Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Cannibal Camp

Cannibal Camp!
Part 5 of 12
From The Modern Boy magazine, 4 August 1934, No. 339, Vol. 14
In a blazing gulch among the mountains in unexplored Africa the Cooking Pots are got ready for CAPTAIN JUSTICE & CO!. . . Complete ... By MURRAY ROBERTS

Swooping Blacks!
“I MUST confess, my friends,” announced Professor Flaznagel, in his weightiest manner, “that there are several points concerning this mysterious native—this man whom we rescued last night from those appalling black cannibals— that completely baffle me!”
The celebrated old scientist backed up his statement by making an emphatic gesture with the half-roasted bone he had been chewing distastefully, and flung it away.
Then he pushed back his large, horn-rimmed spectacles, irritably patted the dirty bandage covering his unkempt thatch of white hair, and blinked solemnly at his comrades in the smoky cave, as if expecting them to register frank amazement that anything on earth should baffle Professor Flaznagel!
Captain Justice & Co. merely went on eating. Much as they respected the professor’s undoubted brilliance in all things pertaining to science, they were at present too tired, too hungry, and too absorbed in their own grim reflections to pay more than passing heed to his remarks.
Hopelessly lost in the unknown African mountains into which they had penetrated the previous evening, the famous Gentleman Adventurer and his comrades had taken refuge in this gloomy cave, high up on the rugged slopes. Once inside, all five had slumped at once into the sleep of utter exhaustion.
Thus the night and its perils had passed unnoticed—and without incident, fortunately for the castaways. For not even Justice had had sufficient energy left to sleep “with one eye open,” as was his custom. They had awakened at last, stiff with cold and starving hungry, to find the first grey streaks of dawn smearing the skies. And immediately their thoughts had turned to warmth and food.
Midge, the red-haired, lively junior member of the party, had started to light a fire, using the primitive method of chipping sparks from two flinty stones. But having chipped his hands instead, the diminutive youngster resigned in favour of Dr. O’Mally—who, after one clumsy “chip,” also gave up, and silent the next ten minutes furiously sucking a bruised thumb and mumbling strange words in his rich Irish brogue.
Len Connor had also tried his hand.
In the end it had been left to Captain Justice himself to discover the light knack, and now the fire of dampish twigs sputtered sullenly, filling the cave with smoke. But it served its purpose—warming the half-frozen five and partially cooking the eggs and the flamingo that Justice had captured on the bank of the jungle river that wound along at the foot of the mountains.
Bird and eggs, alas! had proved tough eating; but hunger is a fine sauce. And from the moment the meal began scarcely a word had been uttered until Professor Flaznagel, having blunted the edge of his appetite, leaned back and announced that he was baffled.
"Truly that native was a most magnificent specimen of humanity,” he continued, quite undisturbed by his comrades’ apathy. “But from what unknown race does he spring, Justice? For I am positive that he is a member of no known tribe. For instance, the peculiar golden tint of his skin is unique, so far as I know, among African tribes, and there was not the slightest trace of the negro about him.
“His features, indeed, were distinctly handsome—regular and refined. And his manner, particularly when he thanked us for our efforts on his behalf, was most dignified and, impressive!
"Again,” he went on, “the man’s stature was positively herculean! I am aware of course, that most African native are men of fine physique, but this man stood fully six feet six inches in his bare feet, and weighed, I judged, something like sixteen stone. Last, and most curious of all, was his weapon—a trident, Justice: a elastic weapon of ancient Greece and Rome! Bless my soul, it is all very interesting indeed!”
“So was the way he used the weapon on one of those three blacks,” replied Justice dryly. “By James, I shouldn’t like to quarrel with such a giant unless I had a gun! Still, he seemed pretty friendly towards us after we’d rescued him and O’Mally had tended his wounds—though where he found strength to run. away like he did afterwards, goodness knows!” Justice glanced at his old friend's face and uttered a short laugh.
“Anyway, cheer up, professor! I’ve a feeling you’ll he able to study him at close quarters yet. In fact,” he added grimly, “we’re likely to hit across a whole bunch of strange natives before we’re out of these wilds—particularly as one of those black cannibals got away!”
“I sincerely trust so!” cried Flaznagel, whose curiosity always overcame discretion. “The discovery of a new race might well compensate us for the trials and hardships we are undergoing. All, well,” he quoted pompously, “ ‘Ex. Africa semper aliquid novi’—which means, my dear Midge, there is always something new out of Africa!”
