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Title: The Crystal Sceptre - A Story of Adventure
Author: Mighels, Philip Verrill
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                         _The_ CRYSTAL SCEPTRE
                         _A Story of Adventure_


                       By PHILIP VERRILL MIGHELS
            _Author of “Nella, the Heart of the Army,” etc._

                    [Illustration: Decorative glyph]

                         R. F. FENNO & COMPANY
                9 and 11 East Sixteenth Street, New York
                                  1901


                             Copyright 1901
                                   by
                         Philip Verrill Mighels



                                Contents


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I. The end of the voyage                                             9
  II. A strange alliance                                              14
  III. The home of the Links                                          25
  IV. A reconnoitre                                                   36
  V. Hostile neighbours                                               44
  VI. Language and weapons                                            50
  VII. Important discoveries                                          60
  VIII. Attacked and besieged                                         67
  IX. The cauldron of gold                                            76
  X. Daylight at last                                                 86
  XI. A camp on the hill                                              91
  XII. A deadly foe                                                   97
  XIII. The night in the jungle                                      108
  XIV. An old roué                                                   115
  XV. A gleam of hope                                                120
  XVI. Treachery and a battle                                        127
  XVII. Saurians as foes                                             141
  XVIII. The enemy near                                              151
  XIX. Adoration scorned                                             155
  XX. The chief is pleased                                           159
  XXI. War with the Blacks                                           165
  XXII. Home joys and troubles                                       172
  XXIII. Needed munitions gathered                                   183
  XXIV. Experimental gunpowder                                       188
  XXV. The tribe frightened                                          197
  XXVI. Sport at the lake                                            203
  XXVII. An exploration                                              211
  XXVIII. Amazing discoveries                                        218
  XXIX. A sacred disguise                                            229
  XXX. Again besieged                                                240
  XXXI. Lost in the jungle                                           247
  XXXII. The bamboo bombs                                            261
  XXXIII. King at last                                               271
  XXXIV. A moment of rest                                            276
  XXXV. A fellow human                                               282
  XXXVI. Surprise and suspense                                       293
  XXXVII. The goddess                                                306
  XXXVIII. A prospect of wealth                                      313
  XXXIX. Stealing the enemy’s fire                                   324
  XL. Coveted gold                                                   334
  XLI. Farewell to the camp                                          344
  XLII. Golden gleams                                                358
  XLIII. Surrounded by the Blacks                                    365
  XLIV. Vale faithful Fatty                                          380
  XLV. No longer a king                                              387



                          The Crystal Sceptre



                               CHAPTER I
                         THE END OF THE VOYAGE


We had lost all control of the wild balloon. It was driven ahead of the
wind like a shred of rags, the car trailing behind at a fearful angle,
for many of the ropes were broken and all the others were twisted in a
hopeless tangle. Nearly all our ballast had fallen into the angry sea
beneath us an hour after the storm first caught us in its whirl.

I could hear the ocean roaring and swashing, where its gigantic waves
toppled over each other below. The sound must have been tremendous, for
the wind blew such a howling gale that neither Ford nor I could make
each other hear what we shouted two feet away.

Our hats were gone; Ford’s face was haggard, whenever the lightning
revealed him in the gloom. So intense was the darkness that I could not
even see the vast bag above us. When a great flash illuminated the
heavens, directly ahead, I noted the monster globe full of gas,
silhouetted blackly against the glare, and knew it was slightly leaking.
A small three-cornered dent was in its side already. I also observed
that the sea was hardly more than fifty feet below, churning milk-white
foam in its fury out of liquid ebon waves of mountainous size. The sky
seemed like a solid bank of black. The darkness that followed the flash
absorbed even Ford. Yet I knew that while he clung to the basket with
his right hand, as I had done for above an hour, he was nevertheless
attempting with his left to heave out the bag of provisions and the
blankets. I helped him at this and we rose perceptibly.

Where we were it was absolutely impossible even to guess. That the
balloon was driving ahead at more than sixty miles an hour we had long
been convinced. This had been the state of affairs throughout the night.
I had lost all confidence in Ford’s calculations at the end of the
seventeenth hour out from Burma, for the twist which the storm had given
us then threw out or broke every reliable instrument we had, leaving not
so much as a compass. I was not an aeronaut like Ford, yet I knew we
were doomed, unless some change should occur, and that quickly.

Ford, by the light of a flash, had seen a rope which was sawing open a
seam in the silk, as it slashed and writhed in the tornado. When another
blinding illumination came, I saw him climbing up in the ring to cut
this rope away. The car tilted more than before; I fully expected to go
hurtling out at every jerk. Suddenly two ropes, worn to a thread, on the
ring, parted without the slightest warning. The car gave a lurch and all
but turned bottom-side up. I heard a cry, as I swung out full length,
suspended by my arms, and was even slightly struck on the foot, as Ford
went plunging down. The balloon shot upward, relieved of his weight, and
I was alone.

How long I clung there, swinging far out behind the wounded machine, is
more than I would dare to say. My arms finally ached so intensely I
could scarcely endure the pain. Dangling ropes beat me like knouts, for
a time, and then wrapped and twisted about me like coils of a snake.
Obviously these must have supported my weight at the last, for in a
spell of dizziness and weakness I lost my grip and then was conscious
only a second, when I thought, with the utmost unconcern, my end had
come. Like a dummy on the tail of a kite, I dragged below the wreck of
the car and was whirled thus unconsciously on, above the hungry sea.

It might have been hours, it might have been days after this last moment
of despair, when my brain began again to work. I can only describe the
sensations which followed as a species of dream. I thought I was dead;
it seemed as if my soul, or something, was at perfect rest in a region
of loveliness. Whereas I had been chilled through and through by the
storm, I was warm now and filled with comfort. Music, which might have
been the rustling of leaves or the songs of birds, made itself heard. I
could not see for my eyes remained closed; but a sense of delicious
odours pervaded my being; I seemed also to float, as if on the air.

At length I opened my eyes. The dream continuing on me still, I lay
perfectly quiet, gazing aloft into a sky of matchless beauty. Doubtless
I remained in this position for more than half an hour. Then a bright
bird flitted across my range of vision, and brought me back to things of
earth. I was still bound about by a piece of rope. Everything came back
to me sharply,—Ford, my friend, the scientist and daring balloonist, our
start, the storm, his hurtling down to death, my own desperation, and
then oblivion.

I was whole and sound, apparently. Removing the rope and attempting to
sit erect, I found myself floundering for a second, in the top of a
tree. The branch I was on let me drop. I fell toward the earth, made a
grab for a limb, which somewhat broke my fall, and landed plump on the
ground, in the midst of a circle of extraordinary beings.



                               CHAPTER II
                           A STRANGE ALLIANCE


Neither men nor apes, yet clearly creatures which were nearly the one
and on the verge of being the other, these inhabitants of the place had
evidently been observing my form, in a spirit of cautious curiosity, for
a number now came swinging down from trees adjacent to the one I had
occupied, and the ones upon the ground set up a series of singular
cries.

Having landed on my feet, hatless, but otherwise stoutly clad, I threw
my hand to my belt, instinctively, desiring to arm myself against
possible aggression. I found only my knife remaining. This weapon I
merely hauled around by sliding the belt, to bring the dagger directly
beneath my hand. The creatures about me were a score or so in number,
standing erect, apparently much excited, yet threatening no attack.
Their movements were restless; their roundish, near-together eyes were
constantly moving, like those of a monkey; they circled about me,
uttering guttural monosyllables, with many inflections. Every one of
them gripped in a powerful hand the haft of a rude sort of club,
fashioned out of a rock, lashed firmly to the end of a stout piece of
wood.

The mutual inspection between us lasted several minutes. I could detect
but little difference between any two of the beings. They were nearly as
tall as I, averaging about five feet six inches; they were thin, wiry,
entirely naked, long-armed, flat-nosed, big-jawed and covered, on their
legs and arms, with a thin and somewhat straggling growth of hair. Their
skin was a reddish light-brown in colour; their feet were large, but
much like hands, having the great toe set back like a thumb; their legs
were slender and poorly shaped, but exceedingly muscular; their
shoulders and backs were round.

One of the first to drop from a tree was a giant among them, a creature
more than six feet tall, active as a panther, commanding in aspect, and
possessing arms that reached fully to his knees. He carried a remarkable
club which was made of a great chunk of rock-crystal, secured at the end
of a polished bone, large and straight. This crystal still had its
gleaming points and facets preserved; it therefore inspired me with a
dread of the jagged hole it could smash in the skull of the largest
animal.

Amazed as I was by what I saw, my astonishment was instantly increased
when I observed the only female creature I had yet beheld. She issued
from a copse and took her place beside the giant, who stood leaning on
his club, eyeing myself nervously. She was a pure albino. Her hair,
which was long and coarse, was as white as foam, her eyes were as pink
as a rabbit’s; her complexion was florid red on white. With a
rudimentary modesty, she stood partially concealed behind the giant,
although she was “clothed” in a patch of skin from a pure white gull, in
addition to a sort of rude necklace of claws.

What were they? Where was I? What would they do? These questions I asked
myself rapidly a hundred times, as the creatures continued to edge about
me and to chatter obvious comments. I could only answer what they were,
and my premature conclusion may have been wide of the truth, yet I
dubbed them Missing Links without the slightest hesitation.

For a space of at least ten minutes I was subjected to the closest
scrutiny, during which time I kept the keenest possible watch on every
movement, behind as well as before me. Resistance, however, would have
been madness, had they closed in for a battle. There was evident
indecision among these Links as to what they should do, and I was
equally at a loss to determine what I most desired with regard to
themselves. I now underwent another sensation. Pushing his way through
the circle came a fat, waddling “fellow,” who afforded as great a
contrast to the ordinary Links as did the female albino. He was entirely
black. As if to render him quite grotesque, his legs were thick and
bowed, his stomach was large and glistening, and his head was crowned
with a skull, securely tied in place with thongs which passed beneath
his chin. But his face was so irresistibly comical, with its broad,
good-natured grin, that I smiled in actual forgetfulness of where I was.

At this he approached, holding forth in his hand a luscious fruit, the
like of which I had never seen. A murmur—plainly of dissent, or
warning—went up from his companions. Two or three made as if to drag him
roughly back by the leg. I fancied I understood him to be an emissary of
peace, and therefore deciding instantly that I preferred to be friendly,
I took a step forward and held out my hand. With a look of gratitude,
mingled with one of suspicious uncertainty, the fat chap gave me the
fruit and capered clumsily away, out of possible reach.

Grunts of wonder and perhaps also of relief, greeted my acceptance of
this overture of hospitality. The Links settled in their tracks, to see
what would happen next, many of them standing with arms akimbo and
glancing from me to the giant, rapidly, by which I concluded that he was
a chieftain to whom they looked for a final decision of the case.
Trusting that the action might create a salutary impression on the
audience, I drew my knife from its scabbard and proceeded to cut away
the thick, hard rind of the fruit, paying not the slightest attention to
the exclamations which followed this exhibition of the sharpness and use
of the gleaming blade. When the fruit was peeled, I put the knife away
and ate as delicious and juicy a thing as ever a man has known,
provoking thereby a feeling of undisguised pleasure in the Links and of
apparent ecstasy in the breast of the fat one who had provided the
breakfast.

“Now,” said I, when the thing was gone, “who are you fellows, and what
do you want?”

I was surprised at myself for thus addressing this half-ape gathering,
but they were smitten temporarily dumb at the sound of my voice. I made
a gesture of cordiality and turned completely around in the circle,
finally holding both my hands extended to the giant.

The chatter was instantly resumed. One of their “words,” in a language
which seemed to me to be exceedingly limited and primitive, was, as
nearly as pen can write it.

“Tzheck.”

Having caught this I attempted to repeat it, pointing to myself meantime
with my thumb, for it occurred to my mind that they called not only
myself but also their species by the name, and I desired to assure them
I was “one of themselves,” for at least they were better than no
companions in this unknown land.

My action evidently met with approval. They advanced, retreated, pushed
each other near and otherwise exhibited a desire to know what I was. But
still they had a fear of my presence, although they were now in a mood
of timid friendliness. Up to this the chief of the Links had not
“spoken” a word. He now gave a command, or something of the sort, when
each of the others raised his club to rest it on his shoulder, as if in
readiness to beat me to death in case a necessity should arise. The
giant then came boldly up and extending a finger, touched my clothing.
The feeling of the cloth caused him to tell something to his followers,
all of whom were breathless with attention.

Thinking I understood his perplexity, I quickly unfastened my coat and
shirt, exhibiting the whiter portion of my neck, for the part exposed
was tanned very much the colour of his own. This action begot a great
enthusiasm, responding to which I pulled my coat off entirely, when the
amazement of all was complete. I repeated their word “Tzheck” again,
whereupon they set up a clamorous conversation in monosyllables, among
themselves, and came yet closer, the better to place their hands upon
me. The impression was borne in upon me that they knew somewhat of what
I was, but were puzzled by the clothing I wore.

All this preface to a mutual friendship and understanding, which I much
desired as a guarantee of my personal safety, was progressing well when
a sudden scream threw all into a state of violent alarm. No sooner did I
turn than I beheld the appalling sight of thirty or forty huge, genuine
ourang-outangs, descending upon us from the near-by jungle. Two of these
had swooped upon the albino female and were struggling to carry her off.
I saw the giant nearly smash the head from the shoulders of one, with
his iridescent club, and rescue his mate in a second. Then a fierce
engagement commenced about me on every side.

It was a horrible conflict. The monster ourangs, half erect, appeared
like so many fiends, as they launched themselves in overwhelming numbers
on the Links, their mouths drooling, and bristling with fangs, their
hatred of the more human creatures expressed by the fury with which they
attempted to mangle and murder all the band. The Links, screaming out a
word which thrilled me as a battle cry of a courageous few whose fight
was all but hopeless, smote lustily with their clubs, sinking the
rock-end in many a skull, breaking arms, legs and ribs, yet wasting
superlative effort from lack of skill and discipline. Although they
fought their foe with more acumen than as many undrilled men could have
done, I thought they must fly or all be killed, for the odds were too
heavy by far.

In the midst of the uproar and turmoil, of which I had been the centre
for a time, a singular snarl, as of triumph, issued from one of the
attacking brutes. He had discovered myself. Immediately half a dozen
would have rushed upon me, had I not been still somewhat surrounded by
the Links. As it was, two ourangs rushed in, headlong, to do me
violence.

I had been about to fight for my “friends,” and therefore held my dagger
in my hand. I plunged it quickly in the throat of the beast that gripped
my shoulder, nearly severing the creature’s head from its body. As he
fell I stabbed the other to the heart, but felt so great a rib that I
knew I had reached his life by the merest good fortune.

That I then grew hot and eager for blood, I admit. I received the next
that came with a lunge which ripped him open entirely across the
abdomen. My knowledge of boxing and fencing stood me well. I attacked a
monster who was all but killing my fat, good-natured Link, and crashed
the steel fairly through the spinal column at the base of his brain. The
smell of blood and the flash of that gory knife seemed to affect the
attacking brutes with horror. Yet the next ones that came would have
killed me outright had not the fat Link beaten out the brains of one and
broken the arm of the other, which then was readily despatched.

Seeing the advantage of a club, I clutched up one which an overmastered
Link had dropped, and swung it madly. With this and the knife, I not
only defended myself but became a champion of the Links as well. The
fight, with its din of thuds and animal shrieks and screams of agony,
began to concentrate about three Links and myself. A long, hairy arm,
with an iron-like hand, was thrust across my shoulder and my throat was
in a deadly grip. I dropped the club and slashed my blade across the
wrist, severing the stiff, white cords. Then I swung in a blow that
buried the steel to the hilt. The brute fell heavily, dragging the knife
from my hand. Instantly two more great animals were upon me and over I
went, already scratched and slightly bitten. For a moment I struggled in
desperation; then a horrible black face came down toward my own, the
jaws awide for a fastening on my neck.

Down swept a gleaming streak. The rock-crystal club knocked the face,
head and all, away, as if it had been a potato on a stick. Another blow
killed my second assailant like a fly might be killed on a window. I
bounded up with a club in my hand. The giant Link was beating his way
through the foe like a doomsman. With a cry of hatred and fear, the
remaining ourang-outangs, and many of the wounded, suddenly turned and
fled. The battle had been brief and bloody; it had demonstrated a
fierceness and power incredible in the Links, a power which, if
concentrated and properly employed, would excel that of twice the number
of human savages.

I found my knife and pulled it forth from its sheath of flesh.
Collecting his following about him with a word, the giant leader touched
me on the arm and pointed toward the jungle. The wounded of “our” force
limped from the scene; our dead, who were three in number, were carried
by those who were still unhurt. With the albino mate of the chief I
walked away, surrounded by the chattering Links, whose conduct toward
me, I was sure, was that of a friendly “people.” The fat fellow was next
to idiotic in his gratitude for the stroke which had saved his life.

I had fought with them, bled with them, eaten of their food and
endeavoured to show them my good intentions and wishes toward
themselves. They were manifestly aware of all. I felt strongly drawn to
the singular beings, alone with them and dependent upon them; I felt
that for weal or woe I was at least a temporary companion to, if not an
integral part of, a band of Missing Links.



                              CHAPTER III
                         THE HOME OF THE LINKS


Filled with strange sensations, thus to find myself in the midst of a
company so extraordinary, I kept my appointed place in the march,
looking about me in an effort to discover what manner of country it was
into which I had dropped. I wondered what I should do to get back to
civilisation, and how this could be accomplished, and when.

About us the jungle closed in thickly. Huge trees, gigantic flowers and
creepers, hanging like intertwisted serpents, and with others like the
cables of incompleted suspension-bridges, convinced me at once of the
tropical nature of the land. We were walking in a rude sort of trail,
which I concluded had been formed by some ponderous animal, for the
growth had been smashed down or beaten and trampled aside.

This trail became uncertain, in the gloom, for soon the light was almost
entirely obscured by the super-abundant verdure. Had any of the Links
meditated treachery, or to take advantage of me while unprepared, this
jungle darkness would have afforded an exceptional opportunity; but on
the contrary my fat friend waddled actively before me, clearing the way
of branches, and the “person” next behind me was the albino female
herself. Nevertheless I was grateful for a glimpse of light, now and
again, which gave a promise that beyond we should find something less
forbidding. During this march I noted how silently the Links glided
onward, how lightly they stepped and how alert they were at every sound,
in that silent region of growing and prowling things.

Thus we finally emerged from the forest, into an opening of limited
extent. Here I noted fruit-trees and evidence of former occupation on
the part, I thought, of the Links, but they left the place behind, to
plunge again through the jungle. A shorter trudge brought us out of the
trees once more, at the foot of a hill of no considerable height. This
hill we commenced to ascend.

At last I could see for a distance about me. The prospect was
disappointing, almost bewildering. Instead of a glimpse of the ocean,
which I had thoroughly expected to get, I saw nothing but hills and
valleys, clothed endlessly with the dense, luxuriant growth peculiar to
the equatorial zone, all of it seeming to breathe of heavy blossoms,
heat and the moisture from the universal green. The solitary exception
to this condition of verdure was a bare hill, not half a mile away,
green in spots, but evidently volcanic in origin.

At the edge of the forest we had quitted, a thousand monkeys appeared to
swing from the branches, into existence and then to sway back again and
disappear. A snake glided off in the rank grass; a flock of birds,
decked in brilliant raiment, arose with a great confusion of flapping
wings and inharmonious cries. I believed myself to be on an island,
perhaps of the greater Sunda group, but there was nothing in the visible
world, either to confirm or to deny my theory. I felt that the sea,
which had swallowed Ford and which had so nearly been a grave for
myself, was in reality my best friend, but lost completely, and in which
direction—who should say?

Soon I observed that the hill we were climbing was a sort of terraced
mountain, low and broad. As we neared its summit it widened out,
revealing endless features of beauty and natural provision. It was
wooded with trees in great variety, many of them over-laden with fruits
and nuts; springs of water bubbled forth from bowers of vines and ferns;
birds and game abounded on every side; and its surface “rolled”
sufficiently to comprise not only hummocks and swales but also ravines
and walls of rock as well.

As we reached the edge of the largest clearing I had seen, a chorus of
cries arose from the further side. Immediately the woods disgorged a
great collection of Links, young, old, male, female, and babies. All
were similar to those about me, save that the children were more like
little chimpanzees, running about frequently on “all fours,” swinging
upward to the branches of the trees and otherwise exhibiting animal
spirits.

More than a hundred of these “inhabitants” came running and walking
toward us. Many of the males bore clubs, of the usual pattern, while the
youths were to be distinguished not only by their looks of immaturity,
but also by the undersized weapons in their hands, not a few of which
were like toys. Of the whole population, none wore the slightest
suggestion of clothing, excepting the female albino, mentioned before.
What a lot of terra-cotta gorilla men and women they were, as they
dashed out to meet us!

I found it difficult to be calm as they bore down upon us, yet I was
forced to note what magnificent action was shown in their movements. A
tremendous excitement arose among them when they had me surrounded.
Evidently emboldened by what they were told of my nature, by my
“captors,” yet timid and suspicious of what I might do if aroused, they
presented a singular study of primitive curiosity and caution. The
“women” were bolder than the “men,” a condition of fearlessness which I
attribute to the fact that, like the animals, the males never fought
with the females nor struck them for what they did. These females,
however, although to be classified with animals because of this immunity
from punishment by the “men,” presently exhibited the rudimentary
modesty noted before in the conduct of the chief’s mate, which was
distinctly a human thing. But this diffidence was not so great as their
natural desire to investigate, and they plucked at my coat and trousers
before many of the newly met males among the number dared to come so
near.

The chief having continued to stalk ahead, we all made more or less
progress toward the place whence the Links had come. In all the chatter
I could occasionally distinguish the word “Tzheck,” and this I again
repeated, smiling and nodding as I walked. The creatures amused me, for
I now began to note certain characteristics that made a distinction
between one and another. Thus, one of the females carried a large baby.
She was a sharp-featured “person,” who employed one of her hands to
brush a straggling wisp of hair from her eye, and the baby as constantly
dragged this wisp again from behind her ear. Another was an “old woman,”
obviously deaf, for she placed her hand behind her ear to listen, and
she nodded and grinned in the way of people who catch but fragments of a
conversation.

With this chattering, scampering escort I came to what was evidently the
camp of the tribe. This was marked principally by the trampled condition
of the earth and the number of lively babies about, on the ground and in
the lower branches of the trees. There was a large cave in a wall or
terrace of rock. This was apparently used for purposes of sleeping under
cover, or of other protection when needed. Into this place, the dead of
the band were carried. There was no exhibition of grief, however, and
indeed no one seemed to take any special interest in the corpses. There
were no constructed shelters about, no signs of permanency nor of
provision for the morrow. Except for one thing I might now have
hesitated to place the creatures above the highest order of animals, but
this one thing was conclusive.

They made fire.

Animals may live together in a colony, and even inhabit caves or burrows
of their own digging, but the animal will always be animal until he
starts a blaze and cooks his food.

Their fire at that moment was merely a smouldering heap of ashes and
charred ends of wood; there were no utensils about, no suggestions of a
meal in process of cooking. Presently, however, an old female who
muttered to herself and who paid no attention to me nor to any of the
excitement, threw fuel on the embers and blew up a flame, after which
several Links borrowed a burning brand with which to start other fires
in various places. Soon thereafter a desultory cooking-bee commenced,
each cook providing for himself.

Their process was crude; it consisted merely in spitting a raw piece of
meat on a stick and thrusting it into the blaze, or the coals, according
to the fancy of the chef in question. When this meat began to burn, the
hungry Link blew it, to cool it a trifle, bit out the smoked and barely
heated spot, and ate it greedily, the while he or she thrust the
remaining piece in the heat for another bit of roasting.

The interest in myself had in no wise abated. The majority of the Links
who had not been of the discovering party, having thrown aside their
clubs, surrounded me still and placed their inquisitive hands on my
shoes and clothing. My knife was a source of awe and wonder. Its bloody
handle only was visible, yet scores of those who had not been present at
the fight listened with manifest amazement to what I knew to be
primitive tales of my prowess, and to explanations of the uses to which
I put the weapon. Even the children, the greater part of whom were as
shy as little foxes, gave over their play to stand behind the trees and
behind their elders, from which places of safety they peered at me with
shifty, bright eyes. One little monkey-like chap gave no heed to
anything but a noise he was making by clattering several small empty
sea-shells together with all his power and possible speed.

I missed my comical Link, whom I had mentally nicknamed “Fatty.” He now
appeared with an armful of fruits, and laid them down at my feet. There
were cocoa-nuts, a melon (papaw), mangoes and other things of which I
never learned the names. Being exceedingly hungry I assailed these
refreshments with vigour, to the intense delight of all. Fatty
disappeared again, returning soon with a bird, half plucked, ungutted
and warm. He stabbed it on a stick, borrowed some fire and gave me the
morsel to cook to my liking.

Without thinking, I glanced about for a pot or a skillet. In a second I
realized the hopelessness of the situation. The incident served to set
me thinking. I was lost in a land of which I knew nothing; I was safe,
apparently, in the company of a tribe of Missing Links; I might not be
able to escape from the place very soon and therefore I must rely upon
myself, if I were to have anything like comforts, either of food or
shelter. It was a situation to be pondered, carefully. It would
certainly be folly to attempt to leave these creatures, with whom
perhaps I might be able to exist for a time, without first acquiring a
knowledge as to where lay the sea-coast. I should not only be lost in
the jungle at once, if I started away, but I should doubtless be an
immediate prey to prowling brutes. Yet already I began to feel as if I
had stayed there too long and as if I ought to be starting for “home,”
or back to a land peopled by human beings. I could not imagine myself
accepting the company of these creatures seriously, nor of remaining
long where they were.

The present moment, however, was the most immediately important. I was
too hungry to be appeased by fruits alone, but I felt no desire to eat
scorched bird. As I looked about, a novel idea was suggested to my
brain. Striding forward I picked up a fine large shell—which had
doubtless once been occupied by something like a giant escallop—near the
small ones with which the baby Link was playing. This I washed out at a
near-by spring, and filled with water. Then I placed it on the ground
and propping it up with stones, conveyed some fire beneath it, to heat
the water. The bird was speedily prepared, and cut into bits, after
which I held out my hand for more.

The Links had all abandoned their several pursuits to crowd about. They
were eager to see what would happen. Fatty was inordinately tickled. He
ran clumsily off, with others, and brought me three more birds and the
meat of some small animal, already in the larder. I was not at all sure
that my shell would do for a kettle, as I feared the heat would make it
crack or scale off in pieces. It did crackle, as if about to split, but
the water soon began to sizzle at the edges and was nicely boiling by
the time I was ready. All my meat went in, and then I longed for a few
potatoes and a bit of salt. However, I was gratified exceedingly by the
whiffs of steam which floated away, and I thought of numerous things
which I must soon devise.

Before my dinner was sufficiently done, I speared out pieces and found
them good, especially the birds. Then to Fatty and also to the chief—who
with his albino mate had watched proceedings with flattering attention—I
gave pieces of the meat to try. The exclamations had been numerous when
the water boiled; the Links were silent now until the leader had tasted
and uttered a doubtful verdict, when grunts, eager questions and sounds
of peculiar laughter ensued. Bits of boiled dinner were sought by many
of the bolder fellows, after which I was obliged to laugh myself, for a
dozen new fires were started and over each a Link or two prepared a
piece of meat—in their usual manner. Evidently stew was not to their
taste.



                               CHAPTER IV
                             A RECONNOITRE


Whether the fruit I had eaten produced a soporific effect, or whether I
was physically exhausted by my recent experience in the balloon and the
subsequent events, is more than I know, but in the heat of that day, in
the camp of the Links, I grew so drowsy that sleep was not to be
resisted. For at least forty-eight hours and perhaps for sixty, or more,
I had not so much as taken off my shoes. Feeling confident of the
friendly attitude of the tribe of creatures, I finally removed nearly
all of my clothing, made a bed in the shade of a tree and sank at once
into dreamless slumber. The last thing I remembered was that Fatty had
taken up a position near by, much as a faithful dog might do, to watch
against intrusion. Necessarily my every movement had been observed by a
large and appreciative audience of Links.

In the late afternoon I awoke, amazingly refreshed. Such a chattering
and game of chase was in progress that I sat up abruptly. Every stitch
of the clothing with which I had covered myself, had disappeared. In a
moment I beheld it, then, in fragments. The male Links—all but Fatty—had
gone off on some expedition, but the females were there in force and
these had appropriated coat, vest, trousers and shoes. My trousers were
occupied by two different “ladies,” one of whom had a half, pulled wrong
side out. She wore it jauntily on her arm, while the other had both her
feet inside the other portion, and was consequently falling down at
every movement, thereby furnishing no end of enthusiasm in her efforts
at marching on dress-parade. My vest had become a breech-clout, ripped
up the back. Evidently instinct suggests robing the legs, for my coat
was employed in this manner by a female of peculiarly thin proportions.
Her inordinate vanity, begotten of the attention she attracted, was
quite human, as also was the savage jealousy of other females who made
ineffectual efforts to rip the article off for themselves.

The fate of my shoes concerned me more than anything else, for my feet
were too tender for tramping about without protection, not to speak of
the risk incurred from the presence of poisonous snakes.

“Here,” I shouted, “bring me those things, you critters!”

They started in alarm at my voice, but none made a move to restore my
property. I then discovered one of my shoes suspended on the breast of
the tall albino “woman,” hung about her neck by the laces. The other had
fallen to the lot of perfidious Fatty, who, having put it on his foot,
heel foremost, was hopping about on one leg only, while he held the
other, more precious, booted leg as high as possible, and pounded on his
great glistening stomach as if executing an eccentric dance to his own
music.

I strode over the ground gingerly, clad in a shirt, and the belt with
the knife about my waist, going first to the dancer, whom I bowled on
his back and divested of the shoe, literally before he could say Jack
Robinson. After that I jerked the other shoe from the neck of the female
so quickly that she ran away in alarm to the cave. This latter action
incited a show of incipient resentment on the part of the old female who
muttered to herself. But inasmuch as she beheld some of the other guilty
creatures divest themselves of sundry pieces of my wardrobe and flee,
leaving them on the ground, she conceived an idea of the respect my
knife had engendered in the tribe. She therefore stood sullenly watching
me as I made shift to put on my shoes, a pair of leggings and a loin
cloth, which I hastily constructed of the pieces left of my pantaloons.

The “lady” with my coat had quickly climbed a tree to avoid being
obliged to deliver the garment. Fatty, bearing no resentment and being
obviously devoted to my interests, gave chase. Although the female
proved the more agile of the two, she fell into the clutches of another
of her sex and between them they tore the coat all in shreds many of
which Fatty finally brought to my feet with excessive demonstrations of
pride.

By the time my toilet was complete, nearly all the females were up in
the trees, looking down upon me with nervous, questioning eyes. I
reflected how fortunate it was that they were at least partially human,
for their strength was enormous and had they been unreasoning animals,
and therefore ferocious, they might easily have rended me to pieces for
less exasperation than I had already given.

I felt ill at ease as it was; I began to be restless, worried, eager to
be gone. Where had the wind-driven balloon landed me, I wondered? What
course had I best pursue? What would these Links do, or attempt to do if
I sought to leave? I could not remain here, under any circumstances, I
said to myself. Think how absurd it would be to live with a lot of
Missing Links!

From where I stood I could see the peak of the volcanic mountain, less
than half an hour’s journey away. Instantly I made up my mind to visit
this eminence and get my bearings. I might be able to see the ocean
itself; if I could, then the sooner I made a bee-line for the coast the
better for me.

There was considerable excitement among the “women” when I started away.
They had doubtless been instructed to keep me there in safety till the
return of the males. Fatty made an eloquent verbal protest, singularly
plain to comprehend, although the words were the merest gibberish, but
seeing that I intended to be master of my actions, he followed anxiously
at my heels.

Fortunately there was open country between the camp and the volcanic
pile. Nevertheless the way was not all of grass and flowers, for we were
obliged to fight our way through narrow belts of trees and vines and to
scale the sides of several chasms, all but one of which had been formed,
apparently, by earthquakes of the greatest violence. In the one
exception, which was the bed of an ancient river, I saw much evidence of
mineral deposits, chiefly iron. Strewn along here, in the sand, were
bright, crystalline formations which I recognised presently as being
pyrites of iron. Afterward I thought of these, having remembered that
with this stuff and flint, a spark of fire may be procured quite
readily. None of the mineral features held my attention above a moment,
however, the peak being the objective point of my march.

It is difficult for me to express the feverish anxiety I felt to mount
the summit of that hill. It seemed as if everything depended on what I
should see from the elevation. Half way up the slope, which was not at
all steep, my weight broke away the top of a ledge of crumbling stuff,
which proved to be sulphur of great purity. I had never seen a deposit
of natural sulphur before, although I had read of mines of the mineral
on volcanoes of Mexico, notably Popocatapetl. I merely placed a bit in
the pocket of my shirt and went on. Further up, my attention was
attracted by innumerable fragments of glass-like substance, with dark,
smoky lines woven through, in the form of a rude feather. Such stuff had
often come to my notice on the mountains of Nevada, where, as boys, we
called it flint, erroneously, I was afterward informed. A few pieces of
this I likewise placed in my pocket, but my main desire was to hurry
upward.

We reached the summit, from which all traces of the crater had
disappeared, through lapse of time since the last eruption, and there my
heart sank within me. There was no sight nor sign of the sea on all the
wide horizon. Far and away below me lay the dark, undulating
cloth-of-green, jungle after jungle and range after range of densely
wooded hills. In one direction, about forty miles away, were mountains
of greater height than the one I was on. These tempted me to hurry
onward toward their peaks, but I knew how vain was such a desire. To the
eastward I caught a glimpse of a shimmering lake, hedged about with
forest which I knew to be practically impenetrable.

All this panorama was marvellously beautiful, but for me beauty was
mockery. I stood as good a chance to fly over the hills and trees to the
sea as I did of reaching the coast by tramping across the country. I
realized that without a guide and a force of resolute, hard-working men,
loyal, and afraid of nothing, escape was a dream—a hope as fatal as a
will-o’-the-wisp.

Nevertheless I determined that I would regain the world I had left in
such an amazing manner. Wild dreams of enslaving the tribe of Missing
Links, whom I should make my warriors, and who would then escort me to
the coast, danced through my brain. Prodigious schemes for accomplishing
some superhuman feat—which was wholly vague and constructed of air—made
me twitch with nervous energy. It seemed as if I ought to be able to
grasp something big—to force the marvellous to come to my aid. Then the
reaction of despair succeeded; all my intangible ideas mocked me with
their silliness. I felt inconceivably helpless. The enormity of the
tropical hedge by which I was completely surrounded—a hedge alive with
venomous snakes, doubtless with tigers, with droves of savage beasts,
and with perhaps more savage men,—this arose in my brain as a picture
which made me ill with dread.

“Great Scott!” I finally said aloud, to myself, “are you such a
miserable coward, then? By gracious—no! There must be some way—there has
to be a way! Hang it, at the worst a man can merely die!”

This speech, which startled Fatty not a little, gave me a new sort of
courage. I began to think of things I must do to live, and of plans I
must formulate to explore the country. I nearly forgot that my lot had
been cast with the singular man-gorillas, but this was presently thrust
upon my notice by Fatty, who made a noise very like to whining, to
indicate his uneasiness and desire to return to the camp. The sun was
nearly set. I fancied I saw something move, in a tangle far below, but
concluded this something was merely a shadow.

“All right, Fatty,” said I, and we started down the hill.



                               CHAPTER V
                           HOSTILE NEIGHBOURS


Doubtless I grew absorbed in thinking, as we made our way to the base of
the hill, for I was startled by a singular cry from the Link.

What I saw confused me for a moment. Three Links, taller than any except
the chief of the tribe I had joined, were darting toward us with the
wildest of gestures,—three Links as black as tar. Inasmuch as Fatty was
nearly as dark as they, and considering the treatment I had already
received, I felt no alarm and failed to comprehend what the situation
meant.

Like a leopard for quickness, Fatty darted away, uttering sounds of
fright. Instantly one of the Links approaching started on his trail in
hot pursuit, a club in his hand which was glinting with colour in the
rays of the setting sun. I was surprised and somewhat amused as I saw
the clever Fatty elude the larger creature and gain the trees. Once in
the cover he swung himself upward and out of sight with all the agility
of a monkey.

Suddenly the two I had failed to watch were upon me. I was thrown down,
pinioned to the ground a second and then dragged up, hastily. Then the
pair began to hustle me off with astonishing force and with method in
their frenzy, for they attempted to get me away as nearly unharmed as
possible.

“Here!” I cried in a moment, endeavouring to check my progress, “let go
of me—you devil!”

I had hardly noted their faces, but now, as I struggled, I saw that the
two were tremendously like a pair of burly Negroes. That they were
Links, as much as the others were, that indeed they belonged to the very
same species and genus, there could be no doubt, but they were as widely
differentiated from “my” Links as a black ant is from one that is red.

I jerked myself loose from the grip of one, by losing a part of my
shirt, and struck him a blow on the point of his jaw that laid him flat
on his back, stunned and helpless. I was annoyed by the liberties they
were taking, more than angered or rendered desperate. I therefore kicked
the other in the stomach and beheld him double like a hinge. A chorus of
cries arose at this and I looked about to discover ten or a dozen more
of the fellows, all black, swarming up the slope to assist their
friends.

At that moment the third one, who had ceased pursuing Fatty and
returned, launched himself upon me from the rear and bore me down. Fight
as I would, he was the equal in strength of three of my build and easily
kept me on the ground till four of the others, quickly followed by their
companions, rushed to the scene and secured my arms and legs.

There was no resentment, as far as I could determine, for the blows I
had given the two. The pair, in fact, soon regained their senses and
breath, respectively, and joined their kind, in a dazed and half-hearted
manner. I was aware that I was being considerately handled, though
roughly, to be sure, and was quite unable to think of a reason, until
the fellows began again to convey me away. I realised then that they
were actually abducting me and proceeding straight away from the camp I
had left. Had I been a thing of rare value and highly prized by the
creatures, they could not have acted with more care to avoid inflicting
an injury on my body, nor with more resolution in their obvious plan to
carry me away to their own retreat.

In the midst of the Babel of tongues and confusion of getting me across
a chasm, to which we came with surprising promptness, a cry resounded
through the cleft, and instantly a force of the red Links leaped down on
top of the Blacks and commenced a furious attack. I was dropped as if I
had been a cumbersome rock, but landing on my feet and clearing myself
of the scrambling fellows, who shot forward to meet the onslaught of the
Reds, I whipped out my knife, prepared to defend myself at any cost and
to fight for my friends, if I mingled at all in the fray.

The battle with the huge ourangs had been hot enough, but this present
combat exceeded all bounds, in the rage of the creatures pitted against
each other. I could see at once that Reds and Blacks were old-time foes,
as sure to fight on contact as are the different coloured ants. They
smote at one another with the wildest ferocity. Club crashed on stone,
and rock thudded fearfully on skull and ribs, till blood splashed widely
about the place and heads were pulp.

It had all occurred with surprising abruptness. The contending bands
were inextricably mixed; they surged together and swayed from wall to
wall of the chasm, yelling defiance, snarling in wrath, groaning with
agony. The crunch of bones and the thuds of those terrible clubs against
naked flesh were awful to hear, yet the fight was such a whirlwind of
action that no one thing could hold the attention a second, where deaths
and mighty actions, and the crude but deadly club-play made a picture of
such close-knit battle.

One second I noted the great chief of the Reds mow down two of the
Blacks at a single swing of his blood-painted, light-flashing club of
crystal; the next I noted how like the writhing of a snake was the death
contraction of one of my friendly Links. Then the flash of a club
swinging quickly to its living cushion of ribs and flesh made a
brilliant streak against the background of dusky forms. I saw that the
head of this weapon was a massive nugget of gold. In that second I also
detected a movement from the corner of my eye where a black creature,
wounded and desperate, was rising up, club in hand, to strike me down.
It flashed upon me instantly that the Blacks, if they could not possess
me themselves, would rather I were dead than allied with their enemies.

I was standing with my back to the wall, willing to see fair play, but
too wise to become entangled in that medley of physical giants. The
treachery now revealed made me angry in a second. The smell of fight in
my nostrils had been working on my animal nature; a pin-prick would have
been sufficient to arouse all my human frenzy for slaying. I turned
about, burning with wrath, and had no more than struck down the wounded
monster than three others leaped to perform the office in which he had
failed. A reeking club was swinging in toward my head like a shot from a
cannon. I dived below its line of motion and drove home my knife with
all the lust of vengeance. My falling antagonist tripped and overtoppled
the second, destroyed the blow he was about to aim and made him an easy
mark for the dripping rock-crystal that crushed his shoulder and part of
his neck to a boneless mass. The third met another of my friends and
beat him down, only to be killed himself a second later.

Shrieks of agony had rent the air and screams of rage and yells of
triumph made discord as a number of the black Links now fled abruptly
down the chasm to escape. And the fellow with the nugget club turned to
hurl his defiance and to shake his reddened fist at me, as I stood on a
rock in a circle of my friends. The cause of the Reds I had made my
cause; I had slain a Black. The feud between these warring tribes
included myself. I had created deadly enemies in the land of Missing
Links.



                               CHAPTER VI
                          LANGUAGE AND WEAPONS


The darkness had begun to descend before we reached the camp, plainly
causing anxiety to the Links, who were hindered on the march by the
burden of several dead members of the tribe. Various sounds issued from
the jungle, where brutes that eat flesh in the night were beginning to
prowl. Doubtless no few of these smelled the blood that laded the wind
which was sweeping down through the chasm.

I thought of all this and meditated much also on my peculiar situation.
Why these two opposing bands of Missing Links should so desire myself as
a prize as to fight with such fatal results, was a puzzle too deep for
solution, considering that I had been treated by both parties in a
manner far from being inimical to my safety. Were they cannibals, I
asked myself, did they desire me for a dinner? Manifestly such was not
the case, inasmuch as no man-eating creatures should be expected to be
so moderate as to permit me to live in freedom as long as I had lived
already in their settlement. No, their purpose involved something more
permanent.

There was no end to the chatter as we hastened “home.” Though I failed
to understand this, yet the gestures were easy to interpret. Reason also
made it plain that Fatty, when he fled from my side and escaped the
Blacks, had darted toward the camp to give the alarm, meeting on the way
the Links who had come to the rescue, they having started beforehand on
information furnished by the females, who had watched us start toward
the peak.

I recapitulated the results of my exploration. I was hopelessly lost, as
far as any human beings were concerned. I was in the hands of friendly
creatures, more primitive than the lowest mortal. My only chance of
escape lay in cultivating the friendly feelings and in endeavouring to
understand my companions, with a view to inducing a force, later on, to
accompany myself on a march across the country to the sea. Incidentally
I had much to do to keep myself partially civilised. I must fashion
tools, in the use of which the Links must be instructed. We were
surrounded by dangerous animals, and we had a powerful enemy, the force
of whose numbers might be greater than our own. This would mean that I
must make our tribe superior, and arm them with a better class of
weapons. Fortunately the country promised to be one of great resources.
Yet the only tool I had with which to start was my knife.

I thought of the endless array of implements of war and peace to be had
in the poorest modern community. Such meditation being idle, I reflected
how glad I would be to hammer out my own requisites from the crude iron,
but this was equally vain. In short my thoughts came tumbling down the
age of iron and the age of bronze, as if I had fallen back through time
and history, to land at the very age of stone itself. Here I must work
with stone for hammers, axes, drills and even for an anvil, supposing I
had my white-hot metal ready to forge into shape, for there was nothing
else to be had.

All this made me excited, eager to be at work. I was forgetful of all
that it meant, as my brain pictured stage after stage of this new
development, but when a cool night wind blew across my half-clothed
body, I was aroused from my reverie and confronted by a pitiless array
of facts. I then foresaw personal suffering, mayhap a miserable death,
and toil and disappointment, before I could wrest even something small
from the fist of Nature, while I should have about me a tribe of
semi-animal beings, fighting constantly for a bare existence. My hope
and fate were rapidly being entangled with the lives and fates of these
extraordinary creatures.

Before we reached the camp, the glow of fires shone brightly through the
trees. The Links had learned the use of a lively blaze in keeping off
the beasts of prey. I wondered how they had first started their fire,
admitting that I should doubtless find no end of trouble if I were
obliged to kindle one myself, without a match.

We were met by a large and enthusiastic band of the males, with Fatty in
their midst. His capers, at seeing me whole and hearty, were enough to
shake an ordinary individual to pieces. He made me ponder on another
peculiar thing. How did it happen that he, being black, was not only
living among the Reds, but was also at feud with the fellows of his
colour? I made up my mind that he was either a freak, like the albino,
born in the tribe, or else that he had been captured when a baby, and
reared away from his kind. It was certain the black Links recognised a
foe in the fellow, whatever his pedigree and blood.

Having conceived an idea, I was glancing about at the trees revealed by
the glow of the fires, when I discovered a growth of stuff wherein there
was a large portion dead and dry. Going to this, amid evident protest
and questionings on the part of many Links, I took out my knife and cut
away some likely looking branches. The wood I found to be exceedingly
tough. It was hard work to get what I wanted. On bending it over, in an
effort to break it off, where my cut had been made, I found it to be
exceptionally elastic and stubborn, although I could see it had been
dead and seasoned for many months. Getting out a long straight shaft,
half as large as my wrist, and several other straight pieces a trifle
larger than a pencil, I brought it all to the circle about the fire.

The Links, who were much excited over recent events, watched my every
movement with the gravest concern. I faced them and attempted to convey,
by signs and pantomime that I intended to make a bow and several arrows
with which I could kill six of the number in the briefest time. They
understood enough to be highly amused and delighted. There were an
incredible number of things they did and said of which the meaning was
clear, and with comparative ease I made Fatty understand that I wished
him to boil me a dinner in the way he had seen me do already.

