark as they, and considering the treatment I had already received, I felt no alarm and failed to comprehend what the situation meant.
Like a leopard for quickness, Fatty darted away, uttering sounds of fright. Instantly one of the Links approaching started on his trail in hot pursuit, a club in his hand which was glinting with colour in the rays of the setting sun. I was surprised and somewhat amused as I saw the clever Fatty elude the larger creature and gain the trees. Once in the cover he swung himself upward and out of sight with all the agility of a monkey.
Suddenly the two I had failed to watch were upon me. I was thrown down, pinioned to the ground a second and then dragged up, hastily. Then the pair began to hustle me off with astonishing force and with method in their frenzy, for they attempted to get me away as nearly unharmed as possible.
"Here!" I cried in a moment, endeavouring to check my progress, "let go of me—you devil!"
I had hardly noted their faces, but now, as I struggled, I saw that the two were tremendously like a pair of burly Negroes. That they were Links, as much as the others were, that indeed they belonged to the very same species and genus, there could be no doubt, but they were as widely differentiated from "my" Links as a black ant is from one that is red.
I jerked myself loose from the grip of one, by losing a part of my shirt, and struck him a blow on the point of his jaw that laid him flat on his back, stunned and helpless. I was annoyed by the liberties they were taking, more than angered or rendered desperate. I therefore kicked the other in the stomach and beheld him double like a hinge. A chorus of cries arose at this and I looked about to discover ten or a dozen more of the fellows, all black, swarming up the slope to assist their friends.
At that moment the third one, who had ceased pursuing Fatty and returned, launched himself upon me from the rear and bore me down. Fight as I would, he was the equal in strength of three of my build and easily kept me on the ground till four of the others, quickly followed by their companions, rushed to the scene and secured my arms and legs.
There was no resentment, as far as I could determine, for the blows I had given the two. The pair, in fact, soon regained their senses and breath, respectively, and joined their kind, in a dazed and half-hearted manner. I was aware that I was being considerately handled, though roughly, to be sure, and was quite unable to think of a reason, until the fellows began again to convey me away. I realised then that they were actually abducting me and proceeding straight away from the camp I had left. Had I been a thing of rare value and highly prized by the creatures, they could not have acted with more care to avoid inflicting an injury on my body, nor with more resolution in their obvious plan to carry me away to their own retreat.
In the midst of the Babel of tongues and confusion of getting me across a chasm, to which we came with surprising promptness, a cry resounded through the cleft, and instantly a force of the red Links leaped down on top of the Blacks and commenced a furious attack. I was dropped as if I had been a cumbersome rock, but landing on my feet and clearing myself of the scrambling fellows, who shot forward to meet the onslaught of the Reds, I whipped out my knife, prepared to defend myself at any cost and to fight for my friends, if I mingled at all in the fray.
The battle with the huge ourangs had been hot enough, but this present combat exceeded all bounds, in the rage of the creatures pitted against each other. I could see at once that Reds and Blacks were old-time foes, as sure to fight on contact as are the different coloured ants. They smote at one another with the wildest ferocity. Club crashed on stone, and rock thudded fearfully on skull and ribs, till blood splashed widely about the place and heads were pulp.
It had all occurred with surprising abruptness. The contending bands were inextricably mixed; they surged together and swayed from wall to wall of the chasm, yelling defiance, snarling in wrath, groaning with agony. The crunch of bones and the thuds of those terrible clubs against naked flesh were awful to hear, yet the fight was such a whirlwind of action that no one thing could hold the attention a second, where deaths and mighty actions, and the crude but deadly club-play made a picture of such close-knit battle.
One second I noted the great chief of the Reds mow down two of the Blacks at a single swing of his blood-painted, light-flashing club of crystal; the next I noted how like the writhing of a snake was the death contraction of one of my friendly Links. Then the flash of a club swinging quickly to its living cushion of ribs and flesh made a brilliant streak against the background of dusky forms. I saw that the head of this weapon was a massive nugget of gold. In that second I also detected a movement from the corner of my eye where a black creature, wounded and desperate, was rising up, club in hand, to strike me down. It flashed upon me instantly that the Blacks, if they could not possess me themselves, would rather I were dead than allied with their enemies.
I was standing with my back to the wall, willing to see fair play, but too wise to become entangled in that medley of physical giants. The treachery now revealed made me angry in a second. The smell of fight in my nostrils had been working on my animal nature; a pin-prick would have been sufficient to arouse all my human frenzy for slaying. I turned about, burning with wrath, and had no more than struck down the wounded monster than three others leaped to perform the office in which he had failed. A reeking club was swinging in toward my head like a shot from a cannon. I dived below its line of motion and drove home my knife with all the lust of vengeance. My falling antagonist tripped and overtoppled the second, destroyed the blow he was about to aim and made him an easy mark for the dripping rock-crystal that crushed his shoulder and part of his neck to a boneless mass. The third met another of my friends and beat him down, only to be killed himself a second later.
Shrieks of agony had rent the air and screams of rage and yells of triumph made discord as a number of the black Links now fled abruptly down the chasm to escape. And the fellow with the nugget club turned to hurl his defiance and to shake his reddened fist at me, as I stood on a rock in a circle of my friends: The cause of the Reds I had made my cause; I had slain a Black. The feud between these warring tribes included myself. I had created deadly enemies in the land of Missing Links.
CHAPTER VI. LANGUAGE AND WEAPONS
THE darkness had begun to descend before we reached the camp, plainly causing anxiety to the Links, who were hindered on the march by the burden of several dead members of the tribe. Various sounds issued from the jungle, where brutes that eat flesh in the night were beginning to prowl. Doubtless no few of these smelled the blood that laded the wind which was sweeping down through the chasm.
I thought of all this and meditated much also on my peculiar situation. Why these two opposing bands of Missing Links should so desire myself as a prize as to fight with such fatal results, was a puzzle too deep for solution, considering that I had been treated by both parties in a manner far from being inimical to my safety. Were they cannibals, I asked myself, did they desire me for a dinner? Manifestly such was not the case, inasmuch as no man-eating creatures should be expected to be so moderate as to permit me to live in freedom as long as I had lived already in their settlement. No, their purpose involved something more permanent.
There was no end to the chatter as we hastened "home." Though I failed to understand this, yet the gestures were easy to interpret. Reason also made it plain that Fatty, when he fled from my side and escaped the Blacks, had darted toward the camp to give the alarm, meeting on the way the Links who had come to the rescue, they having started beforehand on information furnished by the females, who had watched us start toward the peak.
I recapitulated the results of my exploration. I was hopelessly lost, as far as any human beings were concerned. I was in the hands of friendly creatures, more primitive than the lowest mortal. My only chance of escape lay in cultivating the friendly feelings and in endeavouring to understand my companions, with a view to inducing a force, later on, to accompany myself on a march across the country to the sea. Incidentally I had much to do to keep myself partially civilised. I must fashion tools, in the use of which the Links must be instructed. We were surrounded by dangerous animals, and we had a powerful enemy, the force of whose numbers might be greater than our own. This would mean that I must make our tribe superior, and arm them with a better class of weapons. Fortunately the country promised to be one of great resources. Yet the only tool I had with which to start was my knife.
I thought of the endless array of implements of war and peace to be had in the poorest modern community. Such meditation being idle, I reflected how glad I would be to hammer out my own requisites from the crude iron, but this was equally vain. In short my thoughts came tumbling down the age of iron and the age of bronze, as if I had fallen back through time and history, to land at the very age of stone itself. Here I must work with stone for hammers, axes, drills and even for an anvil, supposing I had my white-hot metal ready to forge into shape, for there was nothing else to be had.
All this made me excited, eager to be at work. I was forgetful of all that it meant, as my brain pictured stage after stage of this new development, but when a cool night wind blew across my half-clothed body, I was aroused from my reverie and confronted by a pitiless array of facts. I then foresaw personal suffering, mayhap a miserable death, and toil and disappointment, before I could wrest even something small from the list of Nature, while I should have about me a tribe of semi-animal beings, fighting constantly for a bare existence. My hope and fate were rapidly being entangled with the lives and fates of these extraordinary creatures.
Before we reached the camp, the glow of fires shone brightly through the trees. The Links had learned the use of a lively blaze in keeping off the beasts of prey. I wondered how they had first started their fire, admitting that I should doubtless find no end of trouble if I were obliged to kindle one myself, without a match.
We were met by a large and enthusiastic band of the males, with Fatty in their midst. His capers, at seeing me whole and hearty, were enough to shake an ordinary individual to pieces. He made me ponder on another peculiar thing. How did it happen that he, being black, was not only living among the Reds, but was also at feud with the fellows of his colour? I made up my mind that he was either a freak, like the albino, born in the tribe, or else that he had been captured when a baby, and reared away from his kind. It was certain the black Links recognised a foe in the fellow, whatever his pedigree and blood.
Having conceived an idea, I was glancing about at the trees revealed by the glow of the fires, when I discovered a growth of stuff wherein there was a large portion dead and dry. Going to this, amid evident protest and questionings on the part of many Links, I took out my knife and cut away some likely looking branches. The wood I found to be exceedingly tough. It was hard work to get what I wanted. On bending it over, in an effort to break it off, where my cut had been made, I found it to be exceptionally elastic and stubborn, although I could see it had been dead and seasoned for many months. Getting out a long straight shaft, half as large as my wrist, and several other straight pieces a trifle larger than a pencil, I brought it all to the circle about the fire.
