Friday, 28 November 2014
The Road to Freedom
To Part 1.
Part 10 of 12 in The Castaways serial. Published in The Modern Boy magazine. This from 14 Sept. 1934, Vol. 14 No. 345.
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, for the blog Stillwoods.Blogspot.Com; Nov. 2014.
Castaways in Unexplored Africa, Captain Justice & Co, say farewell to their friends, the Golden Giants, and set off into the Unknown—grimly determined to struggle back to Civilisation and Safety!
“OUR last day among the Giants—eh?” Captain Justice spoke softly, musingly. “The last day among some of the finest fellows I’ve ever met! And now the wilderness, and goodness knows what else, ahead of us once more!”
A smile that held more than a trace of wistfulness crossed the famous Gentleman Adventurer’s tanned face as he gazed pensively across the village of the Golden Giants.
“Well, we’ve had a great time!” he murmured, and meant it.
Slowly his eyes roved from the lines of thatched, high-peaked huts to the chief’s “palace.” Then to the oily stream that wound across the village, and thence to the lofty, cave-riddled hill that once had been the domain of the brutal witch-doctor of the Giants. From there his gaze scaled the eastern cliffs. On the top lay all that remained of the wrecked plane of an Italian airman who had crashed all alone in this unexplored quarter of Darkest Africa.
Every inch of this upland hollow among the wild mountains recalled some stirring adventure that had befallen the five white castaways during the two months they had dwelt among the Giants. Indeed, everything connected with those virile, golden-brown Goliaths was stamped indelibly on Justice’s memory.
Great fellows they had been—great in every sense of the word, and brave, kindly, hospitable. It was, as Justice frankly confessed, hard to leave such friends and hosts.
But the call of civilisation was more insistent still. After weeks of living in the wilds, Justice & Co. were seizing their chance at last to set forth on the long, perilous trail which, they hoped, would lead eventually to civilisation.
Buktu, who had become the new chief of the Giants after the old chief’s death in the fighting which had wiped out the witch-doctor and his followers, had been reluctant to let them go. But, at long last, he had given way, and the road to freedom was open to them.
Now all preparations for departure were made, and only awaiting the captain’s final inspection. Justice dragged his eyes from the village and the long lines of stalwart, motionless Giants, and turned to his comrades —stout Dr. O’Mally, Professor Flaznagel, Len Connor, and red-headed young Midge.
All four stood ready among the wicker food-baskets, the water-bags, and native blankets their generous friends had given them, looking fit and eager for the arduous journey ahead.
“Well, O’Mally,” said Justice, “food and stores all set?”
“All set, Justice!” returned the genial Irishman. “Faith, our friends have done us proud! We’ve salted meat and fish, with enough yams, ground nuts, and mealie grain to last us a month!”
“Good!” said Justice. “You seem to have a pretty hefty collection of pots and skin-bags there,” he added, turning to the professor. “What is in them, please?”
“Specimens of all the minerals I have found whilst prospecting beyond the cliffs yonder and along the river-bank,” replied the famous scientist and inventor, blinking proudly through his horn-rimmed spectacles. “Truly, Justice, as I prophesied in the first place, this region is a veritable Eldorado! By Jove, When I publish my account of this venture, as I shall do on our return to civilisation, it will cause a sensation! There are certain so-called scientists of my acquaintance who—”
“Sorry, professor!” Justice interrupted him. “But you’ll have to leave those specimens behind—and keep your reminiscences to yourself, too! This region is unexplored. It will remain so, as far as your rival scientists arc concerned!”
The captain drew in a deep breath. His voice was very earnest as he continued:
“We came here empty-handed, without food, weapons, or hope, and all thanks to that Greek ruffian, Xavier Kuponos, who dumped us in the wilderness in our pyjamas. Now, thanks to Buktu, we’re going out fully equipped, with guides and escort. Well, once you’ve published your account, how long will it be before the Giants’ territory is overrun by scientific and hunting expeditions—by get-rich-quick traders and adventurers? No, professor. This is a secret country, where the Giants have lived their own lives for goodness knows how many centuries! It would be a dirty trick on our part to give the secret away!”
"But—but, Justice,” Flaznagel expostulated, “in the interests of science—”
“Sorry, professor! Nothing doing!” repeated Justice, more firmly than over. “In the interests of the Giants, we’ll leave ’em in peace. That’s not an order, Flaznagel; it’s a personal request. I hope you’ll agree to it.”
