The Red Diamond, by Samuel Scoville, jr. (1924, 1925)
[front cover, with spine]
Inch by inch the tiger stole down the branch
SAMUEL SCOVILLE, JR.
Author of “Boy Scouts in the Wilderness,” “The Blue Pearl,” “The Inca Emerald,” etc., etc.
THE CENTURY CO.
New York & London
Copyright, 1924, 1925, by THE CENTURY CO. ------- COPYRIGHT, 1925, BY SAMUEL SCOVILLE, JR.
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO
MY DEAR, DEAR BOY
WHO URGED ME TO WRITE IT
BUT WHO COULD NOT STAY TO READ IT
[table of contents]
I AMBOYNA … 3
II THE FAR EAST … 29
III THE CLOUDED TIGER … 61
IV THE TALKING TREES … 90
V THE KING COBRA … 119
VI THE WILD MAN OF THE WOODS … 145
VII THE MASAI … 167
VIII THE DEMON OF THE JUNGLE … 194
IX BIRDS OF HEAVEN … 223
X TROBIAND … 246
XI THE TALISMAN … 274
XII THE RED DIAMOND … 302
[table of illustrations]
Inch by inch the tiger stole down the branch … Frontispiece
“There be where the wild men live,” whispered the Dyak … 146
There came the sound of a slashing blow, and a great liana snapped apart … 200
The boy sawed away at the leathery muscle for his very life’s sake … 316
THE RED DIAMOND
Wanted: Brave man; big danger; big money; no questions asked—nor answered. Write B. 73 “Sentinel” office.
A wiry little man with a gray beard, a shock of bushy gray hair, and steel-sharp gray eyes read this advertisement, one July afternoon in one of the advertising columns of the New York “Sentinel.” For over an hour he had been sitting in the lobby of New York’s largest hotel wearily watching the passing crowd.
“Sounds good to me,” he muttered to himself and sprang to his feet with the sudden swiftness of a young man, in spite of his gray hairs. Even as he spoke, a slim, black-eyed
boy stole up behind him and smote the old man mightily on the back.
“Judson Adams, you ’re under arrest!” he rumbled, in what he intended to be a deep bass voice, gripping the little man by the shoulders so that he could not turn around. “Will you come quietly, or shall I send for a patrol-wagon?”
Wriggling like an eel, Mr. Adams finally managed to catch a glimpse of the boy’s grinning face.
“Freddie Perkins!” he cried excitedly. “I ain’t seen you since we come back with the Blue Pearl!”
“Hello, Jud,” returned the boy, grasping the old man’s outstretched hand. “You ’re looking younger than ever—not a day over eighty.”
“There you go! Makin’ funny cracks at my age as usual,” returned Jud, peevishly. “How come you here, anyway?”
The grin faded from Fred’s face.
“I ’m looking for a job,” he said slowly.
“Sho! that ’s too bad,” said the old man, sympathetically. “Why, I thought you put
your share of the Blue Pearl into your uncle’s business an’ was a president or a foreman or somethin’ with him.”
“I did,” returned Fred. “Last week the business, the uncle, and all busted. I wish now I had gone to college with Bill Bright and Joe Couteau.”
The old man nodded his head wisely.
“Yes,” he said, “that ’s most certainly what you ought to have done. You young chaps seem to think that you ain’t goin’ to live much beyond twenty. Life ’s apt to last quite a piece longer. Eddication ’s the first thing; there ’s plenty of time to get all the money you need afterward,” he went on, as he convoyed the boy to an empty lounge. “Big Jim Donegan took my Blue Pearl and Inca Emerald money,” he resumed, as they sat down together in a quiet corner, “and invested it for me, an’ the interest is rollin’ in faster ’n I can spend it. It ’ll be a favor if you ’ll let me lend you enough to put you on your feet again.”
Fred shook his head emphatically. “You are certainly a good scout, Jud,” he said, pat-
ting the old man’s shoulder affectionately, “but I won’t borrow a cent from any one. I ’m going to take your advice, however,” he went on, “and get an education just as soon as I can get the money together. Tell me what you are doing in New York.”
The old man’s face fell.
“I ’m waitin’ here for Jim Donegan,” he replied. “He ’s upstairs attendin’ some kind of a meetin’ of gem-collectors. I been visiting Jim for ’bout a week an’ I ’m sure anxious to get back into the open again. These cities kind of smother me. Not but what Jim ’s taken mighty good care of me,” he added scrupulously. “The more I see of cities,” the old man continued earnestly, “the more I like deserts. I wish so much that it kind of hurts that I was off again with you an’ Bill Bright an’ Joe Couteau on the way to Goreloi or followin’ the Trail to Eldorado. What do you think of this?” he finished abruptly, passing the advertisement, which he had been reading, over to Fred.
The boy read the paragraph with the same interest which Jud had shown.
“Answer it,” he advised, “and send me word if there ’s any chance to let me in on it. Would n’t it be dandy,” he went on, “if we could have another trip like the one we went on after the Pearl with Bill Bright and Joe Couteau!”
“It sure would,” agreed Jud. “Bill would go in a minute an’ so would Professor Amandus Ditson, who went with Joe an’ Bill an’ me after the Emerald an’ give me a better idee of scientific chaps than I ever expected to get. Joe, though, is out of it. He ’s took all the money he made on both expeditions an’ has gone back to Akotan an’ is arrangin’ to get teachers an’ government protection for his tribe.”
“Good for old Joe!” returned Fred, heartily; “he ’s got the right stuff in him. Here ’s my address,” he went on, slipping a card into the old man’s hand. “I must run along. If there ’s anything doing in this big-danger, big-money scheme, let me know. I ain’t much on danger, but I sure need a piece of that big money.”
“I seem to remember a boy who did n’t
think of danger when I was fightin’ for my life with that devil-fish,” returned Jud, affectionately. “If it had n’t been for you, I would n’t be here now. An’ if there ’s anythin’ goin’ on, you ’ll be in it.” And with a final hand-grip, the two separated.
That night, Jud sent to the address given in the paragraph which had so captured his attention, a letter reading as follows:
Dear Mr. B. 73:
Your advertisement in the New York “Sentinel” to hand.
I ’m a fairly young man with considerable experience in big danger. I ’ve been a sailor and a pearl-diver in my time and have trapped and prospected clear up beyond the Circle. I was one of the party which brought back the Blue Pearl for Mr. James Donegan, the president of the International Lumber Company, and last year was on the expedition which got him the Inca Emerald from South America. I can give you his name for reference and that of Professor Amandus Ditson, of the Smithsonian Institute at Washington. If you and me, Mr. B. 73, decide to do business together, I can probably get two more
chaps to go along with us whom I can depend on.