Fatty, I believe, was one of the most intelligent of all the Links. He
made blunders enough in doing what I wished, while I tried to keep at
work on my bow, yet he was insanely anxious to do me any favour and
crazy with delight at being considered worthy of employment. Dinner
cooking went forward again in the same desultory manner I had noted
before, but a large majority of the Links sat or stood about me in the
semidarkness, seeming more than ever like apes as they glanced about
with their nervous, round eyes, chattered their monkey-like language,
and released the muscles of their long, uncanny arms. The glow that was
tossed from the fire, making silhouettes of many an astounding red
statue, painted a weird picture that night beneath the trees.

As I looked in their faces, many of them drawn with the first vague
efforts of thinking, I beheld strange, fleeting promise of things to be,
dim lights, as it were, of ambitions—desire to grasp a something just
beyond their mental capacity. Many seemed awed by the simple sight of
that knife, cutting away the stubborn wood in thin, smooth shavings, as
it flashed in the light.

I put my finger on the blade. “Knife,” I said, “knife.”

A few, including Fatty, attempted to repeat the word. A chorus of
peculiar laughter followed and the spell of awe was gone. As I worked,
then, I pointed to various things and gave the name in English. There
was not even one of the Links who failed to comprehend that I was making
an effort to establish a means of communication between us, but a very
few only tried my easy lessons. Fatty, however, was quite willing to
“make a fool of himself,” for he essayed everything, manfully. But
better than this, the fellow attempted to reciprocate the favour. Thus
when I had given a name to the blazing pieces of wood he waited a moment
and then pointing to it earnestly said, distinctly:

“Ouch.”

Then he pantomimed burning his finger, and jerked it back, saying “Ouch”
again. He made it plain that the fire would hurt if touched, that a Link
would cry “ouch” at the smart, and that therefore a fire was named for
this cry. When I proved that this much Link language was mine beyond a
doubt, the ecstasy of my fat friend was most extravagant. Gratified with
his effort, he soon made me acquainted with the names of a number of
articles. These names were invariably chosen in a manner analogous to
the one by which they had arrived at “ouch” for fire. For instance, a
gurgle, impossible to set down in letters, was the name for water; a
sound like a thud meant a club; an audible breath through the lips,
(wind), signified a tree. Manifestly such “words” as these defy all
efforts at spelling. I found them difficult to imitate, for the throat
was largely employed to make the noises and my tongue seemed to be very
much in the way. I tried my best, as I worked out my first crude bow,
and when I had finished my dinner I felt that no little progress had
been made toward a better understanding all around.

Inasmuch as there was more need for haste than there was for finish on
my weapon, I made short work of tapering off the ends of my bow and
cutting the notches. I then prepared several arrows, somewhat clumsy,
but still fairly straight, after which I feathered them all, roughly,
and attempted to break some of the glass-like “flints,” I had found that
day, into shapes that would pass for arrow-heads. This was a most
unsuccessful business. An accident formed the only piece which by any
stretch of the imagination could be conceived as what I desired. This I
bound at the tip of a shaft, with cord similar to that which the Links
employed on their clubs, but it was hopelessly awkward. Being then
provided with more of their string, I bent my bow and had the
satisfaction of seeing that it was fairly symmetrical in form and
amazingly stout. Indeed, it broke the string, and I feared it had split
at the sudden release, but this was not the case. In excitement and
admiration, the Links now furnished me with a stouter cord, a cleverly
twisted deer-gut, or tendon, which was nearly perfection for the
purpose.

Fitting my pointed arrow on the string and bidding the Links stand
aside, I drew it as far as I could and let it drive at the nearest tree.
The twang that followed gave me a thrill of delight, as always it had
done in the days of my youth, and I felt a gush of pride in my veins
when the shaft stood quivering in the bark, its head so deeply buried
that the greatest effort to drag it out merely broke it short off in the
hands of the giant chief.

The Links knew not whether to be alarmed or delighted. Again I placed a
shaft on the string. This time I signed for silence and turned the arrow
straight up toward the star-dappled sky, to give my friends a rough idea
of the height to which the wooden messenger would climb. In the absolute
silence I drew even further than before. With a swish the arrow sprang
from the humming string and disappeared like a bullet as it cleaved the
upper darkness, near the trees.

I threw up my hand for continued silence. In eager expectation we
waited. Beat, beat, beat, went my heart as the seconds were multiplied,
the long stillness proclaiming the distance to which the arrow had sped.
Longer became the time; I was thrilled with pleasure and surprise
myself; it seemed as if the shaft never would return. How still was the
night for that minute; not a breath was stirring.

Suddenly there was a swish—a plunk! as the leaf of a palm was punctured,
and then a quick, incisive plith! as the shaft was driven forcibly home
in the earth. It had come down about ten good strides away!

We hastened in a body to find it. There it was, standing straight as a
line, stabbed six inches deep in the sod and roots of grasses,
and—marvel of accidental things!—impaled upon it, half way up its
length, was a bat, transfixed in action, still holding in its mouth an
unswallowed moth.

Circumstance had completely eclipsed my humble skill, for this miracle
of chance made me at once a species of god and devil, in the eyes of my
wonder-smitten companions.



                              CHAPTER VII
                         IMPORTANT DISCOVERIES


In the morning I witnessed a primitive ceremony, the burial of the dead,
killed in our latest battle.

The ones who had been despatched by the savage ourang-outangs had been
buried the day before, while I lay asleep beneath the trees.

The males proceeded, this morning, to a rocky gulch, not far from the
camp, where the soil was largely of gravel and bits of stuff which I
thought indicated a chalk formation below. Here they began to dig as if
their lives depended on their speed, all of them scratching out the dirt
with powerful, claw-like hands and sending it flying behind them,
between their legs. In fact, they dug like so many dogs.

It was surprising how soon they had excavated a great hole, but they
kept at it, hard and fast, taking turns, as if they had learned that
depth was the only virtue of any vault for the dead. Chunks of rock flew
out, with lesser debris, and some of the pebbles being smooth and round,
I gathered half a dozen as large as a mango and pushed off the dampish
soil adhering about them. This revealed their colour, which was chalkish
white. I could not rely upon my limited knowledge of geological
formations, yet I thought the pebbles looked very like chalcedony.

On a large rock, with another for a hammer, I struck one of my pebbles,
when it split most neatly in twain. The inside had a moist appearance
the like of which I had never noted before, but it was decidedly like
flint, and I was therefore confirmed in my classification. Well
satisfied with myself, I struck a half again, when I succeeded in
splitting off a thin, flat section. Astonished at the manner in which
this substance broke, I selected a neater “hammer” from among the rocks
and began to knock off chips from my fragment, and almost before I could
believe it myself, I had a crude arrow-head of which I felt I need not
be ashamed. I was thoroughly amazed. Had I discovered a stone which lent
itself peculiarly to chipping, or had I stumbled upon some flint in a
natural condition for being worked? I remembered to have heard of rock
which certain savages—notably those of Alaska—take from the earth while
moist, in which condition they carve it with ease, and which
subsequently grows as hard as glass. I wondered if this were not a
similar material. Also I reasoned that savages must always have had some
flint which was capable of being worked with the poorest of tools and by
persons of no intellectual attainments, for all had made arrow-heads
from the year of one.

In my zeal, I split the original pebble into six thin slabs, nearly all
of them as regular as if I had cut them with a knife. These I wrought at
with feverish eagerness. Too much haste soon ruined one for any purpose,
but out of the others I got several heads, which should have been
better, but which made me ready to dance with joy, for they suggested
such wonderful possibilities, when care and patience and better tools
should be employed.

I had quite forgotten the burial, but looked up from my hammer-hunting
in time to see the stiffened bodies of the Links, who had given their
lives in the fray, go rolling down to the bottom of the grave where they
lay, looking terribly human. Then without even a moment’s pause, for
regret or touch of reverent feeling, the Links above turned their backs
upon the bodies and began to scratch the dirt once more into place. A
pang of sympathy welled up in my breast, for the brave fellows so
lightly considered. I breathed a little hope that their rest might be
that of peace.

Before the hole was full I had gathered together a lot of the pebbles.
Later we all piled rocks on the grave till no animal of the jungle could
have dug out the bodies in a week. I signified then that I wished my
geological collection carried to camp, and this was accordingly done.

On arriving at the cave, I selected a rock for an anvil and others for
tools, for a fit of work was on me. Fruits gave me breakfast enough. I
chipped away rapidly, with never-ending astonishment at the rapid
results achieved. It was easy even to indicate to Fatty and to one or
two others what they could do to promote the manufacture of needed
things. They were able to cleave the pebbles with reasonable accuracy
and skill. I then made them understand that I wished the smaller pebbles
split into thin slices and the larger ones into sections that were
thicker.

I make no pretence that my arrow-heads were as fine as many a primitive
man has fashioned in ages past, but at least they were sharp and
provided with shanks for binding them to arrows and, what is more to the
purpose, they accumulated fast. Of the longer pieces of flint I formed a
number of spear-heads and knives. Some of these latter would doubtless
have been as well named had I called them saws. With some pieces I made
what I mentally dubbed experimental hatchets. All these things, as fast
as made, were placed in the large sea-shell, which answered well as a
receptacle.

Without interrupting my labours I managed to convey to the marvelling
Links that I needed more of the wood for bows, arrows and handles. How
they would manage to cut this material was more than I knew, yet I
reasoned that inasmuch as they must have cut the handles of their clubs,
they could do the work by some means or other. Their method surprised
me. They built a fire near the place where I had cut the branch for the
bow, and getting a peculiar hard wood into a glowing state, pressed the
incandescent surface against the limbs desired, and then by blowing,
burned them off, not rapidly, but with great neatness. The fiery brand
passed through the wood much as a red-hot iron might in the hands of a
smith.

We were an enthusiastic lot that morning, I directing and working at my
flints, some preparing cords, many scraping handles with bits of the
glass-like material I had found, and with which they were already
familiar, while others bound my hatchets to hafts, rudely finished, and
knife blades to smaller odds and ends of wood. It was remarkable how
readily they grasped the meaning of various things. Their exclamations
of surprise and acknowledgment of the virtue of our growing “arsenal”
frequently suggested to me a something as if the fellows were surprised
at the real simplicity of all and were wondering why they had never done
the like before.

After three or four hours the heat of the sun became so great, on my
unprotected head, that I abandoned the pebbles long enough to construct
a makeshift for a hat. For this I employed some palm leaves, excellently
suited to the purpose. The chief eyed all our business with something of
a look of sullen disdain. Perhaps it was jealousy beginning to work. He
held to his precious club of rock-crystal—which certainly gleamed with
great beauty in the rays of sunlight piercing through the leaves—as if
it were the all in all that a warrior should require. At his side was a
fawning fellow whom I had marked before as lazy, small-headed and much
too fond of grinning, in a manner which conveyed no idea of mirth nor
good-nature, but which, on the contrary, threw his teeth into disgusting
prominence.

At about noon, when I was cramped and tired, from my close application
to the work, I was glad to see a small detachment of our number
returning from an excursion in quest of meat. It was not until a
subsequent time that I learned how they drove their game into pits, to
replenish the larder, but this day I inaugurated a new system of
cooking. It was too great a waste of time for each to cook for himself,
or herself, and the women being employed at nothing more arduous than
gathering fruits and suckling babes, I saw no reason why they should not
become the chefs for the tribe.

Accordingly I soon had two uprights driven in the ground and a lot of
meat spitted on the green branch of a sapling. With glowing embers from
two fires, collected between my uprights, and the wooden spit resting
upon them, I showed a female how to keep the roast turning. Again the
Links approved of the plan, for they were quick to see that one person
working in this manner, could cook for all as readily as for one. They
were restless to be at the meat as soon as the first bit of brown
appeared, but I kept them off, made them replenish the embers from fires
burned down, and then I cut off the places where the meat was done with
my knife, for general distribution.

Again at this meal I was mad for salt. What did these fellows do for
this requisite seasoning? I asked myself, for I had always understood
that even savages grow unhealthy, if they lack this mineral, and become
willing to barter off their souls for a small pinch. There was no
explanation of the riddle that day.



                              CHAPTER VIII
                         ATTACKED AND BESIEGED


We set to work again in the afternoon, getting out a lot of material to
be finished later. The following morning I won the regard of all—unless
I except the fawning creature mentioned before—by giving lessons in
archery, another bow and several arrows having been hastily completed.
The Links proved themselves not only practicable, but most excellent
pupils. They were magnificently muscled, to begin with, and therefore
shot with force from the start, while all seemed to possess a natural
knack, as if the weapon had once been theirs and then for long had been
mysteriously lost.

In the midst of our “tournament” and while I was walking cautiously
about, to get a shot at a brilliant bird which had flown into a near-by
tree, a peculiar sound was uttered by many of the Links. The cause of
their exclamation was revealed a second later, for moving through a
clearing, not forty yards away, was a large black bear.

My heart leaped with excitement. I moved quickly to gain a point of
vantage, raising the bow for a shot, when a dozen of the Links leaped in
alarm between myself and the bear, raising their arms as if in affright
and plainly imploring me not to shoot at the creature. This I thought
absurd. I believed them to be a pack of cowards who feared the arrow
might only serve to irritate the brute and so bring down its wrath upon
us all. But in this I was mistaken. As I tried to wave them away—for the
bear would be gone in a minute—they became frantic in their appeals.
They indicated clearly that if I wished I might try the shaft on any one
of themselves, if only I would spare the beast which had walked thus
deliberately into camp.

There was nothing else for it; the creature disappeared before I could
argue the question. Thereupon a score of males, foremost of whom was the
chief, hurried to the place where the bear had paused a moment and there
each placed his head on the ground with such a show of reverence and
primitive superstition, that even I could comprehend they attached some
great significance to this peculiar visit. When I reasoned how easily
two or three with their terrible clubs could have despatched the animal,
I concluded that they all regarded bruin’s visit as an omen of
particular good fortune.

I was speculating upon this occurrence when suddenly another cry—this
time of alarm—startled us all. The males came dashing back from their
adoration of the bear tracks, making a shrill sound of warning and
waving their arms wildly. The females and scores of others ran pell-mell
for the cave. Children came swinging down from trees as if the sky were
raining little Links. Mothers fled with babes in their arms. There was
sudden arming of the fighters.

Somewhat amazed I stood where I was, bow still in hand. Then the reason
for the visit of the bear was speedily furnished. I was clutched and
hustled off with the others, while with screams of savage
vengeance—which mingled with a war-note, easy to understand,—innumerable
black monsters swarmed from the woods and charged upon us.

The whole fighting tribe of black Missing Links, it appeared, had
surrounded the camp. They were armed and ferocious, thirsting for
revenge for the defeat of two days before, and seemed equal to the task
of annihilating all our force. They had frightened the bear there before
them.

In a time incredibly short, the Reds were in the cave. I was dragged and
pushed in among the last. Then I saw my precious new weapons, twenty
feet away—arrow-heads, spear-heads, knives, hatchets, handles, bows and
all. Tearing away I dashed out to these and brought the sea-shell, with
its contents back to safety. Fatty darted out in my tracks, saving a
number of unfinished bows, but the foremost Blacks were almost upon him.
The chief himself—who thereby testified his high appreciation of the
collection—leaped from the cave, to get all he could of what we had
missed. I turned about in time to see him fill his arms and hands. A
great black Link bounded swiftly up with brandished club, to smash his
rival’s skull. My whole being thrilled, thus to behold the bravery of
our great red fellow who, leaping like a panther, refused to drop
anything, in such a moment of peril. Cries of warning and of terror went
up from the cave. I jerked up my bow, with a pointed arrow, strung.
Lustily I drew against that powerful deer-gut. There was only a foot in
which to miss the chief and hit the pursuing Black. The arrow sped like
a streak. It struck the murderous creature fairly at the base of the
throat, crashed clean through his neck and protruded on both sides at
once.

He plunged forward, striking such a blow on his face that the arrow was
driven to the feathers in the hole it had made. A chorus of howls
resulted. The Links immediately on the heels of their fallen companion,
halted abruptly, in dread and horror, yet on came a hundred behind them,
mad for blood.

A blunt arrow, shot too high, but which nevertheless struck another
black Link in the forehead, smashed its way through his skull before it
shattered and split into pieces. Then the crystal club caved in the
chest of the only assailant who had reached the cave, for the chief had
recovered his fighting position like an elastic spring, and was ready to
deal a fearful death to any who should dare attempt to enter the
frowning mouth of the cave. Reinforced by another fighter, the chief
could almost have stayed the rush of an army, coming in singles and
pairs through the open door.

This fact the attacking creatures realised quickly. Another of the
arrows, which missed the mark for which it had been intended, broke the
arm of a powerful Black and compelled him to drop his club. His cry was
a signal for all to halt and draw back, to consider what had best be
done. They had us trapped, but how should they now proceed to beat out
our brains?

The last of my arrows was gone too soon, but the visible effect of these
silent messengers of death was that of terror on the part of the
mystified Blacks. Had we possessed a score of bows, with a quiver full
of arrows for each, in the hands of skillful archers, we should have won
a bloody battle and driven the foe away, hopelessly routed, but they had
surprised us completely, in our unprepared condition, and the situation
was decidedly theirs in point of advantage.

Behind me, in the cave, the females and young ones were being sent to
the rear. There was much excited chatter and much uneasiness of movement
among all the huddled creatures. What the Blacks would do was evidently
a matter of great concern.

Our besiegers decided soon on aggressive measures. They gathered all the
loose rocks, which were practical as missiles, and rushing forward,
hurled them into the cave with tremendous violence. Not a few of our
party received bruises from the first volley, but many stones missed the
cave entirely and many merely struck the rock walls and so fell
harmlessly down. All that came to hand were immediately gathered, so
that when the second company advanced to supplement the first fusilade,
they were met by a fierce return shower of rocks, which stretched two
Blacks on the ground.

This business proving unprofitable was not long continued. The Blacks
retired again for consultation the result of which was that more than a
dozen soon lighted brands at our smouldering fires and threw these in
upon us as they darted by the opening of the cavern. No serious injury
came from this. Our fellows would have flung these fiery spears back
again, had I not restrained the action. The branches, it occurred to me,
made torches too good to sacrifice for nothing. I therefore extinguished
a number and kept several lighted. These latter we passed to the rear,
in order that our positions might not be revealed to the foe.

This throwing in of fire was concluded abruptly when the giant chief,
watching his opportunity, sprang out, as one of the Blacks was running
by, and battered in his head with the gleaming club. The rage of the
assailants increased momentarily. They saw themselves baffled by a force
inferior to their own, although they had us cornered.

With no little anxiety, we watched them detach a company of powerful
fighters and send them off out of sight. This could not indicate
retreat, I knew, for the ones who were left were too expectant. Perhaps,
I thought, this was a blind to make us believe the force was now so
reduced that we could charge them from the cave in safety and drive the
invaders from the camp. There were, indeed, a few in our party, as I
could see, who desired to attempt such a sortie, but fortunately the
chief and other wise fellows over-ruled the suggestion.

While we were waiting, restless and worried, the plan of the Blacks was
suddenly revealed. Amid yells of triumph and hatred, there came a
thundering shower of rocks and boulders from directly above the cave,
falling down across its mouth, heaping rapidly up, filling the place
with a stifling dust and obliterating much of the light of day. The
party detached had gone around and climbed on top of the terrace in
which the cave was hollowed out. It would simply have been to court a
sudden death had any of us attempted to dash from the place. Startled,
undecided as to what we ought to do, we stood there paralysed, while the
bewildering Niagara of sand and stone kept rumbling and crashing down.
Before we realised what was occurring, the barrier had grown to a heap
that was midway up across the opening of the hole.

There were strange cries, roars and howlings, from those behind us.
Above the din rose the piercing screams of delight from the horde
without. All of them now rushed to the spot in a body and began to heap
up all the stones they could gather. Blinded, confused and frightened,
my friendly Links began to jostle about, in the dread and anguish of the
doomed.

In less than five minutes the last rays of light were being blotted out.
The sounds of the army still building the barrier higher and thicker
came dully in. The cave was sealed; we were buried alive in an unknown
tomb!



                               CHAPTER IX
                          THE CAULDRON OF GOLD


Throughout the mass of Links in the cavern, the news of the unforeseen
calamity spread with great rapidity. Some of the females set up a
wailing; the “men” all chattered at once; baby Links caught the
infection of fear and began to cry. A more demoralised collection of
beings it would be hard to conceive.

The tremendous advantage gained by the Blacks was readily comprehended
by all the older males. They knew, as well as I, that did they attempt
to dig out, the Links in waiting on top of the heap could kill them as
fast as a head appeared; they also seemed to know that their enemies
would wait outside, long enough to be sure that all of us had starved to
death, before they finally decamped.

So desperate seemed the prospect that I got in a fever myself. We should
all have been in absolute darkness had not the torches been lifted up,
and these cast so feeble an illumination that the crowded-in mass of
Links appeared like a great serpent, along the body of which weird
muscular contractions were flitting. The place was stifling, for the day
was hot, and here we appeared to get no air. I began to think we should
never live long enough to starve.

To all my attempted questions, by signs and otherwise, concerning the
further end of the cave, the chief and others gave answers which were
decidedly in the negative. They seemed even fearful of the chamber, now
that we were trapped and unable longer to go out into the light and air.
Nevertheless I did not propose to remain there motionless till death
should bring me to a finish. I therefore made my way through the moving
crowd, toward the torches. Fatty followed closely. His face was
positively ludicrous in its solemnity, which was oddly mocked by the
skull he wore on his head, for this ghastly thing had slipped rakishly
down on one side.

So helpless and dependent had the Links become, in the face of our
danger, that it seemed as if they could not bear to let me out of their
sight. In consequence of this all tried to follow where I went, but so
densely were we packed very soon that this became impossible. The chief,
however, thrust himself along in our wake, apparently bidding the others
be still and remain where they were. Taking one of the torches I worked
my way past the last of the females and youngsters—the latter like
frightened little monkeys, unable to escape me and dreading to be
touched—when I soon came to what seemed to be the wall at the end of the
cavern.

The light was so poor that for a moment I failed to discover a small
hole to the right. Into this I thrust the lighted brand. To my great
delight it cast a glow on the walls of a cavern beyond, quite as wide as
the one we were in and the end of which was not in view. Believing that
anything was better than stagnation in such a tomb as ours, I attempted
to kick off the edges of the hole, to render it large enough for a man
to pass. I succeeded in breaking away one small fragment only. My knife
came out and I should have sacrificed its point and edge to widen the
aperture, had not the chief pushed me gently aside. With his magnificent
club he smote the rock a score of giant blows, knocking chunk after
chunk into the gloom beyond.

“That’s good—that’s enough!” I cried finally, and climbing through with
Fatty almost on my back, I beckoned to the chief to follow with all his
people. I reasoned that nothing could be worse than to remain where we
were, no matter where this passage might lead—or end.

Misgivings were rife, but the chief was evidently in undisputed command.
Some of the Links followed eagerly, others with moans of doubt and fear.
Nothing so much resembles the sound they made as the uneasy whining of a
dog that is driven or dragged to a place of which it has a terror, but
this sound was magnified till it filled the place.

“Ouch,” I said to them, pointing to the torch, “ouch.”

They understood and lighted more of the brands from the one just behind.
The added light gave them added courage. The tunnel we were now in was
spacious, and cooler. The floor was rough with rocks, yet I think we
made excellent time. The passage wound and its grade was uneven, up for
a space, then down, then level.

In half an hour I came to a halt, for the rock hall-way divided; a
branch led off to the right and another went off to the left. In order
to save time, should the wrong one be selected first—if there was a
wrong one,—I determined to go up the left-hand passage alone. If I came
to an exit I could hurry back and bid the Links to follow. If, on the
contrary, I discovered any barrier which compelled retreat, it would
certainly be better for one only to be obliged to return, instead of
all, and then we could make a trial of the second tunnel. Enough of this
I was able to convey to the chief to make him content to wait. He
instructed the Links to sit down on the floor, setting the good example
of patience himself.

Fatty felt privileged to dog my heels. As a matter of fact I was glad
enough to have him go along, for the place was none too cheerful at the
best. We came upon difficult walking presently, and also the corridor
narrowed down. I believed it would end in a mere fissure, yet I could
not afford to condemn it, nor to decide where it went, without a
thorough trial.

After plodding a mile in this stuffy place, we climbed a jagged heap of
fragments and paused abruptly, for the sound of a roaring and rumbling
came from the darkness in a manner most disagreeably impressive. It
continued a brief time only and then the ringing silence of a sepulchre
ensued. We resumed the onward march. Passing down an incline, where the
rocks slid under foot, I fell heavily and rolled toward the bottom.
Unable to stop, I dropped the torch and underwent an instantaneous
sensation of fear, as I continued downward toward the abyss of night.
Then Fatty clutched me by the ankle; we slid together a second longer,
and stopped. He lifted the torch. I was on the brink of a yawning
precipice.

A chill flashed down my spine. Most cautiously I arose and took the
light. There appeared to be no bottom to the pit.

“Gee whizz!” I muttered.

“Gee wizz!” said Fatty, with remarkable distinctness.

I looked at the creature in a sort of wonder. Animal or man, my heart
sent a great gush of feeling all through my being toward him, as I saw
him smiling fondly in my face. He should always have my friendship after
this. I could almost fancy the old fellow was wagging a tail all to
pieces, such a light was in his restless eyes; and yet his face was
almost that of a fat, good-natured Negro.

Being careful where I stepped, I moved along the edge of a great well,
came to a place where the shelf widened, and found myself facing a short
hall, at the end of which there was light, dim and diffused. We were
soon at the limit of our journey in this direction, for here also the
precipice terminated the passage.

As I looked below I saw that vapour was rising, as if from heated rocks.
Then I made out fissures in the floor, fifty feet below us; and this
floor was covered with peculiar excrescences, half-hidden by the steam.
When revealed, these resembled stalagmites, melted and slumped down like
great nodules, “double-chinned,” I am tempted to write, but “double”
would not express the multiplicity of “chins.” These nodules appeared to
be of the brightest yellow colour, but so often were they veiled in the
mist that I could not be sure of anything concerning their appearance
and formation.

Presently, while I was trying to study the odd features of the place, as
well as to determine the source of the light, the rumbling and roaring
we had heard before recommenced. It was louder, more awe-compelling, for
it came from the fissures directly beneath us. It seemed to go booming
upward and through the cavern as if the god of the under world were
grumbling out a huge complaint. This noise increased, in wave-like
volumes; the rock gave a tremor, and then with a seething and hissing,
with a tumble of sound which issued from the depths of the
earth-creature, as if it were growling at having to work, a great geyser
of boiling water and steam shot upward and toppled back to its bed. I
reeled away, with an involuntary movement. Below, the water swashed
about and foamed in mighty agitation. The cauldron heaved up swirling
tides and the drowned murmur burst forth through bubbles. The giant
below gathered anew a mighty strength and blew up a fountain as high as
where I was standing.

I saw a falling blob of the water strike on a small projection near my
foot. Then the demonstration ceased, the roar became subdued, as if the
grumbler withdrew to his realm of molten substance, and only great
clouds of the vapour arose as before. The projection where the water had
struck caught my glance, for assuredly it possessed a remarkable gleam.
Stooping I looked at it closely. It was a nodule of something metallic,
shaped somewhat like a small pear. I touched it, finding it barely warm;
then I grasped it firmly and gave it a wrench. It came away from the
rock in my hand.

By its remarkable weight, its colour and its lustre, I knew it instantly
for gold. It was solid gold, Nature’s own deposit—a nugget most
peculiarly constructed. I knew in that moment that all those massive
nodules below had a right to gleam with yellow colour, for all were
gold—the purest gold, from the great inscrutable laboratory of earth
itself!

I recalled what I had read and learned of the waters and acids mingled
with the molten interior of the planet; how they dissolve the precious
metals, hold them in solution and come with them bubbling to the
surface, spouting through the fissures in the crust; how through the
centuries they deposit atom by atom of their rich freightage on the
rocks, permeating the very tissue of stones and porous substances, to
leave them at last all streaked and flaked with gleaming yellow; and
then how the fluids retire, the earth cools down, and man—ages
after—comes wandering by and delves day and night to rob the fissures of
their hoardings.

I knew that below us a monster treasure-house was being filled by this
wonderful process, slowly, surely, regularly, hour after hour, while
generation after generation of men came and strove and went to their
graves, willing to bargain off souls to know where to get but a little
of this cold, glinting metal of the earth. We had come upon the hoary
alchemist and caught him at his work.

But the pit might as well have been a mile in depth, as far as reaching
the wealth, or the outside world with which I believe it connected, was
concerned, for we had no means of getting down in the place and its heat
would have made this impossible, even if we had possessed the best of
ladders or ropes. All the gold in the world, moreover, was worth no more
than so much dross to me; the dream of emerging again to the light was
vastly more to be coveted. Reluctantly acknowledging that the diffused
light which was here probably came from the outside world through a cave
which I could not by any possibility reach, I placed the small nugget in
my pocket, and making sure that the passage through which we had come
was of no value to me or to the party of Links, I retraced my steps,
with Fatty following noiselessly behind.



                               CHAPTER X
                            DAYLIGHT AT LAST


There were many expressions of relief on the part of our waiting friends
when again the forward movement was commenced, in the right-hand tunnel.
Those at the rear had become particularly anxious; the darkness was
evidently a source of much vague alarm.

The passage we were now in was inclined downward. It wound in a general
direction at right angles to the one which led to the cauldron of gold.
In places it became so low that we were obliged to creep on hands and
knees. This condition finally prevailed, so that I began to believe we
were wedging ourselves into a crack. If this were true, then the case
would be worse than hopeless—it would be most horrible. The death, one
by one, of all the Links, in such a place as this, would be appalling to
the last degree.

I went steadily on, my knees growing tender from contact with the rocks.
Presently Fatty and the chief, directly behind me, gave a low
exclamation of affright. I halted, but heard nothing. Perhaps they were
able to smell some enemy, for certainly their monosyllables gave a
warning, easy to interpret.

“What is it?” I said, as if they could understand and let me know.
“What’s the matter?”

Those behind made low sounds of worry. It made me desperate. If anything
confronted us now, it was too late to pause; there was no such thing as
turning back. I drew my knife and advanced, feeling cold creepers go
down my back. It might be the den of a tiger I thought, but surely such
a beast would prefer to run out rather than to face so weird a foe as we
would have seemed to be, proceeding through the cave, for we made a
strange sound, moving, breathing and expressing our various emotions.

Fatty was halting, whining, coming on and halting again in a most
disquieting manner. The chief seemed to realise that we might as well
die in one way as another, yet I noted a look of dread on his face, such
as one often sees in the eyes of a startled horse, when approaching
dangers which he feels by instinct. It occurred to me now that if
anything were in the cave, then the end must be near—an opening to the
outside world!

“Come on, you fellows,” I said at this, and holding my torch before me,
rounded a corner. Immediately a glimmer of light, through down-hanging
foliage and vines, revealed the exit we were seeking. Made careless for
the second, I was suddenly startled most loathsomely. I had placed my
hand on a cold, moving body—a snake which was crawling toward the light.

Electrified into galvanic action, I plunged my knife into the body of
the serpent half a dozen times, as fast as I could strike, feeling my
hair “crawling” as I did it. The head of the reptile came backward—a
great flat head with bulges of poison-glands making it hideous. I knew
he was deadly. The knife stabbed clean through his neck and ground on
the rocks beneath; his jaws stretched open fearfully; his lip receded
from the two great fangs, but he was killed, though the body writhed and
twisted belly upward in powerful muscular contractions.

“Ugh!” I had said, as I struck.

“Ugh!” repeated Fatty and the chief.

“Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!” went echoing back through the cave, as the Links
repeated the utterance, in dread. I had stumbled on their word for
snake, or any reptile.

I thought we should encounter more of the snakes, but not until I had
come, most cautiously, to the growth which formed a door to the cavern,
did I see anything move. In the vines a few inches of tail were
intertwined, but before I could deliver a good stab, this serpent
escaped. I now slashed away tendrils and creepers in a sort of frenzy,
for the darkness and closeness of the cave had oppressed me with a
feeling which developed into horror. We in the lead were soon out, on a
small bluff, overlooking a dense wood; indeed there was jungle all
about. I heard not a few sounds of crashing branches, where heavy-weight
animals made away from the neighbourhood and sound of our voices.

What a strange sight it was to see the cave pouring forth that
collection of ape-like Links. Nearly all were chattering—not
talking—like so many monkeys, frightened to the point of being crazy. On
getting out into the light, not a few ran about as if they would leave
us altogether and hide in the trees. The fighters, however, huddled the
females and young ones together, and glanced about and at me, with their
round, restless eyes, as if to know what to do next. Left to themselves
they would doubtless have soon been self-reliant and capable of thinking
and acting for themselves, but having followed me blindly, through an
ordeal totally foreign to any previous experience, they were hopelessly
dependent upon me now. This I knew, for even the fawning creature was
humbled.

I knew also that our old “home” would have to be abandoned and a new one
made. I was likewise aware of the necessity of selecting a place which
could be more easily defended—a point of vantage. This base we must
secure as speedily as possible, for already the sun was nearly down.
Studying the faces of the calmer Links, as they looked about, I was not
encouraged to believe they knew where we were, with regard to the
abandoned camp. To get my bearings I went up the hill we were on, to the
edge of the jungle. From there I was able to see a portion of the lake
which I had seen from the volcanic peak. Above this water, on the summit
of a hill, was a clear space, discernible, with rock formations and
indications of springs. If it had fruit-bearing trees it would be nearly
right for our needs and purposes.

Fatty and several others, including the chief and his albino mate,
having followed me up the hill, I indicated the spot to which I desired
them to lead the way. They comprehended and conveyed the whole plan to
the tribe in about three separate monosyllables, whereupon we made a
start.



                               CHAPTER XI
                           A CAMP ON THE HILL


We found signs of wild animals in great number and variety, as we forced
our trail through the jungle, but so considerable a concourse of
creatures as ours was sure to frighten anything and everything from the
line of march. It seemed to me to be a place in which company was
exceedingly desirable.

A feeling of relief came over me when at length we reached the clearing
we had selected from afar, and made our way to the rounded summit of the
hill. No sooner had I signed for a halt than half a dozen of the
fighters advanced and laid at my feet the sea-shell receptacle, filled
with our flints, and everything else which had been saved when we fled
into the cave, all of which had been carried at great pains through the
tunnel. These things I had quite forgotten in our stress of cares.

The place we had reached proved to be ideal for a settlement. Not only
were fruit and nut-trees abundant, but the forest contained countless
woods of value, while huge bamboos were flourishing not far away, at a
marshy spot, and the hills and ravines about us were teeming with birds
and game. We held a commanding position, the rock-formations of which
made a natural fortification nearly complete. Through the trees, in one
direction, I could see the lake, a thing which gave me the greatest
delight, for I thought it might mean almost anything to me, later on.

Although we got the benefit of a cooling breeze, the end of the day was
intensely hot. While we had been out of the tunnels probably no longer
than about an hour and a half, yet the whole adventure made the day seem
very long. Thirsting for water, I hastened down the side of our hill to
where I saw signs of a spring. Clear water, sure enough, was gushing out
of a fissure, and I hastened to drink. The first mouthful fetched me up
standing, bitterly disappointed. The water was salt. For a second I was
ready to curse the living fountain, and then I fairly danced with
delight.

Salt! The only thing I really needed, and the rocks and banks of this
little stream were white with the precious incrustation! I lost no time
in scraping some off the pebbles at the edge, after which I got some
pure, cold water for drinking at another spring a hundred yards away. I
had known of hot springs and cold springs, almost side by side, in
Nevada, and of sulphur springs and iron springs and countless other
varieties, but it had never before been my fortune to drink from a
spring of brine. This elated me beyond anything yet discovered.

Before I could rejoin the main body of my fellows, a few were striking
off hap-hazard, for rations. Some vigorous sign-language, which I found
I could make more forcible if I also talked out what I wanted to convey,
in Anglo-Saxon, begot a show of order. Twenty fellows went after fruit
and nuts for all; as many crept into the woods to dig some pits and
attempt to drive in some game; others fetched wood for the fires, as
well as for more of the bows and arrows. I had a lot of the females
gather a species of tough reed, much resembling osiers, and although I
knew little of weaving, I succeeded in making a small, clumsy basket,
which at least served to initiate the scheme, but it took some time
before we achieved any results worth mentioning in this needed line of
utensils.

At the head of a gang I began to supplement our natural ridges of rock
with a wall made of piled-up stones. It would never do to be defenceless
again. During all our work and hustling about, the chief stood leaning
on his rock-crystal club, his albino mate at his side, and the
fawning-fellow—whom I named Grin—smiling maliciously at all I did. The
chief saw a certain amount of usurpation in my ordering the work. The
new mode of things amazed him, for the Links not only had a keen
comprehension of what I wanted, but they actually vied with one another
in the zeal with which they laboured to perform my bidding.

Darkness came on before we had accomplished much in any direction. The
old female who muttered had preserved a glowing coal from the torches, a
trick made the easier by the wood she employed, for it possessed the
property of retaining fire for a time incredibly long.

“Here, Granny,” I said to her, as if by habit, “make ouch here, ouch
over there, and ouch against the rock.”

By the light of the flames, I constructed a rude shelter for myself. The
Links had a way of massing up in bunches on the ground, to sleep, a
system which hardly appealed to my fancy. Already two or three dozen of
the youngsters were curled on the ground and were doubtless deep in
dreams.

We ate no meat that evening, for the hunters came back empty-handed, as
soon as the light began to fail in the woods. An hour after night had
settled down, they were all at rest, save Fatty and myself. I sat before
a glowing fire, thinking, wondering what would come, out of this strange
caper of my frolicsome fate. I planned out work, with escape for my
motive, and builded strange structures in the air, as I looked vacantly
into the embers. Fatty watched me eagerly, his nervous eyes as lively as
quicksilver. The light shone on half of his face and illuminated the
skull tied on top of his head, with a changeful glow. He tried his best
to remain awake and help me to think it all out, but his head would nod,
and his eye-lids insisted on drooping, till at length he slumped, rather
than curled down, fast asleep.

How long I sat there, getting drowsy myself and intending all the while
to go to my shelter, is more than I know. A scream woke me suddenly at
last. The moon had nearly set, but still was casting a mellow light on
the world. A mass of the Links made a singular picture, as they
scrambled about in a great confusion. Then out of their midst leaped a
monster beast—a long, thin tiger, with a female Link, now flung upward,
now dragged, now half across his shoulder, held in his mouth, and she
fairly splitting the air with her cries, as he ran away with her bodily.

I saw the brute clear the ridge of rock and bound down the slope to the
region of shadows, like a thing of evil; I heard a Babel of affrighted
chattering; I heard roars and howls and death-songs, out in the jungle
where the creatures held carnival of blood. I saw the fear of my
men-children, huddling about me; and I felt a longing to hover them all
from harm.

They were badly demoralised, but we built up the fires anew, and made
more, to enclose all the tribe. Then for hour after hour I walked about
the camp, keeping the fires from dying away, while out in the savage
world beyond, the prowlers ate, and growled at the “kill.”



                              CHAPTER XII
                              A DEADLY FOE


At sunrise, when all the Links were actively awake, there appeared to be
a strong inclination, on the part of many; to leave this new settlement
and flee to the woods. The visit of the tiger had terrified the females
and not a few of the fighters. The fawning creature, Grin, was the
moving spirit in this scheme of flight, but the chief could not be
readily persuaded to leave when he saw that I was strongly opposed to
any such measure of retreat.

I knew the tribe to be more or less nomadic, and I believed them capable
of finding a clearing wherein we could live, by constantly fighting the
jungle brutes, yet I was convinced that the welfare, not only of myself,
but of all concerned, would be better served by remaining where we were.
Attempting to show them how we could guard ourselves against future
enemies by adopting various measures, I set them the example of working
on the wall and of building sheltered dug-outs, succeeding at last in
quieting many fears and convincing the chief that we were the safest on
the hill.

All day long we toiled at sundry occupations, but the work to accomplish
was great and the efforts of my workmen, though the fellows were strong
and willing, were so crude that progress was slow. We needed weapons,
more than anything else, unless I except the shelters. I worked
continuously at making bows and arrows. In this labour I was
considerably assisted by three Links whom I finally selected as the most
ingenious and teachable fellows of the tribe. To my great delight I
found that my flints had already become exceedingly hard from being
exposed to the air. This rendered the hatchets and knives remarkably
efficient as tools.

The fighters dug seven or eight large, shallow holes in the earth,
during the day, and a few were covered with branches of trees and
thatched with enormous leaves before evening. What with helping to carry
stones for the wall and wood for various purposes, the females
accomplished but little on the baskets which I had hoped they would
make. They were not as practical as the males, having never been obliged
to construct so much as a blanket or a string of beads.

As a relaxation from my other employment, I busied myself with weaving a
basket, that night by the fire. The material was none of the best, and I
could only guess how the work should be done, nevertheless I succeeded
in finishing an awkward affair which would hold above a bushel of fruits
and which required two men to carry it home when filled.

For two more days we swarmed that hill-top like a colony of ants. At the
end of that time we had three good fire-places, builded of stone,
thirty-odd bows, more than eighty arrows, four baskets, nine tolerably
decent dug-outs, and a wall nearly completed about our city. Also we had
plenty of meat, for the hunters had driven some goat-like deer into
their pits, after their primitive fashion, not to mention a number of
birds cleverly captured. In this latter business they utilised a sticky
substance procured from a weed-like tree, the stuff being plastered on
the branches of trees much frequented by the birds, which, alighting,
got their feet, feathers and wings quickly gummed, so completely that
escape was impossible. I was anxious to have the fighters begin practise
with the bows, but as yet we had been too busily engaged with work for
any such diversion.

Just before evening that day I strolled to the edge of the jungle, with
the faithful Fatty at my heels, to try for a shot with some of our
latest arrows. The chief being away, at the head of a hunting company, I
waved back all others who would have followed. We found nothing to shoot
at but a squirrel, and this lively little animal evaded me time after
time, as I stepped quietly about.

I was just on the point of raising the bow at last when from almost
under my feet a fine turtle started to run toward a heap of rocks. He
was almost round and his back was unusually high, so much like half a
sphere was his shell. Immediately I thought what an excellent bowl or
basin this would make, and thereupon abandoned the squirrel and started
after the tortoise.

He moved much faster than one might have supposed possible. Nevertheless
I lifted him plump on his back with a movement of my foot, and then I
jumped violently away. I had almost trodden on a hooded snake, which
struck at my foot most viciously and then attempted to escape.

Fatty lost no time in getting too far away to be of any help. I tried a
shot at the reptile with the bow, but missed. The creature would have
escaped in a moment. I dropped everything to gather up some rocks, and a
large one of these I succeeded in smashing upon the creature so hard
that it broke his back and pinned him down, close behind the head.
Despatching my turtle then I hastened back to camp.

In the great sea-shell I boiled the turtle, not without the greatest
trouble. The Links ate the meat, for I felt no hankering after this
species after one trial. The shell was all I had expected, when at last
it was clean, for I had felt the need of a basin in which to wash.

Well satisfied with the work of the day, and having impressed a trio of
Links into service as guard for the night, I turned in early and soon
dropped off into the heaviest sort of slumber. Sometime in the night a
hideous noise and a violent jerking at my foot brought me suddenly to my
senses. I rushed out, bowling over Fatty in my haste, to find the Links
again verging on insanity from fright.

The man-eating tiger had crept upon us again and borne off one of the
very guards themselves, who had gone to sleep promptly, upon my
retiring.

I believe I cursed the wretches who had slept at the post of duty, for I
had much to do to restore the slightest resemblance to calm among the
excited creatures. Then in the morning, as I thoroughly expected, the
tribe was unanimous for deserting the works at once, to go
anywhere—whither they cared nothing at all,—so long as they put the
deepest jungle between themselves and this dreaded foe. A tiger such as
this, I could see, created a terror as great as the Links could contain.
There was no suggestion of a courage sufficient to battle with the
brute; there was one adequate scheme only, in their minds and this was
flight.

Situated as we were with that lake below us, on which I had builded a
vague sort of hope, I was determined to go the utmost bounds before I
would consent to move a yard. I pantomimed in desperation and jabbered
fairly good English and added my few words of bad Linkish (or Lingo), to
make them understand that I would undertake to kill the man-eater
myself, that coming night. Even this “announcement” appeared to be in
vain, for a time, especially as I had to work against the wretched
influence of Grin, the fawning coward, who had an unmistakable power in
“getting around” the chief. At length, however, my counsel prevailed.
But I could see that failure to execute my boasted vengeance on the
brute of the jungle would mean the total overthrow of “my city” and my
hold upon the primitive imaginations of the Links.

Feeling that if they did leave all behind and plunge anywhere through
the forest I should be obliged to go along, regardless of the fact that
this would make my escape even more than ever hopeless, and realising
also that I had assumed a large contract under any circumstances, I was
decidedly anxious, the moment after they finally consented to my rash
suggestion. Indeed, though I kept at the work, as I strove to devise a
plan of attack on the tiger, throughout the morning, I became nervous
and doubtful of my ability to perform the vital deed. My brain seemed
capable of only the wildest schemes, all of which were as utterly
impracticable as flying to London for a gun.

Having never killed a tiger I knew nothing of his habits, beyond the
fact that he was almost always sure to return to his “kill,” if
undisturbed, on the second night, and even on the third, if there still
remained undevoured portions of his victim sufficient for a meal. I
could fancy this brute treading silently up to the ghastly remains; I
could picture him, bloody of muzzle, fierce-eyed, alert and terrible, as
he dined in his dread loneliness. How I wished that a snake, more silent
than himself, might glide upon him and strike him deep with its venomous
fangs!