PROFESSOR FLAZNAGEL swallowed hard. Ruefully he glanced from his precious collection to the captain’s inflexible face and shrugged. It was like parting with his eye-teeth to leave behind the specimens that had cost him so much labour, and to suppress the notes that would gain him fresh laurels in the realms of science. But when Captain Justice spoke in that tone, even a headstrong, ambitious man like Professor Flaznagel knuckled down.
“Very well, Justice!” he sighed. “I would be the last to show ingratitude to these natives, either by word or act. Since you make this request, I suppose I must grant it.”
Midge patted the old man encouragingly on the arm.
“Spoken like a gent, Whiskers!” cried the red-haired youngster. “Let’s not tell anyone about old Buck and his tribe, or—Hallo! Here comes his nibs in person!”
To a man the castaways turned, smiles of welcome breaking across their faces, as Buktu strode slowly towards them.
Buktu, intelligent as he was huge, had picked up a few words of English. Moreover, he had grasped the castaways’ names—or, at least, his own version of them!
To him, Midge was “Mish.” The doctor had become “Omalee,” and “Yen K’nor” was the title bestowed upon that youthful wireless operator. The name Justice, however, had twisted Buktu’s tongue hopelessly, so he called the leader of the castaways “Kapen.” And, prompted by the spritely Midge, he respectfully addressed Flaznagel as “W’ickers,” to the intense annoyance of that bearded and peppery person.
As he halted in front of the comrades the young chief’s handsome face was clouded with sorrow, which he made no attempt to hide. The morning breeze rustled the feathers of liis headdress, and the early sun made his tawny, magnificently muscled body shine like burnished copper. He leaned heavily' on his glittering trident, surveying the castaways steadily with sad, dark eyes. Then at last he spoke—and it was odd to hear broken “baby sentences” issuing from the lips of such a Titan.
“You—go!” he muttered. “You— go—’ome!”
Justice nodded soberly. Riglit up to the last, he saw, Buktu was hoping that his guests would change their minds.
“Yes, old chap, we go home. White man’s home—savvy?”
Buktu’s swelling chest rose and fell beneath the gorgeous leopard-skin he wore. Then, with grave dignity, he lifted Justice’s hand and placed it on his own bowed head, repeating the ceremony all down the line.
“Kapen, Mish, Yen K’nor, Omalee, W’ickers—good f’lems!” he said quietly, yet with a tinge of pride. “W’ite f’lems go ’ome. Buktu——” And he sighed again, laying a hand over his heart. It was a simple gesture, but one that expressed his deep sorrow more finely than any words.
Midge and Len gulped, eyeing each other awkwardly; and Dr. O’Mally, of the impulsive nature and tender heart, stared fixedly at the ground. But Captain Justice, no less moved, hastened to end the painful pause by slapping his stalwart ally on the shoulder.
“Come along—cheer up, old lad!” he cried. “It’s better this way, you know. White men and brown don’t mix—which is why we’re going to keep the location of your land a secret, and a thundering deep one. Now, my sons,” he added, with a significant frown at his comrades, “the sun’s getting higher. It’s time to say good-bye—and shift!”
So saying, the captain wheeled and mounted the rocky parapet of the hollow, while Buktu suddenly drew himself erect. At once a party of young men, nimble as cats, fell upon the castaways’ gear and hurried off down the outer slope to the river, where the canoes were moored. Another party of picked men, who were to escort Justice & Co. to the boundary of their mountainous land, followed.
Thus Captain Justice began his simple speech of farewell. And the sound of his voice sent a sudden ripple of expectation through guards, warriors, and villagers, massing silently in the background.
“You can’t understand what I’m about to say,” continued the captain huskily. "But I’m going to say it, for all that! You are the finest people it has been our luck to meet—white, brown, black, or red. May you live in peace and kindness for ever. Good-bye—and thank you!” Reaching out, he caught Buktu’s hand in a clasp that made even that man of iron wince. Then, sweeping off his rush hat, he waved it on high.
“Come on, my lads—three cheers for our friends the Giants ! Hip—hip—hip—”
With right good will the castaways responded, the hollow echoing again to the sound of that stirring British cheer. Flashes of light gleamed and flickered as the Giants flourished their tridents in answer. And then, with deafening suddenness, their own deep-chested roar thundered forth, rising up and up to the heights.