Hoping to hear more from you about this big danger (likewise the big money),
Late that afternoon, Mr. Donegan, the multi-millionaire head of the lumber trust, best known to his intimate friends as “Big Jim,” came up to Jud’s room where the old man was reading his paper after a ride through the park in Mr. Donegan’s imported car.
The lumber magnate seemed a little embarrassed.
“Would you mind, old man, if I left you
alone this evening?” he asked. “To-night is the dinner of the Ends-of-the-Earth Club. I tried to get you a ticket, but the guest-lists were closed.”
Jud grinned up at him cheerfully.
“Don’t you mind me, Jim,” he responded, “I ’ve got to meet a man this evening on business, anyhow, so you run right along an’ make a night of it.”
“All right,” returned the other, relieved. “I won’t go off without you again.”
Promptly at eight, Jud arrived at the Hotel Peerless and, upon inquiring at the desk, received one of the much-coveted invitations to the dinner of the Ends-of-the-Earth Club, which took its name from those lines of Kipling:
The Ocean at large was our share,
and which included in its membership explorers, big-game hunters, and wanderers from all over the world.
Jud was shot in an express elevator to the
banqueting-hall on the twentieth floor. There, amid a buzz of voices and the pleasant background of laughter, he found himself seated at one of the small tables next to a massive, red-faced man with bristling, graying red hair who was none other than Big Jim Donegan whom Jud had left only a short time before. The lumber king leaned forward in great astonishment.
“Jud Adams, you old sport! How in the world did you get here?” he boomed.
“You need n’t think you ’re the only man who can go to these swell dinners,” returned Jud, delightedly. “The thing that bothers me, though,” he went on, “is who invited me.”
At this point the other occupant of the little table took a part in the conversation.
“Perhaps I can explain,” he said in a low, rather precise voice. “Youa re here, Mr. Adams, as my guest.”
Jud stared at him, bewildered. The stranger was a tall, slim, rather distinguished-looking man with a pale oval face and a tiny, waxed mustache. It was his eyes, however,
which made him a man to be remembered anywhere. One was black as charcoal, while the ohter, in which he wore a monocle, was ice-blue. Jud had the feeling as he stared at the stranger that two men were looking out at him from the same face.
“Are you ‘B. 73’ who advertised about big danger,” he queried incredulously.
“Why not?” returned the other, quietly.
“Well,” answered Jud, bluntly, “you don’t look as if you knew much about it.”
The other stared at him fixedly for a moment without reply. Then a strange thing happened. The eye which held the monocle seemed to contract and the round glass shot across the stranger’s face into the other eye where it was caught and held while the unknown sat staring at Jud as if nothing had happened. Then, still without saying a word, he passed a handkerchief across his face and, with the gesture, his white, even teeth disappeared. His cheeks hollowed, his mouth puckered, and the face which stared into Jud’s became on the instant that of an old, old man. As the trapper shrunk away from him, the
other reached one hand to the side of his head. There was a sharp click and the next moment he was holding out one of his ears to the horrified Jud. The whole performance was so unnatural and unexpected that Jud sprang to his feet, whereupon the stranger spoke again.
“You don’t seem to be very brave yourself,” he remarked, restoring his teeth and ear as he spoke, and, with a blink, shooting his monocle back to the blue eye whence it came.
“I ain’t, hey!” Jud was beginning angrily when Big Jim Donegan interposed.
“Now, go easy, Jud,” he said, soothingly. “You ’re making the same kind of mistake that you made about Professor Ditson before you started with him for the Inca Emerald. This is Captain Vincton and I ’ve known him for a good many years. It was through him that I got the Rajah Ruby, one of the best stones in my collection. The captain ’s a great joker,” he went on, “and has charge of the native police in British North Borneo, which they tell me is no job for a timid man. I ’ve seen you change your face and do that
monocle stunt before, captain,” he went on, turning to the other man who had been listening impassively to the conversation, “but I never knew until to-night that you had an artificial ear.”
“I lost the real one the night I got your ruby,” returned the captain, in his curious, soft drawl. “Old Toku, the Dah of Dipa, got through my guard once with his barong and I was lucky that it was my ear and not my head that I lost.”
“I know what you can do in a pinch, captain,” returned the lumber king, “but I want you to become better acquainted with my old friend Jud Adams. In spite of his advanced age, Jud ’s chuck full of nerve and grit.”
“I ain’t a day older than you be, Jim Donegan,” snapped Jud, who was very sensitive about his age, “an’ I can do anythin’ you can or your friend here with the eyeglass—an’ a blame sight better.”
“Sure you can,” returned Mr. Donegan, soothingly. “You ’ve proved it many a time. Jud ’s the best shot in the Northwest,” he
went on, turning to Captain Vincton again.
“I know it,” returned the captain, bowing toward the bristling little trapper, who only glowered back at him. “When I got his letter, I turned down all other applicants and arranged this meeting immediately.”
“What does this mean, Jud Adams?” demanded Mr. Donegan, regarding the little trapper with affectionate sternness. “Have n’t I invested your money so that you get a steady income for life—more than you can spend? Why do you want to go off risking your life again when you might grow old comfortably and be up in Cornwall or down here with me in New York?”
“That ’s just it,” snarled the little man, while his gray hair and beard seemed fairly to bristle with energy. “I don’t want to grow old. I read where a chap named Stevenson wrote that the best way for a man to keep from growing old is to live dangerously. That ’s me! I want to live dangerously. I want to travel an’ explore an’ have good fights again an’ perhaps do somethin’ big for
somebody before I go down into the dust—” and the little man stopped, half-confused at his own enthusiasm.
Mr. Donegan started to protest again, but was interrupted by Captain Vincton.
“Wait a minute,” he said, incisively. “What I have in mind is exactly what Mr. Adams is seeking. Danger, money, help—that sounds like a good mixture, does n’t it?”
“You bet!” returned Jud, earnestly. “I ’m tired of cities an’ crowds an’ movies an’ theaters. I want to get out where I can breathe sky-air an’ sleep under the stars.”
“Good,” returned the captain. “If you go with me, it ’ll be months before you sleep under a roof again.”
“Now, Mr. Donegan,” he went on, as that gentleman started to speak, “let me see if I can convince you that Mr. Adams ought to go with me. In the first place, am I right in understanding that you have the largest and best collection of gems in the world?”
“Not the largest,” returned the lumber magnate; “the ex-King of Spain and one of
the Rothschilds have larger collections, but I claim that mine is one of the best.”
“What about diamonds?” Vincton asked.
“I ’m not so good in diamonds as some,” returned Mr. Donegan, “although I own what is probably the finest black diamond in this world as well as the Dragon, which belonged to an Emperor of China and is the largest yellow diamond known to collectors. I have others, but those are the best.”
“What ’s the rarest kind of diamond?” inquired the captain again.
“Well,” said the old lumber king, reflectively, “there ’s the Hope Diamond which is a brilliant blue, but the blues are not especially rare diamonds. Perhaps the Dresden Green, one of the crown jewels of Saxony, which weights forty carats and is a fine apple-green in color, is the rarest.”
