Friday, 14 November 2014
The Demons of Burning Hill
The Demons of Burning Hill!
From The Modern Boy magazine, 1 September 1934, No.343 Vol. 14.
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, November 2014.
Bottled up in an African death-trap, wanted by the savage Witch-Doctor as sacrifices to his gods, CAPTAIN JUSTICE & CO. fight for the road to Freedom. And their Wits are their only weapons!
The Wizard of Science!
“BUT, Justice! An aeroplane! My dear fellow, this—this is incredible! In these unexplored wilds of
Professor Flaznagel hunched himself forward, tugging vigorously at his long, unkempt white beard. Excitement whipped a touch of unwonted colour into his thin, sallow cheeks. His lanky frame, garbed in the remnants of what had once been a gaudily striped suit of silk pyjamas, stiffened as though an electric current had tautened his muscles. The varying emotions that flitted across his cadaverous face ranged from utter amazement to sheer disbelief.
With bony fingers that trembled the celebrated inventor-scientist fiddled impatiently with his heavy horn-rimmed spectacles. Having adjusted them to his satisfaction, he then peered earnestly in turn at Captain Justice, the stout, bald-headed Dr. O'Mally, Len Connor, and young Midge, of the snub nose and flaming locks. They sat on the ground beside him in the shade of the mud-and-wattle hut which their strange hosts had handed over to them.
Then Professor Flaznagel blinked across the sunlit hollow to the rugged cliffs that formed the eastern wall of the
huge but friendly natives who inhabited this region among the wild unknown
African mountains. Captain Justice & Co. had been marooned there, in their
pyjamas and without weapons, by their enemy, Xavier Kuponos, slaver and gun-runner. village
of Golden Giants
From below these cliffs an oily brook flowed, its surface mottled with crude petroleum, washed out from the oil sands deep down under the rock. It disappeared into a cave at the foot of a lofty hill, the face of which was riddled with other caves and sulphur-fuming blow-holes.
Deep within this hill dwelt the savage witch-doctor of the Giants and his fanatical satellites—bitter enemies of Captain Justice & Co. But although the mass of smouldering rock stood out as the most noticeable feature of the landscape, and Professor Flaznagel had good reason to keep a wary eye open for the vicious, cunning fiends whose domain it was, the old wizard of science scarcely glanced in that direction.
Instead, he stared fixedly up at the ragged, crest of the eastern cliffs and shook his head, like one who has been told a yarn too steep to be swallowed.
“Incredible!” he repeated. “You assure me, Justice, that on the farther slope of those cliffs lies the wreckage of an Italian aeroplane?”
“Professor,” said the famous gentleman adventurer, “there is an Italian aeroplane up there—a total loss, unfortunately. We have also established the identity of the luckless flyer, whom the Giants have buried under a cairn on the cliff top. None of the natives—warriors or witch-doctor’s men—will go near the wreck now. In fact, I had the very deuce of a job to persuade Buktu to let us go up the cliffs at all.”
From the ground beside him Justice picked up a leather-covered notebook, a pair of cracked binoculars, a flare-pistol, and a bulky box stuffed with shot-gun cartridges and flares.
“We found these in the plane’s wreckage,” he said, “and they may come in mighty useful!” He fell silent, a thoughtful look on his face.
Their return to civilisation was Captain Justice’s one aim at present.
Pensively he looked across the village, and his comrades, guessing what was in his mind, remained silent. Justice’s eyes were shadowed by worry as he gazed first at the largest hut—the “palace” of the venerable chief of the Giants—and then at the witch-doctor’s sinister lair.
Full well he knew that he and his companions’ plight might have been far worse than it was. Had the warrior, Buktu, and his fellows turned out to be fierce savages instead of brave, semi-cultured, and hospitable men, their end would have come long ago.
But, despite the good will of Buktu and the fighting caste, Justice & Co. felt as if they were chained to a cask of gunpowder that might explode at any minute. The brawny and ferocious witch-doctor hated them, wanted to sacrifice them to his gods, and twice had attempted to capture them. For this reason alone the tribe trembled on the brink of civil war—of terrible faction fights between hostile sorcerers and friendly warriors.