Standing stiffly at attention, Justice & Co. saluted them, then turned away and descended the hill to where their own special canoe bobbed at its moorings beneath the trees.
Into the Unknown!
A STOUT but slender thirty-footer, Buktu himself had handed the canoe over to them as a parting gift. And forthwith Professor Flaznagel had taken it upon himself to improve it. With his genius for invention, plus material salvaged from the wrecked plane, the Wizard of Science had devised means and ways to save his comrades from much hard toil under the broiling sun.
Through holes bored amidships, just above the water-line, a long axle had been inserted athwart the canoe, with big, many-bladed paddle-wheels attached to either end.
In the dead centre of the axle was a greased hub, which Len Connor had patiently turned out of native hardwood, cutting deep grooves in it for the two driving-hands. These had been made out of the flying-wires, and they led forward to a larger gearwheel, mounted on a crankshaft beneath the “driver’s” seat. And this, in turn, was revolved by two wooden levers that jutted up on either side of the driver’s thighs.
The whole, in fact, was reminiscent of a railwayman’s hand-car, and both Flaznagel and Len had carried out exhaustive tests before passing it fit for service. Further, they had proved that the motive power obtained would, at the cost of far less energy, shoot the canoe through the water just as fast as one propelled by six hefty Giants.
Justice noted with approval that the native youths had already loaded and trimmed the canoe like the experts they were. Then he, turned, raising a hand to the escort of thirty picked warriors, who, under the leadership of a veteran hunter named N’Urru, were only awaiting the signal to embark.
With a yell, these stalwarts took to their canoes, while the castaways went aboard their own craft. Len settled himself between the driving levers, and Midge crawled for’ard among the food-bags. Justice began to unfurl the tapa-cloth awning that had been rigged on hooped canes the whole length of the boat.
“Steady, all! Cast off, O’Mally!” he ordered—and in ten seconds white water came churning over the paddle-wheels as Len pulled the levers slowly to and fro. Steadily the canoe glided out into the current. And it was then that a sudden fanfare of horns made everyone look up hastily—and gasp!
Every man, woman, and child among the Golden Giants had flocked to the village parapet to bid their white friends a last God-speed!
All along the crown of the hill they stood, like a frieze of graceful bronze statues, sculptured by some master-hand. Their right hands were raised high in salute. And as the castaways waved their hats again in reply, a song of farewell, sweet and haunting, broke from the lips of the women.
“Good-bye, me bonnie brave people! The saints preserve ye!” muttered O’Mally—a sentiment in which all his comrades joined fervently as the canoe gathered way and sped down the river. Five minutes later a high, tree-clad bluff loomed up on a bend of the river, and as it swam nearer a single deep hail from the village made the voyagers turn their heads once more.
Half-way down the slope a majestic figure stood all alone, gazing steadfastly after them.
For the last time, Buktu, the Giant chief, swung his trident aloft in a glittering arc. For the last time a rousing fanfare rang down from the heights. Then the canoe rounded the tiny headland—and the village of the Golden Giants vanished from sight for ever!
“And that, I’m sorry to say, is that!"
Captain Justice’s voice held a note of sincere regret as he stood up, looking back over his shoulder. For a few minutes no one else spoke. But then, with a little shake of his head, the captain took a pull on himself and settled down to the business in hand.
And a grim business it was—one that might well have dismayed hearts less stout than those of the five castaways.
How far they had to travel, what perils and adventures bestrewed their path, they had yet to learn. Nor had Justice much more than a bare inkling of where they were at present. All that lay ahead was vague: the country, the climate, and, most important of all, the other tribes in that unexplored region. It was indeed a voyage into the unknown, and heavy was the load of responsibility on Justice’s shoulders.
“However, that’s nothing particularly new!” the captain thought wryly—grateful, nevertheless, for the presence of those two boatloads of guards and hunters, gliding easily along on either hand. “We’ll come through all right, providing we dodge fever, crocs, and those infernal black cannibals! Thank goodness even Flaznagel is fit and well so far!
“Now, my lads, council of war!” he said aloud, picking up a small wicker-basket from between his feet. Out of this he took a pair of binoculars, a limp, leather-covered notebook (the flying log of the luckless Italian airman), and an aero-compass, whose triplex face, fortunately, had withstood the crash.