The Links, who were much excited over recent events, watched my every movement with the gravest concern. I faced them and attempted to convey, by signs and pantomime that I intended to make a bow and several arrows with which I could kill six of the number in the briefest time. They understood enough to be highly amused and delighted. There were an incredible number of things they did and said of which the meaning was clear, and with comparative ease I made Fatty understand that I wished him to boil me a dinner in the way he had seen me do already.
Fatty, I believe, was one of the most intelligent of all the Links. He made blunders enough in doing what I wished, while I tried to keep at work on my bow, yet he was insanely anxious to do me any favour and crazy with delight at being considered worthy of employment. Dinner cooking went forward again in the same desultory manner I had noted before, but a large majority of the Links sat or stood about me in the semi-darkness, seeming more than ever like apes as they glanced about with their nervous, round eyes, chattered their monkey-like language, and released the muscles of their long, uncanny arms. The glow that was tossed from the fire, making silhouettes of many an astounding red statue, painted a weird picture that night beneath the trees.
As I looked in their faces, many of them drawn with the first vague efforts of thinking, I beheld strange, fleeting promise of things to be, dim lights, as it were, of ambitions—desire to grasp a something just beyond their mental capacity. Many seemed awed by the simple sight of that knife, cutting away the stubborn wood in thin, smooth shavings, as it flashed in the light.
I put my finger on the blade. "Knife," I said, "knife."
A few, including Fatty, attempted to repeat the word. A chorus of peculiar laughter followed and the spell of awe was gone. As I worked, then, I pointed to various things and gave the name in English. There was not even one of the Links who failed to comprehend that I was making an effort to establish a means of communication between us, but a very few only tried my easy lessons. Fatty, however, was quite willing to "make a fool of himself," for he essayed everything, manfully. But better than this, the fellow attempted to reciprocate the favour. Thus when I had given a name to the blazing pieces of wood he waited a moment and then pointing to it earnestly said, distinctly:
Then he pantomimed burning his finger, and jerked it back, saying "Ouch" again. He made it plain that the fire would hurt if touched, that a Link would cry "ouch" at the smart, and that therefore a fire was named for this cry. When I proved that this much Link language was mine beyond a doubt, the ecstasy of my fat friend was most extravagant. Gratified with his effort, he soon made me acquainted with the names of a number of articles. These names were invariably chosen in a manner analogous to the one by which they had arrived at "ouch" for fire. For instance, a gurgle, impossible to set down in letters, was the name for water; a sound like a thud meant a club; an audible breath through the lips, (wind), signified a tree. Manifestly such "words" as these defy all efforts at spelling. I found them difficult to imitate, for the throat was largely employed to make the noises and my tongue seemed to be very much in the way. I tried my best, as I worked out my first crude bow, and when I had finished my dinner I felt that no little progress had been made toward a better understanding all around.
Inasmuch as there was more need for haste than there was for finish on my weapon, I made short work of tapering off the ends of my bow and cutting the notches. I then prepared several arrows, somewhat clumsy, but still fairly straight, after which I feathered them all, roughly, and attempted to break some of the glass-like "flints," I had found that day, into shapes that would pass for arrow-heads. This was a most unsuccessful business. An accident formed the only piece which by any stretch of the imagination could be conceived as what I desired. This I bound at the tip of a shaft, with cord similar to that which the Links employed on their clubs, but it was hopelessly awkward. Being then provided with more of their string, I bent my bow and had the satisfaction of seeing that it was fairly symmetrical in form and amazingly stout. Indeed, it broke the string, and I feared it had split at the sudden release, but this was not the case. In excitement and admiration, the Links now furnished me with a stouter cord, a cleverly twisted deer-gut, or tendon, which was nearly perfection for the purpose.
Fitting my pointed arrow on the string and bidding the Links stand aside, I drew it as far as I could and let it drive at the nearest tree. The twang that followed gave me a thrill of delight, as always it had done in the days of my youth, and I felt a gush of pride in my veins when the shaft stood quivering in the bark, its head so deeply buried that the greatest effort to drag it out merely broke it short off in the hands of the giant chief.
The Links knew not whether to be alarmed or delighted. Again I placed a shaft on the string. This time I signed for silence and turned the arrow straight up toward the star-dappled sky, to give my friends a rough idea of the height to which the wooden messenger would climb. In the absolute silence I drew even further than before. With a swish the arrow sprang from the humming string and disappeared like a bullet as it cleaved the upper darkness, near the trees.
I threw up my hand for continued silence. In eager expectation we waited. Beat, beat, beat, went my heart as the seconds were multiplied, the long stillness proclaiming the distance to which the arrow had sped. Longer became the time; I was thrilled with pleasure and surprise myself; it seemed as if the shaft never would return. How still was the night for that minute; not a breath was stirring.
Suddenly there was a swish—a plunk! as the leaf of a palm was punctured, and then a quick, incisive plith! as the shaft was driven forcibly home in the earth. It had come down about ten good strides away!
We hastened in a body to find it. There it was, standing straight as a line, stabbed six inches deep in the sod and roots of grasses, and—marvel of accidental things!—impaled upon it, half way up its length, was a bat, transfixed in action, still holding in its mouth an unswallowed moth.
Circumstance had completely eclipsed my humble skill, for this miracle of chance made me at once a species of god and devil, in the eyes of my wonder-smitten companions.
CHAPTER VII. IMPORTANT DISCOVERIES
IN the morning I witnessed a primitive ceremony, the burial of the dead, killed in our latest battle.
The ones who had been despatched by the savage ourang-outangs had been buried the day before, while I lay asleep beneath the trees.
The males proceeded, this morning, to a rocky gulch, not far from the camp, where the soil was largely of gravel and bits of stuff which I thought indicated a chalk formation below. Here they began to dig as if their lives depended on their speed, all of them scratching out the dirt with powerful, claw-like hands and sending it flying behind them, between their legs. In fact, they dug like so many dogs.
It was surprising how soon they had excavated a great hole, but they kept at it, hard and fast, taking turns, as if they had learned that depth was the only virtue of any vault for the dead. Chunks of rock flew out, with lesser debris, and some of the pebbles being smooth and round, I gathered half a dozen as large as a mango and pushed off the dampish soil adhering about them. This revealed their colour, which was chalkish white. I could not rely upon my limited knowledge of geological formations, yet I thought the pebbles looked very like chalcedony.
On a large rock, with another for a hammer, I struck one of my pebbles, when it split most neatly in twain. The inside had a moist appearance the like of which I had never noted before, but it was decidedly like flint, and I was therefore confirmed in my classification. Well satisfied with myself, I struck a half again, when I succeeded in splitting off a thin, flat section. Astonished at the manner in which this substance broke, I selected a neater "hammer" from among the rocks and began to knock off chips from my fragment, and almost before I could believe it myself, I had a crude arrow-head of which I felt I need not be ashamed. I was thoroughly amazed. Had I discovered a stone which lent itself peculiarly to chipping, or had I stumbled upon some flint in a natural condition for being worked? I remembered to have heard of rock which certain savages—notably those of Alaska—take from the earth while moist, in which condition they carve it with ease, and which subsequently grows as hard as glass. I wondered if this were not a similar material. Also I reasoned that savages must always have had some flint which was capable of being worked with the poorest of tools and by persons of no intellectual attainments, for all had made arrow-heads from the year of one.
In my zeal, I split the original pebble into six thin slabs, nearly all of them as regular as if I had cut them with a knife. These I wrought at with feverish eagerness. Too much haste soon ruined one for any purpose, but out of the others I got several heads, which should have been better, but which made me ready to dance with joy, for they suggested such wonderful possibilities, when care and patience and better tools should be employed.
I had quite forgotten the burial, but looked up from my hammer-hunting in time to see the stiffened bodies of the Links, who had given their lives in the fray, go rolling down to the bottom of the grave where they lay, looking terribly human. Then without even a moment's pause, for regret or touch of reverent feeling, the Links above turned their backs upon the bodies and began to scratch the dirt once more into place. A pang of sympathy welled up in my breast, for the brave fellows so lightly considered. I breathed a little hope that their rest might be that of peace.
Before the hole was full I had gathered together a lot of the pebbles. Later we all piled rocks on the grave till no animal of the jungle could have dug out the bodies in a week. I signified then that I wished my geological collection carried to camp, and this was accordingly done.
On arriving at the cave, I selected a rock for an anvil and others for tools, for a fit of work was on me. Fruits gave me breakfast enough. I chipped away rapidly, with never-ending astonishment at the rapid results achieved. It was easy even to indicate to Fatty and to one or two others what they could do to promote the manufacture of needed things. They were able to cleave the pebbles with reasonable accuracy and skill. I then made them understand that I wished the smaller pebbles split into thin slices and the larger ones into sections that were thicker.
I make no pretence that my arrow-heads were as fine as many a primitive man has fashioned in ages past, but at least they were sharp and provided with shanks for binding them to arrows and, what is more to the purpose, they accumulated fast. Of the longer pieces of flint I formed a number of spear-heads and knives. Some of these latter would doubtless have been as well named had I called them saws. With some pieces I made what I mentally dubbed experimental hatchets. All these things, as fast as made, were placed in the large sea-shell, which answered well as a receptacle.