A snake!—Why a snake to be sure! It suggested just the plan! I had no
weapon reliably stout enough to give him a mortal wound, but I could,
perhaps, bury a poisoned arrow in his blood—a shaft that need but
scratch to do its deadly work. The snake I had killed the day before
might still be fresh enough to furnish the fatal juice, and then—if I
could find the mangled body in the jungle, perhaps—perhaps—

I was more excited and nervous now than before. Three times I was on the
point of crying quits. Once I was nerved anew by the contemplation of
the lake and our settlement, which meant that I was working out a plan
of escape, already nicely started. Again, I was hardened to the task by
the thought that, surrounded as I was in this unknown region, with death
so easy on every hand, I was childish to wish to avoid this one
particular danger, perhaps only to plunge into others far more awful.
The third time I was steeled by observing the sneering smile on the face
of Grin, which seemed to mock my show of manhood. This was the thing
which made me put all doubt and hesitation away.

In the late afternoon, having selected five of the straightest and
truest of the arrows tipped with flint, and having seen that the
bow-string was stout and reliable, I walked off boldly, alone, and went
to where the hooded snake lay crushed beneath the rock. Until I was out
of sight the Links watched me, narrowly, all of them standing together
on the hill. The body of the snake was where I had left it, the tail
partially eaten by something, which must have been desperately hungry.
Cutting off the head I pried open the jaws with a stick and my knife,
finding the poison-glands of great size.

The venom flowed thickly out when I tore the sacks open with the point
of an arrow, and although the whole revolting operation made me nearly
ill, I fairly bathed the flints in the viscid substance. Holding the
arrows carefully from me, to let them dry, I concealed the serpent’s
head beneath a rock, for I did not wish the Links to know what I had
done, and so to learn the use of so deadly a creature.

Skirting the edge of the woods, I came opposite our settlement, at about
the point where I judged I had seen the tiger disappear, in the jungle,
the night when he carried away the female from our midst. Here I had not
far to search before I found trampled grass, vines ripped aside and even
the tracks of the brute’s massive paws. With a fast-beating heart and
also with a tremendous desire to turn and run, I stepped noiselessly
along in this suggestive trail.

The stillness, save for the note of a far-away bird, or the quick start
of some porcupine or sloth, frightened from its haunt, was terribly
oppressive. I confess to have had a constant feeling as if my hair were
standing upright on my head, as I slowly made my way into that tangle of
greenery. The day seemed suddenly to have grown old and dark. I felt
horribly near to the lair of the man-eater, knowing that he had actually
been in the place such a short time before.

Presently I came upon a clearing which was hardly thirty feet across in
either direction. Approaching the centre of this I started violently,
for I nearly stumbled across the mangled body of my sentinel Link of the
night before. I had not believed it could be so near the edge of our own
clearing. The tiger, I thought, had grown thus insufferably impudent,
not to say indifferent to our nearness to his feast, because he had
never been hunted, nor even threatened with retaliation.

The body was a ghastly sight, so human-looking, so fearfully fresh! I
turned away my head and somewhat retreated. How much I desired to dash
madly away—out to the sunlight—I can never convey to another mind. I had
no feeling of bravery left; it seemed to me as if the jungle were filled
with deadly creatures, prowling about me as I stood in the place.

What should I do, now that I had found the spot I had dreaded to find?
Would the tiger come back that night? I felt only too sure that he
would. Looking about me I saw that a great tree held out a branch which
was easy to climb. It was such a relief to think of getting off the
ground, up out of reach of the creatures which might come creeping or
prowling along, that I waited only long enough to tie the end of a long,
cord-like creeper about my bow and arrows, when I scrambled up in the
tree as if all the fiends of Hades had been upon my track. I make no
excuse for the lack of courage I felt, for absolutely I could not help
it, strive as I might.

Once up on the branch, however, I felt better. Moving along to a bend,
where a lot of creepers were thickly interlaced, I found a sort of
natural seat, not quite directly above the terrible “kill,” below in the
trodden and red-painted grass. In this seat I could rest my weight, my
position then being one of half erectness, my feet on the great branch,
my body leaning against the supporting vines. Drawing up my weapons, I
so disposed four of the arrows that I could easily and safely find them
in the dark—which I tried by closing my eyes. Then I fitted the fifth
one to the bow-string and prepared myself for a lengthy wait.



                              CHAPTER XIII
                        THE NIGHT IN THE JUNGLE


It seemed as if I had been in the tree for an age when the sun finally
sank behind the hill. For long the twilight had been dim in the jungle,
and creepers and shadows made a picture of grotesque forms, wrapped
about and hung as if with serpents, like a weird conception by Doré.
There was rarely a sound. It seemed like the hour when the day-creatures
crept stealthily home to caves and covers, afraid they were already too
late and sure to be overtaken by the prowlers of the darkness.

Once I had a fearful up-welling of excitement suddenly flood my being
and make my heart to thump heavily. An armadillo came trotting quietly
into the open space below me. The movement was what caught my glance,
and for the second I thought only of the tiger. Then the little animal
sniffed that gory object and darted instantly away.

The darkness increased. Some early complainer howled out a dismal note.
Now and then there came a rustling sound from the trees or vines. An
hour after the darkness became complete, I heard a pounce, a struggle,
the quiet moan-cry of something which gave up its life, and it made a
chill go down my back and spread through my nerves. Sounds of birds in
the air and forest—inhabitants hiding in the trees, came occasionally,
now, with surprising distinctness. All of this kept me in a high state
of tension. I wished myself anywhere on earth other than where I was. I
confess the woods at night, where merely bears and owls were at large,
had awed me earlier in life, and this jungle, alive with poisonous
reptiles and blood-hungry animals, terrified me beyond expression. If I
had only had a companion, if there had even been another man awaiting my
return—somebody to talk to, somebody to think about rejoining, or even a
soul who would dare to hunt for my body if I never returned,—it would
have been a little comforting at least.

I managed, with an effort, to pull myself together a trifle, by thinking
that it was now too late to meditate retreat. I would not have climbed
down from my tree and attempted to find my way out of the darksome
forest—taking the chances of starting wrong and getting lost—for the
price of a mine of diamonds. Thus the hours went by and a score of
things kept me startled constantly. I feared the tiger would fail to
come; then I feared he would arrive at any second.

It seemed to me that midnight must have come and gone ages since.
Suddenly my breath came fast, my whole body was rigid with attention as
I noted a dim form, apparently standing in the tangle, directly across
the clearing. I knew I had become pale; I knew I trembled with
agitation. I was cold and my teeth did their best to chatter, as I
watched to see if the form moved.

There were ample sounds about me, some slight, some heavy, but I think I
paid little heed to anything except that dim, uncertain form. Then I was
sure it moved. While I was still at the height of my excitement I noted
a leaf, which became clearly defined. I knew immediately that the form
was merely a patch of half light, cast through the foliage by the moon.

The excitement subsided as if I had pulled out a plug and let it run
away. And while it was going, I heard a wet lapping and chewing, beneath
me, which told me instantly that the man-eater was below and dining at
his cold and ghastly feast. He had come—unseen and unheard,—while I was
being frightened at a patch of light!

I looked, but so dark was the place that until the monster moved around
I thought his body was exactly on the opposite side of his victim, to
which it really was. The excitement had flushed upward in my veins
again, but not so strongly as before. I was angered, as I have often
been to hear a cat lapping at the meat in a cupboard.

Moving cautiously on the branch, I half stood, half leaned against my
seat and slowly brought my bow into position. I was stiff in my hands
and joints, from sitting so long in one position. Having made a slight
slip and noise, the flood of nervousness leapt upward in me at once; I
perspired coldly; my heart beat a violent measure; in my mouth the
saliva became like gluey cotton. But the beast below kept on chewing,
with a horrible noise of drooling chops. I dared not try at him yet,
both because my hands were too unsteady and because the brute was too
undefined an object to be seen.

I underwent a trying ordeal for half an hour. While I was watching
below, straining my eyes to pierce the gloom, slightly bending the bow
and holding the poisoned arrow in readiness, the tiger shifted about in
his feeding. Abruptly I saw a patch of his hide, a small irregular
target, full in the light of the moon, where a ray shone down through
some open shaft between leaves and branches. I could see a dark stripe
across the dusty-looking hide. Even the play of a muscle was visible.

Doubtless the thrill and ardour of the hunter came to my rescue in that
vital second. I only know that I was eager, steadied, released from all
that had made me nerveless and cold. I even forgot what a deadly brute
he was and what he might be capable of doing, if only slightly wounded.

The bow became vertical in my fist, at the end of my arm, now as rigid
as oak. I drew the arrow backward to my ear with a strong, confident
pull. Then the point came down, toward the lighted patch. I aimed as one
aims at the head of a nail with a hammer—with no need to see my shaft.
Then it sprang away like a flash, the twang resounded in my ear, and I
saw a streak stab straight in the middle of the target.

Instantly a furious lunge and a roar that all but shook me down made the
place terrible. I clutched another of the arrows, and fumbled it, so
that it fell. Another then I got upon the string. All the while a most
awful uproar was continued below. The arrow that had dropped betrayed my
presence. The tiger leaped toward the branch, fell short, leaped again,
thrashed in the grass with frantic force and bellowed a doom-song that
made my flesh creep on my bones.

In his madness the brute was in the patch of light and out again,
constantly. Once, as he oscillated there for a whole second, making
ready to jump toward me, I fired another arrow with all the power of
fear and hatred. It struck him, I could not determine where, and a
moment later he reached my branch with his two great paws, and hung
there by his claws, bending the limb so low and shaking all so
tremendously that I clung on for very life. I felt his paw against my
foot and stamped upon it viciously. He lifted that one; the bark gave
way from beneath the other and down he thudded.

Again and again he leaped in his wrath. It sounded as if all the beasts
of the jungle were there in mortal combat. I tried with another poisoned
arrow, though I was sick, from my dread that he was proof against the
venom. This shot I missed. It served to make the brute more furious,
however, but finally I thought his ravings began to lose in force.

Once more he crouched in the light. This time my last arrow met him just
as he rose in his spring. I failed to notice where it was planted in his
body, for so tremendous was his leap that his whole head, chest and paws
were up on the tree. The shock knocked me off; I fell, grasping a
creeper, that stopped me with a jerk and a painful wrench.

The tiger dropped, striking me down the leg with one of his out-thrown
paws; I thought my time had come. With a superhuman effort I chinned
myself on the creeper, clutched the limb again, got an arm about it,
reached a twig higher up and threw my leg fairly over. I was quickly in
my old position again, blown, dizzy and wholly unable to believe the
tiger had been evaded by such a clumsy scrambling. He was beating about
in the trampled grass below, but his roar had grown hoarse and guttural;
it seemed no longer so savage. Then I heard his breath blowing froth and
bubbles-of-blood through his nostrils. My heart leaped exultantly—I knew
an arrow had reached his lungs!



                              CHAPTER XIV
                              AN OLD ROUÉ


In a time incredibly short I heard sounds growing fainter where the
great brute stiffened out in the grass. The poison, I knew, had gotten
in its work at last. When the final convulsion had shivered itself out,
what a death-silence settled on the jungle! It seemed as if for miles
about, the lesser beasts had held their breath and fled from that
theatre of throes and roars of the master-murderer.

The hush affected me deeply. I felt so alone with the dead, and yet not
confident of my safety. My imagination pictured a ring of leopards, cats
and other creatures stealing silently up, like the curious women who
enjoy to look upon a corpse, these all half afraid that the king was not
really lifeless after all. Probably no creature was then within half a
mile of the spot, for the noise had been sufficient to frighten away
even the snakes, it seemed to me, yet I never for a moment entertained a
thought of climbing down from where I was.

The wait, through the midnight and the long chilly hours of morning was
the harder to bear because of the weakness I felt, after all the
over-wrought emotions I had undergone. It was difficult, moreover, to
cast off the dread of the still brute below me, not to mention the
sounds which recommenced in the animal-haunted jungle. I was exhausted,
for the strain had been as hard to bear as severe physical labour. In
addition to this, I had performed a good day’s work, before I came to my
tryst with the tiger. How long seemed the time since I left the friendly
Links, on my quest of vengeance and retribution!

I may have dozed, as I half lay against the woven creepers, and although
it could not have been for long, dawn had come when I started awake. In
the forest the shadows were still too deep to be fathomed, yet at last I
made out the rigid form on the ground. My enemy was almost directly
under the place where I was sitting. I could see no arrows at all; and
my mind had pictured him bristling with the shafts.

Slowly the light increased. What a gaunt, unhandsome form it was in the
grass! Then the sunlight struck on the tree-tops and bird-notes, not
particularly musical, began to make more cheerful that dark abode. With
a new impulse of courage, I dropped myself down, laid hold of my bow and
a leg of the tiger, and dragged with all my strength to get him out of
the place.

Then I got a good look at the carcass. He was old, wretchedly thin,
scarred about his bleary, dead eyes, nearly toothless and as
worn-looking as an old hearth-rug. I saw where my first shot had struck
him above the shoulder. The arrow, which was broken off in the wound,
had jabbed in and plowed along under the skin for six or eight inches.
The second had ripped through the flesh of his right fore leg, leaving a
gash which the brute had widened when he broke the shaft out, sidewise,
in his thrashing. The last shot had sent the envenomed flint tearing
into his breast, an inch below the throat, where it had penetrated to a
considerable depth. It also was broken, but a tough shred of the wood
still held the feathered portion dangling from the wound.

As I looked on the thin, old reprobate I was silly enough to feel a
little pity, so tragic seemed the “poverty” which he had known, as
testified by his miserable condition. My fears too had been wholly
dissipated by the sun; I wondered why I had been in such a plight of
dread throughout the night.

A final tug brought the roué of the jungle clear of the undergrowth. The
second I emerged to the edge of the hill clearing, a chorus of cries
came down from the camp. I turned to see the whole drove of Links coming
madly down the slope from which they had been watching for more than an
hour.

Such a commotion the simple creatures made, as, crazy with joy and awe,
and still dreading the foe they knew so well, they pressed about me and
chattered and made me a hero and struck at the ground all about the
tiger with their clubs! Fatty went through a sort of blubbering welcome
and got down and licked at my shoes until I felt obliged to give him a
trifle of a kick. The chief made no effort to conceal his admiration for
my feat, but he was dignified, after the manner of a great Newfoundland
dog among the lesser canines. His albino mate, however, gazed upon me
from her round, pink eyes with a look of worshipping to which I very
much objected. At her side the carping Grin was doing his best to
belittle the tiger and to sneer through his expression of amazement. On
the whole, one would have thought the tiger a monster and a prince among
his kind. I began to feel my glory to be somewhat tawdry.

After half an hour of tribute, both to the brute and myself, on the part
of the tribe, I rolled the beast over to look for a decent bit of hide.
He was not worth the skinning, and that is the truth. However, I had my
plan and therefore I whipped out my knife and skinned a part of the
shoulders and back. After this I took off the head, for I meant to have
the skull for a trophy. Then I directed the Links to dig a grave.

They were loth to consign even this partially stripped carcass to
oblivion, yet they complied with my wish. Eventually all withdrew to the
camp above. I immediately set Fatty to work at skinning the head for
boiling,—to rid it of flesh—while I placed my piece of the pelt in the
stream of brine, in order to prepare it for tanning.



                               CHAPTER XV
                            A GLEAM OF HOPE


When I finally fastened the tiger’s skull above my shelter, and girded
my loins about with the skin, I was conscious of having attained a great
respect among my primitive friends. Not a few, I soon became aware,
would have followed me readily in any measure, not requiring too vast a
courage, even to the point of seceding from the semi-command of the
chief. They attested this feeling, which resembled that evinced from the
first by Fatty, in all the work and in various smaller matters, from
daylight till dark.

I might have been more flattered than I was at my exaltation among these
half-human creatures, had I not easily detected the jealousy of the
chief, which feeling Grin continued constantly to feed. Indeed in spite
of all I could do, a division of parties was growing every day.
Unfortunately the females were more fierce in their partisanship than
were the males. Moreover a majority of these “ladies” evinced a strong
desire to ally themselves to the side of which I was becoming the
unwilling leader. Prominent among them was the chief’s albino mate, who
was far too persistent to give me any peace of mind. I foresaw trouble
to come from this unhappy complication.

Had all the Links united in considering myself a leader and governor of
the tribe, I should have enjoyed very much the “recognition of my
talents,” especially as such an outcome would have furthered the scheme
I had, to make them fit as warriors and then persuade them to march as
my escort to the coast. Indeed I was planning and working deliberately
to become commander-in-chief. But this division was not at all assuring,
for although all had a wholesome fear of the Tartar they had caught, yet
any one of the creatures, turning treacherous, could have killed me
outright with a single blow.

I made no end of attempts to procure the confidence of the chief, and
frequently thought I was winning him over, but always Grin got in a
stroke which set my endeavours at naught. I could have killed the beast
with great satisfaction to myself and with profit all around. The albino
female I ignored pointedly at every opportunity afforded. This gave some
degree of satisfaction to the chief, but like Othello, he grew
insufferably suspicious.

Our work of providing weapons and utensils, and also of securing a
better state of existence and defence, proceeded daily. I worked like an
engine, myself, to employ all my thoughts, which began to be
disquieting. Although I strove to avert what was slowly coming, the
conviction was borne in upon me more and more that if things continued
as they were going, I should either be obliged to fight a pitched
battle, backed by my voluntary adherents, against the chief and his
party, or else abandon my scheme of escape altogether.

But if I brought about the internecine strife and even won the battle,
my force would be utterly inadequate for an escort, (provided I could
get them to leave the wilds to which they were all accustomed), for the
whole tribe did not muster half the number of fighters which the black
Links had assembled against us that day at the cave. If we started
through the jungle, who should say we might not walk straightway into
the settlement of our hostile neighbours? Besides this natural enemy,
the woods were sure to be filled with ourang-outangs, snakes, tigers and
no end of other animals that would snip off man after man, if they did
not annihilate the party entirely.

The situation was trying. If I discontinued the archery practice and the
teaching of “civilized arts,” my Links would never be fit for my “army;”
if, on the contrary, I proceeded to place the fellows on a fighting
equality with myself, they would all be the worse as enemies, if ever a
genuine rebellion should occur. Having thought and thought till my brain
was weary, I decided to take my chances on having them understand the
bow, trusting that something might happen which would make us all
united. I reasoned that if our foe, the Blacks, should swoop upon us
again, we might all be killed, if they found us unprepared, and then all
schemes of escape would be equally vain.

Our programme of armament therefore proceeded with all reasonable haste.
We had frequent practice with the weapons, many of the Links soon giving
promise of great proficiency with this natural weapon of early man.
During this time the strained relations were in no wise improved, thanks
to the ceaseless efforts of Grin and to the idiocy of Madame Albino, who
became the more zealous as I treated her with greater contempt. I grew
desperate, for matters were tending toward disruption too plainly for
any concealment.

One morning I was drilling the Links in sham fighting, and making them
form in hollow square about me. In the midst of our manœuvres I had an
inspiration, totally foreign to the work. The lake! Why had I not
figured out before that the lake must have inlets and an outlet, and
that the latter must eventually reach the sea itself? True the thought
came quickly that out in that ever-anomalous Nevada there are lakes (or
“sinks”), which have no outlet at all, but I doubted strongly if this
lake belonged to that same peculiar species. By all means I would
explore it, come what might. I would know what it promised, and no
matter what manner of outlet I might discover, I would attempt my escape
on its bosom, and snap my fingers at Links and all of their ilk.

For this business I should require a boat. Perhaps this would be no
better than a raft, in the end, if nothing better could be constructed,
but something floatable would be necessary before I could move a mile
down or about the sheet of water, for the jungle grew to the very edge
of this shimmering gem, rendering its circum-exploration on the shore as
good as a physical impossibility.

It was easy enough to induce the Links to help me force a path to the
water’s edge, but I soon discovered that without exception they held the
place in awe and superstitious dread. It did prove to be generously
inhabited, but this was quite to be expected. For the matter of that,
the whole country was crawling with deadly reptiles and brutes, so that
choosing the lesser evil was not too decidedly easy.

One would have said that material was plentiful, even had I contemplated
building a fleet, but the growth was so dense that I knew it would be a
gigantic task to cut down any timber. The Links were anxious to leave
the shore for the safer hill, but I kept them with me and communicated
to several the fact that I was searching for a log. This was an
excellent move, for Fatty soon underwent a paroxysm of delight at his
cleverness, and at my open satisfaction, when he jerked away a snarl of
vines, already concealing the trunk of a tree which apparently had
succumbed to a violent gale.

We soon had the log laid bare for more than twenty feet of its length.
It was twined about by creepers, but it had no low branches to give us
trouble, while its size was entirely satisfactory. With our tools of
flint we started to cut the thing off in two places, the root end being
in no wise fit to form the prow or the stern of a boat, but our efforts
seemed so feeble and childish that apparently it was next to an
insurmountable difficulty to perform even this primary office. I felt so
discouraged that I nearly gave it up then and there.

However, one of my admirers was willing to run to camp for a brand of
fire, for I had resolved to burn the log in two. This was a task which
opened up large possibilities for the expenditure of time and patience,
although we constantly removed the fire, as soon as its flames had eaten
inward, charring the wood, when we chopped away this softened portion
and began again. At the end of the first day we had accomplished so
little that the task, merely of getting the log cut off, seemed
hopeless. I determined that if we did get the log free at last I would
have it rolled into the water and content myself with its plain,
unvarnished bulk for a craft, for digging it out to form a boat I feared
would be more of a job than my patience could endure.



                              CHAPTER XVI
                         TREACHERY AND A BATTLE


The labour at the lake-shore, day after day, somewhat reduced the
party-feeling brewing between the chief and our respective followers. He
was with us often, but quite as frequently went hunting in the jungle at
the head of a dozen fighters.

Our practice with the bows had proceeded so well that we bagged a good
deal of our game with the weapons, squirrels, various birds and hogs
proving to be the most abundant and easy victims. Of the skin of one of
the hogs so secured, I made myself a clumsy sort of quiver, which held
my arrows to perfection. Of another I fashioned some thick but
serviceable leggings, which afforded me a much-needed protection.

What with sundry interruptions, for needed labours about the camp, it
was more than a week before we finally completed the burning and hacking
off of the log by the lake. Then we began to roll it and push it toward
the water, a task requiring more patience than ingenuity, for we had an
abundance of muscle although I found it not always easy to direct this
crude force to the best advantage. I set my fellows to work getting out
rollers, so that if necessary, later on, I could use a lever and get the
log in the water alone.

Having brought it near the edge, I was tempted to proceed with my
original plan of digging it out to form a canoe, trusting that the
trouble which threatened between our divided forces would merely
smoulder, at the worst, for a time and that before it broke out
dangerously I might be better prepared to make my explorations and my
attempt to escape. Deciding to try this plan, I had the log lifted up on
two rocks, one under each end, after which I had my Links dig me a
quantity of stiff red clay, which we worked up with water and plastered
thickly over the sides and ends of the log, leaving a wide place
uncovered on the under side. We then made fire all along underneath, and
by constantly digging away the portions that were charred, and then by
burning and digging again, we made considerable progress with the work.
The clay, of course, protected the parts of the boat so covered from
being consumed. By plastering more of the clay inside of the sides and
ends, as soon as the boat began to be hollowed out, we protected them
also, and thereby directed the flames in such a manner that they burned
deeper into the wood all the time, without endangering the portions
which I desired to leave stout and thick.

It was hot work and hard, to get in under that boat and dig out ash and
charcoal, but several of my loyal workers conceived a tireless
enthusiasm for the task, although none could have guessed what I was
fashioning, to save his life. Their industry and tractability reminded
me always of the faithful work which dogs will perform for a master.
While the burning-out was being done, I hacked and worked away to make
the bow and stern of the craft a bit more shapely than they were after
our crude log-cutting process. Also I formed a clumsy keel, of straight,
slender saplings, which we fastened firmly in place by boring several
holes straight through them and then hammering plugs into these and into
corresponding holes made, at the cost of infinite pains, along what
would be the bottom of the boat when we turned her over for launching.

This keel was finally finished, and by that time all along underneath we
had burned and dug away a foot in depth of the wood, which meant that
after the log—which was about three feet in diameter—was squared off to
form the open top of the hull, the inside hollowing-out was only three
or four inches deep, and we had still to dig it out fully eighteen
inches more. Altogether I began to feel no little amount of pride in the
general appearance and promise of the craft, hence I worked at it with
feverish impetuosity.

My affairs were still at this stage when, one afternoon, I headed a
large party of the Links on a hunt in the jungle to the east of the
camp. It was a sultry day, peculiarly still, for we nearly always had a
cooling breeze. Doubtless our usual quarry had crawled away to various
places of concealment. Certainly we found nothing stirring, and after we
had tramped unavailingly for more than an hour, I fancied I detected
signs of uneasiness among our fellows.

The chief was along, closely followed by Grin, whose malicious face
seemed particularly wicked in the shadows of the forest. When a cloud
rolled sullenly across the face of the sun, the Links came to a halt, as
if undecided what to do. The chief gave a sign and uttered a word
conveying his intention of returning to the camp. At that moment we
started a hog from his wallow near a small marsh, and calling out
eagerly to all to follow and surround the animal, I darted ahead, bow in
hand, excited by the prospect of a shot. My enthusiasm carried the main
body of the Links, who joined me readily enough.

I noted as I went that the chief brought up the rear, in a sulky mood,
while the fawning Grin pointed a finger at myself and laughed in a
manner fit to make a fiend of a saint, such ridicule did he heap upon
all who would suffer themselves to be led by this power-usurping
stranger.

The hog eluded our vigilance completely. We arrived at the base of a
mass of rock which towered up like a heap of ruined masonry. Thinking I
could command a wider view from its top, while my fellows thrashed the
undergrowth about its neighbourhood, to drive the hog from cover, I
climbed laboriously up, intent on having a shot if possible.

No sooner was I fairly on the peak and moving about to get in sight of
all the Links below, than I noted Grin come dashing out of a jungle,
making a noise for all the world like the trumpeting of an elephant.
Undoubtedly this sound must have been their name for the huge pachyderm,
and it was equally certain that the cry was a warning which inspired the
greatest terror, for without delaying a second for anything, the whole
force ran madly away from the place, back along the way we had come.

I bawled out lustily, to halt them, and then to try to make them wait,
but again Grin sounded the startling trumpet and not a Link—not even
Fatty—turned or paused for all my shouting. I scrambled along the rocks
to descend as rapidly as possible. It was not an easy task to regain the
lower level; I was occupied several minutes by the task. I fell the last
five feet and the vines wherein I landed held me back a time which
became exasperatingly long.

At length I started away in pursuit of my friends, but not a sign of one
could I see, not a sound of one could I hear. Soon I began to doubt if I
were on their trail. However, I felt that I knew my way as well without
as with them, and therefore made what speed I could to overtake the
band.

Presently I paused to see if they had gone through the vines in the path
I was attempting to follow. A low sound came from the distance; with
amazing suddenness the forest began to grow dark and oppressive. I
fancied for a second the sound was made by the elephant. This theory was
abandoned a moment later, for an echo of the rumble proclaimed the noise
as thunder. Like a flash, the thought came in my brain that there was no
elephant—that Grin had purposely given his cry, knowing well what a
terror and consequent flight would ensue, with the deliberate purpose of
leaving me abandoned in the jungle. I remembered the uneasy feeling
which had been manifested by all the Links; they had doubtless been
aware that a storm was approaching.

Intent upon defeating this scheme of treachery, and reviling the whole
Link nation for cowards of the most consummate type, I stumbled on,
through the gathering gloom and through the vines that tripped my feet,
growing a trifle anxious about the approaching shower.

Almost before I had gone a hundred yards, the sky was a sea of tempest
and driving clouds of the blackest hue. Gusts of heavy, hot wind shook
the tops of the trees and crashed through the creepers, swaying them
roughly where they hung. The darkness of night descended like a mist of
ink. I floundered forward and fell. A flash of lightning and a crash of
thunder seemed to rip the very firmament in twain. I was blinded and
utterly confused. I ran ahead, only to find myself confronted by an
impenetrable fabric of vines and creepers. This I strove to go around,
but it seemed to hedge me nearly all about. In desperation I hastened
through the only opening I could find. This appeared to lead me into a
trail, along which I ran.

Again a brain-scorching glare of lightning threw everything into weird
relief, the trees like living creatures which struggled in the mesh of
creepers, writhing like snakes, in the bluster of wind. Then a lesser
illumination, when I had torn my way along for some distance, cut out of
the ebon depths the great mass of rock I had climbed such a short time
before. I reeled backward—it seemed preposterous—some enormity of
fate—it could not mean that I was lost—no, no—I would turn about—I knew
the way—I should reach the camp in an hour. What a child I was to be so
confused and alarmed by a storm!

Again I started. The flashes and the deafening peals of thunder
increased. In five more minutes I stood still, confused, for the
fearsome play of lightning illuminated the jungle clearly and it looked
all wrong—all unfamiliar about me—and all deadly thick. I must hasten
back to the pile of rocks, I thought, in a sort of despair. I could wait
there—wait till the storm had passed, and then, when the sky became
clear again of clouds, I could easily find my way to the camp.

For fifteen minutes I fought my way through the vines and plants. The
flashes were more intense, and nearer than before, but of rocks or of
anything familiar I saw not so much as a shadow.

“I’m lost!” I cried at last, “I’m lost!”

The confession burst from my lips as if to mock me. The stupendous
meaning of the truth burst in upon me ruthlessly. I was lost—alone in
this terrible jungle and night coming on apace! Every horror of my night
in the tree, above that ghastly banquet of the tiger, came vividly back.
Every thought of the snakes and the prowling beasts, in search of blood
and meat, seemed to burn deeper into my brain with the blinding shimmer
of lightning. I fled in one direction, then in another—then anywhere, at
random.

It was foolish and weak to race hither and yon as I did in my
semi-madness, but the dark jungle created an unspeakable dread in my
brain; its terrors were magnified by my contemplation of one danger
after another. I foresaw nothing but a dreadful death, which might come
soon or late. To find the camp of my Links I felt would be quite
impossible, for I knew absolutely nothing, by this, of one direction
from another.

Wildly and thoughtlessly I kept on going. A crash of thunder now split
open the clouds and let down a deluge of rain. It made no difference to
me, any more than did the darkness. But while I was pushing senselessly
ahead, I slipped on a patch of wetted clay and slid to an unseen edge,
over which I shot, going down below like a sack of bolts. I struck on my
feet, landing on something half soft. Instantly a furious growl of pain
and rage made me leap away forward. A brilliant dance of lightning made
the spot as bright as day—and I beheld two hideous ourang-outangs, which
had just been in the act of crawling into a cave, and on the legs of one
of which I had landed. They came quickly toward me, in a frenzy of
anger.

I dashed away, along a well-beaten path that was made through the
growth, the two brutes hotly pursuing. The darkness that followed the
glare of light was of only a second’s duration, so continuous had the
electric display in the heavens become. The beasts were gaining upon me.
Across a leaf-hidden log I pitched headlong. The ourangs were nearly
upon me when I sprang again to my feet and raced away. Still they
gained; and the noises they made chilled the blood in my veins, so
diabolical was the sound. My breath grew short, my bow, which I had
continued to hold in my hand, got caught for a second, yet I dared not
let it drop, though it caused me the greatest of trouble.

Behind me now I could almost feel my infuriated foes. I dared to dart a
glance across my shoulder. What a snap-shot picture it was, of awful
forms—half erect and fearfully active,—a picture of monsters, suggestive
of most inhuman humans, with fiery eyes, with hideous muzzles, massive,
prognathous jaws,—with terrible open mouths which were filled with
drooling fangs, and with black, leather-and-iron hands, now on the
ground, now up and reaching, as if to clutch and drag me down!

I knew they would certainly overtake me unless I could do something
desperate at once. I jerked out my knife—recently whetted on a stone. By
the continuously fluttering lightning-shimmer, I chose a spot, ahead,
which was comparatively clear. Then while my flesh fairly crept for my
dread of being reached, I slacked off my speed a trifle and let the
nearest ourang gain a yard.

Suddenly leaping aside, when I bounded to the selected clearing, I swung
around with my arm extended, the knife gripped hard, and quickly aiming
at the monster’s throat, stabbed him with all my might. So great was the
impact of the blow, increased by the brute’s momentum, that his head was
nearly slashed from his body. I saw it lop limberly over on his
shoulder. Then the larger brute behind struck the falling body and both
were toppled together in a heap.

Again like a madman I darted away. In a few seconds on came the now
doubly raging creature, behind. My breathing had become so painful that
it seemed as if I could taste my own blood in my mouth. I dared not stop
and I dared not attempt my trick a second time. A fearful note of wrath
was in the sound which the gaining monster now began to utter. I knew he
was sure he should catch me soon. Before me, abruptly, the growth was as
thick as a hedge. I saw that I must change my course. Baffled, not
knowing what else I could do, I pulled an arrow from my quiver and
notched it on my bow-string as I ran. Then stopping I turned, drew it
quickly and let it drive point blank at my on-rushing foe. It flew too
low, for the string was wet and in no fit condition, and struck the
beast in the fleshy part of the thigh.

Emitting a scream of agony, the brute snapped the shaft short off in the
wound, with his hand. I took advantage of the opportunity, nearly winded
as I was, and plunged desperately through a maze of vines. It caught me,
but I tore away a long wire-like creeper that dragged behind for twenty
feet. And the gnashing ourang, limping on an almost useless leg, came
after me, relentlessly. It seemed like a nightmare—endless, although,
like a terrible dream, it had not been of more than a few minutes
duration from the start.

My bow-string had apparently stretched, and this effect I had increased
when I shot; the weapon was therefore temporarily useless. Had I now
been fresh, I believe I could have beaten the wounded brute in the race,
but I was ready to sink from exhaustion. He got nearer and nearer. What
to do next was more than I could tell.

Panting and fetching my breath by the most painful of efforts, I
blundered heavily through a net-work of branches—and got my second
sudden fall over a bank. This time I struck sitting down—in a stream of
water which, swollen by the rain, was a roaring torrent. It swept me
downward, gasping and battling to keep my head above the surface.

Then with a splash the ourang-outang landed headlong in the flood. He
also came rolling and tumbling along with the turbulent volume of water.
But he clutched an overhanging limb and hauled himself out and up on the
bank, as if he found the plunge exceedingly hateful. Whether he lost the
scent, or whether he was convinced that I also had scrambled out of the
stream, would be hard to determine. Busy as I was to keep from being
drowned, or dashed to death on the rocks, I yet had a flash of relief
and thankfulness to find myself freed of the terrible pursuer.

My bow, to which I had clung with such a desperation, was lost from my
hand when I fell into the torrent. As I righted myself, a trifle, on my
downward sweep, and tried to mark out a branch or a creeper to clutch, a
terrific bolt of lightning struck a tree not a hundred feet below. As if
a thousand cannon had burst, the din and crash of thunder fairly stunned
me for a second where I was. I got a mental photograph of the tree
flying apart in monster splinters, as if a charge of dynamite had rended
it asunder; and then followed a total annihilation of all light and a
downpour of rain which was simply overwhelming.

I was bowled downward helplessly, tossed through a drag of vines that
were growing over the bed of the stream, and then, before I had half
collected my senses—scattered as they were by the stroke of lightning,—I
was shot through an agitated run-way and plunged below my depth in what
I thought to be a large pool of water.

Almost immediately, as I began to swim, on arising to the surface, I
pushed against a great piece of timber on the top of which I climbed
without a moment’s hesitation. Then came a flicker of lightning a mile
away, illuminating all the scene, when I discovered that I was crouching
on a large section of the very tree which the fearful lightning blast
had shattered, and which was floating on the surface of the sheet of
water which I had previously dubbed “My Lake.”



                              CHAPTER XVII
                            SAURIANS AS FOES


As if the culmination of the electric discharge in that particular
quarter had come with the bolt which struck so near myself, there was
almost a complete cessation of pyrotechnics which would have been
visible from the rain-pelted lake. Distant thunder grumbled incessantly,
but the gloom which descended over water and jungle was only rendered
more intense by the fitful glow of light which trembled upward so far
away.

Inasmuch as my log was steady, I sat down as comfortably as possible.
Soaked through as I was, I paid no attention to the drenching shower
which continued. It was warm enough, and while it could hardly be
pleasant, when thus continued such a time, I felt as if it were less
than trifling, after all I had recently undergone. Naturally enough the
shore had no immediate attractions which would tend to make me wish to
paddle in. From the sound of my stream, tumbling noisily into the lake,
I concluded the log could not be drifting to any considerable extent. I
would wait for the light to come before I moved.

One usually feels entitled to suppose that a thunder-shower is fleeting,
here one minute and gone the next, but I was in for a disappointment.
Though the wind had ceased to blow, the lowering clouds continued rank
with rain and apparently as dense as lead. The darkness of the storm
continued till the margin between day and night was passed. I realised
at last that there would be no light till dawn.

“What shall I do?” I muttered aloud, but I knew as I spoke that I would
sit all night on that floating log, wet, somewhat chilled and ravenously
hungry, to say no word of being alone and lost.

The prospect was not exactly bright, but I felt so grateful for my
miraculous escape, and so much more content to be on the water than
alone again for a night in the jungle, that I entertained no fears for
present or future. I tried to think of any duties I owed to myself,
which I ought in reason to perform, and then the obvious impossibility
of doing anything at all made me smile.

It was still early evening when the rain ceased to fall. I laid out full
length on the log, to see if I thought it safe as a position in which to
sleep. It served to ease my joints directly, though I found it as a bed
rather hard and lumpy. Sleep being about the last thing possible, I
remained on my side, gazing absently at nothing, engaged in reviewing my
own mental panorama of events. From time to time I dabbled my hand in
the water, as I always had done when in a boat as a child. I was not so
peaceful as this apparent mood of dalliance might imply, for my brain
was painfully alert, both on the things already done since my memorable
ballooning trip with Ford, and concerning what would happen on the
morrow and the days, weeks and months to come.

In the midst of this business something gently “nosed” my fingers in the
water. I jerked them away quickly enough to have startled anything alive
out of all its wits, but nothing dived or swam away in alarm, so that
after a minute I put my hand downward again and felt it come in contact
with something which was touching against the log. Exultantly then I
grasped this something and pulled it aboard.

It was simply my bow, which had floated down the stream, when I lost it
by striking in the water, and which had drifted in the only current
there was. In this current, of course, the log was also drifting, hence
the coming together.

A feeling as if an old comrade had rejoined me made me joyous, as I held
the weapon up to let it drip. Its return to my hand made me think of and
feel for the arrows. Five were still in my quiver, and having been
protected as they hung on my back, they were as good as ever, except for
the wetness of the feathers. The string of the bow was flabby and
useless. I held this friend in my hand for more than an hour, rubbing
the wood with my palm till it felt as dry as an idol in a temple.

The night advanced. I sat down, lay down and then got up on my feet a
dozen times. Once I fancied the log was drifting in toward the shore.
With my hands I paddled it slowly away. The stars shone brilliantly at
last, for the final cloud had disappeared from the sky. From the jungle
issued sounds in plenty, repetitions of what I had heard before, but I
thought myself secure and tried to catch a bit of sleep.

A night more long than that one on the lake I have never passed. It was
made more interminable by the five-minute slumbers which came to my
senses after midnight. I grew uncomfortably chilly. Two things happened
before the morning finally dawned. The first was that weary nature
asserted herself and I became lost in dreams of that horrible pair of
ourang-outangs; the second was that a breeze sprang up and drifted my
log where it listed.

I awoke with a start, for something struck the log such a blow that it
lurched heavily and all but pitched me end-ways in the water. I sprang
up, on my tossing craft, beholding myself less than quarter of a mile
from the nearest shore and surrounded by the rings of a great ripple
which something had evidently caused on the lake’s surface.

It was morning and already warm. My bow string was not only dry, but it
had shrunk to nearly its old condition. The stream of water down which I
had tumbled was neither in sight nor hearing. I began slowly to realise
the truth; I had drifted almost entirely across the lake. I scanned the
scenery on every side. There were jungle-covered hills in front, the
same, but more distant, behind me, and again the same toward the North,
where the shore was two miles away. To the South I saw familiar slopes
and features of the mountains. This meant that I was looking on the lake
as I had when at work on the boat. Plainly my boat and “home” then, were
northward a goodly distance.

Suddenly, while I was looking about, the maker of all the recent
disturbance appeared—an alligator. He was not very large, but black,
hideous and actively concerned about the log. He must have overlooked me
entirely to have struck such a blow, and then doubtless he had dived for
safety. Now as he jutted up darkly, dividing the waters which rolled off
his revolting head, his two little eyes gleamed with a look which made
me think of my weapons in a hurry.

He came toward me cautiously, circling slowly about. There was nothing
to do but to get an arrow in readiness, and then to wait, but I
shuddered to think of a fight with such a powerful monster. The
creature, I am convinced, thought me a larger one of the monkeys on
which his kind were fond of dining. He presently headed straight for the
log. Knowing he would dive in a moment I shot at him quickly. The arrow
struck him just beneath the eye. It broke and glanced from the tough wet
skin, but a splinter actually struck in his eye-ball and ruined his
sight on that side of his head. He sank like a thing of iron. A second
later the end of the log went heaving up and I was thrown violently off
into the lake.

The log came down with a force that beat up a fountain of spray. I was
struck on the foot by the half-blinded reptile as I struggled to get
back to my place and out of his way. He began furiously to lash the
water as he rammed about in a circle. Rising to the surface like a small
living island, he turned upon me again and came ahead with all his
speed, making me think of a deadly torpedo.

There was no time for arrow or bow, and the latter was gone again in the
bargain, but it took me only half a second to rip out that ever-needed
knife. Over we went, more abruptly than before, the water churning and
boiling up in foam about my ears. He had calculated poorly and now he
closed his awful jaws upon the jagged end of the log, not a foot from my
shoulder. I jabbed at him frantically—stabbing at his other eye which
suddenly popped fairly out of its socket as I pried and gouged with the
end of the blade.

The beast raised a snorting noise at this, which made me ill with fear.
With the power of a whale and the ferocity of a shark he whipped the
water into froth and snapped his jaws in every direction. He was head
on, side on and tail on, alternately, feeling for me and grinding pieces
out of the log whenever he found it. He clawed me once and knocked me
clean over the log with his tail a moment later. I stabbed at him
wildly, but with no effect, a dozen times. I was nearly drowned and the
creature seemed to be everywhere at once.

Had he been able to see me, my life could not have been saved by any
chance, in such a whirlpool of wrathful attacking. I was nearly blinded
by the spray which flew from the waves. The log, which was pitching
madly, with a force only second to the creature’s own, arose abruptly
from a plunge and, like a lever, pried the alligator fairly over on his
back and threw me almost upon him.

I stabbed him twice in the belly, the last blow tearing a deep, wide
hole, as he rolled to right himself, and then to my great astonishment
he dived like a porpoise. I lost not a second in getting on top of the
log. But the water grew calm and a deep red dye came floating up, to
weave a strange device in the ripples.

Breathlessly I waited, for a time that seemed endless. Cautiously I drew
in my bow, which was floating near. At last there came a small commotion
fifteen feet away. The alligator rose, fought a second with the foe
which is Death, and sank again from sight. I believed then that my knife
had reached his heart.

Up to this moment I had taken not so much as a glance toward the shore.
I did so now and discovered myself to be something like fifty yards off.
The breeze had drifted me rapidly while the fight was being waged.
Looking hurriedly about, I saw a rude sort of path, leading into the
jungle from the shore, made through the growth, which all along was so
thick that I could see no beach in either direction. At the same moment
I beheld another huge alligator some distance away, up toward a jutting
point of land.

It took me about an instant to decide that I had experienced all the
alligator tactics I needed. Quietly pushing my bow downward, to sound
the water’s depth, I was surprised and glad to have it strike bottom at
three feet only. Using it then to pole myself and the log forward, I
headed for the trail on shore.

The alligator saw me before I had gone ten feet. He started, full steam
ahead, to overhaul my craft. I worked like a maniac; the monster was
closing up the gap between us with alarming rapidity. My raft was heavy
and deep in the water. Nearer, nearer I drew to the shore, and terribly
nearer came the fierce and hungry saurian.

I had twenty yards, fifteen, ten to make; the creature was hardly more
than five away. In a second he would strike the log. Leaping madly into
the water I dashed to the bank and bounded up a slippery way, less than
six good feet from the creature’s snout.

Knowing I could beat him on the land, I dashed along full speed. Forty
feet up—Lord save me!—it seemed as if the woods were full of the
monsters, several of which moved sluggishly as they heard me coming.
These got no chance to be dangerous, for I ran the gauntlet between them
almost before they were awake. In five minutes more I was clear of the
marshy border of the lake and up on higher ground. Here a large tree,
twined in a thousand folds of the creepers, offered an easy retreat. I
climbed up among its branches and finding a natural seat, where my back
was supported by the extra growth, sat down, weak and winded.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                             THE ENEMY NEAR


In fifteen minutes after I settled myself in the tree, in a position of
comparative ease, I fell into a deep and dreamless slumber. I had not
intended to give up in any such manner, but the warmth, the relief to my
mind and my weariness, combined to send me off before I realised what I
was doing.

It might have been a noise and it could have been pangs of hunger that
awakened me finally. The hour was certainly that of noon, if not later.
I felt hazy in my notions; it required no little blinking to get the
webs from my eyes and brain. Then I heard voices. What was being said
sounded to me like Link language.

I nearly cried out, thinking some of the tribe were near at hand, but
fortunately I was still too lazy and exhausted to make such an effort.
Then a movement attracted my gaze and I saw several Links, sure enough.

But they were black!