“How about a red diamond?” inquired the captain.
Mr. Donegan shook his head.
“No red diamond large enough for a collecion has ever been found,” he said. “There
are some rosy diamonds, but there is no such thing as a large red diamond in any collection.”
“How about a red diamond,” went on Captain Vincton, “larger than a pigeon’s egg and bright as a big of petrified fire?”
Jim Donegan’s face flared as red as the diamond which Captain Vincton was describing. With no near relative left in the world, the old man’s gems had become dear to him as children and his agents were constantly ransacking the markets of the world for rare or beautiful specimens which, when found, he bought regardless of price.
“The Prince of Monaco was said to have a red diamond,” he said, finally. “When I was last in Europe I stopped to look at his collection. The red diamond was a red sapphire. The great red diamond which used to be among the crown jewels of Portugal was a spinel ruby. No,” he concluded, shaking his head again, “the whole world does n’t hold a diamond of the color and size you describe.”
“What price for a red diamond of the first
water, cut in a way, of which the secret has been lost for a thousand years, a diamond with a color like clear red flame on water—what would it be worth to you?” he insisted.
Big Jim Donegan drew a deep breath.
“Half a million dollars!” he snapped out at last.
There was a pause during which the many-keyed clamor of the dinner surged on around them unheeded. At last Captain Vincton spoke again.
“That sounds like a reasonable sum,” he said. “For five hundred thousand dollars even a timid chap like myself would be willing to take chances,” and he stopped as if he had finished.
“Go on,” urged Big Jim Donegan.
“Yes, go on,” piped Jud Adams. “What you got back of all this talk about diamonds big as ostrich eggs?”
“Pigeon was the word I used,” corrected the captain.
“Well, let ’s have it,” urged Jud. “I ’ve listened to some tall treasure-stories in my day an’ I ’m all set to hear this one.”
“Well,” resumed the captain, in his quiet voice, “last year I was cruising in the Sulu Sea after some Papuan pirates who were making trouble. One broiling day, we came across an unconscious white man drifting in a curious, crescent-shaped canoe.
“He was in a bad way from hunger and thirst and heat-stroke. I got him back to the island and sent a hundred miles down the coast for a missionary doctor—but it was too late. He became conscious before he died and told me that he had been to the Island of Amboyna.”
Again the captain came to a full stop, as if the name explained everything.
“Yes, yes,” said Jim Donegan, after waiting in vain for him to go on. “I heard you. Amboyna. A fine name for a Pullman car, but it don’t mean anything in my young life. What about the Red Diamond?”
“Every native in the Far East,” returned the captain, “knows the story of the mysterious Island of Amboyna hidden away somewhere among the reefs and shoals in the shallow sea between Australia and New Guinea.
For hundreds of years the story-tellers in the streets, old men around the camp-fires, and mothers to their children have told the story of Amboyna. A thousand years ago, a white tribe deserted their city on the Oxus, founded by Alexander the Great, in the face of a Tartar invasion from the North. They sailed down the river and across strange seas until they came to an unknown island with a great mountain in its interior, guarded by ferocious beasts and man-eating tribes. The fugitives fought their way to the mountain and there they have lived ever since. Some day, their priests have taught them, men shall come from the West bringing a golden pearl, the symbol of peace, who will help and not harm. For these men is kept the sacred Red Diamond. Afterward, the People of the Peak, as they call themselves, will come back to their city and become a great nation,” and again the captain stopped.
“Sounds like a story from the Arabian Nights,” commented Mr. Donegan, while old Jud sniffed skeptically.
“Yes,” agreed Captain Vincton, quietly,
“it does sound like a fairy story. I ’ve never believed in a treasure-city although I have an old sergeant in my troop who claims in his youth to have visited the Island of Amboyna and come back safely. This castaway, whom we rescued, said that not only had he visited the island but, by some bit of wonderful luck, got through the ring of tribes which surround the mountain and actually visited the City of the Peak itself. He gave me the latitude and longitude of the island, and a rough map showing where the only harbor on the island is located and the trail which leads through the morasses and jungles straight to the city itself. You see,” he went on after another pause, “the poor fellow was very grateful for the little I was able to do for him. He told me, too, that he had seen the Red Diamond itself in one of the temples and he did not believe there could be anything like it in all the world.”
The captain’s voice had sunk low before he finished and there was a rapt look in his strange eyes as if once more he listened to
the tale told by the dying man. The silence was broken again by Jim Donegan’s voice.
“Captain,” he said, “I ’m sure you believe what the man told you, but these treasure-cities of the East are mirages. The poor fellow might have been telling you a dream of his delirium. I would n’t take any stock in a story like that without some real proof.”
“I feel the same way,” chimed in Jud, from where he sat.
As they spoke, Captain Vincton glanced from one to the other with a half-smile on his clean-cut face. Then, without a word, he slipped his hand into an inner pocket and passed to the lumber king a tiny package about the size of a Lima bean. The outside of it was composd of some felt-like substance like fine wood-fibers matted together.
“Open it!” he said.
With some difficulty Mr. Donegan pulled apart the fibers with his great blunt fingers until there suddenly dropped into his guarding hand a small stone which gleamed and flashed like a drop of crimson flame. Hold-
ing this to the light he looked at it intently. Then he felt it all over and held it up to his cheek as if to test its temperature. Finally he spoke and it was evident that he was greatly excited.
“There ain’t any possible doubt about it,” he said. “That stone is a small red diamond. It has the gleam and flash of a diamond and it feels cool and greasy to the touch as all real diamonds do. Where did it come from?”
“McFee, the man who died, gave it to me,” explained Captain Vincton. “He had it from the priests of the Temple of the Red Diamond to show his people and hasten the coming of the Golden Pearl, which they believed would bring them peace and prosperity and restore them to their lost city. McFee said that the priests had a quantity of these small red diamonds and that there were others in the possession of the more prominent members of the tribe. Probably,” went on Captain Vincton, “before they left India they had discovered a drift of these red diamonds near their lost city.”
Mr. Donegan pondered the captain’s explanation for a long moment.
“What do you want me to do about all this?” he said at last.
“Nothing at all except bid on the Red Diamond when we get it,” returned the captain, calmly. “I came to New York to find out first, whether a red diamond, such as McFee described, was worth risking my life and money on; second, to pick up a good man to go along with me.”
“What about the Golden Pearl?” inquired Jud, who had been staring first at one speaker and then at the other.
“That ’s where you come in,” returned captain Vincton. “I know the one coast in the world where yellow pearls are found in considerable abundance, but I ’m no diver. It ’ll be up to you to find a good yellow pearl before we start. Then, with McFee’s map and chart and the help of old Sergeant Bariri of my company, I think we can get through the cannibals and reach the city, if any one can. What do you say?”