"You’re telling me!” Midge grunted, squirming uncomfortably on the hard, rocky floor of the cave. “Well, the answer’s a lemon to you! There may be some things new out of this rotten country, but that don’t apply to this ancient flamingo or the eggs, take it from me! Suffering cats"—the youngster closed his eyes dreamily—“what wouldn’t I give to be having breakfast on Justice Island or in Titanic Tower now, with grapefruit, kidneys, bacon, coffee—”
Dr. O’Mally sat up. He mopped his bald pate and scorched Midge with a sulphurous glare.
"Arrah, hould your whisht, ye infuriating insect!” he wailed. “Must ye torment us with such thoughts, ye tantalising tadpole? Bedad, for two pins I’d—”
“Shush!” Captain Justice held up his hand, then he rose from beside the smouldering fire. He was a sad wreck of his old spruce self, in stained, ragged pyjamas and shooting boots, with a hat made of rushes tilted rakishly over one ear.
His companions were dressed in similar manner, except that the professor was wearing sandals made from the harness of one of the parachutes in which they had floated down to this desolate region from the aeroplane of the man who had marooned them there, and Midge wore a ragged jacket.
“Personally,” he said, with some bitterness, “I’d give all I possess just now for a hot bath and my shaving tackle. But here we are, cut off from friends and any chance of rescue, so we must make the best of it! Add it to the debt we already owe Mr. Xavier Kuponos, my lads! We’ll pay him in full one day!”
For a moment the captain’s Iean, tanned face darkened with fierce anger at mention of the vicious Greek gun-runner and slaver, whose fiendish plan of vengeance had plunged them into this unmapped, tropical wilderness, without proper clothing and with no food or gear or weapons, save an old single-bladed knife.
Then, pulling himself together sternly, the indomitable adventurer proceeded to issue orders for the day.
“Now, no more grousing!” he said briskly. “We’ve another stage in our eastward trek before us, so the more miles we cover in the cool of the day the better. Douse the fire, Midge, and let’s set about cleaning up this cave, for we don’t want to leave too many traces behind us. And while we’re doing so, Len, just step outside and take a careful peek around the landscape!”
“Right, skipper!”
Justice’s comrades set about their tasks willingly. And Len Connor, ducking his head and broad shoulders through the narrow entrance to the cave, stepped cautiously out into the dawn.
“Ah! Smells good!” Gratefully Len expanded his chest, filling his lungs with the cool, strong mountain air, refreshing as wine after the fuggy atmosphere of the cave. That done, he prowled forward another, few yards, and fetched up beside one of the many huge boulders that were strewn upon the slope, like monstrous marbles thrown down by a careless giant.
Above him bulked the shadowy cliffs and crags of the mountains, rising darkly up and up until their crests became lost in the cloudbanks of dawn, and spreading north and south in pile after magnificent pile of serried peaks, split by yawning valleys.
The grandeur, the magnitude of the range, seen in the shifting light, took Len’s breath away—made him feel like some helpless dwarf. After a few awed moments he was glad to rest his eyes on objects closer at hand.
From where he crouched the mountain-spur sloped sharply, a colossal wedge of stone, with its point thrusting towards the bank of the river they had crossed the previous day. White dawn-mists, faintly tinged with pink, covered the ledge below on which the castaways had rescued the golden-brown giant the evening before; and the smiling, flower-decked valley into which he had vanished afterwards lay hidden under the same clinging shroud.
No sound disturbed the solemn stillness, save once the harsh scream of an eagle as it winged its invisible way through the skies. In the east a blood-red stain across the horizon showed where the sun was rapidly breaking through.
An eerie region: wild, fantastically beautiful—and sinister! Captain Justice fancied that Kuponos had dumped them down somewhere in the stark backblocks of the Congo, but that was merely a guess, as he himself admitted. All that the comrades knew for certain was that they were stranded in one of the world’s most desolate wastelands.
Len shivered suddenly.
He felt chilled—not only by the raw coolness of the mountain breeze, but by a sharp, uncanny feeling of danger that swept over him for no apparent cause.
It was a feeling to which, unfortunately, he was no stranger now. Throughout the past forty-eight hours peril had lurked in the very air he breathed, the ground he trod upon. Len thrust out his stubborn jaw, taking a firm grip on himself, and although he scrutinised every yard of the slopes below him, keenly and methodically, not a trace of any enemy could he see.
Yet so strong at last became the sensation that something—some deadly menace—threatened the camp that involuntarily the youngster wheeled suddenly to dart back into the cave.
As he did so his heart gave one violent leap, and then almost stopped beating.
For seconds that seemed to drag into infinity he stood paralysed by the numbing shock that burst upon him. Horror robbed him of the power of movement or speech.