“As you know,” Justice continued, “I’ve been through the airman's notes, but—well, the information they give us is pretty slight, to put it mildly! He definitely went off his course during a storm, about an hour after sighting
on the Nigerian border. And after that, instead of beating back, which he
probably couldn’t do, he flew on for roughly four and a half hours, heading
south and trying to reach British territory. Lake Tchad
“But he seems to have been forced off his course again into the southeast—which means, he simply blundered deeper into a worse wilderness! His last note, jotted down about eight hours after leaving
, says that he was
hopelessly lost, and there were mountains ahead—these mountains!” Lake
“The finish, poor lad!” sighed Dr. O’Mally.
But Professor Flaznagel reached for the log, peering shortsightedly at the Italian flyer’s notes, and justice’s translations below.
“You say this was written eight hours after that unfortunate and very gallant gentleman left
Justice? Then, since he did not turn off into the south-east until five and a
half hours later, that leaves a balance of two and a half hours, during which he
was flying towards the mountains. Well, surely that—” Lake Tchad
"Doesn’t help us much!” Justice interrupted. “I know what you're trying to say, professor, that we’re somewhere south-east of the Nigerian border, which is a mighty large and lonesome stretch of land. Well, that may be. But how far off are we?
“The Italian’s air speed varied between 100 and 120, and two and a half hours of flying across an African wilderness may well mean two and a half months of travelling by canoe and shank’s pony!”
“Sufferin’ cats!” groaned Midge, having digested this last ominous remark. “Why, dash it, we're just as badly lost, then, as when Kuponos heaved us into the jungle?”
“Not quite, my lad!” retorted Justice. “I’ve just told you the professor’s right, or nearly right. Myself, I’m pretty sure we’re somewhere near the border of the French Cameroons, south-east of
is why we’re heading nor’-west now. And we’re going to keep on heading into the
nor’-west, too! Because, if I’m right, all we’ve got behind us are the wastes
of the Middle Congo, which anyone can have for my part. I certainly don’t
propose finding a way back through that tangle!”
Briskly the captain replaced the log-book and compass, then gave his companions a steady look.
“Nor’-west it is, my lads! We’ll steer by compass, and check up by the sun and stars. It’s possible that old N’Urru, the hunter, and his crowd intend to take us to some French outpost, but I’m not going to rely on that. The Giants seem pretty coy about leaving their own land.
“So it’s up to us now—all of us. O’Mally, you and Ben and I will take turns at the paddles, and Midge is hereby elected cook! And sooner or later, if the cannibal blacks who hang out around here don’t get us, we stand some chance of bumping into a trading-post or river patrol!”
Thus commenced the voyage back to civilisation. For over five weeks it lasted; five of the most heart-breaking, gruelling weeks they had ever known. But it would be idle to pretend that even the experienced captain, even Len, of the retentive memory and methodical eye for detail, could afterwards recall half the furious adventures, the hairbreadth escapes and manifold perils the devoted band passed through during that time.
Each day before dawn saw the little fleet well under way. Sunset found them encamped near the river bank, guarded by blazing night-fires. To the dull slop-slop of the paddle wheels, they chugged out of the great valley to the north of the Giants’ village. They entered others that twisted, twined, and cut their way even deeper into the vast mountain solitudes.
Huge lakes, inland seas that were the haunt of inquisitive and dangerous herds of hippopotami, had to be negotiated. Sandbars and submerged snags did their best to wreck the frail craft. And once, for a whole nerve-racking hour, white men and brown sat rigidly on their thwarts, while the sluggish current bore them slowly through a stretch of yellow river that was aswarm with ravening crocodiles.
But slop, slop, slop! So it went on, crawling ever northwards. Day followed day, each bringing its full tale of troubles and fatigue, till the succession of events grew blurred, jumbled. So many miles covered, so many dangers avoided—that was all! It was like passing through a gigantic furnace—a fiercely hot world of eye-aching green, blue, and gold, always changing, yet always the same.
Gradually, too, the castaways lost their look of health and fitness. Their weary minds ceased to register impressions, hardening, instead, into a sort of stolid apathy. The pitiless sun grilled them in spite of the awning. The steamy night, bringing forth invisible marauders and winged pests, merely addetl to their torments.