I was wide enough awake in a second. I crouched low and got a mass of
leaves between these vengeful creatures and myself, for I knew it would
be death, or worse, if once they clapped eyes upon my form. Peering
furtively down, I saw that all of them were standing perfectly still,
just as if they might have halted abruptly and remained in various poses
of action. There were eight in all, every one of whom was looking
intently at something across the little clearing.

Without moving my body I turned my head and discovered a small black
bear, which was sleepily smelling about and moving through the grass and
giant ferns. Wondering if presently the Links would dart upon the
inoffensive animal and beat it to death with their clubs, I looked them
over carefully. Except that they stood erect, they did certainly look
like close relations of the savage ourangs. Their ears were large,
foreheads low and receding, and jaws tremendously heavy and protuberant.
Their noses were flat and broad, while their eyes, like those of my
friendly Reds, were small, round, near together and nervously watchful.
I was not at all gratified to see them here; I wondered if, being so
near, they had discovered our settlement on the hill. Our settlement!
Would I ever get back to my barbarous company and that “city” again, I
wondered.

The bear shuffled off, with the utmost indifference to anything which
might be near. Then I beheld those black Links, one of whom possessed
the club with the nugget of gold on the end, do precisely what I had
seen my Reds do, the day we were driven into the cave. They crept up to
the tracks which bruin had left in the moist earth and kneeling, as if
in adoration, each placed his forehead down where the bear had trod.
Plainly the creature was held in great reverence and awe by all the
family of Links, whatever their colour. This seemed to me a remarkable
and wholly inexplicable thing.

Two of the fellows, I noted, had fruits and cocoa-nuts in their hands,
having probably gathered them recently for the dinner of the party. They
now parleyed a moment in monosyllables, with the others, the result
being that all of the food was deposited on the ground, doubtless with
the thought that the bear might return and be pleased to find something
to eat. It was doubtless a primitive “sacred” offering. As silently as
so many snakes, the fellows then withdrew, on the side just opposite to
that in which their adored one had disappeared. I heard their voices die
away in the jungle.

In order to be sure that I incurred no risk, I waited for fully fifteen
minutes. The forest was particularly still. Slipping quietly down from
my perch, at last, I possessed myself of those fruits in the twinkling
of an eye, and devouring a part then and there, I ascended to my throne
with all I could carry, and finished a meal, the relish of which
surpasses all human imagination.

When I had done at last and that craving, inward system was fully
gratified, I heaved a big sigh of content and gazed off listlessly into
the ocean of endless verdure. A soft wind fanned lazily by; there was
nothing to threaten my life; the tropics were at their loveliest. As
naturally as it comes to a tired animal, sleep again came creeping
across my senses. Without even moving into an easier position, I slept
away the whole balmy afternoon.

I waked at last and found it was night. How drowsy it was, how blissful
to sleep and sleep. My brain was too dull to receive an impression of
alarm at my being alone in the jungle; I felt that I did not care what
occurred. If anything wished to come and eat me up, it was all right,
but I did wish they might not make me awake while the job was being
done. Howls, death-screams, roars of the prowlers—all made a lullaby
that soothed me more. I turned the other way about, heavily, and sank
again into slumber.



                              CHAPTER XIX
                           ADORATION SCORNED


Nothing was fresher nor keener than I when again the sun touched the
tips of the trees. Asleep one second as soundly as a hibernating
squirrel, I was as sharply awake the next as a ferret in a coop. I shook
myself and stretched.

“Great Scott!” I exclaimed, “that was a nap!”

Swinging down from my berth I ate of the food which was still on the
ground, where the bear had neglected it quite, and then taking my
bearings as best I could, from memory of my imaginary map of the lake, I
struck off through the jungle for “home.”

Of the hours which it took me to force my way between tangles and around
a marsh and over hills and down dales, to accomplish what I thought to
be something like two miles on an air line, I have anything but pleasant
recollections. That I met with many creatures, flocks of parrots and a
troop of apes and monkeys; that I recoiled from a path in which a huge
boa-constrictor was gliding, and that I cursed my luck repeatedly for
ever having landed in such a place, is all a matter of small account,
compared to the fact that I stood at last on a hill and saw our very
camp. I came to it then in less than one more hour of hottest work and
travel.

An excited yell announced my approach before I had walked ten feet on
the slope of our hill. If the Links had been enthusiastic on the morning
after my night with the tiger, they were crazy and flabbergasted all at
once on this occasion. The whole population came tumbling and running
down the slope. They were worse than a pack of great, rough dogs that
nearly knock one endways with delight. They made me fairly wild, the
idiotic things, for my patience was gone to the winds, after my struggle
to win through the jungle, and besides, it was they who had plunged me
into all the trouble. I batted them off with rare satisfaction and
punched a couple of heads in the bargain, but the fools were more
tickled than ever, though I would wager that some of them smarted.

They fell all over one another as they crowded me up the hill, but my
temper rather rose than lowered, for I began to pile my accumulated
grievances up against them. I wanted the whole outfit to understand that
I thought them cowards, for running from a noise, that day in the woods,
and that I now owed nothing to any one in the tribe for my whole skin
and presence once more in “My village.”

When I arrived inside the walls I was made decidedly more angry to find
that Grin had stolen the tiger-skull off my shelter to fasten it up on
the one in which he slept at night, and also by the fact that every
blessed arrow we owned had been shot away by the fellows, as a lot of
inconsequent boys might have done, merely to see them fly and to meddle
with the bows. These bows, by the way, were strewn about on the ground
where everyone kicked them carelessly and walked on them with utter
unconcern.

It took me about one minute to exhibit a bit of temper that scared the
creatures so thoroughly that all but Fatty jumped smartly away and stood
at a distance, eyeing me painfully, ready to fall dead, if such act
could calm me down. Fatty had hastily and exultantly jerked the tiger
relic off from Grin’s abode and fetched it over to mine, after which the
old idiot clung to me patiently through rain of blows and kicks, content
to receive any amount of punishment, but wholly unwilling to leave the
region of my feet. I believe he would have smiled affectionately up in
my face and refused to run away if I had raised my knife to kill him on
the spot.

“You Grin, there,” I snorted in my wrath, “if ever I catch you in
another of your beastly, treacherous tricks, I’ll rip you in two and
beat the pieces on a rock!”

The females, seeing in a moment that the fawner was the chief object of
my anger, and cordially hating the fellow in the bargain, pinched him
and struck him and bit him on the shoulders till he was constrained to
run away to preserve his miserable hide. Had they killed him at once I
confess I should have been delighted to witness the deed.

I moved about, with Fatty, in the fine large circle which the troubled
but respectful Links maintained, while I drank some water and ate up a
mango which was left in one of the baskets. This was evidently taken as
a favourable sign, for immediately old and young, male and female made a
great demonstration of procuring me anything and everything that Link or
Link-governor could possibly desire to eat, in hopes of propitiating the
demon of temper which they readily comprehended was raging within me.



                               CHAPTER XX
                          THE CHIEF IS PLEASED


My indignation having produced a wholesome effect, I decided not to be
placated readily by anything, and determined thereafter to maintain a
certain strictness which should compel a greater respect. It is not
entirely a human characteristic for a creature to grow too familiar when
treated with easy-going indulgence, for I have often seen dogs and other
animals impose on good nature with manners almost insolent.

For several days I treated the Links somewhat harshly, requiring much
work on the boat and on more of the arrows. I encouraged also a species
of fear which I found my conduct had created. It was high time, I knew,
to dominate the creatures, unless I was willing that they should
dominate me.

They were quick to see that I rarely even threatened physical violence,
however, and this soon tended to give them a confidence about
approaching my “sacred” person. I had been in hopes that my gruffness
and show of impatience had so discouraged the albino female that she
would keep her distance, for she did exhibit a becoming timidity for a
time, but this gradually wore away. I was exceedingly annoyed to
observe, not only that her disquieting symptoms were returning, but also
that she manifested greater ardour than ever before. My efforts to
appear disagreeable were producing an effect exactly the opposite of
what I desired.

That trouble would be brewed again I felt was inevitable. The chief had
somewhat manifested a spirit of doubt and alarm, in common with the
others, when he found me aroused, but this he was daily attempting to
overcome. I could see that the fire of jealousy, especially in regard to
the manœuvres of his fickle and silly mate was getting more assertive.
It could only be a matter of time till his animal-rage would burst all
bounds, and then—one or the other of us would get hurt, for I had early
decided that my life was quite as important as his, and I therefore
watched him narrowly, always.

The work on the boat and weapons was progressing, but I was all
impatience to make things ready for my contemplated flight. In the midst
of this state of affairs, the albino increased her advances, by bolder
demonstrations. Exasperated beyond endurance, I seemed powerless to
perform anything which should end the matter decisively. Upon coming
from my shelter, one morning, after having been to the spring, I saw her
down the hill, adoring my tracks.

She was on “all fours,” worshipping, by placing her forehead on the
ground where I had stepped, just as Reds and Blacks had done to the
tracks of the bear. She was obviously in a state of ecstasy which was
most insane. She had never before proceeded so far as this, to my
knowledge. It made me boil with wrath. I should have liked to box her
ears smartly. How alert and “secret” she was in her unseemly behaviour
was demonstrated by the activity with which she made off when her chief
appeared around the slope.

Two days later I was exceptionally provoked to find this female within a
rod of my dug-out, indulging in more of this madness. Moreover she was
being observed by the angry chief, although I was not aware of this at
the moment. So disgusted and desperate did I feel that I stepped quickly
to a rock, whereon my tortoise basin was standing, filled with water in
which I had washed, and grabbing it up I jumped toward her and dashed
the contents all over her head and body, while she was still upon the
ground, adoring.

She was simply wild. A wet cat could not begin to be half so surprised,
indignant and outraged as her ladyship became, instantly. She leaped to
her feet, gasping, dripping, shuddering at the contact of all that
water, her mouth wide open, her eyes afire with the light of sudden
hatred and fury. Not even a “woman scorned” could have been so ready to
shred my flesh from my bones. I thought for a second she would fly at my
throat, in her passion, and gouge out my eyes, but the fiendish laughter
of the chief and of ten or a dozen other females—who, of course, had
seen the whole performance—turned her attention. This derision, however,
made her face the more diabolical in its expressions of wrath.

Fortunately what the lady said to myself was wholly unintelligible, for
I had mastered hardly as much as twenty of their “words” at the time.
But I was left no room for doubt that the language was as “burning” as
it was impetuous. I laughed with the others; indeed the whole thing
struck me as being so comical that I was fairly doubled over with
unrestrained merriment. This acted like oil on a blazing fire, and being
no longer able to control herself at all, the drenched female dashed
madly off to the edge of the woods, to vent her rage as best she could.
The chief was immensely pleased.

In the immunity from the female’s attentions and the consequent jealousy
of her mate which I now enjoyed, I drove the work with hearty zest. The
boat was all but finished, yet it needed digging out at least two inches
more, and this I felt to be important, knowing how heavy was the log of
which it was made. I had even fashioned a pair of oars, the blades of
which were firmly lashed to the handles, but by then our tools of flint
were almost entirely useless. Many had been lost and all had been more
or less broken. The work actually ceased for lack of these necessary
implements.

I set my fellows to digging up the ground, in the hope of unearthing
more of the pebbles which furnished the flint. In the forest, where the
soil was damp, we found a white, efflorescent substance in great
abundance, near the surface. This, from its peculiar taste and general
appearance, I knew to be common saltpetre, doubtless of value to the
commercial world, but of no account to me when I wanted flint. We tried
the hillsides and various localities, but not one of the precious
chalcedony pebbles could we find.

The suggestion occurred to me at once that we could go to the old camp
and dig all we needed, but this presented difficulties which aroused my
impatience. I desired to get away before additional complications could
arise. As a matter of fact, I was watching Grin very closely for
evidence of further duplicity, which I thoroughly expected to detect,
soon or late. If once I could find the outlet of the lake, I thought, I
would say good-bye to these half-animal beings without the slightest
pang of regret, for they grated on me daily, more and more.

I determined to launch the boat as it was and begin my explorations.
This work we undertook one sultry morning. The clay which I had
plastered over the surface of the wood, where I had wished to protect it
from the fire, was baked hard. We broke it away in pieces, and when it
was off and the boat turned bottom downwards, I felt exceedingly proud
of the work and gratified to find the craft in much better shape than I
had thought to be possible.

It was placed on the rollers, after no little amount of pulling and
hauling, and we were all engrossed with the preparations to shove her
across the intervening beach to the water, when without the slightest
warning there was a sudden rush and yelling about us, and we were almost
instantly surrounded by a force of the savage black Links from the
jungle.



                              CHAPTER XXI
                          WAR WITH THE BLACKS


Wholly unprepared as we were for this attack, and with the only clubs we
had lying about in the grass, it seemed as if we should be overwhelmed
in a moment and killed where we stood. My fellows, however, were not
only marvellously quick to regain their weapons, but they also set up a
series of cries which alarmed the camp on the moment.

A score of fighters had been left in the settlement that morning, to
prepare the skins of animals recently taken, and to point some arrows
with what flints we had remaining. These now came running down the hill,
not with the bows and arrows, as I had hoped they might, but with their
usual weapons.

Before our reinforcements could arrive, the Blacks rushed in and killed
two of my workers as if they had been a pair of helpless worms. We were
in the midst of a mass of the black devils, about three to our one,
making terrible sounds of triumphant yelling and snarling. Fortunately
the chief was with us, and now his great crystal club retaliated on one
of the foremost enemies and cleared a space for a moment, while I
hurriedly pushed my fellows back to back in hollow-square order, and
tried to let them know we must move all we could toward our hill, as we
fought.

The Blacks were fiercely impetuous—mad to wipe us out. They dashed upon
us with total lack of order, and therefore we beat down many before they
killed one more of our number. Had my fellows not been used to obeying
what I ordered, I could not have kept them formed together for a moment.
It was only this condition of semi-order which saved us from total
annihilation, for our mad antagonists rushed the fray with most
inconsequent violence and force.

There was singular din of blows—clubs on flesh and clubs on clubs,—cries
of rage and agony and shouted words—both of Linkish and English. It was
a spectacle of wildest action, the quick, muscular Blacks, inconceivably
savage, dancing, leaping about and hurling themselves upon us, their
clubs fairly flaying the air, their faces fiendish with animal ferocity,
teeth revealed and eyes darting fire of hatred, while we were equally
wrought up, vicious and thirsty for blood, smashing them down, waging
war of defense and war of vindictive aggression.

They were winning, crowding us too near together, beating our outside
fighters to death and dragging them feet first into a melee of
descending clubs, when our mates descended on the rear of the ones
between ourselves and camp, and broke the cordon completely. They
screamed with hideous delight as they bowled over a dozen of the foe,
but over-confidence would have cost us every life—and the Lord only
knows what after results—had my comrades not understood and obeyed my
commands to fly, for we were still outnumbered by heavy odds. Pushing my
Red fellows, guiding and endeavouring to retire them in order, I
suddenly saw a club coming straight for my neck. I dodged, but got a
scrape along the scalp and a thud on the shoulder, when I drove home my
knife for the first time during the fight, and ripped it out from a
three-cornered wound. Then we darted through the battered-down opening
in the ring and ran as hard as we could drive for the camp.

Up the hill we surged with the Blacks swarming up behind us. We had
gained fifty yards, owing doubtless to our perfect familiarity with the
ground; nevertheless a pair of our wounded fell behind and were
overtaken and beaten to a pulp at once. Through the gate in our wall we
scrambled, and then I got my bow in hand at last and flew about
frantically, shouting and urging my fellows to arm themselves with the
others.

While only about twenty of us rushed back to the wall as archers, the
foremost Blacks, outstripping their comrades, bounded through the
opening, or over the wall, insane with the hoarded rage of former
defeats, and ignorant of what they should find. The chief had halted
just inside, with two of his mightiest fighters. They smashed down Link
after Link that attempted to rush the gate. Then we with the bows
arrived on the scene. The black demons in solid phalanx stormed the wall
and came climbing up over its top.

“Now! Now!” I cried, “Shoot the pigs!”

It made me thrill to see those powerful fellows making crescents of the
bows. My heart leaped exultantly to hear the twangs and to see the small
but deadly shower of arrows suddenly pierce the air and sink in the
scabbards of flesh. The very first flight toppled five of the creatures
endways.

“Shoot! Pigs!” I shouted again, for these two words my Links
comprehended.

More came running to join us with the bows. We spread out in something
of a line. The air became thick with the hurtling arrows. Some struck
the wall and some flew high, but we mowed down many a Black, dead or
wounded, till the fierce attacking devils were appalled to see us and to
see this mysterious work of slaughter.

They halted; the back-bone of their mad impulse was broken; they could
not endure to advance in the face of fatalities about them, much less to
carry the place, over the bodies of their fellows. Yet they were still
more than we in numbers, and had they known of and adopted the bloody
tactics which sacrifice many, in those heroic, irresistible charges by
which men win a fearful battle, they would still have swept us off the
hill to the forest beyond, for our meagre supply of arrows was nearly
exhausted already.

Below the wall they rallied. The fellow who was armed with the
gold-nugget club—which was dripping with gore—seemed to be in command.
He flourished his terrible weapon and fired the Blacks with courage
anew. They came for us, hot and eager to even up the score.

I saw the great ebon creature head their charge, and notching my last
remaining arrow on my bowstring, I waited for him, in great excitement.
They paid no attention to the gate, but crying out madly, swarmed up
over the wall again as if nothing on earth could check their career.
Those of my fighters who still had arrows shot with vengeance in every
vibrating muscle. The Black who led, presented a splendid target,
presently, though he was moving quickly. I let the shaft drive straight
for his breast, but he was leaping downward at the second it arrived,
and it struck him squarely in the top of the left shoulder, near the
neck and just inside the collar-bone. It seemed for a second as if it
had gone in half its length, but beyond stumbling forward a trifle when
he landed, the fellow appeared to have received no harm.

I heard a cry of despair go up from the Blacks when they saw their
leader struck, but I gave no heed to anything, so intent had I become on
watching this active creature. I was so absorbed, indeed, that before I
realised what was occurring, the fellow had bounded near enough to swing
his club to slay me where I stood. Half falling backward to escape, I
lost my footing. The club came swiftly through the air, my arm was
knocked aside and the nugget thumped ponderously on my ribs and bowled
me end over end.

It had all happened in a second. I was down and knew I was badly hurt
before I could have winked. I thought the furious Black would rush upon
me and batter in my head, for I could not have risen to save myself from
anything. But the savage creature fell dead in his tracks for my arrow
had found his heart and he had died even as he struck that powerful
blow. Had he not been fatally hit, his blow would have slain me
outright.

In the meantime, my fellows, having brought down three of the foe with
arrows, had grabbed up their clubs again to beat in the heads of the
Blacks who dared jump down in the field of death. Seeing their chief as
he sank, without so much as the flicker of a movement, the remaining
besiegers gave a yell of dismay and fled in a panic.

Our forces—savage and aggressive the moment the tables were
turned—became the hunters instead of the hunted. They descended upon the
flying Blacks, slaying all the wounded who hobbled in the rear of the
wild retreat and all whom they overtook before the jungle received its
defeated children back.



                              CHAPTER XXII
                         HOME JOYS AND TROUBLES


I must have swooned, for I knew no more of anything until I awoke, in a
dazed condition, and found old Fatty bending down above me, while near
at hand nearly all the beings of the tribe stood gazing on my prostrate
form with expressions of grave concern.

Upon trying to arise I was so shot through with pain in my side and
chest, that I felt things go dizzy directly. Then after a little I
attempted to move to a more comfortable position. This was accomplished
only at the cost of great agony. I found that my left arm was badly
injured while all the upper portion of my body seemed quivering with
pain. Never had I been so wounded in my life.

I asked for water, for the Links were but little better than so many
faithful dogs, who could whine over my helpless carcass, but who had not
the slightest idea of what to do to relieve my suffering. Never had
muscular action caused me such pangs as I underwent upon trying to
swallow. The thump I had received, slightly back of the region of the
heart, had come so near to being my pass to the world beyond that I
believe another volt of power in the blow would have done the work. As
it was, I refrained from crying out only by exerting my utmost will,
when the chief and Fatty carried me bodily and laid me down on the skins
in my shelter.

My consciousness went again as soon as my body touched the couch; yet I
rallied soon and attempted to nod my recognition as the chief came back
again, bearing the great gold-nugget club, which he leaned against the
wall.

It became manifest early that if I survived the shock to my system and
the fracture of at least one rib, which I felt sure had resulted from
the blow, it must be through sheer good luck, backed by a hardy
constitution, for of lotions, or bandages or skillful attendance there
could be absolutely none.

That night I experienced the most excruciating torture it has ever been
my lot to endure. Every beat of my heart was like the stab of a dagger,
in feeling. Concussion, even that inflicted by a fist, has proved too
much for the great throbbing organ of man full many a time. I thought of
this afterward, but during that first twenty-four hours, I was utterly
incapable of doing anything except living through the ordeal of pain.

All through the day that followed I lay there, feverish, yet too badly
hurt to move on my bed. I ate nothing and drank water only, in single
swallows. Fatty remained at my side as a mother might have done. Fifty
times that day he ran to the spring for the fresh, cool water, as that
which stood about in a shell for half an hour became too warm to be fit
to drink. After a time he licked one of my burning hands, timidly, as if
uncertain of how this ministration would be received. It felt cool and
not at all disagreeable; I therefore made no motion to draw the member
away. Presently the worried creature repeated the favour; and after he
had done this humble office for both hands and wrists, I felt so soothed
and refreshed that I fell asleep at last, and got a natural rest.

Day after day went by and I was still on my back, though I could see
that improvement continued steadily. It was fully a week before I was
able to move without suffering agonies, and for some time after that the
pain in my ribs was exceedingly sharp. During all this time I was amply
supplied by Fatty with fruits and with abominably cooked meats, for the
females were neglecting all my former instructions, concerning the fire
and the roasting and boiling of game.

As soon as I was able to sit up, propped against a rock, I worked a
little every day at making arrows, and urged my most skillful assistants
to do the same. These shafts could not be pointed, owing to our lack of
flints, but we finished several hundred, as to all but the requisite
heads. I was visited daily by all the tribe, except two individuals,
Grin and the unforgiving Lady Albino. The little Links who had fled in
uncertainty before, even up to the last, now began to make me more of a
regular companion. They were near me, more or less, from dawn till dusk,
capering about, sitting in groups in the sunlight, to watch me with
ever-nervous eyes, and rolling over one another in rough, good-natured
play.

The very smallest of these “children” were hairy little scamps most
astoundingly like baby chimpanzees, except for their lighter colour. By
the hour I watched them at their play and listened to their funny little
words of talk. It was not an ordinary baby prattle, to be sure, but it
made me think that all babies are very much alike. Their chief amusement
consisted in making a noise, by striking any two objects together. The
rarest things they did were crying and laughing.

There was one little chap who never rolled on his back with the others,
never made a noise and rarely spoke. He was the only one that looked in
my face with eyes that were human-like and steady. I fancied his quaint
little face was wistful; it was certainly serious and therein widely
different from those of all his companions. This little creature
approached me most timidly and yet with a certain persistency that
finally made me look about, in the morning, to see if he had come.

For several days he sat near my feet, over which, finally, he laid his
little arm. Gradually then he worked nearer and nearer to my head, as I
sat against the rock until at last he cuddled unobtrusively up against
me and permitted my arm to close loosely about his little form.
Thereafter this was his one particular place. Hour after hour he would
nestle close in this, his nook, turning his questioning eyes to mine,
now and again, and blinking as if he tried to think out the great
inscrutable problem of what we are and why we came to partake of the
mystery of life. How foolishly fond of this little creature I became, I
shall not attempt to say.

This was a time of laziness for all the tribe. The Links were sun-lovers
of the most ardent description. Secure on our hill, undriven by any
task-master, provided with food in plenty, they basked for hours, lying
flat on the back, and played exaggerated pranks, sometimes in a languid
spirit of ease and sometimes with the greatest activity of movement.
They appeared to know nothing of family ties, nor of sorrow for those
whom they had been obliged to bury. They had no remorse, nor “pricks of
conscience” for any acts ever performed, nor did they seem to have
conceived of anything superior to themselves, except in a purely
physical manner. Thus they realised nothing of an occult, spiritual
power of control and nothing of mystery, either in life or death. They
therefore had not the slightest fundamental suggestion of a religion,
and worshipped nothing and feared nothing, save that which they could
see and which they had discovered, in their animal capacity, to be
dangerous to life or limb. They could be made to feel a certain sort of
awe, but this was one slight degree only above that emotion which in an
animal would excite the expression “the creature is cowed.”

I had ample opportunity to become acquainted with the various traits of
my friends, for I was something of an invalid for more than two weeks. I
came to the conclusion that the Links were keener than I in every
natural sense; that is, they could see things more quickly; they could
hear that which escaped my duller ears; they could smell odours which
failed to convey themselves to me; and they could “feel” dangers by a
sort of unknown sense, or instinct, of which I would always remain in
complete ignorance. They were highly organised in the natural
attributes; they were powerful and active above any animal of their size
I have ever seen; but when thought of as humans, they ranked with
children who just fail to clutch the ideas of older people and whose
efforts in manufacturing are crude and worthless.

When at last I began to walk about again, performing small labours, I
still had an occasional dart of pain through my side, which made a
feeling of illness spread all through my system. However, the weather
was beautiful, the food simple and wholesome and the work soon began to
limber me up.

Before I was quite myself again, I commenced to be exceedingly annoyed
by the actions of Grin. Although I had been the recognised superior, if
not the governor, of the tribe at the moment when I laid low the chief
of the Blacks and completed our victory, yet my wound and subsequent
weakness had rendered nearly everything nugatory. Inasmuch as my
nearness to death had robbed me of the power by which I kept the Links
in awe, many had assumed an irreverent air which became positive
insolence on the part of the fawner.

Having allied himself with the resentful female albino, this creature
was never neglectful of an opportunity to perform some sneaking bit of
meanness. For a time I was too weak to resent these impositions, and
therefore the creature grew bolder in the liberties which he dared to
take. Thus my tiger skull had again disappeared, and I knew he had
stolen it, although I had no means of proving the theft. One morning,
however, I caught the scoundrel in the act of smashing my turtle-shell
basin with a rock. His reason for doing this was two-fold. First, it had
contained the water with which I had dampened the ardour of Madame
Albino, and second, it was regarded by all as something uncanny out of
which I drew a certain power as I washed my face and hands—an operation
of which none of the tribe was ever guilty. Grin may have thought to
deprive me of my source of strength.

This wanton destruction of my property made me exceedingly angry. Before
he could leave the scene of his labour I rushed up and gave him a kick
which was decidedly swift. It assisted him to rise with great alacrity.
He turned with a snarl and threw himself upon me. A fight was on in less
than a second. I had feared this collision for several weeks. It had
come at a bad time for me, inasmuch as the creature was twice as strong
as I, even when in my normal state, and now I was far from being
restored to my former condition.

We wrestled for a moment, the beast attempting to bite, scratch and
choke me and to bear me down to the ground. I threw him off for a moment
and Fatty would have jumped him instantly—and killed him, no doubt, with
his club—had I not waved him off abruptly. I was gratified to know that
a friend was near, but I desired to show the Links, who assembled at
once, that I was master when it came to a battle. This decision nearly
cost me my life, for the brute gave me a wrench that brought back
agonies which were well nigh insupportable, while I was knocking his
hideous head aside from an attempted bite at my cheek.

For a second I regretted that Fatty had not batted off his head, for I
felt as if I should drop from weakness. But when he dug his nails in my
arm the smart aroused such a rage that my strength came flooding upward,
like a gush of something hot in my blood. I had warded off many of his
lunges and was waiting for an opening as if I had been engaged in
boxing. The chance presented itself now. He was leaping toward me
viciously when I “slugged” him with all my might, fairly in the pit of
the stomach. My fist actually seemed to sink into the fellow’s body. He
was lifted off his feet, but before he could fall I fetched him a
right-hander under the chin that jolted his head backward abruptly.

He fell like an effigy, arms outstretched, so that the back of his skull
was the first thing to strike the ground. There he lay, limp as a snake
and motionless as a stone, while a referee could have “counted him out”
for the next twenty minutes. A great howl of satisfaction greeted this
performance, which placed me again on my pedestal of incomprehensible
power. The truth of the matter was, however, that I was ready to fall
over, myself, so severe had been the strain and the injury done to my
weakened frame. By the greatest of efforts I walked away and washed
myself at the spring.

Grin, when at last he again assumed a perpendicular, was dizzy on his
legs, ill and altogether a sorrowful object. I knew his head was aching
and that his stomach would be morbidly sensitive for several days. He
was hooted and picked upon also, having been utterly defeated, so that
he was glad to retire from active service, muttering no end of what I
supposed were threats and maledictions.

I was of precious little account to myself, or to any of the tribe, that
day, but on the morrow I was mending rapidly again, and beginning to
pick up various threads of the plans I had fashioned before our fateful
day of battle with the Blacks.

It was long since anyone from the camp had visited the boat, but my
thoughts had been there much of the time. I had feared, daily, another
invasion by the enemy, whom I knew to be revengeful and who now
understood the nature of our fortifications and means of defense. This
feeling of alarm increased. Should they come, with a force still greater
than the last, and find us armed with blunt arrows only, our resistance
would be short indeed. I dared not contemplate undertaking my
exploration of the lake, much less my escape, while we were possibly
threatened with another attack and while I was weaponless myself,
excepting for my trusty knife.

Being almost wholly fit again I determined to make an immediate
excursion to our old cave-camp for the purpose of securing a supply of
chalcedony pebbles.



                             CHAPTER XXIII
                       NEEDED MUNITIONS GATHERED


My preparations consisted merely of acquainting a score of the Links
with my desire and of selecting six of the most suitable of our baskets
for use in bringing the flints to our village. More of the fighters than
I wanted were eager to be of the party, but I deemed it advisable to
leave a number at home with the females and children.

We got an early start and headed in what I had calculated to be the
right direction. In this calculation I had been guided solely by my
memory of our camp and its position, relatively to the lake, as seen
that day from the top of the old volcanic peak. Pushing ahead as rapidly
as possible, and spending no time on the game which we naturally
encountered in the jungle, we traversed several miles without coming
upon anything with which my friends were familiar, so that I soon gave
up hoping that they would be of much assistance in finding the former
dwelling place. From what I knew of them now, I was convinced that none
ever proceeded far from camp in any direction. Their longest marches
were accomplished when they felt obliged to abandon a settlement, and I
believe that even then they rarely travelled more than five or six miles
at the furthest.

After another hour of pushing along we emerged from the forest into a
small, low valley which was nearly all a swamp and at the head of which
was a mountain of considerable height. This place discouraged me deeply
for I had believed I should really discover some guiding landmark, on
clearing the woods. That we had gone somewhat in the wrong direction
there could be no doubt, for I was sure we had travelled far enough, by
this, to have passed the old cave, had it been on our line of march.

The day was excessively hot and I was weary and sleepy, being still a
bit soft after my troubles, but I was annoyed at the thought of being
baffled. I determined to climb the mountain, for the sake of the
enlarged prospect to be had from its summit, and therefore we toiled up,
slowly, through a dense growth that covered the lower part of the slope.

Upon reaching the summit, I gave a cry of delight. I had recognised the
elevation as being the very same volcanic peak which Fatty and I had
ascended together, and which the party of us now had approached from the
opposite side. This gave me my bearings at once. I could all but see the
old camp below, when we had crossed the ancient, filled-in crater. I
pointed out the lake, and I made out the true direction of our fortified
settlement far away on its miniature hill. We started down in a hurry,
for even the Links knew the way after this. I might have thought of
nothing but the flints we were after had I not fairly stumbled against
the out-jutting ledge of sulphur which I had discovered on the previous
visit.

“Why here,” I said aloud, unthinkingly, “I believe I’ll take a load of
this to camp. By jingo, boys, I’ll make a lot of gunpowder!”

Sulphur here, saltpetre at home, charcoal to be had for the burning, my
thoughts ran like lightning over the possibilities thrust into my
unwitting hand. Powder? To be sure I could make powder! I would make a
ton of it—all we wanted and more! I would provide myself with a keg or
two and take it along with me when I left in my boat to escape. But how
I would use it, what I could do with the dangerous stuff, when once I
had it—having no guns and no cannon—this was more than I could tell.
Indeed this part of the proposition floored me at once, but with a ready
refuge in postponing the working out of this trifling problem, I
dismissed it from my brain completely and had my fellows assist me in
breaking off enough of the purest of the mineral to fill two baskets
heaping full.

Two Links were required to each basket, when it came to bearing this
cargo away, but I meditated that some wholesome labour was precisely
what they needed. We reached the old camp shortly. There were the rocks
thrown up to cover the mouth of the cave, which had threatened to be our
tomb, but the grass and ferns had overgrown the spot and much of the
rock heaps, to such an extent that no one could have guessed that a camp
or a fire had ever been located in or about the clearing.

The ravine, where the tribe had buried its dead, presented its former
appearance. We set to work without delay and in less than thirty minutes
the pebbles were accumulating with gratifying rapidity. I was careful to
select the ones best suited to our sundry requirements. Those in some of
the baskets I covered with soil, in order to keep their moisture from
departing before we should have the time necessary to split them and
chip out the arrow-heads, axes and knives.

It was something of a giant task to convey our baskets away, when I
finally had them loaded to my satisfaction, but the Links were
tremendously strong, and all were willing to make the greatest possible
exertion, that day, to gratify my wishes. We ate a lunch of fruits and
some cold meat which I had carried along, after which we made a
“bee-line” for home. But I fear that any self-respecting bee would have
been much ashamed of such a line as ours became before we issued forth
from the trees, at last, in sight of the hill.

When we arrived, a great surprise was in store for all. Grin, the
fawner, had disappeared—run away. The news was received with
indifference by the chief, and with evident gladness by not a few of the
others. When at last it was made intelligible to me, I knew not whether
to rejoice or to be concerned and suspicious of something impending.



                              CHAPTER XXIV
                         EXPERIMENTAL GUNPOWDER


Our work of creating things of flint began that same day, although the
afternoon was far advanced when we arrived. I was in a fever to complete
our preparations against any future aggressions on the part of the
enemy, particularly as I had a growing conviction that Grin, the
deserter and treacherous devil, had gone straight away to hunt for the
Blacks. I believed his sole intention was that of betraying his kind and
thereby of wreaking a vengeance for all the punishments which he had
rightfully undergone.

All the questions I could ask about the fellow, through the medium of my
few words in Linkish and my signs, which were supplemented by my native
language, failed to elicit any satisfactory information. Having too much
to do to spend my time in thinking of the beast, I set my selected
assistants to work at splitting out slabs of flint.

The greater part of the pebbles, I had my fellows bury in a moist, shady
place, for, labour as diligently as we might, we could not complete the
work on a third of the stone, as I knew, before the hot air would begin
to render the stuff as hard as glass and quite unworkable.

During all next day we were at it, hammering, chipping and forming. Four
fellows, clever at binding were heading the arrows already provided, and
lashing hatchets and knives to handles. That night, by way of a pleasant
diversion, I secured some fragments of charcoal, and reducing this and
some of my sulphur and nitre to a flour, mixed the three together and
ground the grayish substance for a time, between two stones. Such a dust
arose that I was obliged to sprinkle the stuff with a few drops of
water. This seemed to help it in combining, but do my best, I could not
make the mixture resemble gunpowder in the slightest degree. Having just
about decided to give the task over, as one presenting difficulties too
great for me to cope with successfully, I took a palm-full of my
material and, by way of experiment, threw it on the fire.

Instantly the well-known hiss resulted and a dense cloud of pungent
smoke arose with such a quickness that I stumbled backward from the
place, involuntarily. Only Fatty and one or two others of the Links
beheld this exhibition, the others being already asleep. The fright
depicted on the faces of this small but select audience was a wonderful
thing to see. I determined at once to set about burning a quantity of
charcoal, for already I had conceived an idea that it might be possible
to utilise the explosive to advantage, and I intended at least to give
my scheme a trial.

On the day that followed, the first thing I did was to have the Links
collect a lot of wood, the softest and driest I could find. This I
heaped up in a conical pile and walled in snugly with turf and a little
of the clay, which was everywhere about us. When it was lighted and
smoking slightly through various small chinks, I banked it up around the
bottom and returned to the work on the flints.

Before we got through with those pebbles we had rough but serviceable
arrow-heads by the hundreds, knives in plenty, hatchets for all, with
some to spare, and sixty or eighty spear-heads, which were bound to
long, stout hafts, in the regular course of finishing up. I reserved for
my own personal arsenal two axes, two knives and fifty of the finest
arrows in the lot. Also I assumed a general command, as custodian, over
all the weapons and utensils in the tribe’s possession.

No sooner were the armaments complete than I went to my powder-making
with indefatigable vigour, thankful for every day that passed without
bringing the foe, which I dreaded and thoroughly expected to see come
swarming up the slope from the woods. I made my fellows pound up
charcoal till some were nearly as black as the enemy for whom we were
preparing. The powdered stuff we placed in the baskets, several of which
I plastered inside with clay, which dried hard and firm. The saltpetre,
which we dug and brought up the hill, was treated in a similar manner,
as was also the sulphur. Anyone to have seen me directing this business
would have thought I intended to supply an old-fashioned navy with
explosives.

During these days I in nowise neglected the archery practice, which
alone could make my warriors capable of using the weapons to advantage.
We shot at a target the size of a man, which I fashioned out of skins
and heavy palm leaves. This being backed by a sort of hedge, constructed
of bamboo and more of the leaves, we lost but few of the arrows
employed. And the arrows used were not from our pointed stock, though
they were whittled sharp on the end, so that many pierced the target as
neatly as a bullet. Thirty of my force grew decidedly efficient, being
accurate, strong shots who could be relied upon to perform good work on
any attacking party. We also used the spears, in the throwing of which
the Links took great delight. I was sure that come what might, the
fellows would never again be so primitive as they were when first I met
them in the jungle. Whether I left them or not, they would hereafter
possess weapons which would place them far above the Blacks in point of
capacity to kill.

One of the greatest difficulties with which I had to contend, while
making my powder, was the frequent coming of rain. This threatened to
make it all too wet to be of any use. There were also many days when a
thick, damp fog rolled upward from the lower levels, slowly evolving
into a ponderous cloud which covered all the jungle-world. The baskets
containing the pulverized materials were doubly protected, however, by
skins, and the roofs of the special dug-outs which we made, but the
roofs were never entirely water-tight.

Being unacquainted with the recognised formulæ for mixing various
powders, I simply took about three parts charcoal to one each of nitre
and sulphur, and set the Links to grinding these substances together,
slightly dampening the whole as before. The grayish stuff, which I
regarded finally as the best product of which we were capable, I stored
away, next to my own shelter. There must have been two hundred pounds of
this powder, the making of all of which had only occupied us for a short
time, after the several ingredients in their rough state had been
assembled.

In order to impress the tribe with the urgent necessity of keeping all
fire away from the baskets, I dropped a glowing coal into a handful as
it lay on a rock. The vivid flash did so much to accomplish my purpose
that I could hardly get the Links to approach the dangerous mixture
under any circumstances whatsoever.

My next step now was to visit the swamp where the thicket of bamboo
flourished. In this place, as I had expected, there were all sizes of
this peculiar tree-reed, but the largest ones appealed to me most
strongly. I carried off what I thought I should need, and selecting the
driest of my stock, cut off a large section behind the joint, on one
end, and in front of the next joint on the other. The piece then
resembled quite a cannon, without further ado.

This thing I was aware was much too brittle to stand an explosion, but I
meant to try it, nevertheless. To begin with I bored a vent through the
hard, thick shell, near the end that was naturally plugged. Then I
reinforced that plug by lashing a stone across the end firmly. Next I
split some more bamboo and laid the strips lengthwise along the barrel,
thus doubling the thickness, after which I had the whole thing stoutly
wound about with tough, slender creepers, till I was sure it would
resist a powerful tendency to burst.

What to do for a fuse, when at length my piece of mountain artillery was
loaded—with powder and rocks—puzzled me no little.

The thing was “mounted” half way down the hill, pointed toward an
imaginary foe, and was amply weighted with rocks at the sides and on the
top. At length I hit upon a plan for the fuse. It was simply to split a
creeper, the outside of which we frequently employed, and to pull out
the smooth, wire-like core inside, and then to fill the space so left
hollow, with powder. In the sun this shell of the creeper dried out
rapidly, rolling up so tightly in the process that it squirmed itself
into several twists. This “habit” of the thing was exactly what was
required, for when the powder was laid along inside, the chances for it
to trickle out were exceedingly meagre.

About thirty feet of this fuse I laid to the “gun,” with stones along
its length to keep it properly in place. Then, with a thumping heart
under my shirt, I proceeded down the hill, alone, with a fire-brand
glowing hotly in my fist. I looked all about, when I came to the match,
and selected my path back up to the camp. Then I touched the end of the
creeper—and jerked my fire away, quickly.

There was no alarming sputter after all. I tried again. The creeper
smoked, giving forth a pungent odour, but the powder must have fallen
out for a short distance. I cut off six or seven inches and had the
satisfaction of seeing powder in plenty. This time it lighted and began
to spit in a hurry. I darted off, stopped, looked back, saw a tiny
smoke-snake running down the hill, and again I ran as hard as I could,
momentarily expecting something tremendous to happen behind my back.

To my surprise I reached the camp and nothing had occurred. I turned
about and looked, panting and yet attempting to hold my breath. There
was nothing to be seen, save the heap of rocks where my “battery” was
planted. I waited and waited. The seconds slipped by; the Links behind
me were as silent as the grave. My heart ceased its violent jumping; the
thing was going to prove a failure; the Links would think me a fool.

“I’ll have to go down and see what’s the matter,” I grumbled. “That fuse
is no good.”

I had taken two steps when suddenly a great flare of fire leaped upward,
the side of the hill appeared to fly into fragments and a roaring
detonation split the silence into a thousand ringing reverberations. A
cushion of air gave us all a push, and a huge geyser of smoke went
upward in rolling, billowy gushes. I wondered in that second, how many
pounds of that powder I had put in the “piece” in my natural anxiety to
give it a good, square trial.

Something screamed weirdly in the air, while we stood speechless, and
presently it came whirring down, a rod below the wall, striking the
ground with a sounding thud.

Yelling in dismay, the second they recovered power to do anything, the
Links fell over each other helter-skelter, in their great confusion, and
desire to take to the woods. As for myself, I laughed and laughed like a
veritable maniac, and threw my arms about myself and jumped in the air
repeatedly, as tickled with my exploit as a boy. Then I ran outside and
found my cannon, the thing which had whistled as it hurtled back to
earth.

It was a “goner” and no mistake. Black as a hat, ripped from muzzle to
breach, blown to pieces at the plugged-up end, it certainly gave the
appearance of having “gone through the war,” but it pleased me not a
whit the less.

“Why that’s all right,” I assured the surrounding stillness, “I’ll go to
work and make a lot of bamboo bombs.”



                              CHAPTER XXV
                          THE TRIBE FRIGHTENED


The spot with the pile of rocks, where my cannon had been planted, bore
ample testimony to the high explosive quality of my powder, for nothing
was left in place and everything which had been in contact with the
piece was beautifully blackened.

My frightened Links seemed to be anything but confident that I was not
likely to burst myself, with a loud report, and scatter devastation
everywhere. They stood off a distance that was more than merely
respectful and were not to be induced to return to my side by any
persuasion or assurances for more than an hour. I had no doubt they
thought me a bit of a devil, for even Fatty and the children were afraid
to return to my side. The single exception to this unanimity of feeling
was furnished by my little favourite chap who seemed so human.

This tot of a Link had been much neglected of late, so busy had I been
with work. Now when he came and clung to my leg, as I stood in the camp
eating a mango and thinking busily, I looked down in his tiny face and
felt happy to see him so near. Sitting down against my rock, in the
sun-light, I let him cuddle down in his usual place, and together we
enjoyed a time of peace. It became one of those natural spells of rest.
I felt like easing off on the pressure of work for a time, having
accomplished really all that seemed to be needful by way of making ready
to receive any invaders of our village who might choose to come.

The attitude of Tike—as I called my little friend—did much to
re-convince the Links of my normal, pacific intentions. Fatty was the
first to return, doubtless actuated by a trifling touch of jealousy.
After him the others came edging back, one by one, every individual
inordinately curious to see if I were in any manner altered by the
extraordinary disturbance which I had so recently created. All that day
they evinced alarm and a readiness to run whenever I stirred about. For
the powder, carefully stored away, they possessed a profound distrust
and respect.

During the next few days I sat around for much of the time, always with
wistful little Tike nestled up under my arm. The tiny chap seemed more
quiet than before, if possible, and somewhat thinner. All the other
little Links were as fat, rolly, bright-eyed and lively as so many Pah
Ute Indian papooses, and equally red and naked, but Tike was almost a
sad little fellow. He leaned his head against me by the hour, sighing
now and again, and patting my big, brown hand with his wee, red one, as
if there could be no greater content and happiness in the world.

The attack I had daily expected and against the advent of which I had
laboured with such unremitting zeal, had failed to materialise. Day
after day went by, with such a stillness and peace over all the world,
that I began to forget the malignant Grin, who had kept the troubles
simmering constantly, and to forget my fears of the savage Blacks.
Without the slightest stir or bother, I kept my fellows in training with
the bows, accompanied the parties on the hunt, kept the baskets and
other essential properties of the camp in good condition and still found
time leisurely to work at making my deadly bombs.