White to the lips, Len could only stand and stare with bulging eyes—into other eyes! Black, beady eyes, glistening with savage triumph, that peered down at him from a clutter of rocks higher up the slope above the cave-mouth.
There and then—but just a fraction too late—Len understood why his nerves had suddenly quivered like overstrung wires. The castaways were trapped!

“Torture—and the Stewpot!”
“THE blacks! The cannibals!” The dread words drummed in Len’s ears. But no sound, no hoarse cry of warning, issued from his parched throat. As in a nightmare he watched the owners of the eyes rising silently from cover—a dozen squat, powerful demons, coal-black from woolly heads to splayed-out feet.
They grinned at him, twisting their thick, loose lips into hideous grimaces as they stole down upon the lad with the same phantom-like stealth with which they had surrounded the cave.
Patiently, cunningly, the black fiends had woven their net around the worn-out castaways!
Len shouted at last. In the nick of time the invisible bands of terror, that had gripped him snapped and released his muscles and tongue.
“Look out! The blacks—the blacks!” he yelled at the full pitch of his lungs. Next instant he was fighting like a wildcat against the black avalanche that hurtled down to overwhelm him.
“Captain! Look out—run!”
Len hit out right and left. To the sound of an uncouth roar, lithe, ebony bodies seemed to materialise on all sides at once. Spear-heads, adorned with dyed tufts of hair, clashed and flicked around him. A burly brute, with sharpened, betel-reddened teeth bared in a snarl, sprang at the youngster’s throat.
Len side-stepped with a boxer's instinct, ducked under the slashing spear-shaft, then drove both fists to his antagonist’s midriff. But hitting that muscle-padded body was like punching a chunk of india- rubber.
Len’s fists bounced off. Howling madly, the black bored in, utterly indifferent to the punishing blows. Len hacked the man’s shins fiercely. He fought clear somehow, then fell, buckling up as another spear came swish across his shoulders.
“Gosh!” That gasp of agony was torn from him. So venomous was the blow that for a second Len felt as though the weapon had cut him in two. He rolled over, striking out feebly. Simultaneously the yells of the blacks increased a hundredfold as harsh, familiar voices added themselves to the din.
Dazed, half-blinded by mists of pain, Len staggered up gallantly, caught a sudden glimpse of Captain Justice and O’Mally kicking, punching, smashing with all their strength into the foes swarming round the cave-mouth. More by luck than judgment, he dodged another onslaught. Then, uttering a low sob of rage, the lad made a blind, heroic dive at a pair of sinewy legs.
But that valiant tackle failed. As Len lurched in, a terrific blow crashed down on his skull from behind. The ground, the savages—everything dissolved in a maddening whirl of fiery lights and pain. All the noises ever created seemed to explode above him, wrenching his eardrums.
Then abruptly the din faded away, the lights snapped out. And after that—darkness and silence!
Len Connor suddenly found himself dreaming. Oddly enough, he knew that the Terror was but a dream, for his plight was too ghastly to be real. Yet it persisted—so vividly as to defy his frantic efforts to wake up, to escape from the horrors pursuing him.
He saw himself running—fleeing wildly through the blistering heat of a tropic day, up an interminable slope that grew steeper with every leaden stride he took. And close to his heels howled a pack of ravenous wolves, led by a grinning monster whose face was the face of Xavier Kuponos!
Somewhere, too, he could hear Midge’s shrill voice raised imploringly, but though, in his dream, Len gazed around, he could see nothing of his chum. Then suddenly he stumbled, and as he pitched forward into nothingness the pack surged down upon him, sweeping him along. Stabs of pain darted through him as the monster’s talons dug into his back. And all the while he threshed and struggled. Midge continued to call him, till Midge’s voice rose to a quavery yell:
“Len! Len, old man, chuck it—lie still! You’re only hurting yourself more, you ass! Wake up—wake up!”
Louder, more insistently, the red-haired youngster shouted in his chum’s ears, till suddenly the ghostly pack vanished, and only the heat and the pains in his back remained.
And Len awoke at last, aroused from the grisly nightmare of sleep to the even uglier nightmare of reality. His heavy lidded eyes fluttered open as he tossed and rolled about on bare ground under a blazing sun.
For many minutes after the first shock of returning consciousness had abated a little, Len could only tremble and gasp. The torrid air, untempered by the slightest breeze, stifled him. He had to screw up his eyes against the fierce, white glare of the sun, and a dull weight seemed to have settled for keeps on the back of his head. The spear-weal across his shoulders throbbed and burned like fire.