Then again, mused Justice, there was the old chief himself. Where did he stand? What were his feelings towards them.
“Buktu is with us solidly,” the captain said suddenly. “He’s grateful to us for saving him from his tribal enemies, the cannibal blacks. Also, we’ve shown that beastly witch-doctor that we can take care of ourselves, and lie’s lying low—for the moment. At the same time, we still have small hopes of escaping, or of finding a way out of this wilderness. And the only possible weapons we have are Midge’s knife and this flare-pistol.
“Well, perhaps the wreckage of that plane may help us now; perhaps not. There is at least plenty of steel up there that we could fashion into weapons of a kind, and we may find use for the gadgets on the dashboard. The compass and chronometer, for instance, we might be able to repair them. So now that it’s getting cooler I suggest paying another visit to the wreck right away.”
“I am indeed anxious to view the debris,” said the professor, taking the dead airman’s log-book and hastily turning the mildewed pages. But when Captain Justice opened and handed over the cartridge-box, the old scientist suddenly pounced upon them as if they were diamonds.
Eagerly he jerked out a handful, inspected them keenly, and gave a little chuckle of glee.
“Splendid—splendid! A valuable find indeed!” he murmured, beaming at his perplexed companions. “But surely some hours have elapsed since you found this aeroplane? Why on earth did you not inform me of the discovery before?”
Captain Justice smiled; Len and Midge grinned. But it was Dr. O’Mally who replied with sudden vigour.
“Inform ye, is it?” said the fat Irishman. “Faith, I’m glad ye asked that! And how could we inform ye of anything when all this time ye've been hidin’ yourself in that hut, messin’ about with experiments, and making smells that would shock a self-respectin’ skunk? Don’t ye know ye’ve scared the Giants stiff? And what experiments have ye been making? Tell me that.”
Professor Flaznagel chuckled again. The peppery old scientist seemed to be in high good humour all at once.
“It will be a privilege to satisfy your curiosity now, doctor,” he replied calmly. "The fact is, Justice, I, too, have considered the question of our lack of defensive or offensive weapons very closely. In view of the difficult, not to say precarious, circumstances, I deemed it advisable to manufacture something that we may well employ with good effect should the need arise. And the result is—Well, you shall see!”
The professor rose stiffly; took a pace forward, then halted again.
“Moreover, Justice,” he added dryly, “I fancy this invention of mine will help you considerably in another way. For you are, I believe, carrying out a deliberate programme to astonish the natives, are you not?”
“I’m trying to impress them with the fact that we’re not men to be trifled with, if that’s what you mean!” snapped Justice.
The professor stroked his beard, his eyes twinkling with a light that made the others look at him hard.
“Ha! Then we will astonish and impress them!” he purred. And with that distinctly thrilling remark, the old Wizard of Science turned his back on the bewildered company and ambled away.
A little way off stood one of the strong guard-huts which the Giants had built along the western rampart of the village—facing the quarter from which they had most reason to fear attack from the terrible black cannibals. But Professor Flaznagel cared nothing for that.
Calmly he had appropriated this hut for his own purposes—stocking it with a weird medley of native pots, jars, and other cooking utensils. And all these he had obtained in the same high-handed manner, for where his scientific interests were concerned, Professor Flaznagel was quite unscrupulous! What he needed, he took. Nothing short of violence on the part of the original owner could restrain him.
There was little danger of that, however. The Giants, from tall Buktu, the chief warrior, down to the humblest villager, stood in far too much awe of Professor Flaznagel to oppose him. Ever since that hectic night six days ago, when he had beaten the tricky witch-doctor at his own game and produced some white mail's magic, the superstitious, tawny-skinned warriors had looked upon the bearded scientist as a superior being. They respected Captain Justice as a fighting-man and a leader born. But they feared Professor Flaznagel as they had never feared anyone in their lives!
And now, as he stalked through them, Buktu’s guards edged aside nervously. Even the sentries on the rampart relaxed their vigilance for a second and eyed the formidable white man askance. Yet it was doubtful if the professor so much as noticed the impression he made on those strapping spearmen. Full of his own projects, he entered the hut, reappearing soon afterwards with a small, covered, earthenware jar in his hands.