Without interrupting my labours I managed to convey to the marvelling Links that I needed more of the wood for bows, arrows and handles. How they would manage to cut this material was more than I knew, yet I reasoned that inasmuch as they must have cut the handles of their clubs, they could do the work by some means or other. Their method surprised me. They built a fire near the place where I had cut the branch for the bow, and getting a peculiar hard wood into a glowing state, pressed the incandescent surface against the limbs desired, and then by blowing, burned them off, not rapidly, but with great neatness. The fiery brand passed through the wood much as a red-hot iron might in the hands of a smith.
We were an enthusiastic lot that morning, I directing and working at my flints, some preparing cords, many scraping handles with bits of the glass-like material I had found, and with which they were already familiar, while others bound my hatchets to hafts, rudely finished, and knife blades to smaller odds and ends of wood. It was remarkable how readily they grasped the meaning of various things. Their exclamations of surprise and acknowledgment of the virtue of our growing "arsenal" frequently suggested to me a something as if the fellows were surprised at the real simplicity of all and were wondering why they had never done the like before.
After three or four hours the heat of the sun became so great, on my unprotected head, that I abandoned the pebbles long enough to construct a makeshift for a hat. For this I employed some palm leaves, excellently suited to the purpose. The chief eyed all our business with something of a look of sullen disdain. Perhaps it was jealousy beginning to work. He held to his precious club of rock-crystal—which certainly gleamed with great beauty in the rays of sunlight piercing through the leaves—as if it were the all in all that a warrior should require. At his side was a fawning fellow whom I had marked before as lazy, small-headed and much too fond of grinning, in a manner which conveyed no idea of mirth nor good-nature, but which, on the contrary, threw his teeth into disgusting prominence.
At about noon, when I was cramped and tired, from my close application to the work, I was glad to see a small detachment of our number returning from an excursion in quest of meat. It was not until a subsequent time that I learned how they drove their game into pits, to replenish the larder, but this day I inaugurated a new system of cooking. It was too great a waste of time for each to cook for himself, or herself, and the women being employed at nothing more arduous than gathering fruits and suckling babes, I saw no reason why they should not become the chefs for the tribe.
Accordingly I soon had two uprights driven in the ground and a lot of meat spitted on the green branch of a sapling. With glowing embers from two fires, collected between my uprights, and the wooden spit resting upon them, I showed a female how to keep the roast turning. Again the Links approved of the plan, for they were quick to see that one person working in this manner, could cook for all as readily as for one. They were restless to be at the meat as soon as the first bit of brown appeared, but I kept them off, made them replenish the embers from fires burned down, and then I cut off the places where the meat was done with my knife, for general distribution.
Again at this meal I was mad for salt. What did these fellows do for this requisite seasoning? I asked myself, for I had always understood that even savages grow unhealthy, if they lack this mineral, and become willing to barter off their souls for a small pinch. There was no explanation of the riddle that day.
CHAPTER VIII. ATTACKED AND BESIEGED
WE set to work again in the afternoon, getting out a lot of material to be finished later. The following morning I won the regard of all—unless I except the fawning creature mentioned before—by giving lessons in archery, another bow and several arrows having been hastily completed. The Links proved themselves not only practicable, but most excellent pupils. They were magnificently muscled, to begin with, and therefore shot with force from the start, while all seemed to possess a natural knack, as if the weapon had once been theirs and then for long had been mysteriously lost.
In the midst of our "tournament" and while I was walking cautiously about, to get a shot at a brilliant bird which had flown into a near-by tree, a peculiar sound was uttered by many of the Links. The cause of their exclamation was revealed a second later, for moving through a clearing, not forty yards away, was a large black bear.
My heart leaped with excitement. I moved quickly to gain a point of vantage, raising the bow for a shot, when a dozen of the Links leaped in alarm between myself and the bear, raising their arms as if in affright and plainly imploring me not to shoot at the creature. This I thought absurd. I believed them to be a pack of cowards who feared the arrow might only serve to irritate the brute and so bring down its wrath upon us all. But in this I was mistaken. As I tried to wave them away—for the bear would be gone in a minute—they became frantic in their appeals. They indicated clearly that if I wished I might try the shaft on any one of themselves, if only I would spare the beast which had walked thus deliberately into camp.
There was nothing else for it; the creature disappeared before I could argue the question. Thereupon a score of males, foremost of whom was the chief, hurried to the place where the bear had paused a moment and there each placed his head on the ground with such a show of reverence and primitive superstition, that even I could comprehend they attached some great significance to this peculiar visit. When I reasoned how easily two or three with their terrible clubs could have despatched the animal, I concluded that they all regarded bruin's visit as an omen of particular good fortune.
I was speculating upon this occurrence when suddenly another cry—this time of alarm—startled us all. The males came dashing back from their adoration of the bear tracks, making a shrill sound of warning and waving their arms wildly. The females and scores of others ran pell-mell for the cave. Children came swinging down from trees as if the sky were raining little Links. Mothers fled with babes in their arms. There was sudden arming of the fighters.
Somewhat amazed I stood where I was, bow still in hand. Then the reason for the visit of the bear was speedily furnished. I was clutched and hustled off with the others, while with screams of savage vengeance—which mingled with a war-note, easy to understand,—innumerable black monsters swarmed from the woods and charged upon us.
The whole fighting tribe of black Missing Links, it appeared, had surrounded the camp. They were armed and ferocious, thirsting for revenge for the defeat of two days before, and seemed equal to the task of annihilating all our force. They had frightened the bear there before them.
In a time incredibly short, the Reds were in the cave. I was dragged and pushed in among the last. Then I saw my precious new weapons, twenty feet away—arrow-heads, spear-heads, knives, hatchets, handles, bows and all. Tearing away I dashed out to these and brought the sea-shell, with its contents back to safety. Fatty darted out in my tracks, saving a number of unfinished bows, but the foremost Blacks were almost upon him. The chief himself—who thereby testified his high appreciation of the collection—leaped from the cave, to get all he could of what we had missed. I turned about in time to see him fill his arms and hands. A great black Link bounded swiftly up with brandished club, to smash his rival's skull. My whole being thrilled, thus to behold the bravery of our great red fellow who, leaping like a panther, refused to drop anything, in such a moment of peril. Cries of warning and of terror went up from the cave. I jerked up my bow, with a pointed arrow, strung. Lustily I drew against that powerful deer-gut. There was only a foot in which to miss the chief and hit the pursuing Black. The arrow sped like a streak. It struck the murderous creature fairly at the base of the throat, crashed clean through his neck and protruded on both sides at once.
He plunged forward, striking such a blow on his face that the arrow was driven to the feathers in the hole it had made. A chorus of howls resulted. The Links immediately on the heels of their fallen companion, halted abruptly, in dread and horror, yet on came a hundred behind them, mad for blood.
A blunt arrow, shot too high, but which nevertheless struck another black Link in the forehead, smashed its way through his skull before it shattered and split into pieces. Then the crystal club caved in the chest of the only assailant who had reached the cave, for the chief had recovered his fighting position like an elastic spring, and was ready to deal a fearful death to any who should dare attempt to enter the frowning mouth of the cave. Reinforced by another fighter, the chief could almost have stayed the rush of an army, coming in singles and pairs through the open door.
This fact the attacking creatures realised quickly. Another of the arrows, which missed the mark for which it had been intended, broke the arm of a powerful Black and compelled him to drop his club. His cry was a signal for all to halt and draw back, to consider what had best be done. They had us trapped, but how should they now proceed to beat out our brains?
The last of my arrows was gone too soon, but the visible effect of these silent messengers of death was that of terror on the part of the mystified Blacks. Had we possessed a score of bows, with a quiver full of arrows for each, in the hands of skillful archers, we should have won a bloody battle and driven the foe away, hopelessly routed, but they had surprised us completely, in our unprepared condition, and the situation was decidedly theirs in point of advantage.
Behind me, in the cave, the females and young ones were being sent to the rear. There was much excited chatter and much uneasiness of movement among all the huddled creatures. What the Blacks would do was evidently a matter of great concern.
Our besiegers decided soon on aggressive measures. They gathered all the loose rocks, which were practical as missiles, and rushing forward, hurled them into the cave with tremendous violence. Not a few of our party received bruises from the first volley, but many stones missed the cave entirely and many merely struck the rock walls and so fell harmlessly down. All that came to hand were immediately gathered, so that when the second company advanced to supplement the first fusilade, they were met by a fierce return shower of rocks, which stretched two Blacks on the ground.
This business proving unprofitable was not long continued. The Blacks retired again for consultation the result of which was that more than a dozen soon lighted brands at our smouldering fires and threw these in upon us as they darted by the opening of the cavern. No serious injury came from this. Our fellows would have flung these fiery spears back again, had I not restrained the action. The branches, it occurred to me, made torches too good to sacrifice for nothing. I therefore extinguished a number and kept several lighted. These latter we passed to the rear, in order that our positions might not be revealed to the foe.
This throwing in of fire was concluded abruptly when the giant chief, watching his opportunity, sprang out, as one of the Blacks was running by, and battered in his head with the gleaming club. The rage of the assailants increased momentarily. They saw themselves baffled by a force inferior to their own, although they had us cornered.