“Before you say anything,” broke in Big
Jim Donegan, explosively, “you listen to me. I ’ll grub-stake this trip, provide the diving-suit, the bearers, the boat, and everything else and agree to pay you a half million dollars for the Red Diamond if it ’s as per description. If not, you keep the diamond and I lose the money. How ’s that strike you?”
“That suits me,” returned Captain Vincton, promptly. “You and I have done business together before and I ’ll be glad to have you back of me again.”
Jud still hesitated.
“The captain here may be all right, though he don’t look it,” he said at last, “but I ’ll feel more comfortable if I can take along a couple of chaps of my own choosing.”
Captain Vincton was not at all offended at Jud’s frankness.
“It ’s my monocle and my timid nature which is holding Mr. adams back,” he remarked. “That ’s the reason I wanted to have a brave man like him along with me.”
“Jud,” said Mr. Donegan, earnestly, “you ’re making as much of a mistake about Captain Vincton as you did about Professor
Ditson when you went after the Inca Emerald. Who are the fellows you want to take with you anyway?”
“Those kids, Bill Bright an’ Fred Perkins,” returned Jud, promptly.
This time it was the captain who demurred slightly.
“This trip is no place for boys,” he said.
“I ’ll vouch for these two,” returned Mr. Donegan. “Will has been on two dangerous trips and Fred on one and they both of them made good. Moreover, I ’d like to nominate Professor Amandus Ditson to go along too. His knowledge of native life might be a great help.”
“All right, all right,” returned Captain Vincton, resignedly. “If you ’re going to finance this expedition, you certainly have a right to say who goes. Personally, I would n’t choose a professor and a couple of small boys as traveling companions among the man-eaters of Amboyna.”
“You ’ll find they shape up all right,” returned Jud heatedly, “even if they don’t wear window-panes in their eyes. I ’ve been in
some tight places with all of them and they certainly stood by me fine. I only ask one thing,” he went on, turning to Mr. Donegan; “you tell Professor Ditson to lay off snakes this trip. Let him collect butterflies or birds’ eggs, but no more snakes. I dream of that blame bushmaster even yet which he and Will collected when we were after the Emerald.”
THE FAR EAST
Some six weeks after the meeting at the dinner of the Ends-of-the-Earth Club, a little group of passengers stood at the bow of the steamer Malay and watched the northern coast of Borneo show across the South China Sea. Will Bright, whose adventures have already been chronicled in “Boy Scouts in the Wilderness,” “The Blue Pearl,” and “The Inca Emerald,” was the same young viking as ever, with blue eyes, a shock of copper-colored hair, and square-set shoulders, in vivid contrast to his old schoolmate Fred Perkins, lithe, dark, and swift as in the days when he won the mile run for Cornwall and voyaged to Goreloi after the Blue Pearl. Beside him was Professor Amandus Ditson, with his hooked beak of a nose and ice-blue eyes, coldly confident and self-contained as when
he led the expedition which brought back the great Emerald from the haunted lake of Eldorado. Near him was Jud Adams, the old trapper and Indian fighter, sharp-eyed, gray-bearded, and still sensitive about his age. With them, too, was a new figure, Captain Vincton, faultlessly dressed, with monocle and waxed mustache, apparently the last man to lead an expedition among the savage beasts and still more savage men of the South Seas.
Old Jud felt that way, in spite of the reputation for cool daring which Jim Donegan, the lumber-king had given him, while Professor Ditson, who had spent half of his life collecting in tropical jungles, did not attempt to conceal his contempt for his immaculate companion.
As they reached the shore of that vast, mysterious island, the largest of the East Indies, whose unexplored jungles and towering mountains conceal so many mysteries, the sea was the color of rose-leaves, and above a shore of misty blue the sunset sky showed pale gold and apple-green. Across the water came the breath of the tropics, compounded
of the pungent odor of cocoanut-oil, the earthy perfume of the palm-groves, and the smoke of innumerable woodfires.
As soon as they landed at the tiny port of Maceo, Captain Vincton conducted the whole party to the quarters which he occupied as chief of police of the province of North British Borneo.
His quarters consisted of a cool, comfortable house surrounded by a large courtyard which was used as a drilling-ground for his command of picked native police, whose barracks flanked the house. As the party entered the compound the whole company were drawn up to receive their captain. All of them showed their Malay blood in their height, which rarely exceeded five feet, their supple, wiry figures, and tiny hands and feet. In front of them all stood Sergeant Bariri, one of the captain’s most trusted men. Formerly a chief of a fierce interior tribe, he had been captured when he tried to raid a town protected by Captain Vincton’s men. Confronted by a long term of imprisonment, he had suggested to the captain that he would
like to work out his time serving in his troop. Knowing his reputation for desperate courage the captain had his sentence suspended, allowed him to enlist, and he had become his right-hand man. The sergeant was a gaunt, dark little man, well past middle age, with every ounce of superfluous flesh burnt off him by the hot sun of the tropics, and his arms and bare legs, which showed beneath his sarong,—a kind of kilt worn by all Malay tribes,—seemed made of black wire.
As the captain approached, the sergeant saluted, with a wide grin on his fleshless face. There was a rattle in the rank as the men grounded their carbines, and a swish as each trooper flashed into the air his barong, the heavy knife with which every Malay trooper is armed. Captain Vincton regarded his men for a moment silently with a grim smile on his thin lips. As he looked at them, once again his monocle shot across his face from his right eye, and a second later was seen to be firmly screwed into position in his left. Accustomed though they were to this accomplishment, yet a little murmur of admiration
went up involuntarily from the men, for, like the other natives, they still regarded this glittering glass which leaped from one eye to the other as indicating uncanny powers on the part of their leader. Then, for the first time, the captain addressed them. “O evil-doers,” he said in the purring, hissing Malay tongue, “I see that ye have grown fat in my absence from lack of work. Undoubtedly ye deserve punishment for your sloth and your many wickednesses!” Accustomed to this kind of talk from their leader, whom they adored almost as much as they feared, the dark little men in front of him grinned cavernously.
“Suppose, however,” went on the captain, “that in spite of your badness I had brought back presents from the far lands in which I have been, what would you desire most of all?”
“Mostizos—scissors!” shouted the whole troop, with one accord.
Captain Vincton regarded them fiercely. “Aha, scoundrels!” he said, “I can read your thoughts even when afar off.” And opening
a large package which his orderly brought to him, he presented each man in the troop with a pair of the much-desired scissors. These were received with the hissing intake of breath which among the Malays takes the place of cheers.