This vessel he placed carefully on the ground beside Captain Justice, with strict orders that no one should touch it. Then, having stroked his beard and gazed thoughtfully around for a moment, the professor stalked up to mighty Buktu.
“Pray allow me the use of your dirk, my dear fellow. I assure you I shall not harm it," murmured the courteous but absent-minded scientist. Nor did it seem to dawn upon him, until Buktu stared and shook his handsome head, and Midge howled with laughter, that actions, not words, were needed to make his request plain.
“All—hum, of course! Pardon me—my mistake!” he apologised, thereby increasing the great warrior’s mental fog and Midge’s hilarity. Then he coolly drew forth the heavy, broad-bladed weapon that hung in its sheath at Buktu’s hip, and jammed its tip into the nearest charcoal-brazier.
“My hat, you have got a neck!” observed Len, watching the expression on Buktu’s face. “I reckon you’d pinch the poor beggar’s teeth if you needed ’em, professor.”
“Nonsense. I simply require that tool for my work!” snapped Flaznagel, picking up two of the shotgun-cartridges. With Midge’s knife he carefully cut through the stout cardboard cases and shook out the black powder into the palm of his hand.
Then, requesting Justice to fetch the earthenware jar along, Professor Flaznagel stalked to the parapet, clambered over, and took a few paces down the gently-sloping hill below.
In the Hands of the Raiders!
BY this time, warriors as well as sentries were peering furtively over the rocky rampart, and the professor was a target for all eyes. Oblivious to his wonderstruck audience, however, he piled up the powder in a neat little mound on the ground, and returned to the parapet.
“Now, my friends—an interesting demonstration!” he chuckled; taking the jar from Captain Justice he sent Len back to get Buktu’s blade from the brazier. When the youngster returned, Flaznagel uncovered his precious pot and carefully decanted a stream of pungent, pale amber liquid down the slope.
Rapidly the stuff soaked into the thirsty ground, sending forth acrid fumes that made Len and Midge sniff and snort disgustedly. Justice frowned, darting a sudden look of inquiry at his eccentric friend. But all the professor did was to toss back his lank white hair and flourish Buktu’s sword with the air of a conjurer about to perform.
Then, stretching his arm full length over the parapet, he gave the moist earth a touch with the red-hot tip of the blade—and ducked!
So did Captain Justice & Co.
So did Buktu and the Golden Giants!
Whoo-oosh! Out of the barren ground there sprang blue flames that leapt high into the air, giving forth blasts of heat that drove the onlookers back in a body. As by magic, the conflagration increased, dazzling all eyes by its glare. The hissing flames rose higher still; raced down the slope, lapping up the liquid, burning furiously into the bare earth itself. And then, as they licked at the little mound of cartridge powder confusion grew worse!
Down went Buktu and his men, flinging themselves flat beneath the parapet as there came another, more vivid flash of fire, and a sharp, breathtaking bang that made the eardrums tingle. Fragments of stone whined through the air, a dense cloud of thick, evil-smelling smoke belched upwards, and drifted down the hill towards the turbulent river.
Professor Flaznagel’s experiment had proved an even greater success than he had reckoned on! But he received few compliments from his deafened and startled comrades!
As for his native hosts, not a man remained on his feet.
Guards, warriors, and villagers sprawled in heaps on the ground, fingers jammed in their ears, faces hidden between their quivering arms. The Giants were brave men, none braver; but here was “magic” that numbed their superstitious minds, and played havoc with their nerves. In a matter of seconds, Professor Flaznagel had petrified a whole fighting tribe. And not another sound arose, until:
“Ow! Moanin’ moggies! You—you batty old pelican!” hooted Midge, hopping round on one leg and nursing a foot which O’Mally had trodden on with all his weight. “Oh, you footlin’ fatheaded firebug! Who the pink alligators d'you think you are—Guy Fawkes?”
"By James, that was a dangerous trick, professor,” Justice murmured gravely, glancing back at the prostrate Giants. “Phew! You certainly astonished the natives that time—and me, too! Why on earth didn’t you warn us first? And what the deuce is that infernal liquid composed of?”