With no little anxiety, we watched them detach a company of powerful fighters and send them off out of sight. This could not indicate retreat, I knew, for the ones who were left were too expectant. Perhaps, I thought, this was a blind to make us believe the force was now so reduced that we could charge them from the cave in safety and drive the invaders from the camp. There were, indeed, a few in our party, as I could see, who desired to attempt such a sortie, but fortunately the chief and other wise fellows overruled the suggestion.
While we were waiting, restless and worried, the plan of the Blacks was suddenly revealed. Amid yells of triumph and hatred, there came a thundering shower of rocks and boulders from directly above the cave, falling down across its mouth, heaping rapidly up, filling the place with a stifling dust and obliterating much of the light of day. The party detached had gone around and climbed on top of the terrace in which the cave was hollowed out. It would simply have been to court a sudden death had any of us attempted to dash from the place. Startled, undecided as to what we ought to do, we stood there paralysed, while the bewildering Niagara of sand and stone kept rumbling and crashing down. Before we realised what was occurring, the barrier had grown to a heap that was midway up across the opening of the hole.
There were strange cries, roars and howlings, from those behind us. Above the din rose the piercing screams of delight from the horde without. All of them now rushed to the spot in a body and began to heap up all the stones they could gather. Blinded, confused and frightened, my friendly Links began to jostle about, in the dread and anguish of the doomed.
In less than five minutes the last rays of light were being blotted out. The sounds of the army still building the barrier higher and thicker came dully in. The cave was sealed; we were buried alive in an unknown tomb!
CHAPTER IX. THE CAULDRON OF GOLD
THROUGHOUT the mass of Links in the cavern, the news of the unforeseen calamity spread with great rapidity. Some of the females set up a wailing; the "men" all chattered at once; baby Links caught the infection of fear and began to cry. A more demoralised collection of beings it would be hard to conceive.
The tremendous advantage gained by the Blacks was readily comprehended by all the older males. They knew, as well as I, that did they attempt to dig out, the Links in waiting on top of the heap could kill them as fast as a head appeared; they also seemed to know that their enemies would wait outside, long enough to be sure that all of us had starved to death, before they finally decamped.
So desperate seemed the prospect that I got in a fever myself. We should all have been in absolute darkness had not the torches been lifted up, and these cast so feeble an illumination that the crowded-in mass of Links appeared like a great serpent, along the body of which weird muscular contractions were flitting. The place was stifling, for the day was hot, and here we appeared to get no air. I began to think we should never live long enough to starve.
To all my attempted questions, by signs and otherwise, concerning the further end of the cave, the chief and others gave answers which were decidedly in the negative. They seemed even fearful of the chamber, now that we were trapped and unable longer to go out into the light and air. Nevertheless I did not propose to remain there motionless till death should bring me to a finish. I therefore made my way through the moving crowd, toward the torches. Fatty followed closely. His face was positively ludicrous in its solemnity, which was oddly mocked by the skull he wore on his head, for this ghastly thing had slipped rakishly down on one side.
So helpless and dependent had the Links become, in the face of our danger, that it seemed as if they could not bear to let me out of their sight. In consequence of this all tried to follow where I went, but so densely were we packed very soon that this became impossible. The chief, however, thrust himself along in our wake, apparently bidding the others be still and remain where they were. Taking one of the torches I worked my way past the last of the females and youngsters—the latter like frightened little monkeys, unable to escape me and dreading to be touched—when I soon came to what seemed to be the wall at the end of the cavern.
The light was so poor that for a moment I failed to discover a small hole to the right. Into this I thrust the lighted brand. To my great delight it cast a glow on the walls of a cavern beyond, quite as wide as the one we were in and the end of which was not in view. Believing that anything was better than stagnation in such a tomb as ours, I attempted to kick off the edges of the hole, to render it large enough for a man to pass. I succeeded in breaking away one small fragment only. My knife came out and I should have sacrificed its point and edge to widen the aperture, had not the chief pushed me gently aside. With his magnificent club he smote the rock a score of giant blows, knocking chunk after chunk into the gloom beyond.
"That's good—that's enough!" I cried finally, and climbing through with Fatty almost on my back, I beckoned to the chief to follow with all his people. I reasoned that nothing could be worse than to remain where we were, no matter where this passage might lead—or end.
Misgivings were rife, but the chief was evidently in undisputed command. Some of the Links followed eagerly, others with moans of doubt and fear. Nothing so much resembles the sound they made as the uneasy whining of a dog that is driven or dragged to a place of which it has a terror, but this sound was magnified till it filled the place.
"Ouch," I said to them, pointing to the torch, "ouch."
They understood and lighted more of the brands from the one just behind. The added light gave them added courage. The tunnel we were now in was spacious, and cooler. The floor was rough with rocks, yet I think we made excellent time. The passage wound and its grade was uneven, up for a space, then down, then level.
In half an hour I came to a halt, for the rock hall-way divided; a branch led off to the right and another went off to the left. In order to save time, should the wrong one be selected first—if there was a wrong one,—I determined to go up the left-hand passage alone. If I came to an exit I could hurry back and bid the Links to follow. If, on the contrary, I discovered any barrier which compelled retreat, it would certainly be better for one only to be obliged to return, instead of all, and then we could make a trial of the second tunnel. Enough of this I was able to convey to the chief to make him content to wait. He instructed the Links to sit down on the floor, setting the good example of patience himself.
Fatty felt privileged to dog my heels. As a matter of fact I was glad enough to have him go along, for the place was none too cheerful at the best. We came upon difficult walking presently, and also the corridor narrowed down. I believed it would end in a mere fissure, yet I could not afford to condemn it, nor to decide where it went, without a thorough trial.
After plodding a mile in this stuffy place, we climbed a jagged heap of fragments and paused abruptly, for the sound of a roaring and rumbling came from the darkness in a manner most disagreeably impressive. It continued a brief time only and then the ringing silence of a sepulchre ensued. We resumed the onward march. Passing down an incline, where the rocks slid under foot, I fell heavily and rolled toward the bottom. Unable to stop, I dropped the torch and underwent an instantaneous sensation of fear, as I continued downward toward the abyss of night. Then Fatty clutched me by the ankle; we slid together a second longer, and stopped. He lifted the torch. I was on the brink of a yawning precipice.
A chill flashed down my spine. Most cautiously I arose and took the light. There appeared to be no bottom to the pit.
"Gee whizz!" I muttered.
"Gee wizz!" said Fatty, with remarkable distinctness.
I looked at the creature in a sort of wonder. Animal or man, my heart sent a great gush of feeling all through my being toward him, as I saw him smiling fondly in my face. He should always have my friendship after this. I could almost fancy the old fellow was wagging a tail all to pieces, such a light was in his restless eyes; and yet his face was almost that of a fat, good-natured Negro.
Being careful where I stepped, I moved along the edge of a great well, came to a place where the shelf widened, and found myself facing a short hall, at the end of which there was light, dim and diffused. We were soon at the limit of our journey in this direction, for here also the precipice terminated the passage.
As I looked below I saw that vapour was rising, as if from heated rocks. Then I made out fissures in the floor, fifty feet below us; and this floor was covered with peculiar excrescences, half-hidden by the steam. When revealed, these resembled stalagmites, melted and slumped down like great nodules, "double-chinned," I am tempted to write, but "double" would not express the multiplicity of "chins." These nodules appeared to be of the brightest yellow colour, but so often were they veiled in the mist that I could not be sure of anything concerning their appearance and formation.
Presently, while I was trying to study the odd features of the place, as well as to determine the source of the light, the rumbling and roaring we had heard before recommenced. It was louder, more awe-compelling, for it came from the fissures directly beneath us. It seemed to go booming upward and through the cavern as if the god of the under world were grumbling out a huge complaint. This noise increased, in wave-like volumes; the rock gave a tremor, and then with a seething and hissing, with a tumble of sound which issued from the depths of the earth-creature, as if it were growling at having to work, a great geyser of boiling water and steam shot upward and toppled back to its bed. I reeled away, with an involuntary movement. Below, the water swashed about and foamed in mighty agitation. The cauldron heaved up swirling tides and the drowned murmur burst forth through bubbles. The giant below gathered anew a mighty strength and blew up a fountain as high as where I was standing.
I saw a falling blob of the water strike on a small projection near my foot. Then the demonstration ceased, the roar became subdued, as if the grumbler withdrew to his realm of molten substance, and only great clouds of the vapour arose as before. The projection where the water had struck caught my glance, for assuredly it possessed a remarkable gleam. Stooping I looked at it closely. It was a nodule of something metallic, shaped somewhat like a small pear. I touched it, finding it barely warm; then I grasped it firmly and gave it a wrench. It came away from the rock in my hand.
By its remarkable weight, its colour and its lustre, I knew it instantly for gold. It was solid gold, Nature's own deposit—a nugget most peculiarly constructed. I knew in that moment that all those massive nodules below had a right to gleam with yellow colour, for all were gold—the purest gold, from the great inscrutable laboratory of earth itself!
I recalled what I had read and learned of the waters and acids mingled with the molten interior of the planet; how they dissolve the precious metals, hold them in solution and come with them bubbling to the surface, spouting through the fissures in the crust; how through the centuries they deposit atom by atom of their rich freightage on the rocks, permeating the very tissue of stones and porous substances, to leave them at last all streaked and flaked with gleaming yellow; and then how the fluids retire, the earth cools down, and man—ages after—comes wandering by and delves day and night to rob the fissures of their hoardings.