Dr. O’Mally’s tattered clothes soon began to hang slack upon him; Justice became more gaunt and grim, more a figure of wire and whipcord every day. Len fell silent, working like a nigger, but rarely speaking from dawn to dusk. Midge, with no energy left for wrangling or chaff, slumped listlessly in the bows, buoying himself up by inventing marvellous “feeds” to be ordered when—and if—he ever reached a white man’s land.
Professor Flaznagel went down with fever during the second week out, and for six days lay on the bottom of the canoe babbling of world-shaking inventions.
The Cannibal Blacks.
THE chain of fertile but desolate valleys ended at last under an enormous hog-backed mountain. Then the jungles began, league after league of brilliant, close-meshed vegetation and creeper-hung trees, divided by reedy creeks, quagmires, and stretches of bare virgin rock. At times the great river broadened out into a glassy yellow flood, two miles wide or more. At others, it forked and narrowed, pouring its flow through dim canyons whose lofty walls blocked out the sun.
But still, slop, slop, slop! The paddles churned the water of that and other rivers, great and small; of narrow streams, converted into tunnels of soft green twilight by the dense foliage arching overhead. And sometimes, when spouting rapids barred the way, the lion-hearted party took to the “bush”—stumbling through moist heat and thorny undergrowth with their canoes and gear, until it was safe to return to the less-turbulent water lower down.
These portages were the hardest work of all—killing work for the diminutive Midge and Professor Flaznagel. Yet they stuck it to the bitter end, with Captain Justice always in the lead, ever cool, over patient and indomitable. While as for the grizzled N’Urru and his fellow Giants, never once did they falter or complain, either by word or act.
On three occasions, however, the keen old hunter spotted signs of his tribe’s ancient foes, the terrible man-eating blacks. And then quivers and bows were placed ready, as the three canoes shot far out into mid-river, with the sweating paddlers plying their blades at racing pace until the danger-zone was passed.
But always, after one of these alarms, Justice noticed that the veteran giant remained restless and alert for days on end. Also, that N’Urru’s uneasiness increased the farther north they travelled. Midge was another who perceived this somewhat alarming change. Unlike his leader, however, the snub-nosed youth eventually gave vent to his own qualms aloud.
“Old Hooroo’s got the breeze up, if you ask me,” the lad commented, while the party were making camp one evening, about a month and a week after quitting the
. “Getting wind of those black
scuts again yesterday has properly given the old boy the willies! And the same
applies to the rest. It looks to me as if they’re expecting some big trouble
any old time now! What d'you think, skipper?” village of Giants
For the moment, Captain Justice did not reply.
Camp had been pitched as usual, near the bank, at the head of a long, straight river-reach; and from where the captain stood, with binoculars glued to his eyes, he could make out glimpses of silver-blue water through breaks in the foliage about a mile away. It looked to him as if another lake lay ahead; a large one at that, for the shimmering patches spread out on either hand over a wide area. He observed also that the eternal mountains no longer ringed the voyagers round. The majestic peaks and slopes were falling away, opening out to form a colossal gateway to the north.
“H’m! I fancy you’re right, Midge!” Justice answered at length. “Either N’Urru’s men suspect real trouble brewing, or else that lake yonder is as far as they’re willing to go with us. Anyway, we’ll know more about it in the morning. But, somehow—”
The famous adventurer gnawed his underlip worriedly.
“Somehow,” he murmured, “I’ve quite a strong hunch that we’re just about coming to the critical point of this trip.”
And that “hunch” was correct!
Next morning, Captain Justice heard mysterious rifle shots!
If a heavy artillery shell had exploded on the river bank then, its effect could scarcely have been more shattering!
Through the stillness of dawn, the two reports came suddenly, crisp, yet hollow, like the popping of corks. So faint were the sounds that none of the other castaways heeded them as they clambered aboard. But Justice in the act of seating himself between the paddle-levers, stiffened as though a red-hot blade had jabbed him.
“My great James!” It was an exclamation that brought his comrades up all-standing.
“What on earth?” he gasped. “Listen! Listen, for the love of Mike!”
Astonished and alarmed by his outburst, the rest obeyed, straining their ears. While, over in their own canoes, the Giants began to murmur among themselves in their deep, resonant voices. Imperiously Justice waved them to silence. And, as he did so—pop!—another flat report from somewhere in the far distance smacked on their eardrums.
Midge nearly fell overboard!
“A—a rifle!” he stuttered, while Justice, without another word, drove the levers forward. “Sufferin' snakes in syrup! Someone’s firing a rifle out on the lake!”