This labour I made simple and easy by selecting sections of bamboo
which, when cut off to form cylinders open at one end only, telescoped
together. That is the smaller cylinder, containing a large charge of
powder, slipped inside the larger, and each being provided with a stone
reinforcement, where naturally plugged, I bound the two shells together
firmly. Five of these bombs were enormous, containing probably
twenty-five pounds of powder. Some of the others were only about a foot
in length and three inches or less in diameter. These smaller ones I
intended to take with me in my boat, if ever I started on my voyage of
escape. I thought I could throw them at any foe which might approach too
near. Each was provided with a tube-like fuse, stopped with clay, to
prevent the powder from running out, and which could be broken off at a
moment’s notice to form a connection with the powder in a longer fuse,
which could then be bound upon it. I also provided several coils of the
match, made of creepers, each coil at least thirty feet in length. This
became dry so that I determined that if occasion should ever arise I
would make a fresh supply, keeping this other ready for emergencies.

The days of peace became weeks. So free from trouble had we become in
the camp, since the disappearance of Grin, that my feverish desire to
flee had somewhat abated. Moreover the albino female had partaken of
such a thorough fright, on the day when my ordnance exploded, that she
left me severely alone. Yet I did think constantly of the boat and
should have busied myself more with my half-formed project of getting
away, had I not been bound more closely than I realised to the Links by
little Tike, who seemed to me to be fading away.

He came every morning to my shelter, often before I was awake, and when
at last I stirred and turned over, there he would be, sitting quietly by
the side of my couch, looking yearningly into my face with his steady,
thoughtful eyes, and holding his tiny hands together in his “lap.”
Always he greeted my look with a strange, quiet smile, which made his
wee, homely face the very next thing to divine. I got to carrying the
little chap about, as I went from place to place. I found that I missed
him, when resting out in the jungle, after a hunt with my fellows. It
also gave me a most unreasonable pleasure to talk to the tiny mite, who
would answer with a faint, half-crooning sound of pleasure. I called him
frequently my “Little Man.” At intervals, sometimes of days, he would
repeat the word “Man” in a way that caused me to feel a peculiar thrill
whenever it came from his lips.

As before, my attitude of comparative passivity begot more or less of
the symptoms of familiarity on the part of several Links. This did no
little in the way of deciding me anew to quit the place, if possible. I
was doubtful in my mind as to which method would be preferable, that of
attempting to find and utilise the outlet of the lake in my boat, or to
endeavour to induce about fifty of the fighters to escort me across the
country to the sea. But one day which we spent in the jungle decided me
without further mental debate.

We were stalking a pair of hogs, which were unusually clever at evading
the flanking Links and at penetrating far into the jungle, when suddenly
the great, dark form of a genuine elephant loomed up, as he smashed his
way through a thicket. Instantly every Link in the party screamed out an
imitation “trumpet” of alarm and fled incontinently, as they had on the
former occasion. This time I had no intention of being left behind, nor
of giving battle to the brute with my fists and knife. I joined the
running fellows, endeavouring to make them halt and retire in at least
decent order, but this effort was utterly futile; their panic was
complete and not to be overcome.

Thankful thus to be reminded of the former incident, which I had been
too near to forgetting, I decided, even as we hastened away from the
monarch of the jungle, that the attempt to perform any long and
hazardous march with such a cowardly “army” as this at my heels would be
madness. I must launch the boat and proceed alone.



                              CHAPTER XXVI
                           SPORT AT THE LAKE


It was not a difficult operation to bore some holes in the gunwale of my
boat and to hammer in four stout pegs for row-locks, and then I put in a
seat, constructed of thin bamboo strips, and all was ready. The craft
was more than sixteen feet long, three feet in the beam and hollowed out
to a depth of about eighteen inches. The launch was not effected until
after I had secured a long, stout painter to the bow, the rope being
made of creeper-fibre, twisted and braided. This was pliable and quite
as enduring as hemp.

Although the Links were manifestly afraid of the lake, they were
intensely interested when the craft upon which we had worked so hard and
long, went splashing into the water. She righted herself in a second and
floated high above the surface. But when I hauled her in with the rope
and jumped inside, sat down and got out my sweeps, to row, the
astonishment of the fellows was unbounded. They were frightened for my
safety, uneasy to the verge of whining, as they ran up and down the
beach, and still were all so fascinated that not one could look at
anything else. Old Fatty acted precisely like one of those dogs who is
crazy to join his master and yet dreads the water so greatly as to fear
even wetting his feet. He lifted either foot, and half squatted and gave
little jumps, as if about to plunge in and make a bold swim for the
boat, till he appeared too ridiculous for words. Then he ran down the
shore and back again and stood with his comical head on one side making
me laugh uproariously.

The boat was great! She was inclined to roll a trifle, owing to the fact
that she was the same size from stem to stern, and therefore minus the
broad beam which makes a craft steady, but she was remarkably light to
row and easily steered. Moreover I found, by throwing my weight to
either side, that she had a powerful tendency to return to an even keel,
which rendered her almost impossible to turn bottom upward. This I
attributed to the fact that while her sides were comparatively thin, the
bottom was at least eight inches thick, which made her light on top and
heavy below, an excellent arrangement when to give her a larger belly
was out of the question. I am bound to admit that she had no “lines,”
that indeed she looked like the log she was, clumsy and quite
ungraceful. Nevertheless I was prouder as I sat in her hold than is any
captain of the noblest ship afloat.

I rowed her this way and that, across to a nearby point and then
straight away down the middle of the lake for half a mile. When I turned
I made out a floating thing a score of yards from the shore on the
left—one of my alligator acquaintances, swimming about. I was not afraid
of any attack in so large a boat, especially as my nature could not have
been so readily surmised by the hungry saurians, while I was rowing. I
should not have minded a race anyway, for I felt secure on my own
stamping ground and as saucy as a boy with a toy pistol.

Before starting back, I noted particularly the outline against the sky
which our hill and its neighbours formed, thinking I might be much in
need of some such guide when I came to go further from home. Then I
drove my craft with all the speed I could force. Her prow was slightly
above the glass-like surface and the water swashed backward from her
keel with a sound that stirred me to immoderate delight in this my
supreme achievement.

The oars were heavy and the row-locks a trifle awkward; we rolled a bit
to one side and I was obliged to keep fetching her nose about to port at
every dozen strokes, but I made satisfactory time and just before she
shot across the last fifty feet of water and rammed up high on the
shore, a startled fish of some description, leaped bodily out of the
water and darted off in affright.

My friends gave forth various notes of alarm and fell back quickly to
the shelter of the trees. I was not at all certain whether they were
most afraid of the fish or of me and the magic which they seemed to
think I possessed. Fatty, however, was too glad to get me back to care
for anything else. He fell headlong over the boat in his crazy endeavour
to get his paws upon me and to roll on top of my feet.

Inasmuch as the day was too far advanced to permit of any extended
explorations, I decided to try for a bit of sport.

“Boys,” said I, remembering an old-time joke, “which would you rather do
or go fishing?”

I got them to fetch me a long line, made of thongs tied firmly together,
while Fatty got a bird for bait and I cut a tough hard hook out of wood.
For this I chose a V-shaped crutch, one leg of which became the shank,
while the other was cut off shorter, sharpened and formed like a barb.
With the line tied to this, a rock for a sinker and a piece of the bird
spitted on my hook, I got out at the end of the boat and heaved the
tackle out as far as the cord would permit.

I pulled it back with no result, save for a nibble when I had taken it
almost in. I thought the fish must be small and near the shore. However,
I tried again. The result was the same, only that I got two nibbles
instead of one. The third cast was an aggravation, for some miserable
sprat got my bait. We put on a fresh piece and tied it in place.

“Now,” I grunted, as I threw the line again, “we’ll see if you young
sardines will—”

A sudden, hard jerk on the line nearly dragged me overboard, neck and
crop. I had a bite which felt big enough to indicate a whale.

Bracing, I stopped the line abruptly from running through my hands; and
then began a tug-o’-war. It was not a scientific fight, for I dared not
permit Mr. Fish to take his head for a second, well knowing that when he
turned and slacked the line, the hook would slip from its hold at once
and let him escape. I therefore hauled at him hard and stubbornly,
panting soon and leaning backward, for he felt as heavy as the bottom of
the lake and quite as unwilling to be led as a mule. The strain came on
the line and on the hook. If these held—what would we see?

I worked backward, inch by inch in the boat, till at last I was out on
the shore. By that time the craft had been hauled off the bank and was
all but ready to float.

“Here, Fatty,—come here—and help,” I panted.

Fatty understood and while he was filled with misgivings that made him
actually tremble, he laid hold of the line and together we drew it in,
hand over hand. Presently with a mad whirl our catch came floundering
and slashing upward till it splashed the surface, in violent action,
when it disappeared like a piece of lead. A minute later we hauled the
thrashing denizen to shallow water and then clean out on the bank. It
was a good-sized tortoise, fairly hooked, dripping, fierce-looking and
struggling with all its might to get away.

Fortunately the Links knew something of turtles. Three plucked up
courage sufficient to despatch our prize at my third shout of, “Shoot
him! Pig!”

“Shoot” meant to slay, in any style or form, and “pig” signified
anything in the way of game or a foe. The catch made my friends so
enthusiastic that they wanted no end of fishing. It also provided a food
of which they were fond, and it gave me a nice new basin. Deep-lake
angling having proved to be hot, hard work, I bethought me of trying for
something more quiet. Additional line was soon forthcoming, and a run up
to camp provided a bamboo rod, after which I cut a smaller hook and
baited as before.

At the second cast from the boat, I got a good sharp strike, and without
the slightest ceremony jerked out a silvery fish a foot in length, of a
species wholly unknown in my limited category of the finny tribe. In
fifteen minutes I had seven of these, ranging in weight from one to four
pounds, I judged, and all of firmer flesh than I had expected to find in
water so warm. The enjoyable part of all this play was to hear the
exclamations of wonder on the part of the Links, at every successive
catch. Had I remained there a day, performing this feat every two
minutes, I believe those child-like creatures would have stayed at my
side, marvelling no less at the very last catch than they did at the
first.

I created an incredible excitement, finally by making Fatty take the rod
in his hand for a cast. He got a bite so quickly that it made him jump
inside his skin, from toes to crown. The fellow would have fallen down
and rolled away had I not held him fast and compelled him to land his
flopping shiner. At this the Links behind us nearly had a fit.
Amusement, curiosity, timidity and desire to come and do likewise made
them the most excited and entertaining group in the world. One by one
they worked themselves up to the frenzy of courage necessary to try
their luck, but the ticklish, unique sensation of catching a fish so
quickly dispelled their fears that before we finished they were fairly
scrambling for the chance to be the next to try.

Beholding the immense satisfaction with which males and females, young
and old, cooked and devoured our catch, I wondered that the Links had
never progressed sufficiently to fish for themselves. The only
explanation I was able to give was that owing to their dread of the
lake, about the borders of which were innumerable snakes and alligators,
they had never discovered this food and therefore knew nothing of the
ease of taking all they could wish, by various primitive methods.

A small quantity of tortoise and one of the smaller shiners satisfied my
craving for a change of diet, for neither was cooked to my liking, nor
was the flesh of a flavour to give me any particular delight. However, I
thought the Links deserved the play which the nearness of the lake
afforded, and therefore I cut them a score of hooks, that night by the
light of the fire, and had them prepare a lot of lines to tie at the end
of some bamboo rods which they fetched before the darkness descended.

For myself, I laid out a bit of roasted meat and some fruit, got my bow
and arrows together, and otherwise made ready for an early start on my
tour of exploration.



                             CHAPTER XXVII
                             AN EXPLORATION


The lake was a shimmering mirror, dashed with endless splashes of
colour, when my boat glided swiftly away in the sunshine of the early
morning. From the jungles that fringed the shores came many sounds of
birds, singing, screaming and calling out. The noise made by my oars in
the crude locks seemed to travel far and to echo back from every side.

Believing in systematic investigation, I chose the shore off to the
right, along which I intended to cruise that day. I would try the
left-hand side the following day, if necessary, and then, if the outlet
I was seeking were still undiscovered, I might be obliged to undertake a
much longer trip than either of these would become.

The alligators had apparently not begun to stir about on the shady side
of the lake. I skimmed along within fifty yards of the shore, constantly
watching for any indication of a stream flowing outward through the
trees. The first hour brought no results; in the second I came to “my”
creek, the stream down which I had plunged that evening of the storm,
with the savage ourang behind me. Its volume was normal now, and
therefore much less than when it had bowled me into the lake,
nevertheless it tumbled over its last rocky leap with a pleasant murmur
which sounded familiar enough, and bubbles of silver floated away on the
placid surface of the water. It was good to recognise this old “friend,”
for it gave me another guide and cleared up my mental map of the lake
and surrounding country.

Beyond this point there were miniature bays and tedious windings of the
shore, many of which I felt inclined to ignore, but any one of which
might have hidden the outlet I felt so eager to discover. In not a few
of the trees, which often overhung the water, I discerned troops of
curious monkeys. Of these there seemed to be almost endless variety, but
all were particularly shy upon beholding the strange creature out on the
lake, though I had no means of determining whether or not they classed
my boat and me among the ’gators.

From one rather narrow inlet I escaped as quickly as I could turn my
craft and drive her back to the main body of water, for I nearly pushed
my oar against a huge boa-constrictor, half hanging from a tree with its
body partially submerged beneath the surface. Although I saw this
reptile before approaching so near, I readily mistook it for a portion
of the branch from which it depended. What it might have done, had I
rudely disturbed the sleep in which it was quietly indulging, I did not
pretend to know; it was quite enough for me that the creature was there,
and that for all the snake family I have a great aversion.

The morning sped away. The heat of the day increased, so that rowing the
boat became an irksome task, particularly as I found nothing but
inconsiderable brooks, all of which flowed into the lake. Floating
quietly, with the oars shipped, I ate my lunch and felt somewhat
refreshed. A full hour of rest was spent in idly dabbling my feet in the
water. Later in the afternoon I had a swim, but in this the pleasure was
marred by a too persistent feeling of uneasiness about the monsters
which the place might contain.

It must have been as late as four o’clock when at length I rounded a
point and found a long, irregular estuary, not more than seventy feet in
width, rank with grass and giving evidence of being the slack-water of a
large stream. From its juncture with the lake, I was quite unable to
determine its nature; it could have been either an inlet or an outlet,
as far as I could see. Proceeding up the centre of this, I was not
particularly gladdened to observe that my boat and oars were frightening
three medium-sized alligators to the cover afforded by the growth on
either side. Also there were great swarms of pestiferous insects,
dancing above the water in the sunlight. However, if this did mark the
outlet, I had to know it; the gauntlet would have to be run. It would be
comparatively safe, I thought, as long as it was I who continued to
frighten the alligators, instead of having them perform the office for
me.

The place seemed literally alive with these monsters. I think it must
have been a breeding ground, for there were little ones by the score.
They all continued to be shy, but I confess I was not inspired with
confidence in any of the creatures, nor yet with a large pressure of
courage in myself. The insects settled upon me by hundreds. I slapped at
them constantly, but in a few minutes I was bitten in no fewer than
fifty places upon my hands, face and body and many of these spots had a
drop or more of blood oozing out to mark their location.

Made desperate, I rowed as fast as caution would permit, being afraid
every moment of incurring the wrath or exciting the hunger of some huge
mother ’gator. The estuary wound away tortuously, into a realm weirdly
luxuriant with creepers, giant exotics and trees overhung with parasitic
vines. It narrowed down, also, which brought me nearer the banks, with
their crawling life. I presently noted a number of water-snakes escaping
in all directions, some of them near enough for me to strike them with
the oars.

The sun was down toward the far horizon so that this place was in a
dense shade, amounting to gloom. It was just as much as I could do to
get my own consent to going further. It almost seemed as if I would
prefer to live with the Links forever than to have the nightmarish
features of this place increase or be nearer to me. I do not claim to be
a man of bravery and this estuary, I confess, gave me the creeps. I was
enormously relieved, in a moment, to hear a sound like rippling water.
Then I rounded a point on which a brood of alligators had just made a
landing, and saw where the water was in motion.

It was flowing into the lake, not out toward the sea. My investigation
of the place had been time and energy wasted, not to mention nerves. In
haste I swung my craft about and started back. As it stopped for a
space, to turn, a water-snake crawled up, near the stern and glided
across. The reptile was large, glistening and altogether as repulsively
headed as Nature ever constructs.

I hit at it viciously, and it dodged and plunged into the slimy water
like a shot. By that time my prow had drifted against the tail of an
alligator which must have been lying asleep, concealed in the grass. He
waked and gave the boat a bat with his great caudal extremity that made
her quiver, as he scrambled to shore. There was such a chorus of
dreadful sounds then that the creeps chased from my feet to the hair on
my head. Added to the maddening torture inflicted by the stinging
insects—some of which seemed large enough to be classed with
vampires—the place gave forth an animal stench comparable only to that
of a den of serpents. I grew “rattled,” in my frantic endeavour to get
out of the place, and rowed against the shore, in one place, and into a
tangle of reeds and vines at another. All of this added to my own
confusion as well as to the sounds of hissing, squirming away and
floundering in the water produced by the creatures whose home I had
rudely invaded. Had the beasts turned upon me in that maze of horrors, I
should have been wild enough to jump out of the boat and try to dash to
shore and away through the swampy tangle and the jungle.

As I neared the exit, I did have the misfortune to strike not only the
edge of a sort of grass island, but also the head of a baby ’gator,
therein hiding. The mother gave forth an angry snort and started to
overtake the boat. An oar got caught for a second but I jerked it loose
and plunged it deep for a stroke that shot me away toward the lake. The
furious reptile gained for a moment, but then I got down to boat-race
work and slid away in a desperate mood. Paying too little attention to
where I was steering, I forgot the tendency of the craft to yaw about to
starboard, and therefore sent it fairly through a mass of green drapery
hanging from a tree on the right-hand bank; and the tail of a snake
which was climbing hurriedly up in the branches, dragged slimily across
my neck.

I shuddered and nearly fell forward, but the boat had gained such
headway that it pushed through everything and was floating free on the
lake in a second. I bent to the oars anew, but Mrs. Alligator had turned
back, defeated. Without waiting for more experiences I headed for home
and commenced a steady pull.



                             CHAPTER XXVIII
                          AMAZING DISCOVERIES


It was nearly dark when at length I beached the boat and made the
painter fast to a tree. The Links were in a state of great anxiety,
fearing the dread lake had swallowed me down. They had fished, during my
absence, with such success that they had lost every hook, snarled all
the lines, broken several rods and procured about a hundred pounds of
shiners for dinner.

A few of the fellows were attempting to fashion new hooks with the
knives of flint. There was promise, in the work of some, indicating that
in this direction at least there was chance for progress. Old Fatty, who
had whined on the shore when I left in the morning, romped about me
insanely, as usual. He and little Tike had occupied my shelter
throughout the day, awaiting my return. My “Little Man” was asleep there
when I entered, a troubled look on his serious little face. I carried
him off to his mother, but he did not awake, so weary had he grown at
his vigil that warm, long day.

He was crooning “Man, man” beside me in the morning, happily, yet so
wistfully that it played upon every cord in my breast. How thin the
little fellow looked as he gazed in my eyes with that dumb affectionate
expression; how different he appeared from all the other Links, with the
golden sunlight streaming in on his quaint, childish countenance. When I
had taken my morning bath, I washed the tiny chap. He caught his breath
in funny little gasps, but I think he liked it immensely. Then we ate my
breakfast. He ate so small a portion that I shook my head and pushed the
fruits aside before I had taken half my usual quantity.

Having vaguely thought of my exploration business as a duty to be
continued faithfully, I had half intended to leave, later in the day,
for a shorter trip. When the wee youngster nestled up to be comforted,
the plan faded away. We would have a quiet day of rest and peace. The
elders of the tribe, discovering my mood, gave up to the laziest of
lounging and rolling about, playing at indolent games and wrestling,
throwing bits of twigs and pulling at each other’s feet and toes. The
chief and his white mate sat about in a somewhat superior style, the
latter eyeing me sullenly from time to time, while her husband gazed by
the hour into the half-clear depths of the great rock-crystal at the end
of his club. The fellow seemed to adore this stone, as well he might,
for by its weight and his own overtowering height he had made himself
chief of his fellows.

His chieftainship continued, although I had long believed I could
overthrow the fellow and usurp his power to add to my own, did I wish to
create a disturbance. But inasmuch as I was in no way hampered, and was
obeyed, my position amounted to that of a ruler, while I gave this giant
Link no offense. As long as he continued to feel himself the master of
the family, my own sway could never be complete, but for this I cared
nothing as long as I was enabled to proceed with my plans. More than
once I might have taken advantage of the awe created by natural means to
bring the chief under my rule, but I was waiting to see what he would do
of his own accord. The day when my cannon exploded he had been so ready
to acknowledge my leadership that a look would have brought him cowering
to my feet, but I had turned my back upon him and he had refrained from
doing anything impulsive.

In order to provide entertainment for little Tike, this day of rest, I
selected a slender section of bamboo rod and cut him a whistle. By
placing a second piece inside of this and sliding it up and down, I had
a primitive trombone, which begot a craze of delight among all the
Links. I played this instrument about an hour during which time the
fellows all came crawling up on all fours, to squat about in a circle
where they remained, nodding, blinking and holding their heads on one
side, with the greatest attention and pleasure.

I bethought me then of a drum and procuring a section of bamboo six
inches or more in diameter, stretched a wetted fish-skin across the end
and let it dry there. This thing produced a fine resonant tone that made
the creatures jump with astonishment at first and dance with excitement
later. In point of popularity this instrument eclipsed the whistle
totally. The Links took to it as naturally as a cat takes to mice.

Having pleased little Tike and having rested myself, while providing a
holiday of amusement for the tribe, I decided to go at my navigation
again in the morning. Agreeable as some of these moments appear to have
been, I was fretting constantly to be away from the unclean, semi-animal
beings, and once more restored to my kind and to civilisation, where I
could lie on a decent bed, eat a decent meal and listen to something
besides barbarous language. So desperate did I frequently become to hear
my native tongue, that I spouted every quotation and sang every song I
could conjure from my memory. This performance was always attended by a
demonstration of surprise and unrest on the part of all the Links who
were close enough to hear.

The following morning was the cool, still forerunner of another sultry
day. Fatty waddled behind me to the boat, where he whined again and
started convulsively every time I bade him “come along,” but to master
his fear of the lake sufficiently to enter the boat and trust himself
away from the shore, was quite beyond his power. He wanted to go, but
had he been thrust in by force, he would have scrambled wildly back to
the bank, to run up and down and dance, like an unwilling dog who has
been thrown in the water whether he would or no. I left him, sad and
anxious, on the beach.

According to my previously formulated scheme, I directed the prow toward
the left shore this morning, and rowed as before, about fifty yards out
from the wall of foliage which marked the boundary of lake and jungle.
In half an hour I passed the place where I had fought the battle with
the alligator, while I was floating on the log. On this present occasion
not a saurian could I see, but I knew the place where I was sure there
were half a dozen.

The day was practically a repetition of the other, except that this
western shore had a greater number of small streams, and none that were
large, contributing to the body of the lake. I dipped into bays and
inlets without number, many of which were of exceeding beauty. These
were frequently so large that I travelled many miles without being more
than three or four from camp, by air line. In the late afternoon, when I
had worked perhaps two miles further away in actual distance—or about
eight as I skirted the edge—I approached what appeared to be a deeper
and narrower bay than any before discovered.

This arm of the lake presently curved about a point, which made me think
it might perhaps be another tributary stream, or river, like the one in
which I had passed a desperate fifteen minutes. I felt not entirely fond
of such experiences and therefore regarded this place with suspicion. It
was freer of insects than the other had been, although there were some I
could have spared; while the alligator population was not numerously
represented. There was the grass which I thought indicated flowing
water, however, and the trees on the banks were like those of the other
place which I dreaded.

When I had penetrated several hundred yards into the jungle on the bosom
of this winding stream, the shadows from the overhanging trees were
again exceedingly dense. I confess I had a poor stomach for doing much
of this sort of thing at the end of day. My brain began to invent
excuses for proceeding home and coming again when the light was better.
A number of scares, to which I had been subjected during the day, had
contributed largely to this lack of proper enthusiasm. Soon I conceived
a brilliant scheme for determining whether this stream were inlet or
outlet to the lake. In either case there would be a slight current. I
would stop the boat and let it drift. If it went on “up” I could be sure
I had found the outlet which in all reason should flow eventually to the
sea; if I drifted back toward the lake, I must continue my search on the
morrow.

Pulling slowly to the next turning, I brought the craft to a standstill
and awaited results. For a long time I failed to detect any movement in
either direction, so sluggish was the current. I became absorbed in
studying a number of stakes, which stood in the water, near the bank.
“Surely,” I thought at last, “we are moving slightly—down the stream.”
Was it then actually the outlet for which I was seeking?

I grew excited as I watched the stakes. Then I began to comprehend
something. These stakes suggested order. Could it be possible they had
been planted? I could not see how they could get there at such
semi-regular intervals, in any natural manner. How far did they extend?
Where was the first one I had noticed? I looked back. Then I was
convinced, abruptly, that the boat was drifting down the stream much
more rapidly that I had suspected.

It was the outlet!

This truth flashed upon me with all the power of instantaneous
conviction. I forgot the stakes and all the line of speculation which
their mysterious presence had engendered. I looked toward that green
gate of deliverance. Mentally I saw myself rowing and drifting down this
gentle, winding current, hastening away from this extraordinary
land—away from this jungle fastness to the great open sea. A thousand
suggestions came tumbling in upon me, as to how to provision my boat,
how to leave the Links, how to sleep at night on “Outlet” river, how to
search for a village when I should find myself at last free, and how
then to take a steamer and hasten back to the world which was really a
world!

“The outlet!” I muttered in fervent thankfulness. “Freedom—Life—Home!”

I was wrought to a fever in my excitement of hope; I was all but
transported, thus to find the gate that let me out of my prison of
greenery, when suddenly I nearly froze from chills and paralysis of all
my senses and blood-circulation.

A voice rose clear in the silence of ended day—a human voice, in that
wilderness of jungle and jungle-creatures,—a voice pronouncing words in
English—a singular mixture of words with no reason. Then presently they
settled into the musical order of poetry:

  “There was a sound of revelry by night,
    And Belgium’s capital had gathered then
  Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright
    The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men,
  And when music arose with its voluptuous——”

I arose to cry out at the top of my voice. A human being—a man, no
doubt, was in reach of my voice—a friend, companion, perhaps, to share
my fate and solitude! I filled my lungs for a mighty halloo—a cry to
this partner in exile—when out from the trees on the bank, not a spear’s
throw distant, issued a black, ungainly form—and then another.

Links! They were black Missing Links!

Those stakes were theirs! I had found their camp. The voice—this human
being—was he then a prisoner? What did it mean—and what should I do?

To cry out meant instant detection—perhaps immediate death. The two had
failed to see me—they might go back. But I was drifting—drifting toward
them. One of them turned about.

A yell went up immediately. I was known. The alarm spread like
prairie-fire, up through the wood. I swung the boat about like mad and
headed for the lake. A club came whizzing through the air, struck in the
water beside the boat and splashed me with spray. A score of the
villainous looking devils came running to join their companions. Along
the bank they dashed in pursuit, crying out and making crazy
gesticulations. The water foamed where it left the oars and it rippled
and swashed from the prow of my craft. Club after club came hurtling
toward me, end over end. One of these struck the stern a resounding
thump; the demons cried out savagely and showered more. A small one
would have dashed out my brains had I not been quick to duck to the
bottom of the boat.

I shot across the river to the opposite side, but a curve gave my
infuriated pursuers a slight advantage. It seemed as if the thickets and
trees were simply bridges over which the creatures hurried the faster.
Making as if to sweep along below them, I back-watered one of my oars
and pulled with the other, at the turn, spinning the boat clean about to
hard-a-port, and sent her ahead so swiftly that all the clubs, which the
devils threw at point-blank range, plunged stone-head first into the
ripples behind.

“Never touched me!” I bawled out in derision.

They screamed in impotent rage. I rounded the curve and sped away with
all the advantage mine. They gave up the chase. Ten minutes more saw me
out on the lake and well away.



                              CHAPTER XXIX
                           A SACRED DISGUISE


Before I got home I had ample time in which to think. What a strange
concatenation of events! The outlet discovered, deliverance almost
assured me, and then to find the camp of my bitterest enemy on the very
bank of my gateway to freedom! But that human voice—what could it mean?

I began to speculate and to reason from deduction. Inasmuch as I had
lost myself and been found by the red Missing Links, it was evident that
another man could have met with some accident which would have thrown
him in contact with the Blacks of the same family or species. The Reds
had treated me with marked consideration from the first, therefore the
Blacks might do the same for another of my kind. More than this, the
Blacks had manifested not only an extraordinary interest in myself, that
day when first I met them at the volcanic peak, but they had also
attempted to abduct me without injury to my body or feelings. I had made
them my foes by allying myself offensively and defensively with the
Reds, but they might not be savage to one who had not so given them
cause. Undoubtedly, I reasoned, they knew man and what he is and had
recognised me at once. They had desired also to possess me, an
inclination, I reasoned, which had resulted from association with this
other, mysterious man.

What manner of person was it they held as prisoner in their camp? How
long had they held him captive? To this latter question I mentally
answered that they had kept him several months at the least, since I had
been a considerable time with the Reds, myself, and they had apparently
become acquainted with my species before my arrival in the country. Then
about his capacity as a man, my thought ran quickly to the conclusion
that he must be weak or at least a man of no inventiveness and of no
particular inward resources. I arrived at this from two sources of
argument. First, he had obviously done nothing to arm his fellows, even
with primitive spears, or bows and arrows, to say nothing of never
having headed their hunting or fighting expeditions; and, second, he had
done nothing to escape, although he must have known that he was living
on the very edge of that great outflowing river, which should suggest to
his mind the sea beyond, as it had done to me.

Almost without considering anything, my first conclusion had been that I
must meet this partner-in-exile, enlist his services and make him my
comrade in escaping. Indeed I had been conscious of a great elation of
spirits, to think of such an encouraging piece of good fortune. Now,
however, when I was sure that he was neither bold, nor alert, nor
superior to circumstances, I doubted the wisdom of burdening myself with
such a companion, in the midst of my accumulated adversities. This last
selfish thought was hardly complete, however, before I banished it with
scorn, as utterly unworthy of any man in my position.

Perhaps the poor fellow had been shipwrecked, under conditions that
shattered his nerves; perhaps he was crippled, or otherwise disabled;
perhaps he had undergone severe illness; he might even have been an
invalid when captured; and it was always possible that the Blacks kept
him bound or so closely attended that action was rendered impossible. I
recalled then that his voice had not sounded strong. His recitation of
verses and conning over of words, I could understand precisely, for I
had done the same myself on many occasions. Whatever it was that made
him helpless, he was a fellow-being and certainly in more or less
distress. I felt my heart expanding toward him—my unknown partner! I
would see him, help him and take him with me—or die at his side,
fighting like a devil!

My plans, which had been nearly complete for my own escape, became
immediately most uncertain and scattered. It was not a matter now merely
of stocking the boat, securing my weapons and then proceeding down the
outflowing river, but of bearding the Blacks in their stronghold, seeing
this man and getting him away. Then would come the running of the
gauntlet past their camp on the river. The first proposition, that of
entering this village of the hostile Links and interviewing my
“partner,” loomed up, unsolved, for careful consideration. That the
fellows were keenly on the lookout, I had demonstrated fully; they had
seen me and sounded the alarm in a style truly masterful if not
admirable. That they thirsted somewhat for my unwilling gore, I had
precious small reason to doubt. If I got away with their captive and the
demons discovered who it was that engineered the feat, there would be a
warm jungle-region all about the lake.

How much could I count on the man I meant to assist? Not a great deal, I
feared, for he was probably incapacitated in some important manner.
However, he had doubtless superintended the hammering down of those
stakes I had seen in the river, which evidently meant some sort of
fishing operations, so that perhaps, after all, he was more inventive
than I had previously supposed. All the way up the lake, I racked my
brain for a suitable plan for invading the enemy’s camp. There were wild
ideas in plenty, but no one of these was practical or even worthy of a
moment’s consideration.

I gave up thinking, when at last the boat was secured on the beach,
knowing how far away my thoughts would be driven by the welcome of the
Links. All through my dinner, however, even with little Tike in my arms
and Fatty languishing about my feet, I was lost in pondering over the
doings of the day. That night, although I was weary, I tossed and rolled
uneasily, catching but snatches of sleep between the spells of being
vividly awake over my new discoveries and their attendant problems. Time
after time I awoke with a start, thinking I had solved the difficulty,
only to realise that my brain was indulging in the most fantastic of
workings. My whole being was dominated and occupied by this scheme of
uniting with that human prisoner on the river.

Sometime in the earliest hours of morning I sat up abruptly, having been
tortured by a sort of nightmare in which there was an inextricable
tangle of Links, alligators and bears. As before, this was intimately
connected with the man whom I intended to rescue from the Blacks, but
this time I got an idea out of the chaos and it fairly made me twitch,
so galvanically did it grip my whole nervous system.

I would visit the hostile camp in safety, because I would go as a bear.

A bear—yes, a sacred black bear! Those superstitious creatures should
worship my tracks and make themselves fools over my visit, while I spied
upon them, planned against them and robbed them of their captive! I
should be more than safe, more than free to come and go as I liked, more
respected than the general of the world’s greatest army.

Before attempting to get my plans in operation, I must kill a bear, skin
him and cure the hide. This preliminary business presented no
inconsiderable sum of difficulties, as I was thoroughly aware. “First
find your bear,” said the funny fellow in my brain. This part I thought
I could manage, for I had seen a bear in the neighbourhood of the place
where the one had appeared that morning after my fight with the
alligator. I thought him the same identical animal, which might
therefore abide in or about that quarter. But having secured my bruin’s
pelt, there remained the task of curing it,—a work which I must conduct
alone and away from camp, inasmuch as the Links would be horrified to
know that I had committed the deed on so sacred a beast.

There was no more sleep for me after thinking of this. At the first
suggestion of dawn I crept out, silently, avoided old Fatty, who was
curled down beside my door, and glided noiselessly down the hill, armed
with a club, my knife, bow and quiver of arrows. When I arrived at the
edge of the lake I went a little into the forest and dug some fresh
saltpetre. With this substance I intended to preserve the skin, for not
only are its properties well suited to the business, but I was denied
the use of our spring of brine by the presence of my bear-adoring
friends.

With my cargo of stuff thrown down in the end of the boat, I pushed away
from the bank and rowed slowly off toward a point around which I meant
to be concealed by the time the Links would begin to stir. The dawn was
breaking as I neared my destination, but I waited for full day-break
before attempting to go ashore. When at length the boat ran up on the
beach I was a mile from the swampy region in which the alligators had
proved themselves so numerous and hungry. A small clearing afforded an
adequate retreat, where I felt that I could operate without interruption
or likelihood of being observed.

With the club and quiver on my back, and the bow in hand, I forced my
way through a stubborn growth, coming presently upon the trail of some
jungle creature which had apparently broken this path for the purpose of
drinking at the lake. I had gone no more than several strides in this
beaten track when I nearly stepped upon a hooded snake. Though I jumped
back quickly and made ready with speed to hit the reptile with my club,
it glided away before I could fetch it a blow, escaping into a maze
where I own I dared not follow. Willing enough to let the creature
alone, if it would do the same by me, I went on my way. Then occurred
the thought, if only I could have killed it and poisoned my arrows, how
much better I should be armed for the bear.

Going back I thumped about for several minutes, looking for the venomous
serpent, yet dreading to see it. There was little danger of seeing that
particular snake again, so I once more resumed my journey. Having the
venom thought in mind, I decided to search for a serpent deliberately,
for the sake of its poison.

Snake hunting is not in my line. I kept an eye open and peered about in
likely places but the reptiles I saw were not the venomous kind and they
were often of the constricting variety, so that they and I had nothing
in common. I passed them by frequently, in haste to be about my
business. The whole morning was passed in this half-hearted search for
venom. In the early afternoon, having worked through a wide belt of
trees, I issued forth in the largest clearing I had seen since leaving
the boat. It was hardly more than fifty feet wide by one hundred long,
slightly swampish under foot and overrun with vines, gigantic flowering
plants and the rankest of grass.

At the edge of this place I had the luck to see the tail end of what I
thought to be a venomous snake. The reptile was nearly safe from harm
beneath a mass of interlocking creepers, yet I tried to get at him and
became so absorbed while poking about the brush that I clean forgot my
more important quest. In the midst of this dallying about, I left my
position to run around to the further side of the tangle, and found
myself confronted by the creature of all creatures which I regarded as
particularly mine—a bear as black as soot.

This animal was nosing about the trunk of a tree. He was only five or
six long strides away, paying no tribute of attention whatsoever to me
or my prowess. That he had seen me and heard me I could not possibly
doubt. I knew at once that the veneration in which he was held by the
Links grew out of this remarkable inoffensiveness and the grave, knowing
air with which the creature kept about its own concerns. I longed for a
well-poisoned arrow, but the time being inopportune for regrets, I
silently fitted my choicest shaft on the bow-string and stepped aside
for a better chance to shoot.

The bear rose partially up on its haunches, to investigate the tree,
presenting an open front, with a bit of white fur at the throat. With
this white for a target, I raised my weapon and drew the arrow to the
head. It leaped across the meagre distance like a flash of light and
quivered a second, buried deep in that snowy fur, which was dyed with
red before the creature could drop to a normal position on its feet.

I expected to hear a roar of rage, and then to be attacked forthwith by
the infuriated animal, but instead the bear made a sound almost human in
its vivid expression of agony. It staggered slightly and brushing at the
shaft with its paw, started away toward a thicket. Not to be cheated of
my pelt, I threw down the bow and dashed after the creature, club in
hand.

In a second or two I was almost on his back. He half turned about—and
met the descending club with his head. Simply moaning, this singular
animal shuddered down in its tracks, breathed heavily a moment and was
dead.

If I hunt till I kill a thousand creatures I shall never feel so guilty
of murder as I did to see this harmless bear lying motionless there in
the jungle. If only it had fought me, threatened my life, or shown
itself malignant, I could have done the deed cheerfully. If only the
creature had growled, or even torn up the grass, I should have felt a
bit of relief; but to see it die as I knew it had lived, unaggressive,
good-natured and retiring—this made me feel that I was the brute and the
wanton destroyer of life. Even dead, the animal accused me of lust for
blood.

“No,” I finally said to the body, aloud, “I would never have done this
merely for fun. I needed your skin,—hang it! there’s a human life at
stake and you ought to be glad!”

Fortunately I was easily consoled. I came to my senses in a
business-like manner. The skinning did much to remove the last vestige
of my sentimentality, for it was a tough, hot job. My knife was none too
sharp, despite its recent honing on a rock, and the bear was heavy to
turn. When at last I had the hide removed, with the feet and head left
on, I rolled the whole mass up and got it on my shoulder. It was heavy
and wet; I felt the need of haste, and therefore with my weapons duly
gathered together and so disposed as to cause me the least possible
inconvenience, I strode away.



                              CHAPTER XXX
                             AGAIN BESIEGED


The sun was ready to disappear by the time I reached the boat. Embarking
as soon as I had cut a large quantity of leaves, I rowed until I was
some distance out on the lake before completing my day’s work. This
labour consisted of skinning the head of my bear and then of wetting the
whole hide thoroughly. With a generous hand I spread the saltpetre upon
the fleshy side, after which I rolled the skin up in a bundle and stowed
it away in the stern, where I covered it over thickly with the leaves,
in order that my fellows might not see the beloved black fur.

Knowing the beach would be deserted as soon as darkness began to
descend, I pulled homeward leisurely, reaching the landing after the
stars had begun to twinkle. There I got a lot of clay and placed it on
top of the leaves which covered the pelt. This I knew would serve the
double purpose of hiding my treasure from sharp, inquisitive eyes, and
of keeping the moisture in the skin till the saltpetre could permeate
the whole mass and convert the perishable and evil-smelling hide into
leather. In order further to insure the skin against anything which
might be tempted to meddle, I tied a big rock to my painter and dropping
it overboard anchored the boat about forty feet from the shore. After
this I swam and waded to the bank.

As I had left in the morning before any of the Links were awake, I
thoroughly expected a flattering demonstration on my return to the top
of the hill. I was totally unprepared, however, to hear the wildest
imaginable beating of our drum, the moment I shouted to let them know I
had come. And when I came through the gate and loomed up in the glow of
the fire, there was more than enthusiasm—there was madness rife in the
tribe.

The fellows were nervous, wild-eyed, starting at every sound, chattering
crazily in their few poor monosyllables, and they showed a readiness to
bury me in a heap of their prostrate bodies, so eager was their
supplication for something which they much desired. Males, females and
children had evidently been huddled together in a trembling mass, at my
arrival, but now the whole population was about me, mad to tell me news
of some calamity, I thought, but rendered wholly unintelligible by their
haste and fear. I pushed them away vigorously, convinced that something
more than merely my unaccountable absence and safe return had wrought
this excitement.

“Fatty,” I demanded of my half-blubbering slave, “what’s the matter?
Stand still and tell me like a man. What’s eating all these idiots? What
has happened?”

He made an effort that was truly heroic.

“Peegs,” he said. “Gee wizz!”

The rascal knew I never exclaimed “Gee whizz!” till something
extraordinary occurred. So poignant did the silly words become in this
connection that I jumped at what he meant to convey at a single mental
bound.

He meant that we were again invaded. The black Links had marched upon
the village in force. I was almost carried to the further side of our
wall, from which place I could see the campfires of the enemy, fitfully
gleaming through the trees, below. The creatures were intrenched at the
edge of the jungle, just at the base of our hill. But they had not yet
attacked our position, that was evident. I was amazed at this and also
at the fact that they dared to remain all night so near the haunts of
the savage prowlers.

I worked for an hour endeavouring to calm my fellows sufficiently to get
some sort of a “statement” of what had really occurred. The words I knew
of their language and the little they tried to comprehend of mine served
only to aggravate our confusion. By means of signs and various
pantomimes I was able to make some guesses. The most important of these
was that the foe had come there late in the afternoon, whereupon my
friends had retreated inside the walls and waited, armed with their
clubs, while Fatty made a hideous noise on the drum.

Attributing little virtue to the power of our musical instrument, and
groping about for the reason why the invaders had not attacked the camp,
I concluded that something in the way of a deeply laid “plot” was being
formulated by the Blacks, who were perhaps intent upon our total
destruction, in payment for all the defeats inflicted upon them by us in
the past. Whether only a portion of their force had come up, or whether
they reckoned on our disinclination to leave our stronghold and charge
upon them and so intended to surround and starve us out, was a matter
which time alone could determine. I thought of Grin, however, and
wondered if the wretch were with them. Also I mentally nodded my
recognition of the fact that my “visit” to their camp had been largely
instrumental in bringing about this war-like advance. I thought it
likely that the creatures concluded I had been spying upon them, with a
possible attack for my object, and that then they had determined to be
the first to strike. Doubtless, I meditated, they had long contemplated
this war of retaliation, and my presence in their river had precipitated
matters, which had been delayed for various reasons of state.

Inasmuch as their reasons and plans could never be known by any man, I
gave up pondering about them and devoted my thoughts to planning my own
campaign. On the whole I was not exceedingly sorry to have a chance to
try my bamboo bombs. I entertained no doubt of the dire effect which
these would produce on our foe. For that night, at least, we were safe
from attack; no Link would dare proceed a score of yards from his fire
in the darkness. If they crept up the hill and surprised us in the
morning, while we were still in bed—then so much the worse for us, for
being so extremely luxurious and confident in the noise of our drum.

I signified my desire for something to eat and then devoured a hearty
meal, a proceeding which surprised and calmed the Links no little. They
had been too much alarmed before to do anything but huddle together,
like so many animals in a corner, ready to fight if pressed another
inch, but more likely to be furious and savage through fear than through
any sort of courage. They were not wholly cowardly, but they were
mortally afraid of the Blacks (who came back so persistently for more
punishment), especially while here on our isolated hill, with neither
cave nor near-by jungle into which to run. They were awed by this
implacable foe, and having depended on me to defeat the Black army, had
become less confident of their own powers than they were when I first
came into the tribe. However, they had always evinced the greatest
readiness to attack a force smaller than their own, which fact, coupled
with their present behaviour, was now as good as an accurate report to
convince me that the fellows were sure the number of Blacks below was
much in excess of our own.

Gratified to find that our supply of arrows had not been wasted again in
my absence—an indication of sense in my fellows which I attribute to the
wholesome dread they had of the powder magazine, in which the weapons
were stored—I laid out the shafts, with the bows, and otherwise
exhibited an assuring alertness and desire to be prepared. The Links did
me the honour of picking up a bit of courage, under my influence, making
me feel a half-affectionate regard and sympathy for the poor child-like
creatures, for it was plain that they strove hard and constantly against
their mental limitations. They wished to understand, to enlarge the
scope of their brains, to be like men.

I felt a certain pride in knowing that my sentries, when I set the watch
and bade the others go to bed, would remain awake and alive to their own
responsible position; I felt like something of a general, to see my
agitated fellows calmed down and proceeding to rest in an ordinary
manner. If I could only hold them together, organised as warriors,
shooting steadily in the face of a charge, I knew we could repel those
Blacks much more easily than ever before and inflict upon them such a
loss that they might be completely quelled for years to come.

Every personal plan had been driven out of my head by this unexpected
advent of “war.” I thought of nothing but what might occur in the
morning and what would be our most effective means of conducting the
hill-top part of the coming engagement. I was undecided, particularly
about the use to which I had best put the bombs, for I realised that if
I attempted to throw them, I might inflict half the injury on ourselves,
not to mention the panic sure to be produced within our walls. Under the
influence of such a feeling, my fellows might commit the gravest
indiscretions.

Dismissing the whole affair from my weary brain at last, I retired,
surrounded by my weapons, and was deep in dreamless sleep in a moment.