Len groaned—less with pain than with misery—as memory returned suddenly. On its heels came the sick realisation that he had let his comrades down.
Vaguely he became aware that his wrists had been lashed together; that Midge, similarly bound, lay close beside him, with Captain Justice, O’Mally, and the professor.
“Thank the stars you’ve wakened up! We thought you were having a fit, or something! Are you hurt much, old son?” Midge muttered.
Len made no reply. His sun-scorched eyes, travelling on slowly, had focused themselves on the circle of black raiders who squatted on the ground, surrounding the luckless five.
There were more than a dozen of the black raiders now, he noticed. Ebony brutes, they sat around chewing betel-nut, gloating with primitive delight over their captives. One of them pointed his spear at Len, and the others laughed uproariously as he made some remark in a guttural tongue. Len shuddered at sight of the filed teeth they displayed when they flung back their heads and roared. He had to fight to keep himself from falling into a stupor again.
“So they got us! The black brutes, I'll—”
Overcome by a sudden gust of rage and despair, Len strained at his bonds, striving to rise and hurl himself at the chuckling savages. But his fruitless efforts merely sent them into fresh paroxysms of mirth, and increased the pain in his back, until he fell back and lay still once more.
"Och, now, take it easy, me dear lad!” Dr. O’Mally muttered. “Don’t give the blackguards the satisfaction of laughing at ye any more! They’ve got us, bad cess to ’em—the first white men they’ve ever seen, I’ll bet, and they’re making a show of us! I’m afraid we can do nothing—yet!”
Blinking the sweat from his eyes, O’Mally tried to hump himself nearer to Len. A brawny black jumped up, motioning him to lie down again, but a defiant snort was all the reply the Irishman made. Instantly a spear-blade flashed, poised aloft for a murderous thrust.
Another moment, however, just as O’Mally braced himself for the stroke, the savage changed his mind, twirled the weapon dexterously, and dealt him a jab with the butt that made the stout doctor writhe.
“Ye cowardly black imp!” he gasped, forgetful of his own advice to Len, as the rest of the blacks roared with laughter. “By th’ beard o’ St. Patrick, if I could only meet ye wid me bare hands I’d twist the ugly head off ye, so I would!”
“Stow it, doc! Save your breath!”
Captain Justice spoke for the first time, in a strained, husky voice. He looked across at Len, forcing a wry grin to his cut lips, and muttered:
“Keep, smiling, old chap! We’re not dead yet, by thunder!”
“But how did we get here? And where are we, skipper?” mumbled Len, while the blacks stopped laughing and leaned closer. So long as their captives did not stir they made few attempts to molest them. They seemed, indeed, too interested and amused by the strange language of the prisoner and whenever any of the castaways spoke the savages rolled their beady eyes, chuckling and whispering among themselves.
“As though we were a lot of chattering squirrels in a cage!” snorted Midge, staring at the biggest black and screwing up his freckled face in a grimace of contempt and wrath.
“We’re at the bottom of that gully we came across yesterday, Len—the one that opens out on to the ledge where we rescued the big fellow,” Justice said quietly. “The blacks carried you down from the cave, but they made us march at the point of the spear—after knocking the tar out of us! Sorry, boy—you’ve been unconscious for some hours now. But we hadn’t a Chinaman’s chance of rescuing you!”
Len gulped, and strove to ease his aching back.
“I know. It—it was all my fault!” he whispered miserably. “But, honest, I thought the slopes were clear—I never even smelt the cunning brutes! That screeching beggar who got away from us last night gave ’em the tip, I suppose, and this is their way of squaring up. What are they going to do with us—d’you know?”
A bleak look frosted the captain’s eyes as he gazed stonily at the ring of malevolent black faces. For a moment he failed to answer. Then:
“They’re cannibals, Len—and they’ve captured us alive,” he pointed out significantly. “They’re keeping us—for something! It isn’t hard to guess what the something is! Torture—and then the stewpot!”
Midge shuddered. But, courageous as ever, he made a desperate attempt to keep his pecker up by adding :
"I wish ’em luck, though, when they get their teeth into old Flip-doodle and Fatty O’Mally! Bet you’ll be tougher than that blinkin’ flamingo, doc!”
O’Mally breathed hard. For once, however, the portly doctor, suffering torments from the heat and flies, was too dispirited to reply. Midge’s grim jest, indeed, was the last remark uttered for some considerable time. Lack of water, combined with the buffeting they had received, and the grilling they were undergoing, sealed the prisoners’ lips more effectually than any threat or blow.