“Och, stop your blatherin’!” snapped O’Mally scornfully. “Who’d be using a rifle in this blighted land o’ bows and arrows and spears? Sure, ’tis more like a beaver slapping his tail on the water, or something of that sort.”
“Beaver, my uncle’s left foot!” snorted Midge. “This isn’t
Canada! I'll bet you what you like—”
“It’s a rifle—and there she goes again!” Justice barked. “Stop arguing, you two, and signal N’Urru’s men to keep pace! They’re scared—but don’t let ’em lag behind. By gad, this is where we make time!”
Wild with excitement now, the castaways crouched low, the nose of the canoe lifting higher as Justice warmed to his work.
Away down the straight stretch it sped under the full drive of the paddle-wheels, with the Giants cutting in close alongside. They hesitated a moment on approaching the mouth of a tortuous creek, but Justice &
spared it never a glance. Ahead, the river swirled over greasy mud-banks before
flowing on into the deep blue lake. With unerring judgment, Justice picked out
the one safe channel.
“Steady all! No shifting as we go through!” he rapped, and next instant muddy water kicked high into the air as the canoe shot the channel at reckless speed. There was a brief moment of tension as trailing weeds fouled the starboard wheel; another when something that looked like a log but wasn’t dodged beneath the bows in the nick of time, and the ivory-fanged jaws of a crocodile snapped at the canoe and missed.
Then, triumphantly the castaways and their escort glided out into the vast sheet of open water.
“Now who was right about the rifles, Fatty O’Mally!” howled Midge, leaping up suddenly and clawing at the awning, heaving it back higher on its supports. But. his words were drowned by the involuntary roar that burst then from all three canoes.
For the mystery of the rifle-shots was a mystery no longer! Out on the bosom of the lake, a full mile from the river mouth, a sturdy, white-painted launch was steaming southwards at half-speed!
“Justice! Is it a boat? My eyes—confound them—”
“It’s a steam launch, professor!” gasped Len. “River-patrol— Oh, my giddy aunt!”
“Och, I’m sorry, Justice! I apologise, Midge!”
“Take the paddles, doc—never mind the apologies! Quick, someone! The binoculars—here!”
It was one of those frenzied moments when everyone speaks at once! A launch—a white man’s launch—after all these weeks of wilderness! Midge nearly danced himself out of the canoe, O’Mally seized the paddle-levers, while Len and Flaznagel solemnly shook hands. But Justice, after stilling the Giants’ fears with a swift, genial gesture, stood erect, focusing his glasses on the distant vessel.
That was the first thing he saw—that the launch was flying the French tricolour. The next was that her canvas-covered foredeck was full of black askaris—native soldiers—armed with repeating-rifles. Two white officers in drill uniforms stood on the tiny bridge, studying the canoes through their own binoculars. And suddenly smoke belched thicker from the launch’s single stack, and naked steel glittered brightly as deft hands stripped the vicious quick-firer in her bows.
“Phew!” Captain Justice sobered down rapidly at that.
“Avast paddling, O’Mally!” he ordered. “Off with the awning, lads, then stand straight up and show yourselves! She’s coming right towards us, cleared for action! By James, we haven't come all this way just to get a French shell in the eye by mistake!”
All together the castaways tackled the awning. They rolled it right up, then stood erect, waving their arms as the French launch came steadily on.
A sudden bellow of warning from the Giants—a yell that deepened next instant with murderous rage and hatred—startled the comrades out of their wits. They twisted their heads round—and ducked in a flash!
Midge’s voice rattled in his throat as he tumbled down below the gunwale. Captain Justice felt icy fingers suddenly clutching at his heart. His eyes widened slowly for an instant, shock paralysed his nerve-centres. All he could do was to stand and stare at the river-mouth—at the horrifying spectacle unfolding itself before him!
The blacks—the cannibal fiends, whose malignant influence had brooded over the canoe-party for so long—were there in the flesh at last!
With their customary cunning, they had floated down-river behind the castaways, stealing out of the reedy creek, silent as prowling wolves, until their quarry was sighted. Now their canoes were winding through the mudbank channel— long war vessels, packed with squat, gorilla-like savages. And suddenly, as the Giants roared again and snatched up their bows, an awful yell screamed forth in reply.
Surrounded by Foes!