                              CHAPTER XXXI
                           LOST IN THE JUNGLE


When I suddenly sat erect, with a feeling that the battle was on and I
too late to assume my part, it took me a second to realise what had
aroused me from sleep. It was only little Tike, who had come to my side
in the semi-light of dawn and laid his tiny hand upon my face.

Not one of all the babies I have known in my life ever made a sweeter
sound of crooning than did my Little Man that morning, as I held him
snugly cuddled in my arm. It seemed to me the wee chap told how he had
searched my deserted shelter all the day before, and all the other days,
since I had been away so much; it seemed as if he forgave me and forgot
this neglect and made himself a promise that I would not go away and
leave him any more. The light increased, chasing the shadows away from
his thin, little face, but under his wistful eyes were shadows far too
deep to be dispelled by any light of earth. I noted this and observed
that his lip was inclined to tremble; his eye-lids seemed to be heavy as
lead. What a singular little face it was—such a homely, tiny, monkey
face, with phases of child-humanism coming and going across its
lineaments.

“Man,” he said, “man,” and he patted my hand and gave a little shiver of
joy.

I carried him out with me when I went to investigate the situation.
Below me, where I had seen the fires the night before, there was nothing
visible of any of the foe. I noted a thin wisp of smoke, curling lazily
upward above the lowest trees, and I presently detected the shaking of a
brush, denoting the presence of one of the black fellows, who was spying
upon us, unobserved. How I longed for a good rifle to rest on top of our
wall with its muzzle aimed down there at the cover of the demons!

My fellows stirred about with commendable promptness, sixty of them
armed with the bows, all of them eagerly watching to see what I intended
to do. They commanded a certain thrill of admiration, for they were
impressively muscular, alert and active. I could almost fancy them
soldiers, some day, disciplined, efficient and worthy of trust.

As the sun began to warm the earth, the invaders below commenced to move
about more freely. Although they brandished their clubs toward us and
seemed to swarm all through that portion of the jungle, there was no
indication that the creatures intended to make an immediate attack. I
was soon convinced that they were there in great numbers. What their
plan would be I found myself unable to surmise, but it was plain the
fellows were being held in check for some extraordinary measure. I had
been obliged to admit before that these Blacks exhibited certain marks
of superiority over my Reds, in points of aggressiveness and stratagem,
but this game of waiting and deliberate planning surpassed anything they
had performed since I first made their honoured acquaintance.

As far as anything could be deduced from the position now occupied by
the besiegers, I concluded they meant to surge up the slope, at this
point of advantage, where the grade was easy and unobstructed. I own I
should have felt relieved had the savages commenced the war at once.
There was something ominous about this deliberation which I in nowise
relished. While I was attempting to put myself in their place, for the
purpose of thinking what I would do, knowing what they did of the
reception they were likely to meet upon storming the summit, I heard
distant yelling in the jungle. This drew nearer, after which the sounds
receded again in the distance.

What might this incident portend? I inquired of myself, but I could
think of no satisfactory answer. In our larder we had a limited supply
of fruit and no meat fit to cook. I divided everything as equitably as
possible, but none of us had enough for a hearty breakfast. Old Fatty,
who observed me putting aside a portion of my share, put away the whole
of his, like a faithful dog who refuses to eat while his master is in
any way afflicted.

During our meal, and while I was concerning myself with the question of
how we should manage to supply the camp with more provisions, I noted a
distant tumble of mist, arising from the lowlands, like a cloud of smoke
from heavy artillery. This grew and spread with great rapidity. I
comprehended at once that a fog would soon envelope all the world. At
first I thought this solved the problem of the Blacks’ new game of war.
I believed they had waited for this to occur, with a knowledge that it
came reliably often, intending to swoop upon us under its cover and
strike us down before we could realise the meaning of the charge. A
moment later, however, I knew they would never dare attack in even
semi-darkness. The fog was not a thing which a Link would think of
employing.

Suddenly I had an idea that fog was exactly a thing of which man would
take advantage. I would utilise this one to the fullest extent. Watching
its progress now in excitement, for fear it might be too local to
include our hill, I was aware of a repetition of the yelling in chorus,
which I had noted before, out in the forest. I could think of no reason
why a portion of the besieging army should thus be off in the jungle,
making such a racket, but the fellows about me began to manifest the
greatest alarm. The sounds again drew nearer and nearer; the fog rolled
in, apparently on the heels of this party in the jungle. It seemed
almost like a race between the mist and this battalion of the invading
force.

I heard the yelling creatures swerve off to the right. Their very
position was revealed by the rising of a large flock of parrots, all of
which made a considerable noise as they flashed brilliantly in the
sunlight a moment and swept down again, a hundred yards from where they
rose. Just as I began to have an indefinite anxiety about the game being
played below us, the fog enveloped that portion of the jungle where the
foe were conducting their mysterious operations. I fancied a wail of
disappointment finished their chorus of cries, after which the fog
seemed to blot out all sound as well as all the panorama below our
position.

Silently the great pall spread and travelled, till I saw it climbing the
slope between ourselves and the camp of the Blacks.

“Now we’ll fix ’em,” I cried to my warriors. “They have played their
game and now we’ll play the joker.”

Going to the magazine I hurriedly uncovered all my bombs and took out
all but the smallest three, together with a quantity of fuse. This
latter had become so dry that I felt the greatest confidence in the
dryness of all the powder. Bidding my most intelligent and obedient
fellows take these up with care, I lifted the two largest myself and led
the way through the gate and started down and around the hill, toward
the entrenchment of the Blacks.

At once my fighters halted, afraid of the fog and more afraid of the
enemy in waiting. I stormed and coaxed and threatened before I could get
them to follow, but Fatty came and then another, after which the others
felt ashamed to remain behind. Thus I got the small force a little more
than half way down the slope, where I directed them to deposit the bombs
on the ground and to dig a long, narrow trench across the path up which
I believed the Blacks intended to come when at last they made their
assault upon the summit.

In the bottom of this ditch, which was made two feet deep in a time
amazingly brief, I arranged my bombs, about a foot apart, hurriedly
attaching a fuse to each, making the matches as nearly of a length as
possible. The mines extended for so considerable a distance that I
determined to lay two series of main fuses. This I did by bringing
together the matches of all the bombs on the right, in one bunch, and
all on the left in another. At these junctions I cut each fuse off to
insure freshness and to guarantee ignition of the powder, after which I
weighted them down with rocks, placed the end of the main fuse in
contact with them and sprinkled powder plentifully about to unite them
all in one train. A similar arrangement being completed for the second
group, I had the whole mine covered carefully, with rocks and earth,
when I trailed my main matches up the hill, had them weighted down and
brought the ends together several rods below our wall.

The Links were willing enough to return inside our gate. I had them
remove a few of the stones from the wall at a point just opposite my
fuses, and then we conveyed some embers from the fire with which to
kindle a special blaze wherefrom I intended to snatch a lighted brand
when the moment should arrive for touching off the match.

All being in readiness I should have been gratified to see the fog roll
away and the enemy starting up the hill in a solid phalanx. We stood on
guard as an extra precaution, in case the Blacks should summon a courage
sufficient to attack us under cover of the mist, but the world was
silent and the objects about us were ghostly in the vaporous shrouds.
The hours wore on and the fog continued thick and warm. We had all been
hungry before the mist arose; we were now growing restless and desperate
to satisfy our cravings.

To add to my own discomforts I began to worry about the fuse absorbing
dampness. Should it be ruined by the fog the mines would be useless.
What might happen then was beyond conjecture, for we should have no
large bombs to use, and the small ones left in the magazine could not be
provided with fuse. In the midst of my troubles, little Tike came
stumbling against my leg. He fell down at my feet, but was up at once
and gazing in my face with his odd little smile playing lightly on his
lips. I took him on my arm and going to my shelter gave him all he would
take of the fruits. Fatty, on seeing this, fetched his hidden store and
rolled about in ecstasy when he had placed it before me. I ate a piece
of his hoarded fruit to please the old fellow, after which I
endeavoured, vainly, to get him to eat what remained.

He was ravenously hungry, so much so that he could not keep his eyes
from the tempting mangoes and papaw, nor keep his tongue from lapping at
his chops, yet he still refused to eat when I signified that I should
take no more. He concealed the hoard again, returning to his place with
his stomach empty.

Only once, since my advent among the Links, had a fog remained all day
to obscure the hills and forest, but this one threatened to perform a
similar feat. From time to time it lifted for a moment from a local
area, only to descend again more quickly than before. I began to believe
that perhaps it might be possible for a party of us to deploy on a
foraging tour and visit the grove of fruit-bearing trees. Unfortunately
the Blacks had made their camp in the most accessible “orchard,” which
gave them a great advantage. However, I knew of several cocoanut palms,
a little removed from the enemy’s position, which I thought I could
find, even in the dark. I decided to make an attempt to reach this
grove.

It was well along in the afternoon by this, and the fog still hung
heavily on the country. As before, I had considerable trouble in getting
a force of fellows to back me in the enterprise. But the hungriest
became the bravest and therefore with ten stout fellows, all armed, I
left the wall behind and went cautiously down the hill.

Very soon I found that everything appeared so altered in the mist that
piloting my party was not at all an easy matter. I disliked exceedingly
the prospect of finding myself in the enemy’s lines, but having started,
I was too proud, or too stubborn, to do such a sensible thing as retreat
and own myself baffled. We therefore proceeded uncertainly along, near
the edge of the trees, getting deeper and deeper, it seemed, into the
maze of fog and unfamiliar objects. The mist down here was much more
dense than that which floated about the camp above.

As we prowled stealthily ahead, looking aloft at the shadowy trees, the
curtain of vapour was rended about us, abruptly, leaving us bare—as it
were—and completely revealed. On the second a cry of alarm broke from a
Black, not fifteen yards away, and a chorus of yells made answer, as a
score of the demons rushed out from the cover of trees, to give us
battle.

My nimble fellows vanished like shadows, bounding swiftly up the slope
and into the kindly bank of fog, before the Blacks could so much as
count their heels. I also started to dash away toward the camp, but
tripped over a rolling stone and fell down heavily, my ankle sprained
and pain shooting all through my leg and body. Scrambling on hands and
knees in desperate haste, I made toward the fog, conscious that three or
four of the Blacks were dashing toward me. I breathed a great sigh of
relief and thankfulness to see the mist close in upon the place.

Turning instantly, when this veiling pall was about me, I moved at the
top of my speed toward the trees and undergrowth of vines. I heard the
cry of triumph which burst from the lips of the creatures who thoroughly
expected to leap upon me, and I heard even the quick, light tread of
their feet as they ran, but the turn had deceived them and diving into
the tangle of leaves and creepers, pushing my bow and dragging my aching
foot, I lay at full length, to pant, for a brief time, when I crawled
laboriously off in the direction which I believed to be opposite the
camp of the foe.

My pursuers raced about at random on the slope, chattering in disgust
and amazement, but they were soon confused by the fog. They searched
about for several minutes, one of them coming almost upon me, as I lay
beneath the vines, but at last all returned to their savage companions.
I could now guess the direction of the camp they had formed by the
sounds they made in retiring. This direction seemed entirely contrary to
what I had mentally determined to be right. However, I crawled away from
the vicinity which I now knew bordered on their position, and turned to
go toward the hill.

Doubtless the pain in my ankle distracted my attention, but at any rate
when I had crept a distance which I thought should have been sufficient
to place me out of the forest and on the slope, there was no hill
visible and the jungle seemed equally deep on every side. Thinking I had
probably made a mistake of a point or more, by my mental compass, I
started off again, in a slightly different direction.

This soon became hopeless. I realised that the fog had confused me a
trifle, but it seemed too absurd that I should not find the clearing and
then be able to go to the top of the hill. In fifteen minutes I had
become so muddled that I dared not move another yard. It appears
ridiculous, but I was lost.

Jungle, I had found before this, was quite sufficiently difficult to
traverse toward a given point in the brightest light, but enveloped in a
fog it became the most bewildering and maddening maze. To make matters
worse, the day was nearly spent, my ankle pained me exceedingly and my
dread of snakes became a factor which contributed much to my nervous
excitement. I leaned against a tree, finally, convinced of the
inexpedience of blundering about in a hit-or-miss effort to rectify my
first mistake. If I got any deeper in the tangle, I thought, I might not
be able to find myself, even by the full light of day.

To stand there in that inhabited place of horrors, knowing that the sun
was departing in its race toward the western horizon, feeling anxious
and uncourageous, aching from my foot to my thigh, and angry with myself
for being such a fool,—this was about as comfortless a thing as I had
ever undergone. I was sure the fog would lift from the hill while it
still surrounded me; I was certain the Blacks would swarm up the slope,
storm the place, murder half my Links and drive the others pell-mell to
the woods; and I was not at all convinced that I should ever issue forth
from that jungle alive.

I listened, expectantly, but not a sound could I catch, either of
prowling brutes, nor of attack on our village; the silence was
particularly oppressive. Darker and darker grew the forest. I knew at
last the sun had set on an ocean of fog. Perhaps the attack had been
rendered impossible, for that day at least, but wherein my condition was
bettered by this descent of night was more than I could discover. My
thoughts were hardly more cheerful when I pictured the breaking of dawn,
the hill-top clear and distinct in the light, and the blood-hungry enemy
sweeping the summit of every vestige of our work and genius.

One hour, two, perhaps three elapsed—a time that seemed a century. I had
remained all the while at the foot of that tree, without attempting to
move about. I was doomed to remain there, helpless and impotent, it
seemed, for any time which might prove agreeable to the gods of fortune.
My thoughts had wandered afield, so that doubtless I had forgotten to
listen to anything but my own meditation. It is certain that I was
conscious for several moments, in an automatic manner, of a dull,
monotonous sound, before it reached my notice. At last I seemed abruptly
to recognise that a thud and thud was penetrating the silence. Then I
started so quickly toward the direction whence this disturbance arose
that I all but fell, unsupported as I was by the injured foot. But I
pulled myself together and feeling my way, hastened forward as rapidly
as possible, crazed with a new delight. I had recognised the sound.

It was Fatty, beating on the drum to affright the Blacks.



                             CHAPTER XXXII
                            THE BAMBOO BOMBS


In my haste to reach the clearing before that electrifying tom-tom
melody should cease, I took no account of the distance between the edge
of the wood and the place where I had halted. It was not so far as I had
feared, however, though it was further than I had any business to have
been away from home.

Upon coming to the slope, I got upon my hands and knees to crawl, for my
ankle required rest. The fires were burning brightly in our village, but
the mist was still weaving thickly about the summit.

When I turned up again among my fellows, like the penny which cannot be
lost, they were nearly knocked dumb with astonishment. Hungry, disgusted
and weary, I limped off to bed as soon as I had indicated the need of
sentries throughout the night. Such a war as this made me snort with
contempt.

Sometime during the night the fog disappeared, as mysteriously as it had
come. I had rested badly, having been kept awake by the pain in my foot,
so that I arose before morning and sat by the fire. There, after bathing
the ankle in water from the spring of brine, I bound it up with strips
of squirrel skin, fastened on with cord made of divided creepers. This
treatment gave me much relief. The only luck I had in the accident was
that the sprain was not so serious as my facial contortions (when alone)
might have indicated to a keen observer.

The morning broke clear as glass; one could feel that the day meant to
be hot before it finished. In our settlement we were all somewhat cross,
from lack of food, myself in particular, because this game of starving
us out seemed so nonsensical, and also because my relief expedition had
fizzled out to such a miserable end. I began to be anxious to try
results with our cunning besiegers. If they delayed the fight for the
day again, I meant to carry the issue into their own headquarters, for
we had to eat!

Thinking I might enrage them to the point of starting the battle, I
carried the gold-nugget club from my shelter and planted it, nugget end
uppermost, on our ramparts, directly in line with their camp and the
mine of bombs below. Then I induced old Fatty to beat the drum, while I
got up on top of the wall and paraded, somewhat after the top-loftical
style of the American Indians, beating my breast with my fist, shouting
derisively and pointing with maniacal glee to the gleaming club which we
had taken, as a token of victory worthily won.

This bit of vanity produced an immediate effect, for a score of the
fellows down in the trees appeared from the cover, sufficiently furious
to suit the most exacting mind. They screamed shrilly to express their
wrath, they beat the unoffending earth with their clubs, and they danced
about as if the soil were hot. Nevertheless they advanced hardly as much
as a stone-toss up the slope, being evidently under some powerful
restraint. I executed the most aggravating evolutions, limping about on
the wall, but to no apparent purpose. What was the game which the
creatures played with such assurance that they could wait with this
remarkable patience? I was angry to think they would not attack; I was
annoyed to be obliged to admit that their warfare threatened to be
subtle and effective. I hated to be starved into retreat, which would
certainly be disastrous, or into a charge, down hill, against an ambush,
which charge would doubtless prove to be an insupportable calamity.

“Come up, you cowards!” I bawled in a sneering tone of voice. “Lay on,
you black McDuffers—we can wipe you off the map!”

My only answer was an echo of the cries I had heard the morning before,
away in the jungle. This puzzled me again; it made me impatient. My
Links had surged about me, wrought to a fine frenzy of excitement, eager
to eat up the whole nation of Blacks—as splendid a pack of starving
wolves as one could find. They also heard the cries, where the enemy
appeared to be scouring through the forest, and I noted that many grew
silent and worried. They reminded me of animals which have an instinct
that warns them against the dangers which a human being cannot see nor
feel.

The chief stood a little away, aloof from the others, leaning as ever on
his club. What a brilliant, coruscating spot was made by the great,
deadly crystal which he wielded so terribly in the fight! His mate, the
indignant albino, stood beside him, eyeing myself with scorn and hatred.
Her round, pink eyes were as nervous as quicksilver; her whole demeanour
expressed the jealousy she nourished against me for pushing aside the
chief, and the undisguised desire she felt to avenge herself for my
former repudiation of her serene regard.

I gave her only a glance, and to the chief a nod of recognition. Below
me little Tike was looking up in my face; near him old Fatty was
standing, his quick, bright eyes upon me, his arms akimbo and the
battered old skull on his head pushed aside, revealing hairless spots
where, by rubbing, it had worn the growth off his leather-covered pate.

“Animals or primitive men—what are you all?” I muttered, and I shook my
head and gave it up.

Again came the concerted cries from the jungle. They were nearer; there
seemed to be a great commotion, not far from the edge of the trees, and
this appeared to increase with every second. I saw several of my fellows
begin to edge away, as if to make a run to a place of safety from a foe
most dread. All the Links were making uneasy sounds, comparable only to
the whimpering of a frightened dog.

“Here—come back here. Brace up, you fellows!” I cried to stop the
incipient panic. “Pigs coming—pigs to shoot—pigs to kill!”

I raised my bow and notched an arrow on the string. I jumped down and
stirred up the fire which must furnish me a brand for the fuses. Then
again I got on the wall and shouted our defiance to all the jungle-world
about us. Old Fatty began to beat the drum like a fury.

My warriors were inflamed; they crowded forward to see what was
happening below. By this the cries of the enemy had become shrieks as of
madness. We saw fifty of the Blacks burst quickly from cover, run to
right and left and dash back in the woods, as if to flank an approaching
cavalcade. To my amazement I saw among the fellows the traitor
Grin—miserable coward! The Links observed him, too, and they chattered
their rage and their Link maledictions on his head.

Once more I got down, this time to arm myself with a glowing brand from
the flames. With this I shook out our only banner—a banner of smoke.

Suddenly the screen of trees, vines and creepers, seemed to bulge toward
us, then to break. Two massive dark chunks of the jungle appeared to be
bursting through. Then I saw what they were and realised what the cries
had meant, what the plan of the Blacks had been from the first—and what
a diabolical and clever scheme it was.

Two trumpeting elephants, goaded and maddened, smashed ponderously out
of the jungle and headed up the hill—surrounded and driven toward us by
hundreds of the yelling, dancing devils, with Grin in their midst, all
of them incredibly nimble, daring and wrought up to force their
irresistible allies over and through us.

The Links behind me, terrified beyond all control, were too stricken
with panic to know what to do. They fell headlong over and upon each
other; they ran in every direction. Females and children cried out in
fear; chief, fighters, all were seized in the maelstrom of fright, and
all went dashing away. Already we were as good as routed. Flight to the
jungle would mean separation, death of all who were lost and murder of
all who were overtaken by the terrible Blacks.

Confused for a moment, I attempted to call them back, to restore the
order. This was worse than useless.

The elephants came unwillingly up the hill; the din of voices and
trumpeting was appalling to hear. I jumped from my place, unconscious of
my wounded foot and dashed down the hill as if to meet this oncoming
tumult of death alone—racing toward my fuses. I had dropped my bow. My
only weapon was the smoking brand of fire.

Shrieks from the Reds, who could not but see me, and screams of delight
from the enemy, greeted the sight of a single crazy man, running down to
the jaws of this living Juggernaut from the wilds.

I reached my goal, I fell to my knees and fumbled the matches. The
monstrous battalion was nearly half way up to the trench of bombs. My
fuses failed to ignite. In desperation I broke off the ends and bore
them down upon my living coal. My thumb was burned, but I felt nothing.
A fierce hiss from the powder electrified my every fibre. I leaped to my
feet and darted part way back to the wall.

“Man,” came the cry of a sweet small voice.

Turning, I saw that my little Tike had followed me down the slope to the
fuses. There he sat beside them—and the serpents of igniting powder were
racing down to the mines, and the thundering horde of foes was racing
upward, toward the little chap and me. Insanely I ran with all my might
to rescue my only loyal Link—the baby who sat in the sunlight.

How far away he was! What a time it seemed to take me to reach him! The
elephants—how near and awful they looked! I could see their
white-showing eyes. The monsters began to gallop upward, mad to wreak
vengeance on something, for that goading behind their backs. The yells
became a din. Already the brutes must be past my trench. It would
fail—it would kill little Tike and myself—anything but the terrible
creatures pounding the earth as they came upon us!

I snatched the little fellow up and ran desperately away. Would nothing
ever happen? I fell—the ankle had gone at the critical moment. I rolled
and saw the dread spectacle crowding up and up the sun-lit hill.

Then the earth was rent wide open—great castles of earth and elephants
rose toppling in the air, along with a glare of red-and-yellow flames
and a mighty volcano of smoke. The world belched forth a detonation like
the crack of doom.

Another and yet another fearful fan of fire leaped exultantly upward,
hurling Blacks and fragments of Blacks, and soil and rock that blew
through the bellies of the elephants and shot away in every direction
toward the tranquil sky.

I was deaf with the mighty roar and concussion. From the air the debris
came raining down. The smoke seemed a fountain of enveloping fog.
Shrieks—now of terror and dreadful pain—stabbed through the confusion.
Then a rock whirred down so close to my head that it puffed me with its
cushion of air. I heard a sound and looked for little Tike, whom I had
permitted to slip to the ground as I fell.

He was there beside me, his steady, wistful eyes looking up in my face,
his poor little legs fairly crushed into the earth, beneath that
fragment of adamant, torn from its bed and hurled upon him.

I was over him instantly heaving away the hunk of stone. But I did not
attempt to lift the little mangled body. I saw he was numbed by the
shock; I knew he was dying. He lay there and smiled, as I bent above his
tiny form. He made no motion with hand or head, but when I placed my
finger in his wee palm, he closed his baby-like grip upon it and gave me
the fondest look I have ever beheld.

The Blacks could have swooped upon me, the earth could have quivered
with agony and death, but I should have known nothing of it all, nor
have cared. All the pangs of wrenched affection darted through my
breast. I was smitten dumb to see that human look of love, gratitude and
hope. The homely little face became transfigured with a look of inward
beauty; the promise of a dawning, evolving human being was there,
glowing like the life in a spark. The wistful eyes burned with that
singular light which makes us hope for things supernal.

On my finger the tiny grip fluttered. I felt myself breaking down like a
woman.

The little chap’s lip quivered a second; his fleeting breath came forth
lightly.

“Man,” he whispered in the stillness, and smiling, closed his tired
little eyes—forever.



                             CHAPTER XXXIII
                              KING AT LAST


There was a cloud over my heart; there was a pall of smoke and fumes
drawing slowly off from the scene of devastation. It seemed as if the
chasm in the hill-side were a ghastly wound of colossal proportions, for
not only was the earth torn raggedly, but blood was about, and the slope
was strewn with mangled remains.

I felt no exultation; I was ill at the sight, and weak and quite
subdued. It was a pitiful, dreadful picture, with the two elephants like
mounds of butchery, looming large in the middle distance, while down
below were numerous wounded creatures creeping away toward the jungle.
And the dying made sounds of moaning.

Not far from where I had fallen, lay part of a long, red arm—Grin’s. The
bombs had flung it nearly to the camp he had sought to betray. He must
have been among the foremost of the Links who drove the elephants up the
hill. I conjured back my vision of the charging force, at the second
when the explosion created its havoc. I remembered the huge wild animals
most distinctly, their trunks uplifted, their feet in awkward, active
motion, while to right and left and almost on their heels, the Blacks
surged up in their dance of death. I knew then that the destruction
among them must have been tremendous, for the whole length of the trench
had been covered thickly by their numbers, and the lateral force of the
bursting mines, especially down the hill, had evidently swept the slope
for rods.

I shook my head as I realised the narrowness of my own escape.

I believe I was saved only by a sort of half shoulder of the hill and
the fact that I fell and was flat on my side when the explosion
occurred.

In my brain a panorama of all the tragedy ran, time after time. It
seemed unbelievable that the Blacks had been able to drive the
elephants. I shall never cease to wonder at this remarkable performance,
for everything I know of the jungle’s greatest brute leads me always to
suppose they would turn upon their pigmy tormentors and drive them away
in confusion, no matter how great their numbers. But more incredible
than even this was the sudden blotting out of all that mad stampede. I
felt like the last man left on earth.

It was quite impossible for me to go down that dread slope as yet. I sat
on the ground, dejected, weak from hunger and the strain of all the
excitement. I rested my chin in my hand and gazed off abstractedly
toward the endless sea of green. I lost all interest in the world about
me, for all my memories and all my dreams had conveyed me afar from that
island of singular fates. At length I was aroused from my reverie by
Fatty, who came furtively down from the village and crawled in front of
my feet, to gaze in my face, with his comical, quizzical expression of
deep anxiety spread thickly on his homely phiz.

“Hullo,” said I, “did you come back at last to twist the enemy’s tail?”

Then I saw an amazing line of heads above the wall, where dozens of our
fellows were peering down upon the scene and upon myself. On their faces
I noted every conceivable look of awe and horror. That I sat there,
seemingly calm after all of that day’s fatal work, impressed them a
thousand fold more than as if I had strutted and boasted of the deed.
Perhaps my face betrayed a certain look of grimness, which events had
compelled in my thoughts; howbeit the creatures were stricken with an
overpowering dread of my presence.

The hill-shaking explosion had been infinitely more terrific than my
first little celebration with a single bomb, and this had given them all
a fright, the memory of which could never be eradicated from their
minds. But if this had rendered them respectful toward me as the
actuating spirit of it all, the sight of the slope simply drowned them
in fathomless awe. The mightiest creatures of the jungle, torn apart
like things of paper, the hill split open and altered, a yelling army
scattered and blown to atoms—this sum of deeds appalled them so
thoroughly that the strongest might have died of shock had I jabbed him
in the ribs with my thumb.

Fatty, on seeing that I lived, began to grovel on his face and to push
his head against the soil where my feet had rested, as if he were quite
unfit to abide on the surface of my earth and would therefore worm and
bore his way down and out of sight without further ado.

One after another, then, the trembling fellows came crawling down the
hill, many on their stomachs, to adore my tracks, to wriggle about my
feet and otherwise to endeavour to calm me down and humble themselves in
my exalted shadow. Even the chief came toward me on hands and knees,
dragging his club and afraid to lift his head. His downfall was
complete; there were none more thoroughly overwhelmed than he. On the
ground before me the fellow laid his great crystal weapon—at once his
sceptre and his sword—and he, too, adored the turf where my feet had
trod. The women, with the albino among them, and even the children, got
on the ground, prostrate, abject and afraid.

“Ahem, really, fellow citizens,” said I with a grin, “your attentions
quite overcome me. Pray excuse my unseemly emotion and blushes.”

I had conducted a large experiment with some success, yet I felt that my
efforts had been far from superhuman, and not even carried out with
wholly unselfish motives. I felt in fact that the whole present
proposition bordered on the lines of comic opera, for I knew that by the
token of the chiefs submission I stood there at last, the King of the
Missing Links!



                             CHAPTER XXXIV
                            A MOMENT OF REST


We held a mighty funeral-carnival. The heat made it necessary to rush
this matter as much as possible. My Links took no little of the meat of
the slaughtered elephants, but as soon as all were fed again I set them
to work deepening the cavern which the mines had excavated in the hill.

With creepers for ropes and with rollers to render the task more easy,
we dragged the huge carcasses into the graves by sheer force of numbers.
Collecting the Blacks was a most unpleasant labour, but it had to be
done thoroughly, and it was, although my subjects had never before
performed such an office for enemies of any description. Oddly enough we
were quite unable to discover the body of Grin.

In the pits I had several great fires ignited, to cremate as much as
possible of the flesh, after which the earth was thrown in and heaped up
until I was sure that the shallowest portion of the grave was covered
with at least ten feet of soil.

I could have rested with a very good grace after all this business of
war, but I remembered my former plans and the bear-skin waiting to be
tanned, in the boat. I feared the pelt might be ruined already, and
therefore I took the earliest opportunity of visiting my lake
possessions. When I came in sight of the boat, I had reason to be glad
that I had moored her away from the bank, for I found abundant evidence
that the Blacks had been there, undoubtedly intent on doing mischief.
Fortunately for me their dread of the water had proved greater than
their desire to destroy the boat, and their ingenuity had shown itself
deficient when they faced the problem of getting the craft ashore
without wetting their precious feet. But they had thrown every available
rock at the innocent craft, together with all the loose pieces of burnt
clay.

Thanks to the covering of clay and leaves, which permitted a slight
circulation of air, while it kept out investigative insects, the skin
was in excellent condition. Indeed I am inclined to believe the delay
had been actually beneficial in the curing process. The thing was
pliable and as sweet as a hide could possibly be—which, by the way, is
not extravagant praise. I had rowed away, out of sight of my loyal
subjects, before uncovering my treasure. Floating on the calm surface of
the lake I worked at the pelt most arduously. Nearly the whole of that
day I was rubbing it, scrubbing the parts together and otherwise keeping
it soft, while the sun and the air dried out the moisture which made it
heavy and “green.”

When I was finally ready to call it finished, the hide was much like a
soft, thick robe, such as is commonly employed for a rug, a condition
which I knew would be permanent, although in a spot or two the thing
might be inclined to stiffen. I packed it again in leaves merely to hide
it from sight and proceeded back to our beach, where I anchored the boat
as before.

Inasmuch as I felt that my actual duties were now performed, I
determined to rest for a space and enjoy the peace which we had
compelled so abruptly. I therefore lay about the camp the following
morning, doing absolutely nothing to “earn my salt.” Now and again I
caught myself feeling or looking about. There was no little Tike. When I
dozed I fancied I heard his voice, but on starting awake found nothing
beside me but faithful old Fatty, who always poked his forehead on the
ground as soon as he saw me looking upon him. Someway the camp seemed
not itself. I got no enjoyment from my streak of laziness, and I got but
little rest. It did me good to carve a bit of a board, or section of
bamboo, with the inscription:

                             “LITTLE MAN.”

This I planted in the mound of rocks where the tiny chap was buried.

The settlement, I thought, would never be the same to me again,
especially now that I was king. My Links were far too conscious of my
regal attributes; there was less of the feeling of fellowship than we
had enjoyed before. I had failed to appreciate our previous social
equality, but now that all were rendered so timid and humbled in my
presence, I was bored and somewhat annoyed. The crystal club I kept in
my shelter, beside the one of the gleaming nugget. Though he seemed, now
and again, to eye me somewhat sullenly and to gaze on the weapon with a
hungering expression of countenance, the ex-chief made himself an
excellent new bludgeon, with a rock at the end, which was twice the
weight of any other similarly employed in the place.

The fellow accepted a bow and a lot of arrows readily enough. We hunted
as before, employing these excellent weapons. Some of the creatures had
learned by this time to shoot with great force and precision. One sent
an arrow entirely through the belly of a hog, on one of our many
excursions to the jungle.

In a leisurely manner I provided myself with cord and sundry requisites
for masquerading as a bear. Before my rest was two days old I was weary
of it and restless to be again actively engaged. Once more the malady of
dislike for all the Links and their camp had broken out within me,
wherefore I desired to hasten matters in regard to my unknown friend, on
whose rescue I was fully determined.

I began to wonder why I had delayed this important matter for a moment.
I was eager to see this man, grasp his hand and hear him speak the
language so long denied my ears. Why, if he were half a man, we two
could accomplish anything—everything! Why had I not hastened to reach
him and to get him away while the Blacks were still demoralised by the
recent extermination of more than half their number? I would dally no
longer; I would act at once.

In order to proceed with intelligence I had need to formulate my plan.
What should I do? Do?—I would simply row my boat to Outlet river, dress
myself in the bear-skin suit and waddle into the settlement to make my
observations. This sounded simple enough, but reason told me I should
blunder no little as a bear and appear none too real in the role. I must
practice, I thought as my first sane conclusion, but my second was still
more rational—I would work the trick in semi-darkness only, when my
features would be rendered somewhat indefinite by the shadows. Should I
go there in the early morning, or should I try the game in the twilight
of evening? In the morning, I meditated, the light increases rapidly,
and my man might be asleep; daylight could readily overtake me while I
was crawling about to get my bearings. Clearly the evening would be the
better time.

Well, then, the sooner the business began the sooner I should know what
was what. I decided to be present in the camp of the Blacks that very
day, when the sun should have disappeared behind the hills.



                              CHAPTER XXXV
                             A FELLOW HUMAN


Greatly relieved to have something to do—something which might be about
to furnish a turning point in all this unnatural existence of mine in
the wilds, I set off for the boat at an early hour of the afternoon.
Once started on the expedition, I was in a fever of haste to be about it
and to try my new conclusions with fortune.

The skull of the bear had been boiled free of everything suggesting
meat. When a mile away, down the lake I replaced this heavy thing in the
skin and sewed the hide roughly about it to give the head a natural
appearance. Then along the edges where I had been obliged to cut the
pelt to get it off, I made a series of holes, into which I laced the
cords, provided for the purpose, intending to draw them tight when the
costume was properly adjusted about me.

Having nothing more to prepare, I rowed leisurely for two hours, when I
went ashore, near the mouth of the outlet, and tried my disguise. This
business discouraged me greatly. I was able to get the neck portion
fastened about my head, in such a manner that I could see easily, and
the body of the skin about my chest and waist, but my arms and legs were
too long for the paws and legs of the bear, while the body part was
longer than my trunk. Altogether I was about the most extraordinary
looking freak to be found in the jungle, when I had done my utmost to
make the costume fit.

I should quite have appreciated the use of several mirrors at this stage
of my make-up, in order to see if sundry portions were on straight, but
was denied this pleasure, having failed to provide myself with various
articles of the toilet. It was only by crawling and lolling about on the
ground, on knees and elbows that I was enabled to convince myself that I
looked the slightest bit like the creature whose part I had essayed to
perform.

I have never felt more warm in my life than I did in that skin. The day
was hot, the hide was heavy, and I had laboured hard to get it on. The
perspiration threatened to make the pelt insupportable. But now that I
had myself fastened inside it, I dreaded the task of taking it off and
putting it on again later. As an outcome of much agitated mental debate,
I decided to be a bear until my work as a spy was concluded. I therefore
sat me down, in the shade, near my boat, and waited for sunset.

The sun becomes very deliberate, I found, when it catches a man in a
tight, hot place. It seemed as if the fiery ball intended to hang in the
western sky for several centuries, for my particular delectation. At
last it got weary of the game and departed.

A bear can perform several feats with comfort and ease to himself and
with grace, perhaps, but rowing a boat is not among the number. I grew
hotter, in several ways, directly. I think I wished fervently that my
unknown friend, the prisoner, had never committed the indiscretion of
being captured by the Blacks. It being necessary to proceed with
caution, my torture was much prolonged. At length, however, I noted a
snug retreat in which my boat could remain, undetected, and which I
hoped would be readily accessible from the camp I was searching in the
jungle.

Already the shadows had begun to be deep, so that I walked erect, in
what I thought to be the right direction, moving with the greatest care,
and alert every second for the smallest sound. I had made my way for a
considerable distance in this manner, without being able to detect any
disturbance in the forest, when presently a low rumble, as of something
rolling over stones, beneath a muffling canopy, broke on the air. This
sound increased. It seemed to come from a source not far away, and yet
it was most uncertain and elusive. I was quite at a loss to determine
whence it proceeded. Growing stronger it made a great ado of grumbling,
reaching a sort of climax in less than a minute, after which it slowly
subsided and was gone.

Standing where I was, I listened attentively, for the noise had puzzled
me much. Then through the silence came another sound, which anyone could
have understood, anywhere on earth. It was a moan. A second later I
heard the rustle of leaves and saw a prowling form—one of the ebon
Links.

Falling upon my hands and knees, noiselessly, I waited for the fellow to
pass from sight and hearing, after which I crawled laboriously forward,
nearing the sound where something was voicing its pain. My heart was
beating so tumultuously that I felt obliged to halt frequently, in order
to calm myself as much as the perilous situation would permit. Moving
thus and keeping constantly in the cover of the vines and grasses, I
glanced about me keenly.

When I came upon the clearing in which the Blacks abided, it happened so
abruptly that I started, to find myself so near. Lying out full length,
I endeavoured to quiet the thumping of my heart and to moisten my mouth,
which had become dry and gluey. Then I looked about, through the
friendly screen of creepers.

The shadows lay thick enough for all purposes, yet there was light
enough to reveal several incongruous things. First I noted a dozen or
more of the black Links, some of them moving about, some squatting on
the ground, monkey-fashion, eating mangoes and melons, one lying flat on
his back in the agony of death. He it was that moaned; he had received
his mortal wounds in the great explosion. I saw that his arm was gone,
and then I knew him—Grin.

At the back of the clearing was a wall of rock. In front of this stood a
natural pillar of stone, and fastened up at the top was something which
for a time presented the greatest mystery. It looked like portions of a
skeleton, disconnected, but it gleamed, even in the twilight. I studied
it closely for the thing compelled my undivided attention. Then I saw
the skull and knew it had all been, upon a time, the frame work of a
living creature, but astonishing fact of all things weird—it was plated
all over with something precisely resembling gold!

I forgot the Links; I forgot my mission to their village. That skeleton
centered my every thought. I studied it, patched it together mentally,
and attempted to picture it properly straightened out. This process
convinced me at once that the arms were shorter than those of any Link,
while the skull was finely formed on the human pattern. I observed that
the whole thing, if properly articulated would be taller than I. The
Links, I told myself, cared nothing for the bones of their kind, and
less for those of their foes. It must be—it had to be the skeleton of a
man!

But the gold—or whatever it was,—the plating, how came it on the skull
and on those ribs, those bones of the arms and thighs and all the rest?
Why was it here? Immediately my brain jumped to the preposterous
conclusion that my “friend,” the man I had come to save, had been killed
since my former visit, his skeleton plated with something and strung up
here on the rock to please some strange whims of these incomprehensible
creatures. I knew, a second later, that this was absurd. My mental
process as quickly formed a saner theory. This man had lived among the
Blacks before; they had learned of him—which accounted for many
things,—like their superiority over my Reds,—they had killed him, later,
and by some singular accident this appearance of plating had come to
pass on the bones.

In the midst of my conjectures, that weird, low rumble commenced again,
nearer at hand, but still in some locality invisible from where I was.
Crouching, while its mighty tones increased, several Blacks glanced
upward at the skeleton and then put their heads upon the ground in
adoration before the pillar of stone.

I nearly cried out as I suddenly grasped at a wonderful thought. That
rumbling—it was certainly a sound I had heard before that day—it
certainly must be that marvellous cauldron of gold, where the geyser
shot upward and boiled in its cavern. The plated skeleton had received
its plating there; the nugget of gold at the end of the club which a
Black had wielded in war, had come from there; the cavern which I and
old Fatty had seen, on the day we fled in the subterranean passage, was
there; and these creatures owned it and evidently knew of an opening
leading to its wondrous interior from the outside world!

What was I about to discover? What was here, in and about this
remarkable camp? Would I see it all?—would I get a chance to investigate
the wonderful cave? Could I rob that cauldron of its treasure? I was
wild with excitement. I wished that I had an overwhelming army behind
me—a force sufficient to drive these creatures anywhere, away in the
jungle. I looked about, as if to see my army. Great Scott! I had utterly
forgotten how alone I was! The wretches might discover me, know me and
beat me to jelly in a second. My breath came hard; I remembered my
business in a manner painfully vivid.

I must go ahead, for obviously there was nothing here for me, nothing of
that partner I had come to steal. He must be off, where a pair of Blacks
were walking as I looked. Still keeping in the cover, I edged about the
clearing and pushed ahead. A tangled isthmus of greenery divided the
small open space from another which was considerably larger. In a brief
time I came in sight of this and beheld another remarkable sight.

At the foot of a towering cliff of rocks, surrounded by fruit trees on
the left, the river down in front, and the isthmus of trees and vines in
which I was lying on the right, was a fine flat space, commodious,
strategically situated and now alive with black Missing Links. Our
explosion had killed the fighters by the score, but the females and
children were exceedingly numerous, while of males there were still
almost as many as we had in all our tribe.

That once the creatures had been directed by a man was plain, for here
were a score of dugouts, such as we possessed, but the roofs were gone
from many, while those of the others showed every sign of neglect and
the rapid deterioration into which it seemed as if the creatures must
fall, and let everything fall, when abandoned to themselves. Of any
weapons which they might have possessed in the “age” of that man, there
was not the slightest sign. Looking carefully about, I saw but one
shelter on which the roof appeared to be intact. This one was near the
base of the cliff, on the left-hand side of the clearing, from me; that
is to say, the same side on which I was now concealed.

The light was growing dim. I peered about, in a vain endeavour to see
“my man.” How I wished I might raise my voice and cry out a greeting—a
something which would tell this other human being of my nearness! It is
unbelievable how strong was the impulse to commit this indiscretion. I
curbed the desire, however, and waited to see if anything would happen.

Here and there, on the campus, the evening fires of the Links were being
kindled, from a “mother” fire smouldering in a natural hollow beneath
the wall of rock. I could see what I thought were the ruins of a more
convenient fireplace, near the central fire. It looked as if that former
man had provided a means for a better culinary output, but that the
creatures had soon gone back to their own original methods, when he was
dead. Then I thought that things were peculiar, for why were there no
material evidences of the presence of the man I had come to seek, about
the camp? What was the matter with this unseen individual? He must be
weak indeed to do absolutely nothing!

I remembered his spouting of poetry, and I fear my estimation of a man
who would give himself over to such effeminate employment as that was of
precious little account. Poetry indeed! He was evidently a lady’s man
for his voice had sounded soft and here was proof that he either could
not, or was not willing to, manufacture the very first thing, either for
cooking, living or fighting. Perhaps such a fellow was hardly worth the
risk; perhaps I should be wise to retreat, in good order, and let him
work out his own salvation.

My attention was caught, as I scanned the place in this critical frame
of mind, by a flutter of something, near the only decent shelter.

“Upon my word,” I muttered in huge contempt, “I believe the fellow has
got out his washing on a line!”

About that moment a bird in the tree above me made a sound like a boy
whistling. This was my cue. If any man were anywhere about, he would
hear a whistle—and the Links would have no suspicion. I piped up on the
opening bar of “Yankee Doodle.” This I repeated time after time. It
appeared as if the scheme would turn out worthless, as it produced no
apparent effect. Growing more bold, I started to whistle my lay a trifle
louder, but I chopped it off short in the middle, for I beheld a figure
emerge from the decent dug-out and start slowly toward me, walking and
performing some singular weaving motions with the arms.

The dusk had gathered over the scene, yet I saw that this was a white
human being!



                             CHAPTER XXXVI
                         SURPRISE AND SUSPENSE


I held my breath, I shivered with sudden excitement.

The figure, slight, beautifully erect, clothed in a skirt-like garment
of skins, came nearer and nearer. I was so thoroughly intent on seeing
why the arms were moved in those singular gestures that I clean forgot
to scan the face.

The stranger came closer, followed now by scores of the Blacks, who
adored and worshipped in the tracks which were left by the feet. I could
see the heavy coils of some ornament about the neck and over the slender
shoulders of this human. Suddenly I knew what the hands were doing;
suddenly the most astounding intelligence broke on my brain.

The figure was that of a woman, young, beautiful, clad like Diana, and
the coils about her maidenly form were those of a monster serpent, the
head of which she held in her hand while with the other she gently
unwound the wrappings of the tail.

I whistled again, more softly, my excitement growing at every second.

On she came, uncertainly, down along the edge of that open cage in the
jungle, her head held finely in a listening poise, her face white, set
and smileless. She moved like a goddess in a dream. In her eyes burned a
half-wild light of anxiety; on her lips there was a tense look of
suppressed emotion. Her beautiful arms seemed marble-white, as they
moved in those snake-soothing gestures; her whole deportment was that of
one who questions, yearns eagerly for a sign on which to build a hope,
but dares not believe that a cruel fate could possibly relent.

She was almost opposite where I was lying. I knew I should speak to
her—do something instantly, before the moment should be gone, but my
tongue now cleaved fast to its sheath in my mouth, my teeth clenched
hard together and my muscles were all but paralysed at that fateful
moment.

She was just before me—passing me by—in reach of the slightest sound.

“Who is it?” she said aloud, in a voice that trembled.

“It’s me—a man,” I whispered with ungrammatical suddenness, “Don’t
stop—you’ll betray me—Come to-night!”