I knew that below us a monster treasure-house was being filled by this wonderful process, slowly, surely, regularly, hour after hour, while generation after generation of men came and strove and went to their graves, willing to bargain off souls to know where to get but a little of this cold, glinting metal of the earth. We had come upon the hoary alchemist and caught him at his work.
But the pit might as well have been a mile in depth, as far as reaching the wealth, or the outside world with which I believe it connected, was concerned, for we had no means of getting down in the place and its heat would have made this impossible, even if we had possessed the best of ladders or ropes. All the gold in the world, moreover, was worth no more than so much dross to me; the dream of emerging again to the light was vastly more to be coveted. Reluctantly acknowledging that the diffused light which was here probably came from the outside world through a cave which I could not by any possibility reach, I placed the small nugget in my pocket, and making sure that the passage through which we had come was of no value to me or to the party of Links, I retraced my steps, with Fatty following noiselessly behind.
CHAPTER X. DAYLIGHT AT LAST
THERE were many expressions of relief on the part of our waiting friends when again the forward movement was commenced, in the right-hand tunnel. Those at the rear had become particularly anxious; the darkness was evidently a source of much vague alarm.
The passage we were now in was inclined downward. It wound in a general direction at right angles to the one which led to the cauldron of gold. In places it became so low that we were obliged to creep on hands and knees. This condition finally prevailed, so that I began to believe we were wedging ourselves into a crack. If this were true, then the case would be worse than hopeless—it would be most horrible. The death, one by one, of all the Links, in such a place as this, would be appalling to the last degree.
I went steadily on, my knees growing tender from contact with the rocks. Presently Fatty and the chief, directly behind me, gave a low exclamation of affright. I halted, but heard nothing.
Perhaps they were able to smell some enemy, for certainly their monosyllables gave a warning, easy to interpret.
"What is it?" I said, as if they could understand and let me know. "What's the matter?"
Those behind made low sounds of worry. It made me desperate. If anything confronted us now, it was too late to pause; there was no such thing as turning back. I drew my knife and advanced, feeling cold creepers go down my back. It might be the den of a tiger I thought, but surely such a beast would prefer to run out rather than to face so weird a foe as we would have seemed to be, proceeding through the cave, for we made a strange sound, moving, breathing and expressing our various emotions.
Fatty was halting, whining, coming on and halting again in a most disquieting manner. The chief seemed to realise that we might as well die in one way as another, yet I noted a look of dread on his face, such as one often sees in the eyes of a startled horse, when approaching dangers which he feels by instinct. It occurred to me now that if anything were in the cave, then the end must be near—an opening to the outside world!
"Come on, you fellows," I said at this, and holding my torch before me, rounded a corner. Immediately a glimmer of light, through down-hanging foliage and vines, revealed the exit we were seeking. Made careless for the second, I was suddenly startled most loathsomely. I had placed my hand on a cold, moving body—a snake which was crawling toward the light.
Electrified into galvanic action, I plunged my knife into the body of the serpent half a dozen times, as fast as I could strike, feeling my hair "crawling" as I did it. The head of the reptile came backward—a great flat head with bulges of poison-glands making it hideous. I knew he was deadly. The knife stabbed clean through his neck and ground on the rocks beneath; his jaws stretched open fearfully; his lip receded from the two great fangs, but he was killed, though the body writhed and twisted belly upward in powerful muscular contractions.
"Ugh!" I had said, as I struck.
"Ugh!" repeated Fatty and the chief.
"Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!" went echoing back through the cave, as the Links repeated the utterance, in dread. I had stumbled on their word for snake, or any reptile.
I thought we should encounter more of the snakes, but not until I had come, most cautiously, to the growth which formed a door to the cavern, did I see anything move. In the vines a few inches of tail were intertwined, but before I could deliver a good stab, this serpent escaped. I now slashed away tendrils and creepers in a sort of frenzy, for the darkness and closeness of the cave had oppressed me with a feeling which developed into horror. We in the lead were soon out, on a small bluff, overlooking a dense wood; indeed there was jungle all about. I heard not a few sounds of crashing branches, where heavy-weight animals made away from the neighbourhood and sound of our voices.
What a strange sight it was to see the cave pouring forth that collection of ape-like Links. Nearly all were chattering—not talking—like so many monkeys, frightened to the point of being crazy. On getting out into the light, not a few ran about as if they would leave us altogether and hide in the trees. The fighters, however, huddled the females and young ones together, and glanced about and at me, with their round, restless eyes, as if to know what to do next. Left to themselves they would doubtless have soon been self-reliant and capable of thinking and acting for themselves, but having followed me blindly, through an ordeal totally foreign to any previous experience, they were hopelessly dependent upon me now. This I knew, for even the fawning creature was humbled.
I knew also that our old "home" would have to be abandoned and a new one made. I was likewise aware of the necessity of selecting a place which could be more easily defended—a point of vantage. This base we must secure as speedily as possible, for already the sun was nearly down. Studying the faces of the calmer Links, as they looked about, I was not encouraged to believe they knew where we were, with regard to the abandoned camp. To get my bearings I went up the hill we were on, to the edge of the jungle. From there I was able to see a portion of the lake which I had seen from the volcanic peak. Above this water, on the summit of a hill, was a clear space, discernible, with rock formations and indications of springs. If it had fruit-bearing trees it would be nearly right for our needs and purposes.
Fatty and several others, including the chief and his albino mate, having followed me up the hill, I indicated the spot to which I desired them to lead the way. They comprehended and conveyed the whole plan to the tribe in about three separate monosyllables, whereupon we made a start.
CHAPTER XI. A CAMP ON THE HILL
WE found signs of wild animals in great number and variety, as we forced our trail through the jungle, but so considerable a concourse of creatures as ours was sure to frighten anything and everything from the line of march. It seemed to me to be a place in which company was exceedingly desirable.
A feeling of relief came over me when at length we reached the clearing we had selected from afar, and made our way to the rounded summit of the hill. No sooner had I signed for a halt than half a dozen of the fighters advanced and laid at my feet the sea-shell receptacle, filled with our flints, and everything else which had been saved when we fled into the cave, all of which had been carried at great pains through the tunnel. These things I had quite forgotten in our stress of cares.
The place we had reached proved to be ideal for a settlement. Not only were fruit and nut-trees abundant, but the forest contained countless woods of value, while huge bamboos were flourishing not far away, at a marshy spot, and the hills and ravines about us were teeming with birds and game. We held a commanding position, the rock-formations of which made a natural fortification nearly complete. Through the trees, in one direction, I could see the lake, a thing which gave me the greatest delight, for I thought it might mean almost anything to me, later on.
Although we got the benefit of a cooling breeze, the end of the day was intensely hot. While we had been out of the tunnels probably no longer than about an hour and a half, yet the whole adventure made the day seem very long. Thirsting for water, I hastened down the side of our hill to where I saw signs of a spring. Clear water, sure enough, was gushing out of a fissure, and I hastened to drink. The first mouthful fetched me up standing, bitterly disappointed. The water was salt. For a second I was ready to curse the living fountain, and then I fairly danced with delight.
Salt! The only thing I really needed, and the rocks and banks of this little stream were white with the precious incrustation! I lost no time in scraping some off the pebbles at the edge, after which I got some pure, cold water for drinking at another spring a hundred yards away. I had known of hot springs and cold springs, almost side by side, in Nevada, and of sulphur springs and iron springs and countless other varieties, but it had never before been my fortune to drink from a spring of brine. This elated me beyond anything yet discovered.
Before I could rejoin the main body of my fellows, a few were striking off hap-hazard, for rations. Some vigorous sign-language, which I found I could make more forcible if I also talked out what I wanted to convey, in Anglo-Saxon, begot a show of order. Twenty fellows went after fruit and nuts for all; as many crept into the woods to dig some pits and attempt to drive in some game; others fetched wood for the fires, as well as for more of the bows and arrows. I had a lot of the females gather a species of tough reed, much resembling osiers, and although I knew little of weaving, I succeeded in making a small, clumsy basket, which at least served to initiate the scheme, but it took some time before we achieved any results worth mentioning in this needed line of utensils.
At the head of a gang I began to supplement our natural ridges of rock with a wall made of piled-up stones. It would never do to be defenceless again. During all our work and hustling about, the chief stood leaning on his rock-crystal club, his albino mate at his side, and the fawning-fellow—whom I named Grin—smiling maliciously at all I did. The chief saw a certain amount of usurpation in my ordering the work. The new mode of things amazed him, for the Links not only had a keen comprehension of what I wanted, but they actually vied with one another in the zeal with which they laboured to perform my bidding.
Darkness came on before we had accomplished much in any direction. The old female who muttered had preserved a glowing coal from the torches, a trick made the easier by the wood she employed, for it possessed the property of retaining fire for a time incredibly long.
"Here, Granny," I said to her, as if by habit, "make ouch here, ouch over there, and ouch against the rock."
By the light of the flames, I constructed a rude shelter for myself. The Links had a way of massing up in bunches on the ground, to sleep, a system which hardly appealed to my fancy. Already two or three dozen of the youngsters were curled on the ground and were doubtless deep in dreams.