By the time the review of the company was over, dinner was announced, and Captain Vincton led his guests to where a table was spread in a screened upper veranda. From a long way off deep in the jungle came the steady throb of tom-toms, where some of the natives would dance all night long. Across a darkening violet sky, in which strange stars were beginning to flare, flitted processions of great fruit-bats on their way to the heavy-laden fruit-trees which fringed the village, remnants of abandoned plantations which the inexorable jungle had claimed. Near the table a group of native servants dressed in snowy white waved long fans, while behind each guest stood another, to assist in serving the dinner.
Old Jud, who had been appalled to learn what Big Jim Donegan paid a week for serv-
ants in New York, was much impressed. “Cap’n,” he remarked, “all these butlers and fanners must set you back quite a ways.”
“Yes,” agreed the captain, “it ’s a bit of an expense. The best of them cost me all of six cents a day in American money. The rest work for their board.”
The dinner itself, to the dismay of Jud, the epicure of the party, seemed to consist of but one dish, the celebrated rice-taffle of the East Indies. Before each guest was placed an enormous platter of rice, cooked with that hot, delicious dryness of which only Chinese cooks seem to know the secret. On this, as a foundation, was heaped a layer of grilled boneless chicken, cooked in spices and garnished with a chutney sauce. On the top of this was spread schools of tiny fish, salted, broiled, and roasted, and highly seasoned with another sauce. Then came spiced meats, candied bacon, toasted cocoanut, boiled shrimps, salted almonds, bamboo sprouts, and sliced water-chestnuts, while every crevice and cranny of the edifice was chinked with delicious mushrooms. Even the boys had to stop before they
had finished the first layer. Jud alone, made his way down to the rice-foundation, soaked and saturated with the juices and spices of all that had gone before. After a few spoonsful of this, however, he stopped with a long sigh.
Captain Vincton regarded him with admiration. “You have come nearer to finishing a taffle than any white man I ever met,” he remarked courteously.
Before Jud could answer, enormous dishes of different kinds of fruit were brought in, many of which Jud and the boys had never seen before. Among these were fully a dozen different kinds of bananas, selected from the fifty or more varieties found in Borneo. Red, yellow, and green in color, they ranged from giants eighteen inches long down to tiny, pear-shaped specimens which made but a single melting mouthful. Then there were lansats, which looked like white plums and tasted like ripe oranges, sweet lemons, shaddocks, mangostans, and custard-apples full of seeds surrounded by a delicious fragrant pulp which was taken out by long, narrow spoons provided for the purpose. At the sight of this
dessert Jud’s appetite revived, and even Will and Fred, who had declared they would never eat again, managed to sample several varieties of the number which were set before them.
“Wait,” said the captain, when they complimented him on his dessert. “The durian, the best of all fruits is coming. Some people can’t stand its smell, so I have saved it until the last so as not to spoil your dinner.”
“Bring ’em in,” returned Jud, stoutly; “there ain’t nothin’ can spoil my dinner. I ’ve got just about room left for a durian, whatever it is.”
At a word from Captain Vincton, one of the servants brought in a great tray containing dark green fruits, each one the size of a cocoanut. As the waiter approached, Will and Fred involuntarily buried their noses in their napkins. Through the room spread a devastating odor, like a mixture of sewer-gas and garlic.
Just then Jud turned his head and came within range of this gas barrage. “Help, help!” he gasped, burying his face in his napkin like the boys.
“It has rather a high bouquet,” admitting the captain; “but if you once taste a durian, you’ll forget all about its smell.”
“No man with a nose could ever forget that smell,” murmured Jed, plunging still deeper into his napkin.
Captain Vincton picked up a knife and, where five lines showed faintly, cut through the rind of the strange fruit. As the fruit opened out under his strong hand, the smell of decaying onions became so strong that the boys fled to the window. Only Professor Ditson, who was quite accustomed to the ways of tropical fruit, held his ground, along with the native waiters, who regarded the boys in mild astonishment. The crescent-shaped slices were satiny white within and filled with a mass of cream-colored pulp in which were imbedded several seeds about the size of chestnuts. The captain filled a spoon from one of the segments and passed it over to Jud.
“Swallow that,” he said, “and be happy!”
The tears streamed from Jud’s eyes as a wave of the pungent, penetrating odor swept over him. “I only hope I can keep it down!”
he murmured. “This is worse than that flying dragon I ate in South America.” Then, holding his breath he thrust the spoon apprehensively into his mouth. As the flavor of the fruit reached his palate he stretched out his hand for another crescent. “Best eatin’ I ever had,” he remarked between mouthfuls.
Thus encouraged, Will and Fred at last tried a spoonful. One taste convinced them. The flavor of the durian was that of a rich, creamy custard flavored with almonds, with a curious, spicy taste besides. It was neither acid nor sweet nor juicy, but more of a food than a fruit.
“One durian is worth the whole voyage!” remarked Jud, when at last he had finished; and the boys agreed with him.
That night they all slept out on the cool, screened veranda high above the ground. The minute the sun went down, the sudden darkness of the tropics fell upon the tiny village nad the vast jungle beyond. Little waves of coolness swept through the hot, moist, scented air, and in a sky like dark-blue velvet flamed and flared the great constella-
tions of the South. Directly overhead shone the Southern Cross, which used to serve as a sky-clock for the old Spanish voyagers four hundred years ago and by which the natives still tell the time of the night. Suddenly a red glow showed on the horizon, and through the heat-haze above the edge of the jungle wheeled the full moon, red as blood. Streamers of mist floated up from the steaming jungle and stretched across its face like the bars of a furnace.
As if only waiting for the rising of the moon, the whole jungle burst into a pandemonium of noises. Insects buzzed and whirred from the trees, and from every pool, frogs croaked, and rattled and bellowed. Above them all, however, sounded an appalling medley of howls and screams. Starting low with a wail of unutterable sadness, the chorus rose higher and higher into a volley of full-throated shrieks of terrible agony, which finally died away in a long, quivering sob. Old Jud stood it for awhile. Then he tumbled out of his hammock. “Somethin’s got to be done about this,” he remarked to Will, who
was vainly trying to bury both ears in his pillow at once. “It must be a massacre.”
On the way to the far end of the veranda, where Captain Vincton was sleeping, he passed Professor Ditson’s hammock. “What ’s the matter,” inquired the latter, as he heard Jud’s bare feet go padding past him.
“I ’m goin’ to wake up the captain,” returned Jud, briefly, “an’ see if something can’t be done to help those poor natives who are being killed out there in the jungle.”
The professor chuckled. “I would n’t do that,” he suggested; “the captain needs his sleep. Those are n’t natives; those are a species of small monkey,” he explained. “They always howl like that when there is a full moon, and they are enjoying themselves.”
For some time Jud could not be convinced. “Well, all I can say,” he finally remarked, as he returned to his hammock, “if them monkeys scream that way when they ’re happy, I ’d sure hate to hear ’em when they feel bad.”