Quite unperturbed by all the commotion, Professor Flaznagel chuckled and rubbed his hands together complacently.
"Merely a little experiment,” he answered, peering over at the blue flames that still writhed and danced down the hillside, leaving a trail of smouldering, blackened earth. “Really, Justice, it was simply a highly inflammable mixture of sulphur and naphtha—not very refined, perhaps, but the best I could achieve with the very primitive apparatus at my command. As you may possibly know, the naphtha constituents of petroleum vaporise at quite a low temperature, and so—”
But what threatened to be one of Professor Flaznagel's usual long-winded lectures came to an abrupt finish.
Before he could proceed further, another “highly inflammable mixture” of explosive and caustic remarks from Midge, Len, and O’Mally drowned the scientist’s explanations, while Buktu and his men seized the chance to beat a headlong retreat. Offended, the professor drew himself up haughtily and glared.
“You are exceedingly ignorant, unappreciative, and ungrateful people,” he barked. “Here I have been at great pains to supply you with an incendiary weapon which, I guarantee, will thwart and terrify every native, hostile or otherwise, in these parts! The cartridge powder was a last-minute inspiration, more than redoubling the power of my invention! And now this—this is my reward!”—bitterly. “Justice, I am hurt! I am annoyed! In future, I assure you that I shall—”
“Forgive us, like the good fellow you are, professor!” Captain Justice, ever tactful, smiled soothingly and clapped his indignant scientific adviser on the shoulder.
"Flaznagel, it’s great stuff!” he went on. “We congratulate you heartily!” he cried, with a warning frown at the others. “But now that the show is over, I am terribly anxious for you to inspect the wreckage of that plane—and to give us your valuable opinion as to how we can best use some of the debris. So, as the evening is cool enough now for some hard climbing, I suggest we gather a party of guards and start at once.”
The captain hesitated a moment, glancing doubtfully at the now silent village.
“That is, if we can gather a party of guards!” he added ruefully. “By James, it looks to me as if you’ve scared the poor beggars so much this time, professor, that we’ll have to climb the cliffs alone!”
As Captain Justice, carrying the binoculars and flare-pistol, led his companions through the village a few minutes later, not a living soul was to be seen save a few lean goats, dogs, and ruffled hens.
Every hut door was closed; and through chinks in the walls dark eyes timidly watched the approach of Professor Flaznagel, the magician who set the earth alight with water! But none of the trembling villagers dared venture out even when his figure had passed on, while not so much as a whisper disturbed the heavy stillness. It was not until the cliff walls were looming above them that Justice & Co. heard a sound that made them turn.
Buktu, that loyal and magnificent stalwart, with his feathered headdress, and leopard skin slung across his swelling chest, was striding slowly towards them.
The tall warrior’s face was a study in conflicting emotions. Humbly he saluted Justice and Flaznagel, with upraised trident, then, pointing to the cliffs, shook his head as if imploring them not to scale the heights again. But when Justice smiled and patted his muscular arm encouragingly, the Giant sighed and shrugged. Another moment of hesitation, then his hand moved in a little gesture of submission.
“I am afraid. But where you go, I go. I am your man!” his look said plainly, and then the chief warrior shouted to his men.
But the summons passed unheeded!
For once, Buktu’s followers were rebelling against his orders, dreading the very presence of Professor Flaznagel. Swift anger blazed in the young Giant’s eyes, his swarthy cheeks darkened as still no men appeared. Twirling his spear ominously, he made a sudden dash for the nearest hut, smashing the door in with a single thrust of his mighty shoulder.
“Bilious baboons!” exclaimed Midge. “Great pip, that’s the way to get orders obeyed!”
Out of the hut darted, three of the reluctant guards, squirming and grunting as Buktu bellowed furiously and lashed out right and left with his spear-shaft. For them, the brief spurt of rebellion was over. Their leader’s whistling strokes effectually conquered their fear of the white men. Whimpering like beaten hounds, the tremendously powerful fellows scurried meekly up to Midge, Len, and Professor Flaznagel. They bowed, they hoisted them on their backs, and then began a sullen ascent of the cliffs.