We ate no meat that evening, for the hunters came back empty-handed, as soon as the light began to fail in the woods. An hour after night had settled down, they were all at rest, save Fatty and myself. I sat before a glowing fire, thinking, wondering what would come out of this strange caper of my frolicsome fate. I planned out work, with escape for my motive, and builded strange structures in the air, as I looked vacantly into the embers. Fatty watched me eagerly, his nervous eyes as lively as quicksilver. The light shone on half of his face and illuminated the skull tied on top of his head, with a changeful glow. He tried his best to remain awake and help me to think it all out, but his head would nod, and his eye-lids insisted on drooping, till at length he slumped, rather than curled down, fast asleep.
How long I sat there, getting drowsy myself and intending all the while to go to my shelter, is more than I know. A scream woke me suddenly at last. The moon had nearly set, but still was casting a mellow light on the world. A mass of the Links made a singular picture, as they scrambled about in a great confusion. Then out of their midst leaped a monster beast—a long, thin tiger, with a female Link, now flung upward, now dragged, now half across his shoulder, held in his mouth, and she fairly splitting the air with her cries, as he ran away with her bodily.
I saw the brute clear the ridge of rock and bound down the slope to the region of shadows, like a thing of evil; I heard a Babel of affrighted chattering; I heard roars and howls and death-songs, out in the jungle where the creatures held carnival of blood. I saw the fear of my men-children, huddling about me; and I felt a longing to hover them all from harm.
They were badly demoralised, but we built up the fires anew, and made more, to enclose all the tribe. Then for hour after hour I walked about the camp, keeping the fires from dying away, while out in the savage world beyond, the prowlers ate, and growled at the "kill."
CHAPTER XII. A DEADLY FOE
AT sunrise, when all the Links were actively awake, there appeared to be a strong inclination, on the part of many, to leave this new settlement and flee to the woods. The visit of the tiger had terrified the females and not a few of the fighters. The fawning creature, Grin, was the moving spirit in this scheme of flight, but the chief could not be readily persuaded to leave when he saw that I was strongly opposed to any such measure of retreat.
I knew the tribe to be more or less nomadic, and I believed them capable of finding a clearing wherein we could live, by constantly fighting the jungle brutes, yet I was convinced that the welfare, not only of myself, but of all concerned, would be better served by remaining where we were. Attempting to show them how we could guard ourselves against future enemies by adopting various measures, I set them the example of working on the wall and of building sheltered dug-outs, succeeding at last in quieting many fears and convincing the chief that we were the safest on the hill.
All day long we toiled at sundry occupations, but the work to accomplish was great and the efforts of my workmen, though the fellows were strong and willing, were so crude that progress was slow. We needed weapons, more than anything else, unless I except the shelters. I worked continuously at making bows and arrows. In this labour I was considerably assisted by three Links whom I finally selected as the most ingenious and teachable fellows of the tribe. To my great delight I found that my flints had already become exceedingly hard from being exposed to the air. This rendered the hatchets and knives remarkably efficient as tools.
The fighters dug seven or eight large, shallow holes in the earth, during the day, and a few were covered with branches of trees and thatched with enormous leaves before evening. What with helping to carry stones for the wall and wood for various purposes, the females accomplished but little on the baskets which I had hoped they would make. They were not as practical as the males, having never been obliged to construct so much as a blanket or a string of beads.
As a relaxation from my other employment, I busied myself with weaving a basket that night by the fire. The material was none of the best, and I could only guess how the work should be done, nevertheless I succeeded in finishing an awkward affair which would hold above a bushel of fruits and which required two men to carry it home when filled.
For two more days we swarmed that hill-top like a colony of ants. At the end of that time we had three good fire-places, builded of stone, thirty-odd bows, more than eighty arrows, four baskets, nine tolerably decent dug-outs, and a wall nearly completed about our city. Also we had plenty of meat, for the hunters had driven some goat-like deer into their pits, after their primitive fashion, not to mention a number of birds cleverly captured. In this latter business they utilised a sticky substance procured from a weed-like tree, the stuff being plastered on the branches of trees much frequented by the birds, which, alighting, got their feet, feathers and wings quickly gummed, so completely that escape was impossible. I was anxious to have the fighters begin practise with the bows, but as yet we had been too busily engaged with work for any such diversion.
Just before evening that day I strolled to the edge of the jungle, with the faithful Fatty at my heels, to try for a shot with some of our latest arrows. The chief being away, at the head of a hunting company, I waved back all others who would have followed. We found nothing to shoot at but a squirrel, and this lively little animal evaded me time after time, as I stepped quietly about.
I was just on the point of raising the bow at last when from almost under my feet a fine turtle started to run toward a heap of rocks. He was almost round and his back was unusually high, so much like half a sphere was his shell. Immediately I thought what an excellent bowl or basin this would make, and thereupon abandoned the squirrel and started after the tortoise.
He moved much faster than one might have supposed possible. Nevertheless I lifted him plump on his back with a movement of my foot, and then I jumped violently away. I had almost trodden on a hooded snake, which struck at my foot most viciously and then attempted to escape.
Fatty lost no time in getting too far away to be of any help. I tried a shot at the reptile with the bow, but missed. The creature would have escaped in a moment. I dropped everything to gather up some rocks, and a large one of these I succeeded in smashing upon the creature so hard that it broke his back and pinned him down, close behind the head. Despatching my turtle then I hastened back to camp.
In the great sea-shell I boiled the turtle, not without the greatest trouble. The Links ate the meat, for I felt no hankering after this species after one trial. The shell was all I had expected, when at last it was clean, for I had felt the need of a basin in which to wash.
Well satisfied with the work of the day, and having impressed a trio of Links into service as guard for the night, I turned in early and soon dropped off into the heaviest sort of slumber. Sometime in the night a hideous noise and a violent jerking at my foot brought me suddenly to my senses. I rushed out, bowling over Fatty in my haste, to find the Links again verging on insanity from fright.
The man-eating tiger had crept upon us again and borne off one of the very guards themselves, who had gone to sleep promptly, upon my retiring.
I believe I cursed the wretches who had slept at the post of duty, for I had much to do to restore the slightest resemblance to calm among the excited creatures. Then in the morning, as I thoroughly expected, the tribe was unanimous for deserting the works at once, to go anywhere—whither they cared nothing at all,—so long as they put the deepest jungle between themselves and this dreaded foe. A tiger such as this, I could see, created a terror as great as the Links could contain. There was no suggestion of a courage sufficient to battle with the brute; there was one adequate scheme only, in their minds and this was flight.
Situated as we were with that lake below us, on which I had builded a vague sort of hope, I was determined to go the utmost bounds before I would consent to move a yard. I pantomimed in desperation and jabbered fairly good English and added my few words of bad Linkish (or Lingo), to make them understand that I would undertake to kill the man-eater myself, that coming night. Even this "announcement" appeared to be in vain, for a time, especially as I had to work against the wretched influence of Grin, the fawning coward, who had an unmistakable power in "getting around" the chief. At length, however, my counsel prevailed. But I could see that failure to execute my boasted vengeance on the brute of the jungle would mean the total overthrow of "my city" and my hold upon the primitive imaginations of the Links.
Feeling that if they did leave all behind and plunge anywhere through the forest I should be obliged to go along, regardless of the fact that this would make my escape even more than ever hopeless, and realising also that I had assumed a large contract under any circumstances, I was decidedly anxious, the moment after they finally consented to my rash suggestion. Indeed, though I kept at the work, as I strove to devise a plan of attack on the tiger, throughout the morning, I became nervous and doubtful of my ability to perform the vital deed. My brain seemed capable of only the wildest schemes, all of which were as utterly impracticable as flying to London for a gun-Having never killed a tiger I knew nothing of his habits, beyond the fact that he was almost always sure to return to his "kill," if undisturbed, on the second night, and even on the third, if there still remained undevoured portions of his victim sufficient for a meal. I could fancy this brute treading silently up to the ghastly remains; I could picture him, bloody of muzzle, fierce-eyed, alert and terrible, as he dined in his dread loneliness. How I wished that a snake, more silent than himself, might glide upon him and strike him deep with its venomous fangs!
A snake!—Why a snake to be sure! It suggested just the plan! I had no weapon reliably stout enough to give him a mortal wound, but I could, perhaps, bury a poisoned arrow in his blood—a shaft that need but scratch to do its deadly work. The snake I had killed the day before might still be fresh enough to furnish the fatal juice, and then—if I could find the mangled body in the jungle, perhaps—perhaps—
I was more excited and nervous now than before. Three times I was on the point of crying quits. Once I was nerved anew by the contemplation of the lake and our settlement, which meant that I was working out a plan of escape, already nicely started. Again, I was hardened to the task by the thought that, surrounded as I was in this unknown region, with death so easy on every hand, I was childish to wish to avoid this one particular danger, perhaps only to plunge into others far more awful. The third time I was steeled by observing the sneering smile on the face of Grin, which seemed to mock my show of manhood. This was the thing which made me put all doubt and hesitation away.
In the late afternoon, having selected five of the straightest and truest of the arrows tipped with flint, and having seen that the bow-string was stout and reliable, I walked off boldly, alone, and went to where the hooded snake lay crushed beneath the rock. Until I was out of sight the Links watched me, narrowly, all of them standing together on the hill. The body of the snake was where I had left it, the tail partially eaten by something, which must have been desperately hungry. Cutting off the head I pried open the jaws with a stick and my knife, finding the poison-glands of great size.