With his lanky form spreadeagled on the ground, Professor Flaznagel lay in a state of semi-coma. O’Mally and Midge dozed fitfully under the broiling sun, and Len, too, closed his eyes, steeling himself to suffer in silence.
Occasionally one of the black demons prodded them with his spear-handle, to the delight of the others, but after a convulsive start and a growl the captives gradually relapsed into torpor again.
 
“Good-bye, My Lads!”
CAPTAIN JUSTICE alone remained alert. Although it was only too horribly clear that he and his friends were in a fearfully tight jam, the famous adventurer stubbornly refused to give way to despair.
He was a fighter born; firm in his belief that no obstacle was too big to surmount, no battle lost until it was won!
Then, again, Captain Justice always held one priceless advantage over the others—toughness! Lean and wiry, his great stamina and the reserves of strength stored away in his steel-muscled body enabled him to endure extremes of heat and cold that prostrated less hardy men.
So, outwardly submissive, but actually dangerous as a cornered lynx, he lay watching the savages—watching and thinking till his brain whirled. His eyes, under down-drawn brows, darted around the camp, keen as razor-blades.
The rock-ribbed floor of the gulch was, he judged, roughly fifty yards wide. A long, straggling ravine, it was walled in by rugged bluffs of reddish rock that sparkled and glowed in the sunshine like the incandescent sides of a furnace, making an oven of the space between.
No shade existed anywhere, save at the far western end, where clumps of trees and rushes bordered a small tributary of the oily river that flowed through the jungle. And, above, the eye quailed before the menace of burnished mountain-crags that seemed to float and rock in the dancing heat-waves.
Captain Justice sighed. He certainly needed all his tenacious pluck, for his furtive observations of the enemy camp merely served to rub in the utter hopelessness of the castaways’ position.
The gulch was a natural stronghold—vulnerable to attack only from the river end. And not only had the cannibals placed three sentries down there, but more and more members of the tribe were arriving as time dragged by.
In parties of twos and threes the black warriors stalked in, to be greeted by strident yells and a clashing of spears. Each newcomer promptly took his place in the tittering circle around the white men, amusing himself by jabbing them into wakefulness as he listened eagerly to the tale of their capture and transport to the gulch.
But still no serious harm was done to the prisoners, for some reason. Though Justice noted that the cannibals’ sinister air of expectancy deepened every time a fresh arrival swaggered past the sentries into the gulch.
He dug his nails deep into the palms of his hands, forcing himself to lie quiet. The torture of suspense, of grim speculations concerning the fate in store for him, began to fray even his strong nerve.
“By James, I wish the hounds would get it over and done with!” he thought. “The beggars who nailed us were a raiding-party, I suppose, and all these other dogs who keep drifting up are scouts and hunters come to join in the fun.
“Now they’re all waiting for someone special to arrive—the chief, I’ll bet my boots, judging by their looks! And when the grand, panjandrum trails in we’ll be scuppered!”
His broad chest swelled as he gazed sadly at Midge, Flaznagel; O’Mally, and Len, lying crumpled up like so many bundles of untidy rags. The rays of the sun flayed them. O’Mally was gasping for breath. Midge feverishly licked his parched lips.
Loyal comrades all—the best and truest, of friends through thick and thin—and now they were to die in this blazing gulch! Justice had witnessed the aftermath of the cannibal feast once before, in the South Sudan. The memory set icy fingers plucking at his spine.
Goaded into making some attempt to escape, however futile, he strained quietly at his bonds. But the keen-eyed demons spotted the move almost at once, and jabbed him viciously, howling threats and abuse. So Justice, having vented his feelings in a few brisk and sailor-like remarks, fell back on his dreary thoughts again, praying fervently that death, when it did come, would be swift.
“Looks as if Xavier Kuponos is going to get all the revenge he hoped for!” the captain mused bitterly. “I’d like to have the mongrel here!” His thoughts began to ramble. “Wonder if the Flying Cloud’s out searching for us—wonder where that golden-brown giant we saved yesterday lives? Not that it matters—we’re done! Rot this cannibal chief, or whoever he is. I wish the brute would not—”
And then, as suddenly as if he had been douched with cold water, Captain Justice snapped into full wakefulness. For the discordant blare of a horn echoed through the gulch, and, to the accompaniment of gleeful yells, every black there sprang to his feet with spear upflung!
Another and larger mob of negroes had entered the gulch from the western end.