Early the next morning, before the sun was hot, Sergeant Bariri took Fred to his cocoanut grove for a drink of “tuba,” as the fresh
sap of the cocoanut-palm is called. The sergeant’s house was a tiny one, almost surrounded by the towering trunks of the cocoanut-palms, which ran up for a hundred feet before they branched. In the side of each, notches had been cut clear to the top. As they came to the first one, the sergeant slipped off his jacket and sandals, and barefooted, wearing a pair of short, baggy trousers, proceeded to walk up the tree as easily as if he were going upstairs, his long toes gripping the trunk at each notch just as surely as did his fingers. Swung across one shoulder he carried a hollow joint of bamboo, the open end of which was corked, while in his belt he wore a sharp, curved knife. Fred watched in astonishment as he mounted the palm to a dizzy height, his body hanging away from the smooth trunk at a dangerous angle. At the tip-top of the tree the branches of a blossom stalk of the palm had been tied together and their cut ends thrust into another larger bamboo-joint, which was nearly full of the fresh sap. Clinging precariously, supported only by the grip of his knees and toes at over a
hundred feet above the ground, Bariri nonchalantly filled his bamboo from the sap-container, cut and dropped to the ground from the near-by branches a half-dozen green cocoanuts, and then proceeded to walk backward down the tree as easily as he had climbed it.
“I ’m glad to see you back again safe and sound!” exclaimed Fred, as the sergeant slipped lightly to the ground from the last notch.
Bariri grinned widely. “That nothing,” he assured the boy, “I teach you to climb higher tree than that.”
“Much obliged,” returned Fred, doubtfully.
Uncorking his wooden bottle, the sergeant handed it to the boy. Fred found the tuba clear and cold as ice, sweet and spicy, with just enough tartness to make it appetizing—as invigorating a drink as could be imagined on which to begin a hot day. Then with a cut of his keen knife Bariri bisected one of the green cocoanuts. It was half full of sweet, nutty cream, perhaps the most delicious tast-
ing substance in the whole vegetable kingdom.
On the way back to breakfast they stopped at Bariri’s hut, small, but neat and clean. In place of glass, the windows had, as panes, squares of translucent shell. There Fred met the sergeant’s wife, a tiny woman, not more than four feet high, with snapping black eyes, who ruled her husband with a rod of iron. As they left the hut they met the sergeant’s little ten-year-old girl wearing a wreath of crimson hibiscus flowers around her blue-black hair and playing with her tame fawn. The year before she had found two tiny fawns where their mother had hidden them in the brush. One was spotted like most fawns, but the other was pure white. Taking one under each arm, she had started back home with them. The way was long, however, and the day ht, and finally she had to let the spotted fawn go to return to hits hiding-place, where the anxious doe was waiting for it. The white one she carried back, and brought it up on a bottle. It was so tame that, although it wandered into
the near-by jungle to feed, it always came back at her call.
As they started back by another route, their way led along the edge of the sluggish, muddy river. The path which they followed was a full fifty yards from the water, and, as they walked, Fred started to follow the edge of the bank, hoping to catch sight of some of the strange fish which haunt Eastern rivers. Before he had taken many steps he felt the sergeant’s hand on his arm and was respectfully, but firmly, dragged back to the path.
“No walk close to river,” remarked Bariri, in his broken English. “This river not healthy.”
Even as he spoke, a half-grown pig, one of many which wandered about the village, left a group of his friends in the shade of a thicket and trotted down to the water.
“Look!” whispered Bariri, suddenly gripping Fred’s arm. What seemed to be a floating log, with two knots in one end, showed in the murky water. Just as Fred realized that the log was moving against the current, there was a sudden swish, and a
vast ridged tail swung out of the water and through the air like a huge scythe catching the unfortunate pig full in the side with tremendous force. there was a terrified squeal and the pig shot through the air in a wide arc and struck the water with a splash. As he came to the surface, just behind him showed the long pointed head and evil yellow eyes of a great crocodile. The next instant a pair of vast jaws filled with rows of knife-like teeth flashed open. There was another piteous squeal and the jaws of death closed, leaving only a swirl showing in the water. Bariri turned to Fred, who had been watching the tragedy with horrified interest.
“There ’s where you ’ll be,” he remarked, “if you not mind old man Bariri.”
Fred drew a deep breath. “I ’ll say I will!” he promised.
The rest of the party were just sitting down to breakfast by the time Fred reached the house. Captain Vincton had planned to spend a week at the village so that his guests might rest after the voyage and have a chance to become used to the climate and country.
Will and Professor Ditson had decided to spend the time collecting birds and butterflies, while Fred wanted to go fishing in some stream not infested with crocodiles.
All of these plans were set aside that morning by the arrival of a Dyak runner. Just as the party had seated themselves in the shade after breakfast, along one of the narrow forest trails in the jungle, which lapped almost to the edge of the compound, sounded the rapid pad-pad of bare feet. The next moment the fringe of boughs screening the edge of the jungle was dashed apart and a Dyak boy, about the age of Will, burst into the open. The red-brown skin of his bare legs and breast gleamed like tinted ivory, and, unlike the Malays who made up the captain’s body-guard, his eyes were brown and almond-shaped, while his blue-black hair was cut in a neat bang across his forehead and held back by a twisted circlet of pale yellow silk. In one hand he carried a naked serpent-kris, a vicious-looking weapon with a wavy, double-edged blade, and a long crimson gash showed across his bare left shoulder.
As the boy reached the steps he staggered and his face went suddenly gray as if overlaid with ashes.
“O Heaven-Born!” he gasped, bowing before the captain although so weak from fatigue and loss of blood that he could scarcely stand, “the Masai had burned our village and slain and wounded many of our men and have carried off my father and many others to be slaves. I alone have escaped and traveled through the jungle many days to bring the word to thee.” His voice trailed off into silence and he clung half-fainting to a post of the veranda.
Captain Vincton sprang to his feet. His monocle dropped unheeded from his eye, his face flushed a dark red, and when he spoke, there was not a trace of drawl in his incisive voice.
“Fret not thyself,” he said to the wounded boy in the native language. “The Masai knew that I was away or this would not have happened. I will go even myself to their village, release thy people, and bring their chief back to justice, and they shall pay
heavily for the harm they have done. Rest here quietly and be healed of thy wounds.” And he spoke a few quick words to Sergeant Bariri.
A moment later and he was again the immaculate exquisite with whom the rest of the party had voyaged. “I shall have to be away awhile,” he apologized; “but my people will make you comfortable. I shall only take Bariri and some bearers and will not be gone long.”
“Do you mean that only two of you are going to tackle a whole tribe?” exclaimed Jud, incredulously.
“Yes,” returned the captain, quietly.
“How about your leave of absence,” inquired Professor Ditson.
“Leaves of absence don’t count when there is any trouble in this distric,” returned the captain, emphatically.
“I don’t know how the rest of you feel,” said Will, who had been looking at the captain as if he had never seen him before, “but I ’m going with Captain Vincton if he ’ll take me.”