The venom flowed thickly out when I tore the sacks open with the point of an arrow, and although the whole revolting operation made me nearly ill, I fairly bathed the flints in the viscid substance. Holding the arrows carefully from me, to let them dry, I concealed the serpent's head beneath a rock, for I did not wish the Links to know what I had done, and so to learn the use of so deadly a creature.
Skirting the edge of the woods, I came opposite our settlement, at about the point where I judged I had seen the tiger disappear, in the jungle, the night when he carried away the female from our midst. Here I had not far to search before I found trampled grass, vines ripped aside and even the tracks of the brute's massive paws. With a fast-beating heart and also with a tremendous desire to turn and run, I stepped noiselessly along in this suggestive trail.
The stillness, save for the note of a far-away bird, or the quick start of some porcupine or sloth, frightened from its haunt, was terribly oppressive. I confess to have had a constant feeling as if my hair were standing upright on my head, as I slowly made my way into that tangle of greenery. The day seemed suddenly to have grown old and dark. I felt horribly near to the lair of the man-eater, knowing that he had actually been in the place such a short time before.
Presently I came upon a clearing which was hardly thirty feet across in either direction. Approaching the centre of this I started violently, for I nearly stumbled across the mangled body of my sentinel Link of the night before. I had not believed it could be so near the edge of our own clearing. The tiger, I thought, had grown thus insufferably impudent, not to say indifferent to our nearness to his feast, because he had never been hunted, nor even threatened with retaliation.
The body was a ghastly sight, so human-looking, so fearfully fresh! I turned away my head and somewhat retreated. How much I desired to dash madly away—out to the sunlight—I can never convey to another mind. I had no feeling of bravery left; it seemed to me as if the jungle were filled with deadly creatures, prowling about me as I stood in the place.
What should I do, now that I had found the spot I had dreaded to find? Would the tiger come back that night? I felt only too sure that he would. Looking about me I saw that a great tree held out a branch which was easy to climb. It was such a relief to think of getting off the ground, up out of reach of the creatures which might come creeping or prowling along, that I waited only long enough to tie the end of a long, cord-like creeper about my bow and arrows, when I scrambled up in the tree as if all the fiends of Hades had been upon my track. I make no excuse for the lack of courage I felt, for absolutely I could not help it, strive as I might.
Once up on the branch, however, I felt better. Moving along to a bend, where a lot of creepers were thickly interlaced, I found a sort of natural seat, not quite directly above the terrible "kill," below in the trodden and red-painted grass. In this seat I could rest my weight, my position then being one of half erectness, my feet on the great branch, my body leaning against the supporting vines. Drawing up my weapons, I so disposed four of the arrows that I could easily and safely find them in the dark—which I tried by closing my eyes. Then I fitted the fifth one to the bow-string and prepared myself for a lengthy wait.
CHAPTER XIII. THE NIGHT IN THE JUNGLE
IT SEEMED as if I had been in the tree for an age when the sun finally sank behind the hill. For long the twilight had been dim in the jungle, and creepers and shadows made a picture of grotesque forms, wrapped about and hung as if with serpents, like a weird conception by Dore. There was rarely a sound. It seemed like the hour when the day-creatures crept stealthily home to caves and covers, afraid they were already too late and sure to be overtaken by the prowlers of the darkness.
Once I had a fearful up-welling of excitement suddenly flood my being and make my heart to thump heavily. An armadillo came trotting quietly into the open space below me. The movement was what caught my glance, and for the second I thought only of the tiger. Then the little animal sniffed that gory object and darted instantly away.
The darkness increased. Some early complainer howled out a dismal note. Now and then there came a rustling sound from the trees or vines. An hour after the darkness became complete, I heard a pounce, a struggle, the quiet moan-cry of something which gave up its life, and it made a chill go down my back and spread through my nerves. Sounds of birds in the air and forest—inhabitants hiding in the trees, came occasionally now, with surprising distinctness. All of this kept me in a high state of tension. I wished myself anywhere on earth other than where I was. I confess the woods at night, where merely bears and owls were at large, had awed me earlier in life, and this jungle, alive with poisonous reptiles and blood-hungry animals, terrified me beyond expression. If I had only had a companion, if there had even been another man awaiting my return—somebody to talk to, somebody to think about rejoining, or even a soul who would dare to hunt for my body if I never returned,—it would have been a little comforting at least.
I managed, with an effort, to pull myself together a trifle by thinking that it was now too late to meditate retreat. I would not have climbed down from my tree and attempted to find my way out of the darksome forest—taking the chances of starting wrong and getting lost—for the price of a mine of diamonds. Thus the hours went by and a score of things kept me startled constantly. I feared the tiger would fail to come; then I feared he would arrive at any second.
It seemed to me that midnight must have come and gone ages since. Suddenly my breath came fast, my whole body was rigid with attention as I noted a dim form, apparently standing in the tangle, directly across the clearing. I knew I had become pale; I knew I trembled with agitation. I was cold and my teeth did their best to chatter, as I watched to see if the form moved.
There were ample sounds about me, some slight, some heavy, but I think I paid little heed to anything except that dim, uncertain form. Then I was sure it moved. While I was still at the height of my excitement I noted a leaf, which became clearly defined. I knew immediately that the form was merely a patch of half light, cast through the foliage by the moon.
The excitement subsided as if I had pulled out a plug and let it run away. And while it was going, I heard a wet lapping and chewing, beneath me, which told me instantly that the man-eater was below and dining at his cold and ghastly feast. He had come—unseen and unheard,—while I was being frightened at a patch of light!
I looked, but so dark was the place that until the monster moved around I thought his body was exactly on the opposite side of his victim, to which it really was. The excitement had flushed upward in my veins again, but not so strongly as before. I was angered, as I have often been to hear a cat lapping at the meat in a cupboard.
Moving cautiously on the branch, I half stood, half leaned against my seat and slowly brought my bow into position. I was stiff in my hands and joints from sitting so long in one position. Having made a slight slip and noise, the flood of nervousness leapt upward in me at once; I perspired coldly; my heart beat a violent measure; in my mouth the saliva became like gluey cotton. But the beast below kept on chewing, with a horrible noise of drooling chops. I dared not try at him yet, both because my hands were too unsteady and because the brute was too undefined an object to be seen.
I underwent a trying ordeal for half an hour. While I was watching below, straining my eyes to pierce the gloom, slightly bending the bow and holding the poisoned arrow in readiness, the tiger shifted about in his feeding. Abruptly I saw a patch of his hide, a small irregular target, full in the light of the moon, where a ray shone down through some open shaft between leaves and branches. I could see a dark stripe across the dusty-looking hide. Even the play of a muscle was visible.
Doubtless the thrill and ardour of the hunter came to my rescue in that vital second. I only know that I was eager, steadied, released from all that had made me nerveless and cold. I even forgot what a deadly brute he was and what he might be capable of doing, if only slightly wounded.
The bow became vertical in my fist, at the end of my arm, now as rigid as oak. I drew the arrow backward to my ear with a strong, confident pull. Then the point came down, toward the lighted patch. I aimed as one aims at the head of a nail with a hammer—with no need to see my shaft. Then it sprang away like a flash, the twang resounded in my ear, and I saw a streak stab straight in the middle of the target.
Instantly a furious lunge and a roar that all but shook me down made the place terrible. I clutched another of the arrows, and fumbled it, so that it fell. Another then I got upon the string. All the while a most awful uproar was continued below. The arrow that had dropped betrayed my presence. The tiger leaped toward the branch, fell short, leaped again, thrashed in the grass with frantic force and bellowed a doom-song that made my flesh creep on my bones.
In his madness the brute was in the patch of light and out again, constantly. Once, as he oscilated there for a whole second, making ready to jump toward me, I fired another arrow with all the power of fear and hatred. It struck him, I could not determine where, and a moment later he reached my branch with his two great paws, and hung there by his claws, bending the limb so low and shaking all so tremendously that I clung on for very life. I felt his paw against my foot and stamped upon it viciously. He lifted that one; the bark gave way from beneath the other and down he thudded.
Again and again he leaped in his wrath. It sounded as if all the beasts of the jungle were there in mortal combat. I tried with another poisoned arrow, though I was sick from my dread that he was proof against the venom. This shot I missed. It served to make the brute more furious, however, but finally I thought his ravings began to lose in force.
Once more he crouched in the light. This time my last arrow met him just as he rose in his spring. I failed to notice where it was planted in his body, for so tremendous was his leap that his whole head, chest and paws were up on the tree. The shock knocked me off; I fell, grasping a creeper, that stopped me with a jerk and a painful wrench.
The tiger dropped, striking me down the leg with one of his out-thrown paws; I thought my time had come. With a superhuman effort I chinned myself on the creeper, clutched the limb again, got an arm about it, reached a twig higher up and threw my leg fairly over. I was quickly in my old position again, blown, dizzy and wholly unable to believe the tiger had been evaded by such a clumsy scrambling. He was beating about in the trampled grass below, but his roar had grown hoarse and guttural; it seemed no longer so savage. Then I heard his breath blowing froth and bubbles-of-blood through his nostrils. My heart leaped exultantly—I knew an arrow had reached his lungs!
CHAPTER XIV. AN OLD ROUE
IN A TIME incredibly short I heard sounds growing fainter where the great brute stiffened out in the grass. The poison, I knew, had gotten in its work at last. When the final convulsion had shivered itself out, what a death-silence settled on the jungle! It seemed as if for miles about, the lesser beasts had held their breath and fled from that theatre of throes and roars of the master-murderer.