In disorderly array they shambled clumsily towards the camp; broad-shouldered, thick-legged men, with gaudy feathers prancing above their woolly heads. Grotesque designs, tattooed in flaunting colours, adorned their black, heavily muscled figures from neck to ankle! The tufts at their spearheads were longer, more flamboyant, than those of the common warriors.
In their midst, perched upon a litter made of carved and stained bamboo, they carried one of the fattest, most hideous ogres Justice & Co. had ever had the misfortune to set eyes on.
It hardly needed the barbaric screeches of the cannibals, the sparkle and clatter of waving spears, the sudden, deep rolling salute that boomed out, to tell the castaways that here at last was the supreme ruler of the fearful tribe. One glance at the brute who squatted there like some jet-black idol was sufficient for that.
Authority—cruel, tyrannical, purposeful—radiated from the man, though he neither spoke nor made the slightest gesture.
He sat there motionless, as if carved out of ebony, with his bullet head sunk forward between mighty shoulders and shapeless hands folded over his vast paunch.
“Yah! The big black chief and his blighted bodyguard!" sneered Midge, and was promptly hauled upright and silenced by a swift backhander across the mouth.
The rest of the castaways suffered the same brisk treatment. They were kicked to their feet, clouted callously, then hustled into line.
And now it was clear that, after hours of hot and weary waiting, their final ordeal was about to commence.
Within the gulch frenzied activity had taken the place of idleness and boredom. The horn blared again, the chief’s litter was carefully set down, and the tattoed guards, linking arms, began to sway and shuffle in a slow, weird dance that sent clouds of stinging dust into the still air.
As if by magic, two great bonfires sprang into life with a hiss and crackle of dry faggots, while other savages hastened back from the river, tottering under the weight of huge cauldrons filled with water.
With such desperate earnestness were all these dread preparations made that Midge felt a sudden wild desire to yell with hysterical laughter. Just in time he glanced at his companions, and was steadied at once by the glint in his leader’s hard, grey eyes.
Justice’s voice scarcely had power to penetrate the cries and the harsh, guttural chant of the dancers. The muscles of his jaw stood out in white ridges under the suntanned skin.
“I’m afraid we’re on the lee shore, lads!” he muttered. “The only thing I can say now is: Go all out for a quick finish when the dirty work starts! And good luck!”
“Good luck, captain!”
There was nothing more to say. It looked like the end of adventuring, comradeship, everything! By an effort that taxed their flagging energies to the utmost, Justice & Co. stiffened, squaring their shoulders, shoving their chins out. Then the chief of the cannibals came waddling towards them.
Slowly the ogreish figure approached, while his guards stood silent behind the litter, and the rest of the band, all except the fire-tenders, formed up in a wide semicircle.
The only sounds were the rustle of flames and the heavy breathing of the stout colossus who glared at his captives with deep-set piggy eyes, hot with hatred and ferocity.
Unwieldy, a mountain of black flabbiness, the chief moved sluggishly down the line, his shiny features distorted into a pitiless mask until his gaze rested on the truculent face of Captain Justice. Then, uttering a malevolent chuckle, he raised a ham-like fist and snatched at the captain’s beard.
Captain Justice booted him!
Thankful at least that only his wrists had been tied, the celebrated Gentleman Adventurer swayed back, then planted one lusty drive squarely into the curve of the cannibal’s corpulent stomach. There was a soggy thud as his toecap landed—followed by a strangled howl and a heavier thump. The next, his black majesty lay squirming and wheezing on the ground.
Midge gave a riotous whoop, and the blacks went crazy!
“Good shot, skipper! Goal!” roared the defiant Midge. But his shout was drowned, blotted out by the fiendish screams of infuriated savages.
For the first moment or two, Justice's audacity staggered the onlookers. The blacks grunted, screwed up their eyes, then exploded into action. Bursting from the ranks, the guards swarmed around their groaning lord, jabbering, frothing at the mouth as they strove to raise him. The others, warriors and hunters, sprang towards the captives like demented tigers.
And Justice laughed in their faces.
“It’s coming, boys—the quick finish we want!” he had time to shout before the avengers got their hands on him. “Good-bye, my lads—and come on!”
With that, Captain Justice staggered forward, fiery-eyed, to fight his last battle. His comrades followed.
But the desperate attempt to win speedy deliverance from torture failed. The black fanatics, mad though they were, still intended that their captives should suffer to the full. Although whistling spear-shafts thrashed the castaways, and iron fists battered them as they kicked and struggled valiantly, their lives were spared—for the present.
Len and Professor Flaznagel were knocked down, Midge was trampled upon, and only O’Mally’s ponderous strength and Justice’s fierce agility stemmed the tide. Somehow the lion-hearted pair managed to keep their feet, but that was all. They were hemmed in ruthlessly, jammed between solid masses of men.