“Same here,” said Fred, briefly.
“I ’m in this too,” was Jud’s contribution to the conversation.
“Perhaps there may be a chance to get some new specimens,” remarked Professor Ditson, precisely. “I also would like to come if the captain will permit me.”
Captain Vincton looked at them all for a moment before replying, and his face flushed with pleasure as he sensed their changed attitude toward him.
“I shall be glad to have your company,” he said at last, slowly.
The next morning everything was ready. For a moment they stood in the clear blaze of the tropical sun, where a turquoise sky yearned down to a lapis sea and the air seemed mingled fire and crystal. Three steps along a path which showed like a sword-slash through the damp green of the jungle, and they wer in another world, where the light was dim and green-shadowed and filtered down through interlacing boughs of trees draped and festooned with strange vines and creepers.
Once again they were afield, and the clear sweet thrill of adventure ran like fire through their blood. Bariri had arranged every detail of the trip with the utmost care and forethought—save one. The first day out, the native cook whom he had brought along proved to be a total loss. Some of the messes he cooked had a taste which even Professor Ditson, used to lean living on collecting-trips, could not abide. As for that epicure Jud, he grew more and more mournful every hour.
The crisis came when at one meal the Indian brought in a large platter of what looked like shrimps cooked in oil. Jud ate several before he discovered that they were fried dragon-flies with the wings removed. For dessert that day the inspired chef laid before them a box of fat white grubs which he had dug out of the trunks of sago-palms. These grubs feed entirely on the pure starch of the palm-pith, which are turned by their digestive juices into sugar, and are regarded by the natives of the jungle much as candy is among white races. This last course was too much for Jud.
“Here ’s where that well-known traveler, Judson Adams, Esquire, lives on fruit for the rest of this trip,” he announced positively.
Captain Vincton regarded his guests in despair. If the white men cooked for themselves, they would lose caste with the bearers and trail-cutters whom Bariri had brought along; and above all things, in dealing with natives it is important to keep their respect. On the other hand, a few more days of native cooking bade fair to break down the morale of the whole party.
“I ’d give anything for a good cook,” the captain soliloquized as their chief retired, much puzzled that the white men did not care for the delicacies he had prepared. Just as he voiced this cry of civilization the bushes parted, and into the clearing stepped the strange figure of a dwarfish old man. He wore only a pair of short trousers, with a startling array of weapons at his belt. His hair was long and—a most unusual thing for a native—he wore a drooping mustache. On his back was a large basket in which he carried his provisions and various belongings,
while hard at his heels trotted a scrawny yellow dog. In broken Spanish the stranger introduced himself.
“I am Mateo, of the Mindari tribe, O Chief,” he began. “I have heard of thy fame and would travel with thee.”
“What can you do?” inquired the captain.
“I know all the trails and can track and hunt better than any man in the jungle,” returned the old man, modestly. “Moreover,” he went on, “I am such a cook as no white man has ever known.”
“He certainly commends himself very highly,” broke in Jud, who understood Spanish, “but if he can cook anything besides insects, I say we give him a trial.”
In addition to the array of knives which he wore in his belt, Mateo carried in one hand the sumpitan, the inevitable companion of every Mindari hunter. This was none other than the blow-pipe, which Jud and Will and Professor Ditson had seen used in South America. It was a hollow iron-wood tube, fully six feet in length, with a tiny, gleaming squirrel-tooth thrust in the farther end for a
sight. Like a rifle equipped with a bayonet, the sumpitan ended in a long, keen spear-head. Armed with one of these, native hunters can kill game anywhere within a range of fifty yards, while the spear-head makes it effective also for use at close quarters.
The old tracker seemed well and favorably known to all the native members of the party. “He best shot in all his tribe,” confided Sergeant Bariri to the captain.
“Let ’s see him shoot,” demanded Jud jealously, who had heard the sergeant’s last remark.
Bariri jabbered something to the old hunter in his own dialect and the latter grinned understandingly. Taking a wild orange, he fastened it at about the height of a man’s shoulder on the branch of a thorny bush. Then moving back some forty yards, he reached with his left hand into the lizard-skin pouch which he wore fastened to his belt. From this he drew a handful of the tiny darts made from slivers of sharpened bamboo, smeared with a mixture of the sap of the poison-tree and cobra-venom and feath-
ered with a tuft of silk-cotton. Jud watched him critically.
“If he can hit that orange once out of ten shots with them pizen darts, I ’ll say he ’s some shot,” he remarked.
Drawing a breath which made his bony chest stand out like a box, the old man inserted a dart, gripped the blow-gun at one end with his two hands close together, sighted for a second, and, with a sudden puff, sent the tufted missile whirring through the air like a bee. There was a tiny thud followed almost instantaneously by another puff. Almost as quickly as a man could shoot an automatic revolver, the Mindari sent six darts in succession at the mark. As he lowered his weapon Jud rushed over to examine the orange, and found that no less than five of the vicious little thorns of death were buried deep in the target.
Once again the old hunter repeated the feat, this time with hardened pellets of clay which he used for killing small birds. Then he showed Jud, whom he seemed to recognize as a fellow-sportsman, a special compartment
in his belt where he kept a number of larger and heavier darts, weighted with tin. These contained double the amount of venom used in the others. With a dart like these, he assured Jud, he had killed a rhinoceros.
While this conversation about blow-guns had been going on, Captain Vincton had been questioning Bariri further about the Mindari and suddenly turned to the wizened-up little hunter.
“It has come to my ears, O Mateo,” he said solemnly, “that the Mindari and man-eaters. How know I that if I take you along, you will not eat us all up?”
“We be a fierce people,” answered the old man, grinning cavernously, “but it is the fault of our ancestors. It was a wolf who first brought a Mindari warrior into this world. ‘How am I to live?’ he asked the wolf. That is the reason why in times past that the Mindari ate men—because they could get nothing else. Nowadays, however,” he went on reassuringly, “we eat only the bravest and
strongest of our enemies so that we too may grow more brave and strong.”
“It is really a compliment to be eaten by a Mindari,” murmured the captain to Jud, who had been listening with bulging eyes.
“I don’t calculate to let any Injun eat me whether he does it as a compliment or as a pleasure,” returned the old trapper, positively. “What I want to know,” he went on, “is whether he can cook a good meal.”
“Of a certainty I can,” returned Mateo, who understood the last part of Jud’s remark, “any time, anywhere.”
“Go to it,” retorted Jud; “let ’s see you cook one right here and now.”