The hush affected me deeply. I felt so alone with the dead, and yet not confident of my safety. My imagination pictured a ring of leopards, cats and other creatures stealing silently up, like the curious women who enjoy to look upon a corpse, these all half afraid that the king was not really lifeless after all. Probably no creature was then within half a mile of the spot, for the noise had been sufficient to frighten away even the snakes, it seemed to me, yet I never for a moment entertained a thought of climbing down from where I was.
The wait, through the midnight and the long chilly hours of morning was the harder to bear because of the weakness I felt, after all the overwrought emotions I had undergone. It was difficult, moreover, to cast off the dread of the still brute below me, not to mention the sounds which recommenced in the animal-haunted jungle. I was exhausted, for the strain had been as hard to bear as severe physical labour. In addition to this, I had performed a good day's work, before I came to my tryst with the tiger. How long seemed the time since I left the friendly Links, on my quest of vengeance and retribution!
I may have dozed, as I half lay against the woven creepers, and although it could not have been for long, dawn had come when I started awake. In the forest the shadows were still too deep to be fathomed, yet at last I made out the rigid form on the ground. My enemy was almost directly under the place where I was sitting. I could see no arrows at all; and my mind had pictured him bristling with the shafts.
Slowly the light increased. What a gaunt, unhandsome form it was in the grass! Then the sunlight struck on the tree-tops and bird-notes, not particularly musical, began to make more cheerful that dark abode. With a new impulse of courage, I dropped myself down, laid hold of my bow and a leg of the tiger, and dragged with all my strength to get him out of the place.
Then I got a good look at the carcass. He was old, wretchedly thin, scarred about his bleary, dead eyes, nearly toothless and as worn-looking as an old hearth-rug. I saw where my first shot had struck him above the shoulder. The arrow, which was broken off in the wound, had jabbed in and plowed along under the skin for six or eight inches. The second had ripped through the flesh of his right fore leg, leaving a gash which the brute had widened when he broke the shaft out, sidewise, in his thrashing. The last shot had sent the envenomed flint tearing into his breast, an inch below the throat, where it had penetrated to a considerable depth. It also was broken, but a tough shred of the wood still held the feathered portion dangling from the wound.
As I looked on the thin, old reprobate I was silly enough to feel a little pity, so tragic seemed the "poverty" which he had known, as testified by his miserable condition. My fears too had been wholly dissipated by the sun; I wondered why I had been in such a plight of dread throughout the night.
A final tug brought the roue of the jungle clear of the undergrowth. The second I emerged to the edge of the hill clearing, a chorus of cries came down from the camp. I turned to see the whole drove of Links coming madly down the slope from which they had been watching for more than an hour.
Such a commotion the simple creatures made, as, crazy with joy and awe, and still dreading the foe they knew so well, they pressed about me and chattered and made me a hero and struck at the ground all about the tiger with their clubs! Fatty went through a sort of blubbering welcome and got down and licked at my shoes until I felt obliged to give him a trifle of a kick. The chief made no effort to conceal his admiration for my feat, but he was dignified, after the manner of a great Newfoundland dog among the lesser canines. His albino mate, however, gazed upon me from her round, pink eyes with a look of worshipping to which I very much objected. At her side the carping Grin was doing his best to belittle the tiger and to sneer through his expression of amazement. On the whole, one would have thought the tiger a monster and a prince among his kind. I began to feel my glory to be somewhat tawdry.
After half an hour of tribute, both to the brute and myself, on the part of the tribe, I rolled the beast over to look for a decent bit of hide. He was not worth the skinning, and that is the truth.
However, I had my plan and therefore I whipped out my knife and skinned a part of the shoulders and back. After this I took off the head, for I meant to have the skull for a trophy. Then I directed the Links to dig a grave.
CHAPTER XV. A GLEAM OF HOPE
WHEN I finally fastened the tiger's skull above my shelter, and girded my loins about with the skin, I was conscious of having attained a great respect among my primitive friends. Not a few, I soon became aware, would have followed me readily in any measure, not requiring too vast a courage, even to the point of seceding from the semi-command of the chief. They attested this feeling, which resembled that evinced from the first by Fatty, in all the work and in various smaller matters, from daylight till dark.
I might have been more flattered than I was at my exaltation among these half-human creatures, had I not easily detected the jealousy of the chief, which feeling Grin continued constantly to feed. Indeed in spite of all I could do, a division of parties was growing every day. Unfortunately the females were more fierce in their partisanship than were the males. Moreover a majority of these "ladies" evinced a strong desire to ally themselves to the side of which I was becoming the unwilling leader. Prominent among them was the chief's albino mate, who was far too persistent to give me any peace of mind. I foresaw trouble to come from this unhappy complication.
Had all the Links united in considering myself a leader and governor of the tribe, I should have enjoyed very much the "recognition of my talents," especially as such an outcome would have furthered the scheme I had, to make them fit as warriors and then persuade them to march as my escort to the coast. Indeed I was planning and working deliberately to become commander-in-chief. But this division was not at all assuring, for although all had a wholesome fear of the Tartar they had caught, yet any one of the creatures, turning treacherous, could have killed me outright with a single blow.
I made no end of attempts to procure the confidence of the chief, and frequently thought I was winning him over, but always Grin got in a stroke which set my endeavours at naught. I could have killed the beast with great satisfaction to myself and with profit all around. The albino female I ignored pointedly at every opportunity afforded. This gave some degree of satisfaction to the chief, but like Othello, he grew insufferably suspicious.
Our work of providing weapons and utensils, and also of securing a better state of existence and defence, proceeded daily. I worked like an engine, myself, to employ all my thoughts, which began to be disquieting. Although I strove to avert what was slowly coming, the conviction was borne in upon me more and more that if things continued as they were going, I should either be obliged to fight a pitched battle, backed by my voluntary adherents, against the chief and his party, or else abandon my scheme of escape altogether.
But if I brought about the internecine strife and even won the battle, my force would be utterly inadequate for an escort, (provided I could get them to leave the wilds to which they were all accustomed), for the whole tribe did not muster half the number of fighters which the black Links had assembled against us that day at the cave. If we started through the jungle, who should say we might not walk straightway into the settlement of our hostile neighbours? Besides this natural enemy, the woods were sure to be filled with ourang-outangs, snakes, tigers and no end of other animals that would snip off man after man, if they did not annihilate the party entirely.
The situation was trying. If I discontinued the archery practice and the teaching of "civilized arts," my Links would never be fit for my "army;" if, on the contrary, I proceeded to place the fellows on a fighting equality with myself, they would all be the worse as enemies, if ever a genuine rebellion should occur. Having thought and thought till my brain was weary, I decided to take my chances on having them understand the bow, trusting that something might happen which would make us all united. I reasoned that if our foe, the Blacks, should swoop upon us again, we might all be killed, if they found us unprepared, and then all schemes of escape would be equally vain.
Our programme of armament therefore proceeded with all reasonable haste. We had frequent practice with the weapons, many of the Links soon giving promise of great proficiency with this natural weapon of early man. During this time the strained relations were in no wise improved, thanks to the ceaseless efforts of Grin and to the idiocy of Madame Albino, who became the more zealous as I treated her with greater contempt. I grew desperate, for matters were tending toward disruption too plainly for any concealment.
For this business I should require a boat. Perhaps this would be no better than a raft, in the end, if nothing better could be constructed, but something floatable would be necessary before I could move a mile down or about the sheet of water, for the jungle grew to the very edge of this shimmering gem, rendering its circum-exploration on the shore as good as a physical impossibility.
It was easy enough to induce the Links to help me force a path to the water's edge, but I soon discovered that without exception they held the place in awe and superstitious dread. It did prove to be generously inhabited, but this was quite to be expected. For the matter of that, the whole country was crawling with deadly reptiles and brutes, so that choosing the lesser evil was not too decidedly easy.
One would have said that material was plentiful, even had I contemplated building a fleet, but the growth was so dense that I knew it would be a gigantic task to cut down any timber. The Links were anxious to leave the shore for the safer hill, but I kept them with me and communicated to several the fact that I was searching for a log. This was an excellent move, for Fatty soon underwent a paroxysm of delight at his cleverness, and at my open satisfaction, when he jerked away a snarl of vines, already concealing the trunk of a tree which apparently had succumbed to a violent gale.
We soon had the log laid bare for more than twenty feet of its length. It was twined about by creepers, but it had no low branches to give us trouble, while its size was entirely satisfactory. With our tools of flint we started to cut the thing off in two places, the root end being in no wise fit to form the prow or the stern of a boat, but our efforts seemed so feeble and childish that apparently it was next to an insurmountable difficulty to perform even this primary office. I felt so discouraged that I nearly gave it up then and there.
However, one of my admirers was willing to run to camp for a brand of fire, for I had resolved to burn the log in two. This was a task which opened up large possibilities for the expenditure of time and patience, although we constantly removed the fire, as soon as its flames had eaten inward, charring the wood, when we chopped away this softened portion and began again. At the end of the first day we had accomplished so little that the task, merely of getting the log cut off, seemed hopeless. I determined that if we did get the log free at last I would have it rolled into the water and content myself with its plain, unvarnished bulk for a craft, for digging it out to form a boat I feared would be more of a job than my patience could endure.
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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.