And Justice was being dragged straight for the fires when the burly Irishman, glaring over the heads of his assailants, suddenly saw a sight that spurred him to one more effort.
Throwing back his head, O’Mally put all his heart and soul into a bull-like bellow that, for a moment, rose above the din.
“Justice! We’re saved!” he roared. “Look, man, ’tis the giants—the big fellows! By th’ Harp of Erin, we’re—”
Then a broad black hand came smack across his mouth. And the rest of his incoherent splutterings were lost as the savages whirled with yells of rage and terror.
 
The Retreat to the River!
THE Golden Giants, as Midge had christened them, were coming! Through the open end of the gulch they rushed, shoulder to shoulder—superb, golden-brown athletes, each man brandishing a short, three-pronged spear in one hand, and what looked like a small fishing-net in the other. A few wore leopard-skins slung from their herculean shoulders, but the rest ran nude save for crimson loincloths, from which hung broad-bladed dirks.
Steam arose in clouds from their shining wet bodies, the reeds near the stream threshed and parted as more and more warriors heaved themselves out of the water up on to the bank. It was a surprise raid, wily, clean-cut, and efficient. It succeeded!
Already the unwary cannibal sentries had been speared and swept aside by the vanguard of the Giants, who had swum noiselessly downstream close to the bank. Now, with a clear road, the main body charged in, silently, swiftly, plunging their tribal enemies into confusion and panic.
But the blacks rallied furiously.
In a flash Justice & Co. were forgotten. They were thrown down, rolled in the dust, and trodden on as their captors raced to meet the foe. There sounded a caterwauling yell; a heavy, deep-chested war-cry from the Giants.
Then the rival tribes were at it, and bedlam broke loose as black and tawny fighters met face to face in the centre of the gulch.
The scene that followed, the indescribable din and unleashed fury of the battle, left the castaways dazed and deafened.
Men grappled with each other and fell to earth, locked in mortal combat. Throwing-spears flickered and hissed, leaf-bladed spears clashed against stabbing tridents, screeches, thunderous shouts, and the cries of the wounded all blended into a nerve-shattering uproar. And then the “fishing-nets” came into play!
To Justice & Co. the deadliness of these limp, apparently-fragile weapons came as the greatest shock of all. For they were both shields and snares. Cannibal spears were deftly caught and torn from the wielders’ hands, black warriors panted and strove in vain to free themselves from the entangling meshes.
Bunched together in a solid, disciplined mass, the Giants split the opposing band in twain, smashing their way through by sheer weight and strength.
“Begob, they've got ’em now!” O’Mally roared, sitting up and cheering like a maniac. “Go it, me darlin’ boys, tread on ’em, me beautiful buekos! Och, if only my hands were free! If only I had a blackthorn now!”
But the Giants required no help from the fire-eating doctor or anyone else. Coolly, methodically, they drove the blacks before them, and though the latter rallied again, fighting with the blind courage of despair, nothing could withstand the skill, the crushing onslaught of those tall, smooth-limbed warriors.
The cannibals broke up into leaderless parties, and the wave of Giants rolled over them—and the hopes of the castaways were soaring high when suddenly Midge let out a shrill yell of alarm.
“Captain! Behind yon—look out!”
Justice, rolling over hastily, drew in a sharp, hissing breath as he beheld the chief of the cannibals crawling painfully towards him.
The tables were turned again now, with a vengeance!
The chief’s face, flabbier than ever, was mottled with fear; the hand that grasped a heavy spear trembled as with ague. Yet a brutish determination glittered in his sunken eyes as he dragged himself along to settle with the daring man who had laid him low.
Furiously he raised the weapon, and Justice rolled again as it darted down, missing by a hairsbreadth.
Another lightning thrust—closer this time! The blade grazed Justice’s leg, and a sudden glancing blow from the savage’s fist made his head swim. With a growl, the chief struggled to his knees, swinging his arm upwards and backwards for the final drive.
But that terrific stroke was never delivered.
Instead, something whizzed through the air, and Justice gasped as he doubled himself up. A second later, the castaways were caught in the whirl of a raging melee.
There sounded the flying patter of bare feet, as lithe, tawny figures raced up out of nowhere to surround and protect them. A cloud of grey cords swirled open, enveloping the chief’s head, arms, and shoulders, dragging him backwards. He went down, fighting and roaring like a wild boar, only to be buried in a twinkling beneath a pile of vengeful foes.