Buktu, however, still unappeased, still growling and bristling like an enraged lion, harried them sternly. With voice and spear he urged the bearers on to greater activity. It was, without doubt, a triumph for Justice & Co.—positive proof of their domination over the huge natives! Yet Captain Justice, as he, too, prepared to climb with the grinning O’Mally, pursed his lips grimly instead of looking pleased.
“I don’t like this, doc!” he growled. “I’m afraid old Flaznagel’s gone a bit too far this time and frightened the heart out of these good fellows. Buktu’s all right—a real hero! But, by James, I wish we had the same strong escort as we had earlier on, instead of three scared and unwilling men. Just take a squint at that confounded witchdoctor’s hill, and you’ll see why!”
HASTILY O’Mally obeyed, scowling at what he saw. For the sorcerer’s men had gathered in full force to watch the castaways’ movements. Every black cave mouth held its cluster of feathered heads and peering, painted faces. Sentinels, alert and armed, had appeared on the higher slopes, rigid as statues against the evening sky.
But—as far as O'Mally could observe—there were no signs of actual mischief brewing among the scarecrow denizens of the burning hill. The men he could see seemed curious rather than hostile. He sniffed, settled his rush-hat more firmly on his bald head, and reached up to dig his fingers into the first hand-hold.
“Och, don’t worry about those heathens!” grunted the courageous doctor. “They’ll not harm us—they’ve had their lesson! Best save your breath, Justice, and climb before Midge and Len get too far ahead. Ten to one the young limbs will run on and get into some trouble without waitin’ for their elders and superiors.”
It was good advice; and Captain Justice, knowing that Midge’s capacity for getting into trouble amounted to genius, was quick to act on it. But when, hot and breathless despite the cool breeze, he and O’Mally gained the crest of the cliffs after a long spell of difficult climbing, only the impatient professor and four restless Giants were there to greet them. As the doctor had prophesied, Midge and Len had carried on!
Eager to have a last good poke around into the ruins of the wrecked plane before the light failed, the youthful pair of adventurers were now completely out of sight, hidden by the folds in the sloping ground at the northern end of the cliff.
“Insubordinate young blighters!” Justice muttered. “Why didn’t you make them wait here, professor?”
Two pink spots dyed the professor’s cheekbones. “I tried to!" he snapped gruffly. “But, really, Justice, that scamp Midge grows more impertinent every day! I ask you, I put it to you, do I look like a—a fussy old bandersnatch? Because that is what Midge called me when I ordered him to wait. But the young imp was born to be hanged, so no danger is likely to befall him up here. I wash my hands of him entirely. What a truly marvellous view this is, Justice! It is indeed well worth the arduous climb!”
Pushing his spectacles up on to his forehead, then taking the binoculars from Captain Justice, the professor gazed enthusiastically at the wildly beautiful scene that had so entranced his comrades earlier on. The gaunt palisades on the eastern brink of the cliffs, the lofty cairn that marked the last resting-place of the gallant pilot of the wrecked plane, were dappled with ruby tints, while the enormous valley that cut a wide swathe through the mountains stretched away serenely into the north. The great river, rippling through tree-fringed meadows, twisted like a shining emerald-green ribbon.
To the professor’s left, four or five hundred yards from where he stood, the witch-doctor’s hill loomed up, its greasy plume of sulphur smoke stained red by the sunbeams. Beyond rolled the high waste land of torn and twisted rock, black gullies, and blow-holes—the result of some tremendous earthquake far back in the mists of time. A lone eagle winged its way towards the mountains. In the east, a thin line of clouds lay across the sky, heralds of advancing night.
“Amazing! A glorious spectacle after the confinement of the village!” declared Flaznagel at last; and unconsciously he repeated Captain Justice’s earlier remark: “By Jove, but that valley makes an easy highway into the north!”
Neither Justice nor O’Mally replied. Both were too anxious to press on and see what Midge and Len were doing. It was all very well for the professor to wash his hands of the cheerful pair. But with foes like the witch-doctor’s fanatics lurking in the vicinity, this was no place for a couple of daring youngsters to wander about!
Justice felt a strange alarm tug at his heartstrings as he shot another glance at the “burning ” hill. Hastily he took the binoculars from Flaznagel and focused them on a little group of savages moving furtively out of one of the caves.