SOMETHING seemed to snap inside Justice’s head. The moment of helplessness passed away amid the uproar.
“Get to work, doc!” he yelled. “Paddle, man, for your life! By James, we’ll give the beggars a race before we go under!”
Quick as thought, he bundled the burly Irishman into the driving-seat. O’Mally’s huge hands gripped the levers. The canoe leapt convulsively, shooting ahead to meet the oncoming launch. Instantly another outburst of rabid yells burst from the rear, followed by a whistling hail of arrows.
Justice and Len, exposing themselves fearlessly, coolly dropped the awning again so that it protected the stern. Behind them, too, the Giants were gallantly covering the castaways’ retreat, returning the cannibals’ fire as fast as muscular arms could bend a bow. But still the black brutes came on, and others came hurrying to the attack with them. “Gallopin’ ghosts!”
Midge’s sudden sharp exclamation of dismay brought Justice crawling forward to where the boy crouched, his outstretched hand swinging from south to west.
“Gummy, skipper, look yonder!” he panted. “More canoes, dozens of ’em, creeping out from the banks! Palsied parrots, it’s an army! It’s a last blinkin’ round-up for us and the French launch, too!”
Justice stared, wincing as he made out the lines of black canoes converging from all quarters. Midge was right! It was a muster of the whole vile tribe—a net thrown out to catch castaways and river patrol. And well the French officers aboard the launch knew it now.
All at once the air quivered to a spiteful report. A shell droned overhead; a column of hissing water spurted up just short of the river-mouth. The blacks in pursuit of Justice & Co. had sprung their ambush a shade too late. Apparently, they knew nothing of the range and power of white men’s weapons.
Crack! Again the quickfirer barked—and this time one of the long, black war-canoes seemed to leap from the water of its own accord, shedding torn planks and limp men as it did so. The rest of the hunters sheered off in a panic, harried by crashing volleys from the askari riflemen. That was O’Mally’s opportunity for a last spurt.
He grasped it.
Summoning up all his great strength, the Irishman fairly lifted the canoe along on its paddle-wheels. The French vessel had heaved to by now, and her officers, leaning out over the bridge rail, were staring down in amazement at the five white scarecrows racing towards them. Justice stood up, saluting the tricolour. Then he turned, waving both hands on high.
“Good man, doc! Bound t’other side—quick! N’Urru! N’Urru!” he shouted, beckoning the loyal Giants to follow.
And they, trusting him as always, ceased fire and sped to safety under the cover of the rifles, what time O’Mally swung round under the sheltering lee of the launch.
THERE a bunch of grinning, ebony-faced askaris greeted the fugitives with throaty yells, only to be silenced instantly by a fierce order from the bridge. Then a rope was tossed overside. Five minutes later Captain Justice & Co.— ragged, dripping with perspiration, but safe—stood facing two of the most bewildered officers in the French Colonial Service.
“White men! White men! Out here!”
It seemed at first as if neither of the young Frenchmen could believe his own eyes.
“A million thunders! It is true! You are white! But how do you come here? Who are you?” spluttered one, a tall, angular lieutenant.
And he started back like a man who sees a ghost when Justice saluted again, and told him.
“Captain Justice! You are the famous Captain Justice, and these are your comrades?” he cried in English, shouting to make himself heard above the cracking of rifles, the screams and howls from the lake. “But you are dead, captain! You have been reported missing or dead these last two months or more! Half the governments of
Africa have had their police and native
trackers searching for you! And the men in your celebrated airship, the— the—
what is it?—Flying Cloud, are still cruising over the whole of British East
Africa, Egypt, and the Sudan seeking you everywhere! And now you—”
“Sorry, lieutenant!” Justice smiled grimly, though his lips twitched at mention of the great Flying Cloud. “I haven’t any passports or papers, but you can take it from me that I am Captain Justice, and I’m very much alive! I'm free to confess, though,” he added, glancing bitterly over his shoulder at the lake, whose surface was now crawling with cannibal canoes, “that the chances are we shall all be dead pretty soon if we don’t act smartly! Whom have I the honour of addressing?”
“I am Lieutenant Henri de Vissac. Allow me to introduce my second-in-command, Sous-Lieutenant Jacques la Salle!” returned the officer, adding proudly: “And we are the first river-patrol company to penetrate so deeply into this territory, captain!”
“Moanin’ moggies, you look like being the last, then, moosoo!” chirped the irrepressible Midge.