Half prepared as she was, she still started violently. She loosened her
hold on the head of the snake. The horrible thing wrapped itself about
her arm and tightened all its coils. Hastily clutching the serpent by
the neck again, she twisted and choked it into submission. Her eyes were
ablaze with fear and a wild, unbelieving hope! How luminous they were,
even in the meagre light! What a wondering, beseeching face she
revealed, as she turned for a second in her instinctive effort to see
where I was!

As she had mastered the snake, so she mastered the womanly instinct to
cry out and dash to the spot where I lay. I saw her weave slightly, as
she recovered her poise, after which she resumed her singular march
toward the river.

The Blacks came to where she had paused, adoring the trail so near me
that I could hear them breathing. What hideous brutes they were, now
that I had seen a beautiful human being! They passed, and I longed to
leap upon their backs and strike them all to death.

All about that clearing the goddess-like prisoner led the creatures who
had made her captive. She was almost lost to sight in the darkness which
was now enveloping the wood. She was only the faint suggestion of a form
when at last I saw her pass again inside her shelter.

I loosened a thousand tense muscles the second she disappeared, and lay
limber and all unstrung on the earth. I had not been seen by any Links.
It had perhaps been foolish and a waste of time to kill the bear and
adopt his hide after all. But it had given me the courage to come—and
great Heavens! what a find I had made!

A woman!—among these monsters! No wonder there were no new houses, no
ovens, no weapons of war of her making. I had been profoundly stupid. I
should have been able to guess it was not a man—that soft, clear voice,
the absence of mannish contrivances, and then that suggestive little
line of her washing—these should have been enough to tell me the story.
A woman—a helpless, beautiful woman—and I had almost thought of giving
up the effort to rescue this friend!—this fellow human!

“Gee whizz!” said I to myself, for the thing was tremendous.

Then I wondered what would happen next. Would she come—return to the
place where she had heard my voice? Would she wait till all the Links
were safely asleep and then place her trust in a stranger? At what time
were these black beasts likely to retire? Would they wake and catch her
in the act? Could we find my boat in the dark? But everything else was
as nothing compared to the question, which I repeated over and over,
would she come?

I believed she would. I intended to wait, whatever might occur, and to
wait until morning, if she did not sooner appear. A thousand times I
wished we were already in my boat and away on the lake.

“All these days gone to waste for a bear-skin,” I muttered, “and all the
time it was easy to sneak into their place under their very noses.”

I was glad now, however, of the warmth of the skin, for the ground was
moist. In the clearing the night had descended like a curtain, but five
or six fires somewhat illumined the place. The scene presented was
strange. About the centres of ruddy light were groups of these weird,
semi-human creatures, standing and squatting, eating like so many apes.
Their long, thin arms made their appearance most grotesque, silhouetted
as they were against the light. Here and there the red glow lighted up a
negro-gorilla countenance, flat-nosed, big-jawed and large-eared, till
it seemed like a region where the imps of darkness breed. And back of
all this, the play of the flames threw monster shadows, on the
background of trees and creepers, till it all had a strange appearance
of life, as if incredible snakes and incongruous animals weaved an
endless woof of mystery into the warp of night.

An hour passed and I had hardly moved. By groups the creatures slunk
away to their huddling places. The groans of many wounded, unnoted
before in the chatter, arose to chorus with the distant sounds of the
jungle. Regularly, like a marker of time, came the rumble and grumble
from the cauldron of gold.

Around the largest fire, a grim old warrior hovered for an interminable
time, after all the others had departed. I had no patience with his
pretence of cogitating over all the problems of the universe; I wished
him safely abed and snoring. He pothered about for an age, and finally
stretched himself near the embers and went to sleep.

I waited and waited, expecting every moment to be rewarded by a vision
of the prisoner, gliding toward me. The moon arose above the trees
behind me and made the place altogether too bright for any good. To
allay my impatience I watched the matchless orb sailing above the
jungle. Turning at last from the brilliant picture, my heart leaped
wildly. The goddess was almost there!

Slipping quickly, but noiselessly forth, I emerged from the vines on
hands and knees and started to arise.

The girl gave a scream and fled like a startled doe.

“Don’t be scared,” I half shouted, guardedly, “it’s only a skin,” but my
assurance was then too late.

On the instant the Blacks bounded up, alert and alarmed. Club in hand,
the grim old fighter near the fire came running toward me. The shadows
were with us, by great good fortune. The girl, moreover, had the
presence of mind to disappear in the trees and emerge further up toward
her shelter.

Realising that now or never I must act my part, I fell on all fours like
a plummet. Browsing about unconcernedly, I moved a little in the grass
at the edge of the growth, and then, having made myself sure that I had
been seen by the Links who came dashing excitedly up, I slowly rooted
back into the thicket and disappeared.

It worked like magic. Chattering a lot of drivel which was plainly
eulogistic of all the bear family and congratulatory to all the black
Links in existence—who had thus been honoured in the night—the savages
kow-towed on the ground and otherwise wrote themselves down as
unmitigated asses for a longer period by far than they need have done
for my satisfaction. Indeed it began to look as if they had taken a
notion to spend the remainder of the night in adoration of the ground I
had condescended to spurn with my hands and knees. When at last I heard
them go, I crept silently back to the edge of the growth and watched
them stir up the fire and blunder off to bed.

“Confound the skin!” I muttered to myself. “Why didn’t I tell her what a
beastly old bear I am?”

Such a time now went by that I began to fear the girl had missed my
hurried explanation, in her natural fright, when she ran. However, it
did not seem possible she would give up so easily and be afraid to come.
Yet I knew it all depended upon her condition of mind. She had doubtless
become more than usually timid while subjected to all that she must have
undergone here among the Links, all alone, and no human being could
entirely eliminate a feeling of dread for the jungle in the dark.

Trusting that in all the medley of night-sounds, a whistle would not
awaken the Links, I set up my piping on the bar of our Yankee
acquaintance again, repeating it, as before, as often as I deemed it
prudent. More of the endless waiting, in my far from enviable position,
ensued. If the moon got another half hour in which to sail before the
prisoner came, she would drive every friendly shadow squarely back to
the forest.

I watched till my neck was stiff and my body cramped. “If the goddess
doesn’t hurry,” I muttered, “the game will be up for the night.” Still
she lingered in her shelter. I began to grow cross; I vowed she must be
crimping her hair and putting on a new pair of gloves.

Suddenly she appeared again, coming out of the trees, not far away. This
time I whistled, ever so softly. She paused, came silently on a rod, and
halted as before. Another little whistle brought her almost before me.

“Now please don’t yell again,” I whispered ungallantly. “Slip into the
woods as quietly as you can—we’ve got to hurry.”

“Who is it?” she stopped to answer, below her breath, as I rose to my
feet.

“It’s just John Nevers, a common, ordinary man—American. If we’re going
to get away, I wish you wouldn’t fool around another minute.”

I saw that she stood undecided a second, with that evil-looking snake
about her shoulders; its eyes gleamed like beads in a ray of moonlight
which touched on its hateful head. For that brief space of time I felt
such a disgust for the serpent and such a growing impatience, that I had
a half impulse to trudge away alone. But she moved toward me; the light
which had fallen on the head of the snake silvered her pale, beautiful
face. The appeal which was there in her eyes, the trust which was born
on the moment, and the helplessness of a maiden, all combined to shame
me and to make me her champion against the terrors of all the world.

“Come through here,” I whispered, bending back a branch, and she stepped
toward me, confident and strong in the hope newly kindled in her breast.

The branch slipped from my fingers and swished noisily back. I heard a
snort; the light-sleeping old devil of a Link was up on his feet in a
second. He ran toward us again, this time unaccompanied by any of the
others. We stood there as silent as statues. My knife was out, for I had
instantly determined to slay this watch-dog of the tribe, if he came a
foot into the brush.

He merely whined about, uneasily, a time, and then returned to his post.
Without waiting to let him lose himself in sleep, I led and cleared the
way, moving as slowly as a frozen tortoise, for a considerable time,
while the goddess followed, as silently as my shadow.

Past the clearing, where the gilded skeleton hung in the moonlight we
glided. Here I saw the stiffened form of Grin, lying stark on the earth.
The deep, mysterious rumble of the gold-cauldron began anew.

“Now hurry, while this racket drowns out all the noise we can make,” I
whispered.

We made no mean bit of progress while the noise continued, after which I
felt there was no more need of particular care. The jungle thickets were
fearfully dark, as soon as we got away from the clearings, and I was
obliged to forge ahead as best I could, guided only by my sense of
direction.

Half an hour went by and although we should have been at the river,
where the boat was on the bank, there was no immediate prospect of our
coming to the proper place. In the midst of my efforts, mental and
physical, to extricate myself and the girl from the maze, a peculiar
shriek went up in the distance behind us. I paused, inquiringly.

“Oh—that is the voice of the horrid old woman,” said the goddess
anxiously. “I think she has found I have gone.”

“The deuce!” said I. “She has alarmed the whole works, the old villain!”

Judging by the noise which was raised one would have thought she had
awakened the whole world. I was certain every Link in the camp was up
and dancing about that clearing in the wildest confusion.

“Come ahead,” said I, calmly enough, “they are all afraid of the woods
at night; they will never catch us now—unless the morning overtakes us
before we reach the river.”

I knew she shuddered, but like a brave, good girl she made no fuss. As
for the racket, it furnished me with a bearing, as it were. Knowing
where their settlement was, I knew the approximate direction in which
the boat should be found. Indeed before we had travelled another fifty
yards I caught a gleam of reflected moonlight from Outlet river and knew
my way directly.

“It’s lucky that beastly old woman didn’t make her discovery sooner,”
said I.

“Yes,” replied the trembling voice of the goddess, “that was why I kept
you waiting so long; she wouldn’t go to sleep.”

“Um,” was all I muttered. I was thinking about that crimping of her
hair, poor girl, and the putting on of tight, new gloves.

We reached the boat, to my intense relief. “Please get in and make
yourself as comfortable as possible,” said I, and ripping off the
bear-skin, I flung it down to make her a seat.

Out into the limpid stream I shoved my clumsy but beloved craft, and
manning the oars I swung her about, headed her toward the lake and made
the liquid silver shiver from the prow.

The moonlight fell on the sweet, womanly face. The goddess looked at me
dumbly—almost with the divine expression I had seen on the face of
little Tike. Her eyes were eloquent of gratitude, relief and things too
great to be expressed. Slowly her head came forward on her breast, away
from which she held that ugly serpent, and she sobbed and sobbed like a
child.

Ah what a night it was! I felt a throb of triumph all through my veins.
Rowing steadily and stoutly I said nothing, but let her have her cry. At
last she looked upon my face again.

“Where—are we—going?” she faltered.

“Home,” said I, “to the camp on top of the hill.”

“Home?” she echoed softly. “To your—people, do you—mean?”

“Yep,” I agreed. “For a while, at least. But they’re not exactly my
people. They’re a lot of Missing Links.”

“Oh—what? Missing Links? You don’t mean things like the horrible
creatures we have just escaped?”

“Same species,” I assured her cheerfully, “but mine are red.”

“Oh—oh,” she moaned with a shudder, “but I’d rather not! Oh I hate them
so; they are all so horrid; they frighten me terribly, and I know they
will act exactly like the others—”

“No they won’t,” I interrupted, with a grin, “they’ll get off the earth,
if I say the word, for they know that I am the King!”



                             CHAPTER XXXVII
                              THE GODDESS


The pull was a long one, even in the cool of the night. I knew my way,
by the stars, if necessary, but the moonlight made my steering easy.

For half an hour the goddess was silent, sighing now and again, and
crying a bit, as if deliverance had broken down some barrier to all her
emotions, letting floods of pent up feelings free at once.

“It doesn’t seem possible,” she told me finally.

“What doesn’t?” said I, though I knew very well what she meant.

“This boat,” she answered, “and you—a man—in this terrible place. It
doesn’t seem really true that I have escaped from those awful creatures;
I didn’t believe I should ever get away. Oh, how did you do it?”

“Perhaps you’d better tell me first how you got there,” I made answer.
“How long have you been in the place?”

“I—don’t know,” she faltered. “It must be months and months. I lost all
account, but it seems like an age. I didn’t seem to care about the
dates, there have been such lots of awful things to think of all the
while. What month is it now?”

“Lord bless you, that’s more than I know,” I admitted shamelessly. “I
couldn’t keep track; things have been too hot. I should say, though,
it’s probably getting along toward summer.”

Although she was deeply concerned with herself and all the troubles
which for long she had endured, she realised that I too had been lost in
this land of jungle. She made me tell my story first. I boiled it down
to the bones, being anxious to hear how it was she came to be there.
This she told me, brokenly, before we landed from the boat.

She was a cosmopolitan sort of a girl, born and raised in Australia,
educated partially in England and partially in Massachusetts. Her father
was an Englishman, a scientist, her mother American, of fine old Puritan
stock. This mother had died in Sydney. The father and daughter having
spent much of their time together, had grown to be great companions. She
had long been interested in all his work, in which she had learned to be
of great assistance. Thus it came about that when he determined to visit
certain of the smaller Banyac Islands, for the purpose of collecting
flora and fauna for preservation, she accompanied him as a matter of
course. From a private steam yacht, placed at the professor’s disposal,
and also from the coast settlements, the two had made daily excursions,
in a ship’s yawl in which they could make a careful survey of all the
shore.

Engaged in their work, one warm afternoon, they had moored the yawl
among a lot of weed-covered rocks. This had been accomplished by
securing the painter to one of the oars and wedging this oar down
between a pair of boulders. The tide was ebbing when they landed.

In a short time her father had secured a medium-sized anaconda, which
having recently fed, was dull and half asleep. This serpent he had given
to his daughter, who carried it back to the boat and nailed it in a box
provided for any such emergency. Feeling slightly fatigued and
unenthusiastic she had then sat down in the yawl, raised her sun-shade
and taken out a book to read.

She described the soporific effect of the heat and the lapping of the
water about the boat, which had begun soon to affect her senses when she
had settled down to rest. Before she knew it she had gone fast asleep.
She believed that finally the tide had risen and floated the oar from
between the rocks. Then doubtless a breeze had sprung up and the boat
had been drifted away.

“Anyway I know I must have slept for hours.” she said, “but when I did
wake up—oh dear! The sky was black, and I couldn’t see any island, or
anything but water, and a terrible storm was coming, and the darkness
was all about me, and then—well, it was simply the awfullest wind in the
world that commenced to blow!”

The storm which she now described had probably been a regular monsoon.
It lasted for hours, she said, and the yawl was driven wildly about on
the angry sea. Like many a yawl, this craft had been broad of beam and
it was therefore as seaworthy as a life-belt. It had ridden like a duck
throughout the night.

When at last the light returned, the girl had found herself stranded in
a singular place. Not a sign could she see of the ocean, but the yawl
had been driven inland on what had appeared to be a great lagoon. This
water-way, the edges of which were bordered thickly with a dense,
jungle-like growth, had become as calm as a mill-pond.

While she still sat in the boat she had suddenly discovered a score of
“horrid black brutes” descending upon the place. She had found the task
of pushing off to be quite beyond her strength, in addition to which she
had been so bewildered as not to know in the least where she had
arrived. The creatures—the Black Missing Links—had appeared of
threatening aspect, yet she had soon been made to realise that they were
delighted to see her among them and that all regarded herself as a prize
belonging to the tribe.

With her snake, of which they had immediately manifested a fear, she had
followed where these monsters led, although unwillingly. They had given
her food, but they had appeared to have no thought or consideration of
her weakened condition, nor even of the fact that she was a woman and
therefore not as strong as themselves. In consequence of this, she had
been obliged to march through the jungle till nearly ready to drop from
sheer weariness of body. Her clothing had been torn to tatters on the
brush; her shoes had been all but ruined, and her flesh had been
scratched and bruised.

“That is all there is to tell,” she concluded. “It has been a horrid,
desperate existence ever since. The monsters have never been cruel, but
I have been burned in the sun, and I have shivered in the rain and chill
of night. I have been trembling at the thought of some terrible death,
and then praying that I might really die and end all the wretched
horror. I couldn’t tell where I was,—you say you don’t even know
yourself,—and day and night I have been in a condition of dread
bordering on insanity. It has all been so terribly hopeless—so
loathsome. Oh how I have suffered! And that horrible old woman has
watched me like a hawk, and I couldn’t have escaped if I had tried, and
I didn’t know where to get a boat, and I couldn’t make anything—not even
clothes,—and the horrid female creatures stole nearly all I had left,
and I didn’t even have a needle, or a piece of soap, or a toothbrush!”

“Perhaps I could make you a comb,” I suggested, to drive away her
dreadful thoughts, if possible, but she appeared not to hear.

“Poor Papa,” she resumed, “I don’t know what he ever thought, or where
he is, or anything about anything.”

“Oh well,” said I, “we’ll soon be getting away from here now, and
perhaps the trip will turn out pretty well after all. You’ll probably be
at home in a month, forgetting all about this expedition to the land of
Missing Links.”

She shook her head, the wild look in her eyes came back. “That is too
good a dream to come true,” she said. “It doesn’t seem as if we can ever
get away,—but oh, Mr. Nevers—I do hope you will never let them get me
back,—oh if only you will take me away—if only you will!” and again she
broke down and sobbed, as if it had been a thousand times too much to
bear.

“I’ll do it or bust!” I assured her with much enthusiasm. “I couldn’t
say more than that if I tried. We’ll come out all right, don’t you
worry.”



                            CHAPTER XXXVIII
                          A PROSPECT OF WEALTH


None of my Links fell dead at the sight of the goddess and myself, when
at last we were “home,” but that was merely because they were too
uncivilised to have any nerves. The poor creatures contracted headache
over the wonder of it all, however, for it utterly surpassed their
powers of speculation.

I think they were much more frightened of the captive snake than they
had been at my explosions. For this I blamed them not at all, having
been rendered somewhat creepy by the beastly reptile myself. It was much
too weird a pet. I was not so indelicate as to mention my feelings on
the subject to the goddess, but I did hope the abominable thing would
die, or get away.

Poor old Fatty was dizzy with concern. For two whole days he could not
have told whether he was afoot or horseback. He was even suspicious of
myself. All the child-like creatures seemed to regard me with added awe,
as if it were hopeless to attempt to solve the problem of the magic by
which I produced the snake-charming woman. They regarded the boat and
the lake with more suspicion than before. A strangeness grew upon them;
they stood away in groups, speaking a monosyllable now and again; they
stirred uneasily about, whenever the girl appeared.

Yet remarkably soon the females of the tribe began to note, with
curiosity, the costume worn by this stranger. Madame Albino assumed
sundry airs with small delay. She also attempted to clothe her precious
self with various skins; she eyed the interloper with comical disdain;
she likewise looked at me with unmistakable reproach in those pink,
nervous optics of hers, as if she meant to say that she might have
forgiven me before, but after this—never!

As for the girl herself, she was not exactly the same, when seen in the
daylight. She still had glorious eyes and her soft chestnut hair would
have been lovely, had it been combed or stabbed full of hardware to
build it up in a psyche knot, but her nose was somewhat freckled, she
was burned a lively red, as to face, neck, shoulders, arms and ankles,
and her great anxiety had made her a trifle thin. Yet she was beautiful,
I still maintain, for her features were fine, her poise splendid and her
hands and feet exquisitely moulded. What was more, her countenance was
lighted from within, by a charm as rare as it is divine; she was lovely
in her nature; she was womanly—and women, true women, are beautiful
forever! I nodded mentally and determined to continue to call her “the
goddess.”

It being essential that we take some needed rest, before embarking for
worlds unknown, I made my shelter as comfortable as facilities would
permit, and abdicated in favour of the snake and the girl. However, my
subjects dug me a new palace in short order. This I occupied in my
customary regal state. I was obliged to construct a wicker bungalo for
his snakeship, for it seemed the goddess grew weary of holding the
monster at times, and yet wished to restrain him from his natural desire
to mingle with the creepers. Also I furnished the beast with gastronomic
delicacies of the season. He had a preference for squirrels, not even
the skins of which were left for me.

I made some quiet preparations for the reception of our friends the
Blacks, should they come in search of their former captive, but these
consisted only of restringing the bows and furbishing up the feathers on
our arrows. I knew the fighting force of the feudal foe to be reduced
and in no wise able to cope with ours, wherefore I deemed extraordinary
measures unnecessary. As a matter of fact, no Blacks appeared, which led
me to doubt if they even guessed that the goddess could be harboured in
our village.

Having recovered all my energies shortly, I thought the girl would be
ready and anxious to leave without further delay. In consequence I began
to lay in a stock of sun-dried meat, weapons and other things needful
for the cruise to the ocean. It soon became evident, however, that the
poor young woman had suffered so severe a depression of vital forces, in
the long-continued strain of worry and physical anguish, that immediate
departure was quite out of the question.

We had long, hopeful talks together, while I manufactured small trifles
for her greater comfort, or brought her foods to cook at a small
stone-and-clay stove which I managed to construct; and she often related
the history of her days of trouble. She had been too deeply alarmed all
the time to give much attention to studying her captors; however, she
thought from what I told her that they must have a similar language to
that employed by the Reds, and many similar habits. Their attitude
toward herself had led her to believe that they actually had a great
reverence for human beings.

Of the man who had evidently once been among them she knew but little.
She had seen the skeleton, but had only been able to make the merest
guesses as to how it came to be in such a place and in such a remarkable
condition. She had also seen a linen collar, preserved by having fallen
into a chink which kept it protected from the elements, and this
indicated, she thought, that the man had been a clergyman. That he had
produced certain effects upon the creatures, the results of which would
endure, she had no doubt. Though they had no other weapons than their
clubs, they appeared to be more fearless than my fellows. Any fishing
operations which they might once have conducted, guided by the man, were
now discontinued, she was sure, for she had never seen a fish in the
camp. The dug-outs were in ruins, as I had thought, though some of the
creatures employed them still for sleeping purposes. She did not believe
they utilised any caves. Without telling her of my own theories of the
gold cauldron, I questioned her sufficiently to convince myself that she
knew nothing of its existence in the place.

About the fights and hunting expeditions of the tribe, she possessed
only the most general information. She had not been able to ascertain
what manner of enemies they encountered, but once had seen a wounded
fellow striving to pull out of his leg a piece of wood which she now
knew must have been an arrow. Also she had been aware that some
tremendous calamity had befallen the fighters on their last crusade, for
barely half the force had returned to camp, and of these many were
shockingly wounded. Fully twenty, she said, had died and been buried
since the day of the trouble. Beyond these few facts, the goddess told
me very little which differed from the tale of the daily routine of my
own loyal subjects.

In the boat, my bear-skin was concealed by a cover of leaves as before.
I was thinking, one morning, of the various things I should take, when
the moment for leaving should finally arrive, when the two great
clubs—mine by right of conquest—thrust themselves upon my notice. The
one which was made of the nugget appealed to my human spirit of
acquisitiveness with great potency. Indeed the thing awakened a train of
thought which bordered somewhat on the wild and not-too-wholesome. I
found myself coveting my neighbour’s cauldron of gold.

Heretofore I had given the geyser cavern, where the precious metal was
being deposited, not the slightest consideration. I had known of only
one way to approach the place, namely, by the long passage, the end of
which I might not be able to find, and which at best could only lead me
to a point high above the place of treasure. I knew, also, that snakes
abided in the passage and that getting gold up to the point where Fatty
and I had been that day and then out through the tortuous tunnel was
simply impossible, as a task. Even the nugget on the club—after the
first inevitable thrill which I could not help feeling, to see it and
know its worth,—had been no more to me than any rock, for what could it
purchase in such a land as this?

But now—how things had altered! Not only did I feel the greatest
confidence in my ability to pilot my boat away from that open prison, to
a land where gold would be the “open sesame” to the whole world, but I
knew of an opening—or thought I did—to the cave where the precious metal
was lying ready to be had for the taking. It was a magic thought—an
intoxicating dream. The precious deposit belonged to no one, for who
were the Missing Links? I should do no injury to anyone by taking all I
needed. And why should I not have some remuneration for all this exile,
labour and suffering?

“Why,” said I, and half seriously at that, “a king simply has to be
rich!”

The task seemed easy, as I dreamed of proceeding to the spot, taking
what I wanted and then escaping with it as I had with the goddess. The
idea expanded rapidly; it began to make me feverish. As usual, when I
gave myself over to anything new, I forgot everything else about me.
Even the goddess and her snake became of secondary importance; escape
itself was indefinitely postponed. The premier question was, “When shall
I do it?” I answered aloud:

“Why—to-day—to-night! What’s the use of waiting?”

Then it became imperative that I should formulate a plan. The bear-skin
was the fundamental basis which gave me the courage to think of
attempting the task. I knew how to manage in regard to that, as well as
I knew how nicely it would work, if only the light were not too
searching. What more might the work require? Obviously I should need a
sack, in which to carry off the plunder; and I ought to have a pick or a
sledge-hammer, or something in the way of a tool with which to detach
the solid chunks of metal. For the sack, I decided to sew together some
of the skins which were lying on the floor of my shelter. For tools I
would carry a couple of the stoutest clubs to be had in the camp. In
addition to these requisites, I could think of nothing I should need,
except my weapons.

I lost no time in setting about the preparations for this financial
venture. It seemed a pity to rob the goddess and her snake of the rugs
on which they reclined at various times, in my dug-out, but there was
nothing else to do. All the tribe-fellows’ clubs having proved
themselves to be serviceable, I had no difficulty in selecting two which
I deemed worthy of the great occasion.

Old Fatty had resumed his faithful attendance on my every movement and
therefore he followed me down to the boat, carrying both of the clubs
and the skins. He stood on the bank and watched me embark, more crazy
than ever to go along, but still too frightened to trust himself afloat
on the lake. I had no wish to have company. Bidding him “be good,” I
pushed away and started on the expedition.

By the time I had finished the work of fastening the skins together, the
afternoon was half gone. There was nothing to do, in the way of work
which would occupy my time, and I felt no desire to get into the
bear-skin prematurely, as I had done before, so that I was finally
obliged to pull in my oars and drift idly on the water. This was a
sleepy occupation. I nodded drowsily for half an hour, at the end of
which time I fell fast asleep.

The sun was just disappearing when at last I awoke. Disgusted with
myself, for having thus overdone the time-wasting business, I rowed
rapidly for Outlet river, to which I came duly. Standing up in the boat
I arrayed myself in my costume; then I worked slowly down the river, as
before, and beached the boat in the spot where I had landed on the last
successful venture.

Already the dusk made the forest gloomy, but as this was precisely what
I wanted, I struck off without delay, picking a path cautiously through
the growth. The neighbourhood seemed remarkably still, but finally the
rumble from the cauldron disturbed the quiet and gave me a guide by
which I corrected my course.

Laden as I was, with the necessary things for the labour, I should have
presented a most amazing aspect, had any of the Blacks discovered my
presence. I thought of that, and knew that even if I got down in the
normal position of a bear, the juxtaposition of my bag and the clubs
might easily arouse the most dangerous suspicions in the brain of any
Link beholding them and me. However, nothing happened.

“Why this is going to be a pic-nic,” I muttered. “I couldn’t ask for
anything nicer.”

Indeed fortune seemed to be smiling upon me, for I came immediately upon
a continuation of the cliff of rock, which backed the camp of the
Blacks, and was soon confronted by a jagged heap of stone and quartz, at
the top of which appeared a dark, irregular cave. Before I could clamber
up the pile to this opening, the mighty roar came belching forth. I knew
I stood on the threshold of the cavern of wealth and wonder.



                             CHAPTER XXXIX
                       STEALING THE ENEMY’S FIRE


No sooner had the demonstration ceased than I hastened up the rock-heap
to the cave. I found the mouth of the place somewhat choked and hard to
enter, but I forced my way over massed-in boulders to a vestibule of the
great treasure-house itself. Then suddenly my hopes were blighted and
failure loomed before me. It was as dark as tar and I had clean
forgotten to fetch a torch!

“But how could I have fetched a torch?” my brain demanded. I had no
civilised matches; I could not have carried a brand all day, for the
sake of having it now, and if I had, the smoke might have attracted the
attention of the Blacks. Had they caught a bear with a torch in his hand
they would unquestionably have desired an explanation. I thought of my
knife, which was steel, and the flints on my arrows. Could I not produce
a spark, ignite some tinder and then make some faggots take fire? Yes, I
could, but the arrows were all in the boat and I had about as much
tinder handy as a fellow could carry in his eye.

In desperation I groped ahead for a rod and nearly broke my neck, by
jolting down an unseen step in the floor. It was useless to tackle the
cavern in this inky blackness; I might easily get boiled to death by the
fountain of scalding water. In bitter regret, I reproached myself for
having come away from camp without consulting the goddess and without
maturing my plans. But any ass should have known the place would be
dark! I acknowledged that I was a fool, and that after all this bother I
should have to give it up. Even if I did come again next day, it would
be no easy matter to fetch a torch, and I might try a hundred times and
not have the luck I had this evening in avoiding those villains, the
Blacks.

More than ready to swear at my folly, mad as a hornet to think of
abandoning all the gold, which was right there, almost within reach of
my hands, I pinched myself viciously and groped my way out to the heap
of rocks at the entrance.

Already a star was shining in the heavens. What good were stars, I would
have liked to know. It was fire I wanted—fire at the end of a stick. A
crazy idea of hunting for something highly inflammable, on which to try
my flint and steel, tried to get started in my brain. I rejected the
notion with scorn. I might as well begin a search for glow-worms or
incandescent electric globes.

“Those fools of Links have got plenty of fire,” I grumbled, spitefully.
“For about two cents I’d kick them all out of their camp and take all
the torches I could carry.”

This bit of pleasantry somewhat restored my humour. I started up from
where I was sitting on the rocks, abruptly, possessed of a great idea.
Why not make the trick worth the winning; why not steal their fire to
light myself in robbing their cave?

In my haste to clamber down from the pile, I fell forward and struck my
hand smartly on something which felt like a collected lot of wood. I was
ready to kick this thing, for bruising my fingers, when I comprehended
that wood was exactly what I required. Grasping one of the branches I
lifted a whole bundle of sticks, all dry, cut neatly of an equal length,
and tied about with some sort of cord. Instantly I thought of the gilded
skeleton—the man who had lived in this place. I believed he had come to
the cavern often, and that doubtless these faggots had been gathered by
himself for torches.

This discovery gave me new enthusiasm. I was calmer, also, and I
therefore resolved to proceed carefully, do nothing rash, and to wait
until the time was propitious before attempting to steal my fire.
Nevertheless I was determined not to give up the game until flatly
beaten. Much luck in the past had made me bolder than I was when I
arrived in the country.

During the half hour following, I crept through the woods, toward the
spot where I had waited for the goddess. I thought it would bring me bad
luck to try any other location. My clubs and the sack, I had left at the
cauldron, along with my bundle of wood. Thus I had nothing to impede my
progress; but the skin in which I was clothed hampered every motion.

Throughout the jungle, various sounds had commenced, for the darkness
was rapidly becoming that of full-fledged night. Through the trees, when
I approached their clearing, I caught the gleam of the fires about which
the Links were cooking their dinner.

Knife in hand, I edged and pushed through the creepers and vines until I
dared go no further. From where I was, I could see very much the same
sort of groups about the fires which had made the picture weird on the
former occasion. But I was actually more excited and eager over the
present enterprise than I had been before, when a fellow-being was in
the game. Doubtless this arose from the greater risk I expected to take.

Impatient as I was, the Links seemed to require an interminable time to
get ready for bed. I selected one and then another of the fires as the
one from which I would filch a brand, but was finally obliged to wait
and see which would be the most favourable to my task. I desired to
select the one furthest from the sleeping places, and yet not too far
from my cover. The one first abandoned by the Links would have answered
well. I watched it narrowly and kept an eye on the Blacks, who were
still lingering about. Long before the fellows had all retired, the fire
became hopeless, so few were the embers left aglow. I was obliged to fix
upon another.

I waited all of two hours, by the end of which time the Links were all
safely asleep, save that watchful old fiend whose acquaintance I had
made on my former visit. When at length he laid himself down for the
night, his position was such that my intended deed had been rendered far
more difficult than I had expected. It became necessary for me to make a
long detour, for I deemed it wise that I should be able to make a
bee-line for cover the second I procured my bit of fire.

In crawling and walking carefully about the tangle, I consumed a lot of
time. My position then was such that by creeping bear-like from the
vines and going straight for my original hiding place, I would pass the
remains of a fire, in which only one or two blazing pieces of wood
remained. Again I drew my knife. With a thumping heart, high up in my
neck, I began this desperate experiment.

A night-bird hooted before I had gone three paces. That alert old
wretch, the sentinel Black, stirred about and turned sleepily over. For
several minutes I remained motionless; then again I moved cautiously
forward. Although I expected the worst possible calamities to happen
every moment, and thought my own breathing would betray my presence, I
neared the fire without arousing the lightest sleeper. Approaching the
burned-out heap, I selected the brand I would take, before I was there.
In consequence of this, I lost no time, but passed silently on, when I
had the precious ember in my possession. Transferring it quickly to my
left hand, in order to conceal its glowing end from any eyes which might
by chance be open, I dragged it on the ground beside me, and headed for
the shelter, which to reach would mean success.

A half chuckle escaped me, at the thought of the Links’ stupidity and my
own adroitness, for the vines were now but a dozen feet away. Yet I was
horribly nervous, not daring to look behind me and fearing that anything
might be happening, now that my back was turned upon the sleeping foe. I
reached the cover in triumph, however, and even crawled to a small open
spot, when suddenly something gave me a vigorous push with its foot.

Instantly then that monstrous old watch Link, recognised me, raised his
club and poised to fetch it down with a blow that should scatter my
brains. I saw him, knew he had caught me, realised that more silently
than I he had followed the singular bear that would steal a brand of
fire, and quick as a gun-spring I shot up against him, butted him hard
in the ribs and we closed, in a duel to the death.

My only thought was—“Choke him off!” I knew that a single yell would
bring an army of foes upon me; I knew he had made no sound before
because of his commendable desire to determine my nature while I was
still unaware of his presence. Now I swiftly determined that not a sound
should he make, unless he did it over my dead body. I was thrice as
vicious as he, I verily believe, as I threw myself in against his body
and fastened my clutch on his throat. I was fierce as only a frightened
and desperate man can be; I was strong as three of my kind, in that
moment of terrible need.

His arms had been raised with the club; the weapon had even been
descending as I thumped him violently backward. Down came the great
rock, but the force of the blow was gone, and the aim was so ruined that
he struck us both on the leg. He dropped the thing as useless, for he
could not have raised it again had he tried. But with his long,
iron-like arms he fought like a fiend, to shove me off, to gouge out my
ribs and to grip my throat as I was gripping his, with all but two of my
fingers. The two fingers gripped the handle of my knife.

The length of his arms was for once against him. I was as close up as
flesh can freeze to flesh. His head was thrust far back; already his
breathing muscles were swelling and labouring beneath my thumbs. We
struggled about in the darkness hither and thither, wrestling, flinging,
treading on roots and branches and exerting the utmost of our strength
to win the battle.

The monster’s muscles were something prodigious; his activity was simply
incredible. I have choked a man to submission in thirty seconds, but it
seemed as if I could never weaken this brute nor reduce him to a state
wherein I could use my knife. He fought me with his feet, scratched me
and kicked my shins. He got his bone-and-wire arms against my stomach at
last and clutched me and pushed me till I thought I should shriek with
pain. Had I not been protected by the bear-skin, I think he would have
killed me, in spite of the tremendous advantage I had gained at the
outset. All this time the only sound was what I made in breathing and
what we made with our scuffling about. It was an ominously silent duel.

Over we toppled, tripped by a creeper, and rolled on the ground among
the vines. He had me under, like a cat with a squirrel, but I felt him
beginning to quiver all over. My grip had not been broken for a moment,
but now it nearly gave way; a weakness was stealing over me, for he was
crushing my ribs where I had received the blow with the nugget club.
This was the particular time when the bear-skin helped me out.

Something smarted my leg then—the brand of fire. I had struck against
it. This made me furious. A gush of hot, new strength welled up in my
veins and along all my sinews. My finger-ends dug in about his wind-pipe
deeper and deeper. I heaved him over; his arms were becoming like lead;
his motions were powerless; all the force seemed slipping from his body.
Knowing my time had come, I gave the knife in my hand a sudden turn and
push against the jugular vein, swelling beneath my pressure, and felt
him shudder in death in a moment.

Until I was sure he would move no more, nor raise a sound, I remained
astride his chest. The stillness then was awful. Not a sound could I
hear but that of my own laboured breathing and the trickle and drip of
this creature’s blood. I admit the dread of it all made me tremble. It
seemed such a ghastly end to my innocent escapade.

But having plunged so deeply into the business, for the sake of a bit of
fire, I did not intend to leave the work unfinished because of this
unavoidable incident. Therefore I caught up the glowing branch, which
had nearly been smothered out as we rolled it in the grass, and blowing
upon it to liven it up, I stole away from that gory arena.



                               CHAPTER XL
                              COVETED GOLD


Still breathing hard, from the effects of the duel, I reached the heap
of stone, outside the cavern and hunted up my bundle of wood. I sat down
on a rock to get my torches lighted. This was not an easy matter, for
although my brand was a species of wood which retained fire remarkably
long, I was obliged to gather many small dry twigs and bits of dead
creeper, to which I added hair from the skins, before I could make a
blaze. Once having accomplished this feat, however, I found that the
torch-faggots burned with all the fierceness of pitch.

Acknowledging that the skeleton-man had succeeded in finding a wood
which surpassed for torches anything that I had yet discovered, I threw
my bag and clubs inside the cave and climbed in after, with all the
light I needed.

So far, the getting of treasure had not proved to be the “pic-nic” I had
previously been led to suppose was about to be enjoyed. Holding my torch
above my head and carrying both the clubs beneath my other arm, I now
went along in this wonder-house, waxing momentarily more and more
excited by the prospect of seeing what was there.

The passage was narrow and low, it was likewise crooked, and the floor
was rough and uneven. On the walls there was not the slightest
indication of anything precious. I have never seen stone more dull. This
made me doubt if I had come to the cauldron of gold, after all. The
trend of the tunnel was downward. Presently I came to a “jump off” four
feet high. The bottom of this secondary gallery sloped rapidly downward.
Then I emerged from the tunnel-like hall, into a larger chamber. The
first thing I saw was water, in a crevice. I jumped then like a scared
cat, for a drop of the liquid fell plump on my nose from the ceiling,
where steam had condensed.

A second after this I got a brilliant gleam of reflected light, from an
object on the floor, a rod away. It was gold. To right and left flashed
similar reflections. I hastened onward, and then halted, dizzy with
amazement, for below me, in a great basin was ebon water that moved, and
about it were nodules and drippings of gold, and stuffed into crevices
was gold on gold. I leaped a ditch, above which the mist was rising, hot
and damp. Beyond this, down in the very cauldron itself, which was
inaccessible and awe-inspiring, I beheld those stalagmites of solid
metal, those building nuggets and the seething abyss of water and
natural acid which before I had seen from above.

The ascending steam curtained off the mouth of the cave above which I
knew to be over this eerie place, but I was far too eager for what was
about me, to spend my time in looking upward. It was not a place of
dazzling beauty; on the contrary it was dull, dripping and misty, but
here, there, in unexpected places I caught that inimitable glitter.
Having seen one piece of the forming gold-hunks, it seemed as if I were
qualified to see a score. The heat of the place was tremendous, the air
humid and hard to breathe.

So deep was the boiling water that I could see nothing of what was
below, yet I knew from seeing the shallows, golden on the bottom, that
the basin was doubtless plated throughout with the beautiful metal. I
was wild with enthusiasm; I wanted to knock off tons of nuggets; I began
to wonder if I could take it all. Quickly clambering over jagged piles,
I stepped on a boulder that stood above an apron of rock all seamed with
cracks in which the gold had been stuffed till the places were full.

While I was standing there, the rumble of the mighty giant commenced to
resound in the cavern. Alarmed at the thought that the water might surge
up and engulf me where I stood, I started to flee to a safer retreat. My
heel got caught in a crevice. The harder I tugged, the tighter it became
wedged. Stooping I got my fingers in behind it and slid it forward and
out. The second it cleared, my thumb struck an object full of something
that felt like nails. Glancing once at the place, I was astonished to
see the heel of a boot, not unlike my own.

I leaped away to safety and the marvellous geyser burst upward. The
roaring noises thundered upon the air of the place with deafening
reverberations; the steam rolled away in tremendous volumes. Spray and
drops of the boiling liquid that splashed, fell all about, some on my
hand, burning me badly. The basin was all a-surge with its seething
brew; the waters gushed hungrily up, swirling about, filling the cracks
and tossing in extreme agitation.

Down came the massive column of the fountain, as if the source had been
cut off in an instant. A tidal wave of the boiling stuff swelled up to
the brink of the cauldron, inundating the golden nodules, stalagmites
and the radiating fissures.

I knew, then, as much as a man could ever know, who had not been
present, how that other man had lost his life, and how it came that his
skeleton was gilded. That heel told the story. He had probably caught
his foot just as I had done, but he had not been able to get away. He
had doubtless fallen headlong into the basin of boiling liquid, where
his life must have been forfeited instantly. Then time after time the
water had risen about him, until all the flesh had been boiled away from
the bones, and then the process of plating with gold had commenced on
the skeleton. Poor wretch. It had then been left, I thought, for one of
the braver spirits among the Links to rescue all that remained and carry
it forth from the dread cavern. I felt somewhat chilly to think how near
I had been to the same dreadful fate.

The demonstration having ceased, the water subsided, the rocks and
nuggets dripped, and the steam arose, hotter than before. My zeal for
exploring the place had oozed away. It seemed to me that discretion
counselled me to complete my work and depart.

“I’ll only stop for a few hundred pounds,” I told myself with a feeling
of virtuous moderation. “A man should never be a pig.”

The first thing to do was to strip off my bear-skin, in which I was now
perspiring like a porpoise. Then I selected a fine, large nodule of
gold, from the vicinity of which I could easily escape when the geyser
began to spout, and this I began to batter with one of the clubs. I had
conceived an idea that I would bend these formations over and break them
off with comparative ease. I was in for a large disappointment.

Not only were the gold masses bended over at the expense of great energy
and perseverance, but they refused to break after quite a number of such
bendings. That first one having been once so bent, refused to be knocked
back in the opposite direction. Also the geyser took its turn very soon
and in the end I humbly abandoned nodule number one and tackled one
which was smaller.

It was at least an hour before my labours were awarded with any real
success whatsoever. But at last I had a chunk of metal of something like
five pounds weight. Mopping my head, puffing and losing my temper, I
“picked on” the smaller pieces now with great sagacity. I pounded and
pried, grunted and wrenched, waited for the geyser to have its say and
then went at it again, till I lost all reckoning of time. After several
failures, however, I got the knack of this mining business better, and
what with smashing rocks away to facilitate the work and contenting
myself with modest chunks, I got loose and heaped up something over a
hundred weight of treasure, according to my estimate by guessing.

“That’s enough for any man of sense,” I finally assured myself. “I’d be
ashamed to take any more.”

Lighting a new torch, from the one I had planted in a chink, I went out
toward the entrance and secured my bag. To my amazement I discovered
that the day had broken. I had worked for hours that sped like minutes.
Somewhat concerned about any Links, who might be stirring, I hastened
back, threw my hoard into the skin pouch and staggered with it to the
jump-off, where I boosted it up hurriedly. On emerging from the mouth of
the cave, I was obliged to rest, so weary had I become from my
long-sustained labours. However, I dared not pause, at so late an hour,
and therefore I shouldered my load again and started away, leaving
bear-skin, torches and clubs behind. My only idea now was to reach the
boat in haste.

In spite of my stubbornness, I could walk not more than fifty yards at a
time with my burden, before putting it down to give myself “a blow.” It
was such a dead weight, and I had used up my whole reserve of force.
Breathing my great relief, to find myself out at last, within one more
carry of the boat, I set the sack down in a thicket and leaned against a
tree to rest my muscles. As I turned about to resume the load, a
startling yell suddenly penetrated the forest.

Jump about as quickly as I could, I was not in time to avoid a furious
onslaught. A hideous female Link, as black as rubber and apparently as
old as the jungle, launched herself upon me and bit me on the shoulder
so severely that I cried out in pain and struck her with my knife before
I could stop to remember that a male should spare a female creature. The
steel went deep in her side. She wrenched with her jaws where she was
biting as she fell away, and injured a cord in my neck, which made me
all but collapse with sudden nausea and weakness.

Before I could shake her off, after pulling out the knife, the forest
echoed with the yells of countless demons rushing toward me from the
direction of the cave. Undone, incapable of showing fight with my
dagger, against so large and fierce a mob, I tore myself free from the
clutch of the female and ran as hard as possible toward the river.

That terrible female, stabbed only through the fleshy muscles under her
arm, made a dive for my feet and hauled me down. I slashed off two of
her fingers with a vicious lunge, and darted away again at the top of my
speed.

By this time many of the demons were hot on my trail, crying out in
fearful monosyllables, tearing through the brush, and attempting to head
me off. The foremost fellow threw his club and the handle of it struck
me on the leg. I snatched it up, well knowing the creature would catch
me before I could go another twenty strides, and leaping behind a tree I
waited half a moment. He rushed to the spot, headlong and reckless. Down
came his own weapon, and he fell like a dead bull. But the motion of
striking nearly killed me, so fearful was the wrench where the female
had bitten the sinew.

Once more I ran dizzily away, at the head of that screaming horde of
Links. Club after club was hurled to fetch me down, but all went wide. I
was beating them all—I knew it—I should reach the boat, for none were
aware of its presence. It was hardly more than a rod away.