“I don’t like this one little bit!” he repeated uneasily. “There's something queer going on over there! Confound those youngsters. Come on, O’Mally, give them a hail!” And Captain Justice cupped his hands to his mouth. As he filled his lungs for a lusty shout, pandemonium, fierce, ugly, and horrifying, arose, crashing through the evening stillness.
Captain Justice felt as if his blood had turned suddenly to ice.
So abrupt, so unexpected, was the sinister outburst that he reeled under the shock.
The triumphant clamour swelled out—a babel of uncouth howls and shrieks, the clatter of weapons, a faint cry for help, instantly stifled. The uproar was somewhere down the slopes—the danger zone into which Midge and Len had ventured alone. For one terrible moment the party on the cliff-top, white men and Giants, stood, unable to stir a muscle. Then, with a hoarse cry, Captain Justice sprang forward and ran!
With O’Mally and Flaznagel blundering at his heels, the famous adventurer tore ahead, his tanned face livid, eyes aflame with fear and rage. Buktu and his warriors followed, nervousness forgotten now that a stark crisis was at hand. Swiftly, recklessly, the seven men flung themselves across rough, rock-ribbed ground, united in a common purpose. But though they strained every nerve to reach the top of the slope, they ran a losing race right from the start.
Justice suddenly uttered a strangled cry. The veins swelled on his forehead as he stared downwards with bulging eyes. O’Mally, sobbing for breath, lurched against him; Professor Flaznagel tripped on a rock and fell sprawling. They were too late! Midge and Len were in the hands of the witch-doctor’s raiders!
Where the yelling demons had sprung from, Justice wasted no time in trying to guess. There were over a score of them—huge, grotesque figures, paint-daubed and tattooed. Already in full retreat towards their own lairs, they were screeching exultantly as they pelted away from the wrecked aeroplane. And with them went the two luckless youngsters who had paid so stiff a price for over-impulsiveness!
O’MALLY, trembling like an aspen-leaf, scrambled up, stretching out a quivering hand. He could see young Midge hanging over a brawny shoulder, with his red head bobbing limply, his legs and arms quite slack. Len, taller and sturdier, was being dragged along, still struggling desperately against his Herculean captors. And, as O’Mally pointed, a spear-handle flailed down from behind, knocking the gallant lad senseless.
“Come on! Come on, and tear those fiends apart!”
Captain Justice scarcely recognised that tortured voice as his own. But the blow that quietened Len seemed to snap the invisible bonds that had gripped him. Savagely he jerked the flare-pistol from the breast of his ragged pyjama jacket and bounded down the hill. Roaring their thunderous war-cry, Buktu and his Giants charged after him in a dash to the rescue.
Superstitious and panicky they might be in the face of Professor Flaznagel’s “magic,” but this was work they understood and delighted in. With lips drawn back, teeth bared, and tridents poised, they streaked down the slopes, four lithe and splendid warriors, indifferent to the odds against them.
But, alas! for Justice’s hopes. This was work that the witch-doctor’s henchmen also understood!
At the very first shout of alarm, the raiding party spurted up the opposite slope, while other fiends suddenly materialised from behind rocks and boulders. Bowmen they were, expert marksmen who had sneaked down through the gullies to cover the kidnappers’ retreat. With a yell of glee, they sprang from hiding. Their polished bow staves gleamed in the sun.
Ouly in the nick of time did Captain Justice spot the trap and swerve sharply in his stride.
“Down! Down for your lives!” he panted; and, swerving again, brought Flaznagel to earth with a flying tackle.
Something whistled past O’Mally’s ear; a second arrow grazed his cheek as he ducked and rolled over. There was a coughing grunt of pain from somewhere, then a dull thud. Helplessly the baffled rescuers lay close to the ground, while overhead the deadly barrage zipped ceaselessly through the air.
And higher up, half-way to the witch-doctor's caves, Midge and Len were carried on in triumph to their fate!
Captain Justice groaned aloud— not with fear or pain, but in sheer rage and dismay.
Midge and Len—lost! His youthful comrades, brave as they were cheerful, were fast in the merciless claws of a fiend!