But Justice frowned him to silence. The captain’s eyes were fixed on the launch’s wireless aerial, and his eyes were gleaming.
“What is the name of this territory—
Lake N’gako, South-East Cameroons,
eh? Right!” Justice’s voice deepened suddenly. “Now, lieutenant, we haven’t
time to tell you much, but there’s this much. I know these blacks, and, believe
me, we’ve all got to fight like blazes if we’re to get out of this trap alive!
What help can you summon? What is the range of your wireless?"
Lieutenant de Yissac shrugged.
“The wireless? It is not—what you say—so hot, my captain! I could perhaps summon aid from the seaplane station on the coast, but—”
“Useless! Tell me, is your wireless powerful enough to reach the British station in
I have an agent there!” snapped Justice, and slapped his thigh delightedly as
De Vissac nodded. Lagos, Nigeria
“Then listen, lieutenant! For certain reasons, I don’t want it broadcast yet that we’re still alive. But I do want to send a code message—a vital message—to my agent in
Lagos. My comrade here,
Mr. Connor, is an expert wireless operator. If I promise to bring help that is
worth a hundred seaplanes, will you grant him permission to use your set?”
Justice clenched his fists anxiously while he waited for the reply. His request, he knew, was contrary to all the rules of the French Service. But Lieutenant de Vissac hesitated a moment only. He was in the very toughest spot of his young and ambitious career, and, rules or no rules, was ready to seize any chance of getting clear.
“Captain Justice, I have heard much of you!” he answered, with a salute. “The wireless cabin is at your service!”
“Thank you, sir!” And Justice wheeled, gripping Len’s elbow. “Now, Len, you know what to do!” he whispered tensely. “You heard that the Flying Cloud is still cruising over
East Africa. So go to it, lad! Get the
latitude and longitude of this lake from the sous-lieutenant, then get in touch
with the Flying Cloud via Lagos.
Use Code B. Tell the boys we want ’em out here, if they burn up the skies! In
fact, tell ’em to burn up the skies, or we’re sunk!” Len nodded. He was off in
a flash, his fingers itching to get at. a transmitter-key once more. And as he
tore aft De Vissac turned to Justice again.
“I have to return to the bridge, captain! Ha, we shall yet show these cannibals what fighting means!” he growled. “But first, my friends, is there anything else you require?”
“Yes!” Justice smiled at the warlike Frenchman. “A rifle apiece for all of us, please—and a cigar for me! And you might take care of those big, golden-brown fellows down below—they’re great scouts!"
“It shall be done!”
DE VISSAC laughed shortly, and rapped out an order, at the same time producing a cigar-case and lighter. Tenderly Justice drew out a long black cheroot, and carefully he snapped the flame to its blunt end. Then, with the cigar jutting from his mouth at the old jaunty angle, and fragrant smoke trickling luxuriously from his nostrils, he sighed long and contentedly, and gazed out over the lake.
The man-eating blacks had received a sharp lesson, but they were recovering. At a rough estimate, nearly a hundred canoes were circling out there on the sun-spangled waters, and arrows were zipping through the air in constant streams. True, most of them plopped harmlessly into the lake, but the range was gradually and steadily dwindling, in spite of rifle bullets and quick-firing gun. It was going to be a fight, mused Justice—a long and bitter fight until—An eager voice broke in on his thoughts.
"Is the Flying Cloud coming, captain? Gosh, isn’t it wonderful to think of her still being out here?” Midge, carrying a rifle nearly as long as himself, slipped in beside his leader, and Justice grinned down at the boy’s eager face.
“Yes, lad—or, at least, Connor is trying hard to reach her. But she’ll have something like sixteen hundred miles to cross—nearly six hours of flying from the time our SOS gets through. And, at all costs, we’ve got to hold on here until she does arrive!”
“She’ll do it! And we’ll hold on till then all right!” Midge declared confidently. “As for you, you black windbags—”
Crack! his rifle flashed at that moment, and out on the lake a screeching cannibal dropped his bow and sank down.
“You hold on to that till I get another one ready!” whooped the red-haired marksman. “Yah! Think you’ve got us, don’t you? But Captain Justice & Co. aren’t dead yet!”
Surrounded by cannibal foes, the Castaways fight as they’ve never fought before, in Next Saturday’s story! Don’t YOU Miss the Thrills!
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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.