Stumbling and pitching, ready to fall down in my agony, I dived through
a hedge of vines and was thrown headlong within reach of the prow I knew
so well. Up and shoving at the boat in a twinkling, I heard the vines
being ripped apart behind me. Having held on to the club till I fell
here, I turned and pounced upon it and swung it back in time to crash it
fairly in the pit of the black devil’s stomach, as he hurtled upon me.

Dropping it instantly, I shoved off the boat with all the strength I
had, and leaped in, as three or four more of the fiends came dashing
madly down to the river’s edge. This time when they threw their clubs I
was struck fairly on the fleshy portion of the back and knocked on my
face across the seat. Hurt by the blow, but strong in my instinct for
self-preservation, I got out the oars in jig-time and drove the good old
craft up the stream and away from the murderous brutes on the bank, like
a madman. Rowing almost straight for the further side, I distanced all
the clubs speedily. When they realised the utter futility of pursuit,
the enraged creatures merely yelled their maledictions as I went.



                              CHAPTER XLI
                          FAREWELL TO THE CAMP


The strength which had risen in my desperation, even against the shock
to my system which had been given by the bite of the female monster,
departed before I was out of the river. I trembled from head to foot; I
was ill all over and nearly as limp as a string.

How serious the bite might be I had no means of ascertaining. To my
hand, when I felt of the place, there seemed to be only a raw, smarting
wound, on the top of a great hot swelling. I felt sure that no thews had
been actually severed by the terrible teeth, for had any been, I should
not have been able to row the boat nor to use my arm in any manner
whatsoever. Nevertheless I knew I was wounded badly, and I all but cried
with the pain it cost me to move the craft.

Until I had reached the lake, the fear of the Blacks made me work,
despite my physical anguish. When I knew I was comparatively safe, I
sank forward and, I confess, fainted like a girl.

It was probably as much as an hour before I recovered my senses fully.
For the last fifteen minutes or so of this time I was semi-conscious,
but incapable of motion, while my brain merely whirled in a vortex with
that female Link, the boat and the nuggets of gold. When at last I again
acquired the power of moving, I filled my hand with water from the lake
repeatedly and dashed it on my face and on my bitten shoulder. But I
could not row; I needed further rest.

My head was beginning to ache. My brain insisted on revolving the story
of my greed for gold. Again I fought the battle of silence with the
watch-dog of the tribe; again I worked like a gnome in that steaming,
hot cauldron; again I staggered away with my plunder. Then I saw that
female Link, who, searching in the thicket, must have found the body of
the watch-dog, lying in his gore. He might have been her mate. Crazed,
she followed on the trail that led from the spot, with the tribe at her
heels. She reached the cauldron and then got again on the tracks I was
making to the river. At that I screamed and thought I was crazy myself.

Aroused by this repeated nightmare, I struggled with the oars again. It
seemed as if I could not budge the boat; this made me work like a fury.
The heat of the sun grew intolerable; I could feel it baking the blood
in my head; it was all on the side of the Blacks. The lake was a sheen
of blinding light and heat; it mocked me and held me back. Again and
again came the lurid panorama of events. I could see through everything,
jungle, thicket and bag made of skin—see those pieces of gold—mine!
mine!—shining like the blazing sun, hot and baking. All that gold on the
ground was mine, but it mocked me and cooked my brain with its heat and
steam.

I lost all reckoning; I rowed to escape the nightmare and the lake that
held me back. The sun got up in mid-heaven, and still I was on that
shimmering water. I knew nothing, absolutely, of what I did, except that
I rowed to get away from that female Link, who seemed to bite me times
without number, and always in that same burning spot. I must have
fainted half a dozen times; I rowed toward home between these spells by
instinct only. The distance which I could ordinarily compass in a little
more than an hour, required no less than seven hours, this fateful day.
When I think of the heat, the weight of the boat and my physical
condition, I wonder I did not die, and drift to the shore.

As it was, I have not the slightest recollection of having reached the
bank. I thought that for years and years I strove to get away from that
last terrible encounter. When at length my brain was clear and I opened
my eyes, in the slow, weak manner of one who has all but passed to the
further side of the dark river, I saw a beautiful, worried face above my
own—the face of the goddess.

“Thank God!” she whispered fervently, when she saw that I was mad no
longer, and the poor girl cried as she bathed my head and bade me go to
sleep.

I had nearly pegged out, and that is the truth. When I was strong enough
to hear my own story, I learned of things which will never cease to fill
me with wonder, and with many emotions too soft to parade. It was good
old Fatty who had seen me coming; and he it was that finally carried me
bodily up the hill. Then for a nurse I had never lacked for a moment.
The goddess and Fatty, he her slave, she my guardian angel, had done the
all that could be done, with the poor facilities at hand, for a man in
such desperate straits that he raves night and day for a week. But the
goddess really saved me, when all is said, for she knew the properties
of certain tropical plants and with the crushed leaves of one she drew
the poison from the bite, reduced the swelling and made it possible for
proper healing to commence. I had done the worst possible thing, in
rowing home through the heat and with such a wound, but if I had not
done exactly what I did, and when I did, my doctor and nurse would never
have had the opportunity of proving their skill.

They were strange days that followed—strange for me, who had never been
down on my back with illness before since childhood, for the fever left
me thin, weak, and feeling so helpless that I had no desire to move as
much as one of my feet. My first poignant thought was about the Blacks,
and the danger of their swooping down upon us again. When I knew that
for a week there had been no sign of any foe, I thought they had
probably undergone too great a fright on the last occasion to require
any more for some considerable time.

For another week I lay like a baby, in the shelter, eating fruits and
bits of meat which the goddess prepared as best she could. How I yearned
to see her face, whenever she left me for a moment! Then came the time
when I began to mend, and desired to have back my strength and my title
of king.

When I stood up and wobbled about on my pins one day, I made a discovery
which did much to hasten a return to my old condition. The crystal club,
presented to me by the ex-chief, in token of my exalted station and
regal attainments, had been stolen. I learned that the ex-chief had
dared to carry this sceptre of power into the jungle; I learned from
Fatty that the jealous Madame Albino had been the one to rob me of my
trophy. She feared the goddess—who in truth was more of a queen of the
tribe than I had even been a king,—but the creature had not feared a man
who was crazy and likely to die.

So wroth did I wax over this outrage to my dignity that I became
unmanageable at once. Thin as a rail, but able to stagger about, next
day, I dug up one of my lesser bombs from the magazine, and waving it
wildly above my head, marched up to the guilty ex-chief, while he had
the club underneath him, as he sat on the ground, and scared him half to
death. He knew the bomb,—no trouble about that. I therefore took the
crystal club away from him, rudely, and slapped his face. He fell down
instantly and began to adore my tracks in the proper spirit of
humiliation, followed without delay by all the tribe. Madame Albino fled
to the woods, though what manner of personal violence the lady expected
I have never been able to guess. This fine, large bluff, of a man as
white as paper and thin as a hair-pin, had a most salutary effect. It
made all the fellows love me more than before, even the chief, for all
were much like dogs in disposition, and a dog is the better for it when
he learns that man is the master. I was more of a monarch every day.

Yet I was slow in regaining my old weight, for the heat was increasing
steadily, and my system had been much depressed by the fever. In
consequence of this, I did more at playing than at work. With my fellows
I practiced archery in the cooler parts of the days, coaxing back the
strength to my arms, body and legs, but I made my excursions to the
jungle brief.

During this period of convalescence, the goddess reassumed the company
of her snake. But the dear girl followed me about with her gaze, which I
frequently felt drawing my own. When I would glance toward her, I always
saw her glorious eyes filled with longing and sympathy and a tenderness
which went straight to my heart. But she would blush and look away,
nearly always at the hideous snake.

With my returning strength came the recurrent desire to depart from the
place forever. Also, in spite of all I could do, the thought of my
gold—lying in the thicket, the treasure for which I had laboured so
hard—would persist in returning. I tried to banish the dream of avarice,
but it is a fearsome clutch which riches maintain on the imagination of
poor, weak man. I felt quite convinced that great as my longing was for
the world outside, that of the goddess was ten-fold greater. Of this I
spoke, one day, when my restored condition gave promise that I should
not fail for lack of strength in what I might undertake. Into the eyes
of that faithful girl came a burning light, which would have made the
heart of any man bound with feeling. She spoke, however, with her usual
control.

“I should like to leave this place,” she said, “but I prefer to wait
until you are strong and masterful, as you were when I saw you first.”

At this it was on my tongue to speak of the future, and of certain hopes
which had grown in my thoughts, of a home to be and of happiness, but I
curbed this desire as being untimely while she depended so entirely upon
myself for deliverance.

Having dwelt no little on the prospect of the future in this camp, in
which—unless we escaped—I could see my own skeleton hung up on a stump,
and with no fine plating of gold upon it, either, I had small desire to
remain in the land another day. Strangely enough, however, I had no
sooner begun to make our preparations for leaving, than memory dragged
in every happy day I had spent with my Links, every thrill of triumph in
my puny successes, every faithful or affectionate deed which these
simple, half-animal creatures had ever performed toward myself. I own I
was foolishly attached to a number of the poor forest-children, who
watched me always with such a dumb look of regard, and wonder as to what
I was.

It is not a boast to say that I had wrought an ineradicable effect upon
these less than merely primitive people. In turn they had been my
willing slaves, my companions—my everything of life. I thought of Little
Tike, and blessed his memory for the days of real enjoyment he had given
me when I was mending from a serious injury once before. But after
all—there was that gilded skeleton to think about and to dread. What
profit was it to a skeleton that sundry Missing Links still adored the
ground before it? I preferred to be a man of meat, unadored for the rest
of my life, rather than to be a gold-plated pile of bones, worshipped
madly throughout the centuries to come.

Thus, taking matters quietly, I made myself and the boat ready for the
long, uncertain cruise. I was quite aware that we might be leaving a
place of comparative safety, for waters and lands of which the dangers
might be innumerable and the chances for escape absolutely nil; I
agreed, mentally, that we might be making a terrible mistake which we
would recognise when too late for any retreat, but these were the risks
we were obliged to assume. I believed I could win, in this game with
fates unknown, and virtually I wagered both our lives on the outcome of
the play.

One of my chief concerns, in stocking the boat, was that of providing
water. As long as we floated on the river we should have this in plenty,
but if we did reach the sea, matters might be altered. The best I could
do was to take my tortoise shell, to hold a fair supply. It was an easy
matter to provision ourselves with meat, for strips which I cut from
various kinds of game, dried in the sun in a manner most satisfactory,
furnishing a palatable supply, which, with salt, was not at all bad to
chew upon by the hour.

For weapons I depended on the bow and arrows, a club and a number of
good flint hatchets, in addition to four small bombs, with complement of
fuse. In order to provide an ever-ready brand of fire for these, should
occasion to use them arise, I selected a goodly quantity of the wood
which retained the glow so long, after which I lined all the bow-end of
the boat with clay, so that I could build my blaze on the bottom and yet
do no harm to the hull by burning. I meant to carry my fire along, for I
had experienced all the “pic-nics” I wanted for the lack of this useful
thing. Among sundry other materials, I provided myself with several
coils of good, stout line, made by braiding together the small, pliable
creepers. At this work the goddess assisted splendidly.

All the skins which had formed my gold bag, had been left behind, in my
flight from the Blacks, of course, but my Links having learned the
process of curing pelts in the brine, had worked up some very good
pieces. On these I levied a tax—the only one I imposed during my
reign—thereby fitting the craft out in some degree of comfort, for the
goddess had dressed herself in all the hides I had left in my shelter.
This seemed to be the concluding ceremony, except that I made sure my
oars and thole-pins were staunch, and I cut a long slender pole, to be
used for any purpose which might develope later on.

My decision was made to leave in the late afternoon, in order to pass
the camp of the Blacks after night had rendered them cowards. At the
very thought of their village, that bag of gold clamoured for another
fling at fortune. I was a poor man, in my own country, howsoever wealthy
I might consider myself in Linkland; the temptation was great. But I
shook my head decisively. I had an undoubted right to risk my own neck,
but I had not the slightest right to risk the personal safety of a
helpless woman. No, I must shut my eyes to the glitter, and pass the
treasure by—like a man!

Although I had made frequent excursions in my boat, many of which had
required preparation, the Links seemed to comprehend that on this
occasion the matter was one of much more importance and gravity for all
concerned. When all was ready and the hour drawing near, I attempted to
convey to the assembled tribe my intention of going, with the goddess,
so far that I should never return. That they understood, I am positive;
the poor fellows were greatly affected. They regretted the arrival of
that day as plainly as if they had said so in a most solemn chorus. Even
the albino female, weak, inconsequent creature that she was, and like a
woman, would have forgiven everything and promised to be good all the
rest of her days, to have changed my decision. She wept on the ground,
sincerely. I felt saddened myself; I admit it freely. These rude
creatures had all seemed like my very own; they were more than faithful
animals, and yet they commanded a strange sympathy, being less than men.

When ready to go, I carried the great rock-crystal club to the ex-chief
and placed it again in his hand, as he stood there and wondered.

“Take it back,” I said, as if he could understand every word, “you are
man enough to wield it well. Boys,” I added to the others, “don’t go
backward again; stick to the bows, and make new ones for yourselves, to
shoot the pigs. Try to be good, manly fellows. And—and I hope you won’t
entirely forget me, when I’m gone.”

Turning quickly away, I shouldered the gold-nugget club and started for
the boat, to which the goddess also repaired. Old Fatty was whining, as
he followed at my heels, and after him trooped every creature in the
tribe, till all stood together on the shore.

In the boat was everything we needed, so far as I could plan and
provide, including a lot of the freshest fruit to be obtained. The
goddess took her seat in the stern. Seized with an impulse, I turned to
my loyal fellows and held out my hand to the chief. He was wholly at a
loss to know what I meant, yet so natural is the gesture that he placed
his hand in mine without even knowing that this shake was the symbol of
friendship, greeting and farewell. The others followed his example, in
wonder, and with awkward motions, so that I bade good-bye to all the
“men.”

Fatty, who was eyeing the boat and whining and giving little jumps of
indecision, knew not what to do. I stepped in the craft and pushed her
gently off.

“Come on then, Fatty,” I said to my good, old fellow, and bounding
through the tepid water, he did actually leap into the boat and sit
there, shivering with awe and delight.

“Good-bye, old camp; good-bye, my friends,” I said, as we drifted slowly
away. “God keep you, poor children of the jungle.”

The chief and all the others got down on the ground, along the bank, and
paid me such a tribute of genuine esteem as I shall never know again.
This was their long farewell; this was their voluntary expression of
love and regret. At that moment, more than any other in my life, I was a
king.



                              CHAPTER XLII
                             GOLDEN GLEAMS


As long as we could see them, the Links continued to watch the boat
departing. Even the goddess, who had conceived such a hatred and fear of
the Blacks, felt that these simpler fellows were not wholly savage and
bad; she even waved them good-bye till we passed around the point, after
which we were quiet for several minutes.

Old Fatty was thoroughly frightened. He crouched down and trembled,
raising his head timidly from time to time to look about, but always
ducked it back under his arm as if he thought that to shut out the sight
was to eliminate the imaginary danger. I pitied him, but felt a greater
affection for the old fellow than ever before, to think he preferred to
undergo this torture, rather than to remain behind when I had gone. It
was a wonderful compliment, and so I shall always think. But I hoped his
fears would soon depart, for I was sorry to see him distressed.

When I turned from the last view of our friends, to smile at the
goddess, I noticed for the first time that she was minus the anaconda.

“Why—we’ve forgotten your darling, beastly old snake,” said I. “If it
makes a lot of difference, why—of course—”

“I left it purposely,” she interrupted, rosy red.

“The deuce!” I exclaimed. “I thought the critter was your pet—the one
thing on earth—”

“My pet! Oh, the horrible, crawling thing!” She shuddered at the memory,
to my great, but secret delight. “I hated the nasty thing—I loathed it!”
she expostulated fervently. “I hope I’ll never see another snake again!”

This was a huge surprise. “Gee whizz!” said I.

“Gee wizz!” echoed Fatty, and he ducked his head back with a snap.

“But—er—why, then,” I resumed, “why did you lug it around?”

“I took it as my only protection,” she replied with dignity. “I had to
be protected from the outrageous brutes!”

“That’s so,” I admitted, abashed. “I might have thought of that. Of
course—just as plain as day.... You’re right—I’m a donkey.... Yes....
But—but why have you thrown him away, now?”

“Because,” she murmured, looking at me timidly, while she blushed again,
“because I don’t need him—any more.”

“Well—bless my soul!” said I, and that was all.

Sending the boat along steadily, for the sun had set and darkness would
soon be coming, I thought of many things. My gaze rested on Fatty, who
was now beginning to look about him a trifle more boldly. What should I
do with the old fellow, provided we all got safely out of the country
and once more mingled with men? How astonished he would be at the sights
of steamers, railroad trains, cities, and the hurrying crowds of people!
I could fancy his comical face, as he looked in my eyes, like a
bewildered dog. Would it ever be possible to put him in clothes and have
him about me? I knew he could learn many useful things, and even much of
my speech, but whether a Missing Link could really be kept, as a
servant, or friend, was a question requiring no little amount of
thought. Of one thing I was certain, I would never under any
circumstances permit him to become a freak, nor even an object of
people’s idle curiosity. Poor old, faithful Fatty.

By the time we arrived at Outlet river I felt that the darkness was
sufficient to make it possible and safe for me to run the gauntlet past
the camp of the Blacks. Cautiously I rowed the boat, bidding the goddess
say nothing till we should be past the clearing.

I could see that she had become pale and frightened, as we neared the
place in which for long she had been a prisoner, but also there was
ample evidence of her courage. Without a sound, we glided by the bank
where twice I had beached the boat, and my heart beat with excitement as
I thought of the gold, lying so short a carry away. “Get it—take it!”
prompted a thought in my brain, “it will only take a moment and then you
will be rich!” But I conquered; I crushed out the tempting voice and
rowed slowly on.

Proceeding across the river, to the side opposite the clearing of our
foe, I watched for the camp, eagerly. We came sooner than I had expected
to a point from which we could see the place. I looked, but was struck
dumb with surprise. Not a fire did I see. I rested on the oars and
listened; there was not a sound of the chattering Blacks. Daring to
approach a trifle nearer, so great is human curiosity, I was still
unable to discover a single sign of inhabitants on the flat where I had
formerly seen them by the hundred.

“I’m a fish,” said I, “if they haven’t deserted the camp!”

They had gone, for a fact. There was not a Link of them left. They had
fled, for what reason I could not even conjecture; and where they were
was a question which I did not care to propound. It seemed to me that
this lifted a great burden of worry from my shoulders. But as soon as I
had made myself sure of the truth, my thoughts went flashing back to the
bag of gold. If the Links were gone, I should run no risk in recovering
the treasure. So potent did this idea become, that I immediately turned
the boat back up the steam and began to row with vigour.

The goddess asked me at once where I was going. When I told her she
seemed deeply to regret my resolution, but she sat there, grimly, and
made no comment. Brave girl, I knew she was terribly agitated, but a
girl could not be expected to do or to know any better. I admired her
pluck in restraining her natural impulse to protest and coax and make a
fuss.

In the briefest time, the prow was grating on the bank. Fatty leaped
out, wild with delight to find himself again on solid earth.

“We’ll only be gone a minute,” I told the goddess, and led the way up
through the brush and the darkness.

To tell the truth I was more than half afraid that something might
happen, myself. Jungle noises had commenced and the place seemed to
breathe of my flight, struggles and pains of the time before. Stumbling
about, as silently as possible, I began to search for the treasure.

I had pictured myself walking straight to where the gold was lying, but
I now began to realise that to re-discover the particular thicket where
I had dropped it would be a matter involving considerable luck. A
fruitless time elapsed while I plunged about. Fatty was of no
assistance, for he knew nothing of what I was seeking.

Presently the same old grumble and roar, from the mighty cauldron,
commenced to roll outward on the air. I knew at once I was off the
track, at least twenty yards. Changing my base rapidly, I began the
search anew. But it seemed utterly hopeless. A doubt came over me; was
the bag still there? Might not the Blacks have found it and carried it
away? It seemed as if this must be so. I was worried about the goddess;
if anything should happen to her, how terrible it would be!

On the point of giving up the gold, and persuading myself that I did not
care anyway, I turned to leave, and stumbled heavily over some obstacle
and into a tangle of creepers.

“Here it is, all the time!” I grumbled.

My excitement rose to fever pitch in a second. The bag, exactly as I had
dropped it down, was under my very hand. Lifting it out of the embracing
tendrils, I got it boosted up on my shoulder in a hurry. Then back we
plunged, through the growth.

If I live to be a thousand, I shall never see a face so expressive of
dread and fright as was that of the poor, trembling girl in the boat,
when at last we came to where she was waiting. I believe that hers had
been a more cruel ordeal to endure than had been my own on the former
occasion. I had not even thought to whistle a bit, by way of assurance
that all was well. She had to cry, dear little woman, when the strain
was over and the boat once more headed down the stream.

I spurned the gold with my foot, as it lay in the boat, and hated myself
for a miserly, greedy fool, yet in spite of myself I felt a tremendous
elation inside, to think of having all this wealth, after all. It seemed
too good for me to contain myself over. I wanted to roar out in
laughter, to sing, and to shout a mad defiance to all the Blacks in
kingdom.

Fatty had entered the boat again, with more alacrity than before,
desiring any fate with us rather than to be left alone in an unknown
jungle after dark. He made himself small in the bottom of the boat, and
we glided past the deserted camp of our defeated foe.



                             CHAPTER XLIII
                        SURROUNDED BY THE BLACKS


It was a strange sensation to skim along that river through the dark,
irregular walls of trees, for the sounds of the jungle came to us
clearly and these were all we could hear. At times we could see but a
short distance ahead; at many a bend it appeared as if the great silent
water-way ended abruptly. Then again it would open out and curve away,
lighted only by its own reflections of the stars.

So much did this outlet wind that I lost all account of directions, but
I knew we were traversing miles to accomplish but little direct advance.
Our talking amounted to nothing. My mood was not for conversation, while
I am sure the goddess dreaded to speak a word. From time to time some
water creature splashed its way among the grasses, next the bank. No
matter how often this sound was repeated, it made me start and breathe
heavily till we were past the place.

The hours sped by, bringing no material change that could be noted. The
night was exceedingly dark, owing in part to the density of the forest
so near on either side. Pausing at length in my rowing, I observed that
we drifted more rapidly than I had thought the current to be moving.
Having become a trifle soft, while on my back, I found that my arms had
grown tired already from the work. Fatty had succumbed to his habit of
sleeping, acquired by going to bed at dark. His fears, however, had kept
him awake much later than usual. He was curled down in the hold, where
he twitched his feet and made little noises, like a dog that dreams.

I whispered to the goddess that she had better try to follow Fatty’s
example, but I was quite unable to ascertain whether she slept or not,
so still had she been for an hour. Deeming it wise to conserve my
strength for the daylight rowing, I now permitted the boat to float down
the river at its own speed, merely keeping her out toward the centre of
the stream by steering with one or the other of the oars. She swung
about, broadside on, but as this enabled me to watch ahead easily, I
made no effort to keep her pointed directly down the current.

Drifting thus, I kept the lonely vigil, hour after hour. I think I have
never felt more depressed than I finally became in that heart of the
wilderness. Not that anything threatened, nor that the sounds about me
were more than usually weird, but simply because there seemed to be no
end in promise; there appeared to be no progress toward anything
different from that interminable jungle, in which the river seemed
merely to wind without purpose. I felt as if the stream were like a
figure 8, on which we could float forever and never get out of the maze.
I knew better than this, but everything contributed to make me hopeless.
Sleepy and weary, dully aching in the muscles and bones made weak by the
fever, I almost thought the whole business a failure and the life, for
which I had fought so persistently, a mockery unworthy of the effort.

On and on, winding and curving, drifted the boat with its extraordinary
cargo. Now and again I stirred the embers of fire, which were dully
glowing in my furnace-like receptacle of clay. In this place these
burning sticks appeared like the eyes of some crouching animal. I gave
up all idea of ever seeing dawn. Nodding, jerking myself awake, bathing
my heavy lids with water, steering my crooked course on this stream of
mystery, I passed the time without a single relieving incident to break
the deadening monotony of sound, motion and thought.

Even when the first yellow streaks of morning did make slits in the
clouds, above the horizon of trees, it seemed as if the process of
day-breaking ceased and that the actuator had forgotten the method.
About this time, a rain commenced to fall, light, but wet and not
desired. Fatty and the goddess awoke. I stumbled over the faithful Link
to arrange a protection for the fire, which might otherwise have been
extinguished. Then in my eagerness to get back to the oars and head us
off from the bank, toward which we were gliding, I forgot to cover the
bombs.

Grateful for the diversion, as well as for the company of my two
companions, I picked up my spirits rapidly, becoming actually cheerful.
This humour seemed to accelerate the coming of morning amazingly. The
river reflected the pale streaks of light, the trees began to emerge in
detail from the walls of gloom, and the dismal sounds, of hooting and
howling things, were abated. Before we knew it, day was upon us, our
winding course became a ceaseless invitation to hasten on and round the
next succeeding curve, and we were drifting with a doubled speed.

Though the rain continued to fall, it was not annoying. I ate a bit of
fruit and manned the oars, soon having us going at an encouraging speed.
When the sun peered over the edge of the world, I felt like a boy. I let
out a shout and a roar to relieve the pressure of over exhilaration. The
echoes chased through the jungle madly.

Glancing ahead I now discovered that the river narrowed down abruptly
between rude stairways of rock. On either side were shelves of the
adamant, not more than a foot above the tide; the whole gateway was
barely more than six feet in width. As might have been expected the
current was fairly being sucked through this chasm, which explained the
extra speed of the current where we were.

Seeing nothing in or about the place which should make it difficult of
navigation, I merely kept the boat headed for the centre of the pass and
let her shoot along with the powerful sweep of waters. The place was not
long, nor were the rocks high nor difficult of access from the banks
below. I remember to have thought how easily a man could cross the river
at this peculiar place by simply jumping.

The boat was tossed on the turbulent surface, as we darted through, but
below was another broad, smooth expanse, and the ever-inevitable curve
of the river. This latter we reached soon. I was then somewhat surprised
to observe two things: First, that for several hundred feet the stream
was nearly straight, and second that it narrowed again below us, between
banks a yard in height on which the growth was dense and which were so
close together that several slender creepers hung like the cables of a
projected suspension bridge across the stream, from branch to branch. I
thought the wind must have blown the first slight tendrils over and that
later they had grown to their present size. I also noted that again the
placid river became rapids, which tossed and foamed in their agitated
plunge between these banks.

Absorbed in what I saw and watching my course narrowly, I gave no heed
to anything else. Therefore I started with galvanic quickness at a
sudden scream from the goddess. In answer, a chorus of yells,
triumphant, and diabolical enough to curdle the blood in one’s veins,
went up instantly. Then the jungle below us appeared literally to swarm
with terrible forms.

The black Links, dancing like maniacs, screaming and racing toward the
rapids to intercept us, were surging from every possible space between
the trees, on the left-hand side of the river. They dashed ahead, fully
comprehending the situation and their own advantage. I thought I could
beat them to the rapids, but they were there by the score before we
could approach within a stone’s throw of its top, a fierce and terrible
array, armed with their clubs with which they could not have missed us
by throwing.

To have attempted to run through the narrows would merely have been to
court a sudden death. I backwatered quickly and held the boat from
drifting. Fatty was whining; the goddess was white as paper. I thought
of the rapids above us, against the current of which I could hot have
pulled the boat to save our souls. I looked about and noted the densely
wooded banks, which made escape in that direction impossible, even if we
could have landed on the side opposite the foe in the vain hope that
they could not get across as easily as we.

We were trapped!

The wild brutes, insane to get the goddess again in their clutches, mad
to tear Fatty in shreds, and crazy to beat me to a pulp, as their
arch-nemesis, simply writhed in eager anticipation of bagging us all, in
spite of all we could do.

It was maddening; it all but drove me out of my senses. I knew that to
wait for night would mean that when they were goaded sufficiently by
their own impatience, the monsters would reach us, even if they had to
swim, in addition to which I should certainly not dare to run the rapids
after dark. Escape was utterly impossible, turn where I might.

The greed for gold had done the trick! The time I had wasted to get it
would have saved us. Had I not delayed, we should have passed this place
before the light had become strong enough to reveal our presence.

The demons never ceased for a moment to yell. That they knew we were
caught I could not doubt. Not only did the males all congregate to smash
us to atoms if we should attempt to shoot the rapids, but the females
also appeared like magic from the jungle and lined up along the bank, a
cruel looking mob with fingers that itched to tear poor Fatty and me to
strings of meat. I was alarmed, desperate, and enraged by turns. Keeping
off the boat and attempting to see a way out, I suddenly thought of my
bombs.

Immediately I conceived a plan by which I meant to scatter the fiends in
utter dismay. Dropping the boat down toward them I stopped it just
outside the range of their clubs and headed it back up the stream.
Before it had ceased to go forward, under the impulse of a powerful
stroke, I shipped the oars, grabbed up a bomb and darted over Fatty to
the fire. Snatching up an ember, I applied it to the fuse, meaning to
throw the deadly explosive into their midst and dart through the rapids
in the instantaneous confusion which would follow.

But the rain had dampened the powder!

The fuse would not ignite! The trick was worse than a failure!

With a curse on my lips, I sprang back to the oars and spun the boat
about, barely in time to save it from shooting the narrows broadside on.
A dozen clubs, whizzing and hurtling end over end, splashed the water
about us, as I drove the boat back to a safe position. In despair I
examined all the bombs, only to find them as useless and harmless as so
many hunks of cork. All my elaborate work to provide myself with these
weapons and with the fire to make them of use, had been wholly undone in
a moment of thoughtless neglect. I might have protected these
instruments of death, but I had failed at the critical moment.

The weight of this calamity nearly overcame me. It seemed as if the
bombs had been our only hope, and that now we were certainly doomed. The
raging Blacks yelled more horribly than ever; they were more assured of
their prey. Nothing more ferocious can be imagined than this mass of
fiends, many of them foaming at the mouth, all excitedly moving from
place to place, and all showing fangs of teeth, as they watched us with
the nervous, near-together eyes which I knew so well.

I was rendered so thoroughly unfit by the failure of my bombs, that I
gave up trying to think of any other way of outwitting the monsters. The
rain re-commenced. With a bitter sniff of scorn at myself for the
action, I covered the bamboo explosives with a skin, to prevent them
from getting any wetter. As if powder could be any wetter when it has
become too damp to ignite!

“Oh what shall we do? what shall we do?” moaned the goddess.

I tried to answer cheerfully, but having no sensible reply was denied
even this negative pleasure. I tried to think, in order to make some
rejoinder.

“There is only one scheme and that is nearly hopeless,” I told her at
last. “If I can make them believe we are about to land on the opposite
side, up above, perhaps they might abandon their present position and
then we could make a dash for it and beat them past that narrow
channel.”

She made no comment, but in her eyes there was such an imploring light
that I deemed no effort too great to make. Somewhat inspirited by the
plan concocted on the spur of a moment, I strung my bow and laid an
arrow near and immediately turning the prow up stream began to row away
from the waiting Blacks, toward the furthest bank we could see.

At first they were undecided, or else they refused to believe we were
leaving. But their wits were keen only within narrow limits. Taking the
bait, in a moment, they seemed suddenly to remember the rock-passage,
over which they doubtless knew they could jump. By the score they chased
up the bank, swinging along in the trees with astonishing agility and
gaining on us every moment.

I was purposely rowing slowly, but with great show of exertion. As far
as I could determine, from that distance, every demon in the tribe came
chasing up the river, to be in at the death. Dozens of them remained
visible, marking the position of the main body as it moved up the bank,
but the great majority were soon hidden in the tangle of verdure,
through which they weaved like so many animated black shuttles, playing
in and out through the warp of green.

Steering now for the bank which was just below the upper rapids, and
appearing to row with all possible haste, I had the extreme satisfaction
of seeing our mad pursuers swarming toward the rocks where the stream
could be leaped at a bound. So eagerly did they push and crowd, when
they came to the place, that some, who paused undecided at the brink,
were shoved headlong into the angry current. But no sooner was I sure
that the ruse had succeeded than I swung the boat, as if she had been on
a pivot, and sent her shooting down the stream with might and main.

Shrieks of rage and dismay burst from a hundred throats as the baffled
demons suddenly comprehended my game. With all their speed, and in a
frenzy of fury, they came running and climbing and swinging back. But
this time I had the double advantage of a shorter, straighter route and
the force of all the current to sweep me along. I rowed like an engine;
the race was a race for life or death. Every muscle was strained, every
volt of the superhuman dynamic, developed by the peril of our position,
surged upward to drive us onward, toward that narrow gate of safety.

We neared it; we were far ahead of the mob; I saw victory smiling in the
sun-lit jungle beyond. Like a hideous black comet, then, athwart my line
of vision, a Link suddenly swung across the river, on one of the
creepers that spanned the space between the banks. He reached the
branches on the opposite side. Instantly another one followed. I
groaned, for evidently they had been left there to guard the pass.
Another and yet another swung across. They quickly formed a
“monkey-bridge” and hung suspended above the water like a sagging
hammock—not from the creepers, which would have broken, but each from
the arms of his neighbour. In less than half a minute their line was
complete. We were still driving toward them.

“Oh, the horrible old woman!” cried the girl, in affright.

I realised then that more than half the creatures in the bridge were
females; and out across them came swinging that she-devil who had caught
me with the gold, and whose fingers I had severed, and whose ribs I had
skinned—the harpy who had watched the goddess like a hawk.

She meant to lean down over the ones in the bridge and clutch the girl,
as we shot beneath their bodies. Then others quickly joined her who
intended to snatch for Fatty and myself. It was diabolically clever. If
ever they reached us with those powerful arms, they could hold us
against a team of pulling horses.

To turn now meant to abandon all hope; the Links who were tearing after
us behind, once fooled could be hoaxed no more; and all would be more
than ever infuriated and likely to swamp the boat. It looked like a
swift and awful death.

In a heat of uncontainable rage myself, I stood up, as we swept toward
the rapids, and grabbing my bow, strung an arrow in desperate haste and
drew for a shot, which fury made vicious and fierce. I had become so
angered that I seemed to care nothing for what could happen. The arrow
sprang away like a streak of light. Just at that second the line of
Links slipped down a foot. In the brief time before the shaft could
arrive, my heart sank with dread—the slip of the target had ruined my
shot.

But like the angered messenger of hate which it was, the arrow struck
where it had not been aimed—in the forearm of a Link who supported the
weight of all the line. It stabbed clean through, tearing the muscles
savagely as it plowed. Down swung the whole living bridge of demons,
with the shrieking “old woman” in the melee, for that supporting arm let
go as if it had been slashed in twain.

Instantly the dropping fiends struck the stream where the current boiled
like a mill-race. Splashing, battling, screaming in fright, the
intertwisted monsters went swiftly down, every one trying to climb out
on his neighbour, all of them fighting, rolling like rags of waste and
gurgling as they attempted still to yell, with mouths full of water.

The boat by this time had been caught in the tow of the torrent. We
swung down into the foam and tossing waves and drifted into the mass of
brutes as they fought and drowned in the irresistible flood. Two of them
flung an arm across our gunwale. Yelling as madly as themselves, we beat
them off with the clubs, Fatty fighting like a fury. The hideous old
female clutched in desperation and fastened her deadly grip on the wrist
of the goddess. What a scream of malice and triumph she gave! I jumped
across the seat and struck her arm a blow that smashed the bone and
flesh to a quivering pulp on the edge of the boat. About her neck was
flung the arm of a drowning beast at her side; and down they went
together.

Yells upon yells now arose from the other Blacks, who had come to the
narrows. We were slowly revolving in a whirlpool. The creatures could
still have dashed to positions above us and sunk the boat with their
clubs. I shot out the oars and drove the craft quickly ahead. A monster
came boiling to the surface; I slashed him hard with my right-hand sweep
and he sank like a rock. One, a rod away was swimming with the inborn
skill and instinct of all wild animals, but the others had fought one
another, fatally, in that vortex of swirling water, and only this one
got back to the bank.

Through the seething foam to where the turbulent river grew calmer, we
sped away, and at last these implacable demons were far behind.



                              CHAPTER XLIV
                          VALE, FAITHFUL FATTY


Had the Blacks known the country and human ways of cunning, they could
still have cut across the neck of a loop in the river, and so have
overtaken the boat, but this was beyond their sagacity. I feared they
might have forestalled us thus, so that when we came along to where they
should have been, in such an event, I was alert for trouble and hugged
the further side of the stream. Of course we passed the place
unmolested.

The sun was shining brightly now, as if in promise of fairer things to
come. We had been too horrified to speak, but at last we breathed our
relief, and shuddered as we reviewed the fearful hour which, thank God,
was now of the past. Then we ate of our food, for all were faint from
hunger, and I stirred up and fed the fire, and laid out the bombs to dry
in the tropical heat. Also I moored the boat from the branch of an
overhanging tree, by means of the rope I had taken along. I needed rest
as much as food.

There in the shade we floated quietly for more than an hour, during
which time I slept like a worn-out child, in a wretched position, but
yet dreamlessly and without the slightest inconvenience. I awoke much
refreshed. The goddess would have permitted me to slumber as long as I
listed, nevertheless she was anxious to be going ahead, seeing which I
cut us loose, and again we were hurrying down toward the sea.

It was a long and somewhat tedious day. We shot more rapids, a number of
which threatened various dangers, and we rowed through a broad, shallow
lagoon that was almost a lake and in which there were alligators galore.
Of these the goddess had a natural horror, only exceeded by that of poor
Fatty. However, the saurians were quite as alarmed as we, having never
before seen the like of our floating terror, which the boat with
extended oars seemed to represent, so that we cleared this place without
delay and without a battle.

Along the banks of the river, which presented itself in multitudinous
aspects, we beheld troops of monkeys and apes, vast flocks of parrots
and other noisy birds, which made the trees seem to quiver with life.
Tortoises were frequently started from a sun-bath, when they plunged
into the stream with clumsy haste. There were toads in great variety and
of snakes an ample representation. Of these latter reptiles some were
swimming in the water, while others lay upon the banks and others again
hung suspended from the trees, masquerading, it appeared to me, in
imitation of creepers. The insects were exceedingly pestiferous,
especially where the river became wide, sluggish and grown with rank
grasses.

The changing panorama of jungle, hills, grassy clearings and rocky
ravines, was one of unquestionable beauty, yet I felt no joy in
observing it stretch and unfold so endlessly before us. I waxed
impatient to be out of the maze. In spite of all I could do, I was
conscious always of the ominous stillness about us, and of a sub-stratum
of fear in myself, as I dwelt upon the thought of things which might
occur. I have said before, and I repeat frankly, I am not a courageous
man. The constant succession of events and the omnipresence of menace to
life and limb had wrought sad havoc with my nerves. When I fought, it
was nearly always because I felt so frightened and nervous that I had to
do something desperate to relieve my feelings. At other times anger had
made me reckless.

We had passed a number of tributary streams, so that the river was now
of much greater volume. Thinking of this, I was deeply puzzled, at noon,
to find that not only had the current ceased to assist me forward, but
that on the contrary it seemed abruptly to have reversed. Attributing
this “illusion” to my weakened condition of brain and muscles, I worked
harder than before to drive the boat along. There was no sense in
blaming myself, however, for soon the up current became actually
visible, as well as strong. Then I was suddenly made glad, and knew I
had been once more a dunce.

The tide from the great sea itself was rising and driving everything up,
against the flow of the river. This glorious news I imparted at once to
the goddess. How she rejoiced! But even then, her feelings were most
expressed by her lustrous eyes, for she found it difficult to speak of
escape, and I think she dared not hope, for fear a jealous fate would
hear her wish and proceed to shatter every possibility of deliverance
from this wide-open prison.

It being a useless expenditure of energy to pull against this tide, I
secured the boat to a vine-covered log, which protruded above the water,
and let her swing as she would. We refreshed ourselves again with the
fruits and a bit of the jerked meat. Already many of the mangoes and
papaws were becoming soft, in the heat. Instructing the goddess to wake
me the moment the tide should turn, I snatched another nap.

Before long we were slipping so swiftly downward on the ebb of the
current that I was quite content to steer the boat and let it make its
own pace. Thus we skimmed rapidly along until late in the day, the smell
of the life-giving sea wafting to our nostrils, till it filled us with
joy unspeakable. Building my plan as we rode on the bosom of the river,
I decided to make the camp in the stream, or on the bank, within the
mouth of the outlet, rather than to venture on the ocean with night
descending. After a needed period of rest, we could explore the coast of
the land for a village, in the morning.

The sky had become a trifle clouded before we resumed the drifting,
after my slumber; this condition now increased. Having been taught my
lesson before, I did not intend to be caught again. I spoke to the
goddess, asking her to steer us a bit, but the poor girl had fallen
asleep from exhaustion. Letting the craft take her course, I stretched a
protection over the fire and then turned about and performed a similar
service for the bombs, which had been dried thoroughly.

While I was fairly in the midst of this important business, Fatty gave a
sudden cry of alarm. The next instant the boat struck upon the end of a
spit of land which projected out into the stream. I was thrown on my
knees; the craft swung with her bow as a pivot on the sand.

Getting erect with the thought that no harm was done and that to push
off was only the work of a second, I was amazed to see a troop of
creatures darting toward us—my old enemies the hideous ourang-outangs!

The goddess was jolted awake; she gasped in terror. Reaching for an oar
to push us off I found it caught in the skin that wrapped the bombs. I
jerked and wrenched; the delay was fatal. The monsters descended the
bank like an avalanche. Hampered as I was with the oar, I became the
easiest victim. Before I could drop the sweep to make a fight, the
brutes leaped across the beach which was between themselves and the
boat. Myself, the girl and Fatty were all but surrounded,—hideous murder
loomed before us in a second.

Then Fatty, the faithful, the frightened, the loving, hurled himself
upon the brutes, defending me from instant capture and death; and the
fierce creatures gathered him to them. They tore him, bit him, fell upon
him and mangled his body in a manner frightful to see. He was done to
death most horribly in less than half a minute.

The boat, relieved of his weight and shoved by the backward push of his
foot, as he leaped, swung off in the stream and began to drift away. I
sprang to where my bombs were lying, mad for vengeance, and tore one out
of the skin. Then scrambling to the fire, I snatched up a flesh-searing
coal and touched the fuse. It sputtered in swift anger. I threw the
deadly thing with all my force. While yet in the air, only mid-way
between those monsters and ourselves, the bomb exploded with terrific
violence. I saw a gigantic star of fire; I felt as if the world had
burst against my head. Then I fell forward in the boat and was utterly
blotted out.



                              CHAPTER XLV
                            NO LONGER A KING


The force of the bomb must have been tremendous. I believe it was hours
before I regained consciousness. When at last I did revive, I was dizzy
and deafened, the world about me was black, a storm was raging in the
heavens and the boat was heaving with a great commotion. Everything was
puzzling. Finally I remembered something of what had happened and knew
where I was.

“Dearest,” I said, giving the goddess the name which I had only dared to
call her to myself, “dearest—are you there?” and I crawled toward the
stern.

“Here—John,” said a faint, sweet voice, and then I found her hand and
knew that she too had been long unconscious, after that moment of
terrible things.

We were on the sea! Of that I was soon made sure. The wind was driving
us—the Lord only knew where; the waves were tossing the boat about as if
she had been but a thimble afloat; and the spray flung across us and
drenched us both repeatedly. This had doubtless fetched us around, the
goddess first, for she had been less injured than I by the explosion,
having been seated, while I was standing, at the fateful moment. The
tide had carried us straight out to the ocean, as we lay helpless in the
craft.

We crouched in the bottom of the boat and clung to the seat for an age.
The rain came driving down; the force of the gale appeared to increase,
and we scudded away into the black abyss which had for its limits the
ends of mighty ocean.

We were out of our prison, adrift on the boundless main. When morning
came, we raised our heads and searched that wilderness of water—in vain.
No island—no ship—nothing was there in sight, save tumbling mountains of
water. We were lost in that trackless jungle of billows.

Of the day and the night of physical and mental anguish that followed, I
have no desire to think. Two souls made one by sufferings long endured,
we sought and found our only consolation in the words of hope and
affection, which each could give to each.

What water remained, or had been collected from the downpour, in the
shell of the tortoise, got slopped out soon in the boat. It mingled with
the salt water, shipped from time to time, and swashing about, ruined
the meat and fruits, put out the fire and soaked the skins. Then the sun
and the scorching air played their tricks at parching and burning us up.
How useless and vain seemed the sack of gold, lying there in the wash!

I cut and broke the pole I had taken along, and lashing the shorter
piece across the boat, to the oar-lock pins, made the other stand
upright, with a bit of skin flapping idly, for a signal of distress.

Toward the evening of the second day we sighted a steamer. As we were
low to the water and they were high, this boat was comparatively near
before we saw her loom above the horizon. She made us out, at last, and
we breathed our thanks, to see her put about and bear down toward the
good old boat which had served so nobly.

Then it was that a surge of feeling welled up within me, thoughts of my
long exile, the friendly Links—who had saved my life,—and of poor old
Fatty, who had sacrificed himself like a hero at the end—poor old Fatty,
my loving and beloved friend.

“What is it, John?” said the goddess tenderly.

“Oh nothing,” I faltered, swallowing hard at the lump in my throttle,
“I—I was just thinking that now—that now I’m no longer King of the
Missing Links;—I’m just an ordinary man.”


                                  END.



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Copyright notice provided as in the original—this e-text is public
  domain in the country of publication.

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard (or amusing)
  spellings, dialect, and idiosyncratic punctuation unchanged.

--In the text versions, delimited italics text in _underscores_ (the
  HTML version reproduces the font form of the printed book.)





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