For a sickening moment everything went black before him. But then, summoning up all his will power, the captain set himself to weigh up the ghastly situation as best he could.
By this time the cave-riddled hill was aswarm with prancing figures, pouring out of their holes like rats to greet the successful marauders. The air quivered to the raucous blare of horns, while never for an instant did the storm of arrows falter. One of Buktu’s Giants was down, lying limply across a rock, with a feathered shaft jutting out from between his ribs. Buktu himself was tearing back towards the village, twisting and dodging like a hunted hare, with arrows pattering all about him.
Justice dashed the cold sweat from his eyes and peered round the edge of a rock. No chance of aiming a shot at the archers, for the savages had cover in plenty.
“Heaven help those poor lads, for we can’t—yet!” he gritted. “It’s death to go forward! Keep your head down, professor! We’ll have to get back—if we can—before those hounds up there rush us!”
Flaznagel clawed at his hair in an agony of remorse.
“This is all my fault—all my fault, Justice!” he muttered brokenly. “I should have made those boys wait! I ought not to have let them go ahead!”
“You mean you oughtn’t to have scared the daylight out of Buktu’s men without warning them! Then we might have had a stronger escort!” Justice thought bitterly. But aloud he said:
“Come! Brace up, professor! No use you blaming yourself. That tricky fiend yonder saw his chance to strike, and seized it, that’s all! I’m the most to blame for this, and, by James, I’ll never forgive myself if we fail to get Midge and Connor back alive! The brute had oceans of time to post his men while we were sweating up the cliffs—he had the trap already laid for the boys to walk into! We shouldn’t have come! I should never have risked it without a strong guard! But, dash it, who ever dreamed that the brutes would venture so near the wrecked plane? Hang it, I thought they were as frightened of it as Buktu's lot!”
“Me, too!” O’Mally exclaimed huskily. “But where’s Buktu gone now?”
“For help, I hope! Yes—listen!”
Captain Justice stiffened suddenly, for, mingling with the riotous celebrations on the witch-doctor’s hill, came another fanfare of horns from the direction of the village. Faintly a roar of angry voices floated up to the captain’s ears. He guessed that Buktu, signalling from the cliffs, had set his fellow-warriors alight with the dread tidings.
Suddenly his voice rose to a warning shout—swamped instantly by the ferocious yells of the foe. The archers were advancing, bunching together and firing madly as they rushed. O’Mally grabbed a stone, preparing to sell his life dearly. The two remaining Giants gripped their tridents more tightly.
But Captain Justice suddenly smiled—a fierce and mirthless smile that showed all his strong white teeth, but left his grey eyes cold.
“Look out for the rush! Stick close to the ground!” he ordered, and then disobeyed his own commands! To the horror of his companions, the captain rose. He sprang up, cool as ever under fire, with the flare-pistol steady in his right hand, and right elbow jammed against his hip.
“Now, you screeching demons!” he snarled, and squeezed the trigger.
Plop! The pistol spoke—at short range. A burning streak of crimson fire flashed from the captain’s hip. Full into the thick of the storming attackers whizzed the flare, exploding with the devastating force and effect of a shell. Captain Justice had turned at bay!
Like a wave striking against a breakwater, the rush of the archers was shattered and flung back in confusion. Fire-shot smoke arose, with flames flickering below it, and through that smoke staggered frenzied figures, fighting each other to get clear of the Terror that sputtered in their midst. Panic- stricken, the surviving bowmen fled in all directions, flinging away their weapons as they scattered with arms upflung. And Captain Justice, turning a stony eye on the results of his shot, calmly reloaded.
“After ’em now! No quarter!” he snapped. And as he nipped round a boulder in pursuit of the fear-crazed archers he fired again, high above their heads. In a fiery arc the flare hissed through the air, struck a rock on the witch-doctor’s hill, and exploded. Another screen of smoke drifted up, sending the cowering defenders helter-skelter to cover. Suddenly, as a hoarse, deep-chested roar of exultation boomed out from behind, Justice and O’Mally halted.
They turned. Buktu and half of his fighting-men had arrived!