Again the tridents clashed, the throwing-pets whirred as a remnant of the bodyguard attempted to rescue their lord and were hurled back. Then the retreat to the river began!
Captain Justice’s impressions of the hectic events that followed became blurred. He never did remember exactly what happened after that.
But suddenly, sinewy arms whisked him up as though he was a child, the slash of a dirk freed his wrists, and he was dumped into the black chief’s litter. It rose giddily into the air, then swayed again as a harsh order rang out.
Captain Justice, clinging to the side, found himself being rushed helter-skelter down the gulch, with grim-visaged guards loping along warily on either side.
Feebly he knuckled his eyes and blinked. But there was little to see, for dense swirling clouds of dust cast a merciful screen over the last stand of the beaten blacks.
Once the litter-bearers swerved sharply, and the escort dived back into the murk with a roar and clatter of spears. Then suddenly the narrow Y-shaped mouth of the gulch loomed up dimly, and a grateful coolness from the river fanned the adventurer’s overheated limbs. Faintly, too, he heard a familiar boyish voice raised in a piping cheer.
And that, for Captain Justice, was the finish of the retreat from the fatal ravine!
His comrades were safe—Midge’s joyful yell told him that. Overwhelmed by relief, weakened by hunger and thirst, the Gentleman Adventurer rolled limply out of the litter when it was set down, and, for a space, his senses left him.
When Justice recovered consciousness, twenty minutes later, he was lying at the bottom of a long, slender canoe.
The speedy craft was gliding along smoothly upstream, propelled by muscular paddlers whose golden-brown shoulders gleamed in the green shadows of overarching trees. All sound of battle had died away.
Instinctively the captain tried to sit up, but a hand pressed him down again, and water sluiced suddenly over his head and face. The shock of the water revived him. He turned slightly on his side—and gazed up into the battered, rubicund, dust-grimed countenance of Dr. O’Mally.
Beyond the Irishman, their heads pillowed on native mats, huddled Ben Connor and the old professor. Len was sleeping the sleep of the exhausted, but Flaznagel stirred uneasily. And between them sat the freckled and fiery-haired Midge—and Midge was eating!
On one knee the weary youth balanced a bowl of mealie-porridge, on the other a bunch of bananas, one of which he was chewing happily, washing down the bites with some cool, milky liquid. As Justice struggled up the lad grinned at him, and O’Mally chuckled breathlessly.
“Well, and here we all are, Jitstice, praise be to St. Patrick—and our good friend yonder!” Then, seeing the perplexity gathering on Justice’s brow, the Irishman chuckled again and pointed.
“Arrah, now, don’t ye recognise the lovely fellah who netted that black spalpeen of a chief and carried ye off?” he cried. “Talk about one good turn deserves another, why, he must have brought most of his fellow fighting men to track us down and save us!
"Look, man, there he sits—the broth of a boy we rescued and patched up yesterday! ’Tis to him we owe our lives, and no one else!”
Justice stared, following the direction of O’Mally’s outstretched finger. Then the corners of his eyes crinkled in a smile of recognition.
In the stern of the long canoe, proud and dignified as before, sat the stalwart, handsome native whom the castaways had saved from the blacks. A splendid leopard skin hung from a clasp on his right shoulder, but the left was swathed in bandages made of coarse tapa cloth.
Catching Justice’s eye, the young Hercules made a little gesture, as though bidding his white friend lie still, then raised the head of his trident in salute. Captain Justice, feeling distinctly like a tired swimmer who feels firm ground beneath his feet at last, returned the greeting and fell back. The canoe sped on.
“We appear to have been rescued from those black scoundrels,” muttered the professor, peering up at the paddlers, “yet it seems to me, Justice, that we are still prisoners! I trust these men have not saved us from the blacks simply for their own ends. And I wonder where we are going now?”
Midge sniffed reprovingly.
“What do you care so long as you’re not going into a cannibal’s casserole?” grinned the boy. “These chaps are the goods, and old Gold Flake up behind is a pal of mine already—he gave me this food! Anyway, Whiskers, you’ve got your chance now to study a new tribe at close quarters, the blinkin’ blacks got it in the neck, and I—”
Midge patted the bunch of bananas affectionately, and peeled one for Captain Justice.
“And I’ve got some grub!” he went on, startling the gigantic canoemen with a rousing cheer. “So row, brothers, row, and let the blinkin’ world roll on! ’Cos old Kuponos hasn’t got his giddy revenge yet!”


Rescued from the cooking-pots for—what? That’s Next Friday’s amazing story—a Thriller that you are going to award Top Marks! ! !
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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.