A GOLDEN-BROWN mass, the giant warriors poured down the slope from the cliffs, brandishing their weapons as they stormed the burning hill. Again the awe-inspiring war-cry thundered up to the heights. Instantly a hail of arrows shrilled down from the dark cave mouths about them, and a few men fell. But the rest carried on under Buktu’s fearless leadership, bowstrings twanging viciously as they advanced slowly, but doggedly, to the attack.
Yet that onslaught, as Justice could see with half an eye, was as futile as it was splendid. Faced by the withering fire from the caves, Buktu’s troops could make little headway, gallantly though they tried. Civil war had broken out among the Giants at last. The long-smouldering fires of rivalry had flared up! But the savage witch-doctor had already gained all the honours of that day.
He had hit first, and he had hit hard. His stronghold was almost invulnerable against besiegers armed only with spears and bows. Safe in his cave-riddled lair, he held the whip-hand over Justice & Co., Buktu, and all his valiant men. And what was worse—he still held Midge and Len Connor.
“Justice, we’re licked! And I thought we had the blackguards tamed!” Dr. O’Mally, watching the furious battle with lack-lustre eyes, sank heavily to the ground, hardly daring to think now of what would happen to the young captives. His chin sagged to his breast; his huge fists clenched and unclenched convulsively. Flaznagel’s hand descended suddenly on his shoulder. But the grief-stricken Irishman only shook his head miserably when the professor spoke.
“No, we are not beaten! I refuse to accept defeat like this!” There was a vibrant ring in the old scientist’s voice. “Confound it! Surely we can think of a way to turn the tables, between us? Are men like us to be outwitted by a pack of ignorant painted savages?”
“But young Midge—and Len—” O’Mally’s voice broke.
“Have no fear! I feel positive that both lads are still alive!” the professor encouraged him stoutly. “From what I have seen of that unspeakable ogre up there, he is not the man to give his captives a speedy death! Come, O'Mally! We must not despair! At all costs, we must rescue our young comrades!”
“Ay, we’ll rescue them! By James, we’ll get ’em both back, if we have to go in and pull that ghastly dump to bits with our bare hands!”
It was Captain Justice who spoke then, and his expression was not good to see. All the implacable fury—all the fierce recklessness in his nature—had risen to the surface. Captain Justice, in his present mood, was the deadliest enemy any man could have.
He looked back towards Burning Hill to where the battle had almost come to a standstill. Buktu and his giants had fought furiously and driven the painted demons back pell-mell into their holes. But beyond that, as Justice had foreseen, they could make no headway. Already they were falling back slowly into a position where, out of range of the defenders’ arrows, they were still near enough to stop any further attempts on the part of the witch-doctor’s men to leave their cave-ridden stronghold.
“They’ll never get the beggars out of there,” Justice murmured grimly. “The place is a natural fortress. I doubt if artillery could do it. It’s up to us to think of some other method. There must be some way of outwitting them.”
Neither O’Mally nor Flaznagel answered. O’Mally was still overcome with grief at the thought of the danger to which the gallant youngsters were exposed; and it was plain by his crestfallen demeanour that the old scientist could not easily forgive himself for letting them go on ahead. Justice's brow was furrowed in deep thought. With eyes that seemed to probe every rock, he scanned the landscape, photographing the scene before him on his mind. He realised now that he was up against a task as difficult as any he had ever set himself—a task in which every passing minute lessened the chances of success. Suddenly he straightened up.
“Sharp now—back to the village before darkness sets in! We want action now, not words! Midge and Len are coming out of that dump right away. And, professor, I need your help. I’ll have the swab who caught the boys, too—dead or alive!”
Without another word; Captain Justice turned his back on all the useless yelling and fighting, and strode away towards the cliff-top.
In silence, Flaznagel and O’Mally followed. Their leader, they saw, had a plan of campaign simmering in his shrewd brain. Though the Giants’ ambitious witch-doctor did not know it yet, he had twisted the tail of a sleeping tiger when he set out to make war on Captain Justice.
And that was a mistake he would have good cause to rue before long!
Captain Justice carries the war right into the enemy's camp in Next Saturday's thrilling story, and he hands the jolly old witch-doctor the Surprise of His Life!
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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.