Without a word, the Mindari laid down his sumpitan and his basket and tied his dog to a sapling. With a blow of his machete he cut off from a near-by clump a dry joint of a dead bamboo about three quarters of an inch in diameter. Splitting this in half, he cut with the sharp edge of his blade a groove clear through the convex side of one of the pieces. From the other half of the joint he
fashioned a sharp-edged strip which looked much like a paper-knife. Placing the first joint on a low rock, flat-side down, he placed the edge of the wooden knife across the groove and began to saw back and forth with it against the convex side of the joint. In a few seconds a little heap of wood-dust began to trickle into the groove. Faster and faster he sawed, until a tiny conical pile of dust appeared at the bottom of the slit. In about ten seconds a faint smoke showed, which increased to a cloud as the saw moved faster and faster. Suddenly stopping, Mateo struck the edge of the joint a blow to dislodge any sparks which might be clinging to its under-surface, and then snatched it up, leaving a little cone of charred dust, at the apex of which a bright spark showed. Upon this he hurriedly placed a pinch of tinder made from palm-husk, which he drew from his pouch, and carefully blew against the spark until it burst into a blaze. Over this he heaped splinters of dry bamboo, and in less than a minute had a good fire crackling and snapping in front of him. With another
blow of his machete, he cut a green joint of bamboo some six inches across and a foot high, open at one end and closed by the joint at the other. Filling this with clear water from the spring, beside which the party was camping, he placed it over the fire propped up with a forked stick on either side. The green bamboo joint did not burn, but allowed the heat to penetrate its surface, and in a few moments the water was bubbling in this wooden kettle. While waiting for the water to boil, Mateo cut from the same bamboo clump a cluster of fragrant green shoots. These he dropped into the water as it came to a boil. Then, still using his machete, he deftly made a rude knife and fork and a platter from split bamboo joints. On this last he dished out a few moments later the savory steaming contents of his green kettle, and with a flourish passed the knife, fork, and dish of boiled shoots to Jud. The whole operation had taken him less than fifteen minutes.
Jud sat down on a near-by stump and sampled the steaming contents of his platter.
With the very first taste, an expression of intense satisfaction spread over his face. The young bamboo sprouts had a taste something between asparagus and young cabbage, and made as delicious and wholesome a dish as could be found anywhere in the East.
“Cannibal or not, I move he be elected cook of this expedition,” mumbled Jud, between mouthfuls; and after the rest of the party had sampled the savory sprouts, Jud’s motion was unanimously carried.
THE CLOUDED TIGER
From that day on, Mateo became one of the most important officials of the expedition. No one ever knew when he got up or when he went to bed, or when or where he found the provisions which he served to them.
One morning, breakfast began with mangoes, like small melons, and ripe paw-paws, which Mateo had found time to gather, fresh and dewy, in the dawn-dusk. After this course, he raked out of the hot coals half a dozen charred and blackened objects, each about the size of a large cantaloupe. Laying these on platters of smooth green palm-leaves on the top of a stump, the old man split them open with his machete. Each half seemed filled with a smooth, creamy batter.
“Breadfruit,” explained Captain Vincton,
much delighted. “They are the first I ’ve seen for years.”
Falling upon them, spoon in hand, each one of the party soon sampled the new food. Jud said it was like mashed potatoes and milk; Captain Vincton stood out for Yorkshire pudding; while the boys thought it tasted more like hot sweet rusks than anything else. The breakfast ended with broiled palm-pigeons, beautiful green birds, which Mateo had brought down from the tops of trees with his deadly little clay bullets.
Later that morning, Mateo introduced them to another delicacy, of which Jud approved even more highly. They had been following a winding trail through tree-ferns which had trunks like palms and leaves thirty feet long, like beautiful ferns in their color and tracery. All around them gleamed patches of brilliant orchids, shining like stars in the scented, steaming air, which Will said reminded him of a hothouse. Suddenly Mateo, who had been leading the way, stopped. Just in front of him towered a pandanus-tree, whose great glossy, curved leaves
curled down like green plumes. The lowest tier sagged heavily from their stems, and seemed to be thatched with gray shingles, the nests of the native bees. From these, at intervals, clear drops fell, making a long line od drippings on the ground beneath the tree.
Without a word, the old Mandari stooped and smeared his bare arms, legs, face, and head with honey. Then, with his machete, he cut a length of tough green liana. With this he fastened himself to the tree, in a wide loop. Then, leaning back on the knot of the loop, with his basket on his back, clinging to the sides of the tree with his tough feet, he walked up the smooth trunk, pushing the loop ahead of him with every step. In less than a minute, he was directly under the gray honeycombs, out of which suddenly swarmed a perfect cloud of bees.
“He ’s a goner,” exclaimed Jud, who had been watching him. “They ’ll sting him to death.”
As coolly as if he were safe on the ground, the old Indian broke off comb after comb of the gray wax, filled to overflowing with
delicious honey. Not until his basket was nearly full did he stop and begin to descend, followed by the cloud of buzzing, whirling bees, not one of which molested him or even alighted on his smeared body.
“I guess Borneo bees don’t have stings,” observed Jud, as he watched him come down, still unscathed.
A moment later, when a little scouting-party of the descending column alighted on the back of Jud’s neck, he changed his mind.
“Ouch! Help! Fire!” he bellowed, as the fierce stings pierced his skin, and, waving his hands wildly, he plunged into the underbrush for shelter, followed hastily by the rest of the party, who kept a safe distance from Mateo until the bees had gone back to their tree-top.
The honey was delicious, sweet, limpid, and fragrant as the best white-clover honey made by United States bees, and Jud took an extra helping to make up for his stings, and afterward argued that Mateo was one of those rare and fortunate people whom for some unknown reason insects will not bite
or sting. Professor Ditson took no stock in that theory, but was most positive that without the honey with which he was smeared, he would be stung like any one else. An accident which happened later that day showed that the scientist was right.
It was just before the noonday siesta, when the whole party slept through the hottest hours of the day in their hammocks in the shade, that Mateo, for some unknown reason, started to cut down a small tappan-tree with his machete. The very first stroke dislodged a long dead branch near the top, which fell directly on his head. The sudden blow knocked the old man over, and before he could get up, a swarm of hornets, big as bumblebees, with stings like red-hot fish-hooks, settled upon him, while at the same time, to add to his troubles, a multitude of red-and-green ants rushed out from a hole in the branch and bit him like fire. Mateo explained to Jud, afterward, that they were so many that they had to take turns in biting him—but probably that was an exaggeration. At any rate, he was so stung and
bitten that it was many hours before he stopped calling them all the bad names he knew in Indian, Spanish, and English.
It was Jud at last who calmed him by admiring the armory of weapons which he wore in his belt, all made by native smiths from gray, hand-forged steel and of wonderful temper and keenness. On his left side the old man wore a campilan-a straight double-edged sword, whose blade was wide at the tip and narrowed toward the hilt. The dull gray steel, with its myriads of interlacing lines, showed how anxiously and tirelessly some unknown smith had hammered and forged and tempered the weapon. With such a sword, balanced and weighted for dreadful blows, Mateo told Jud he had killed the rhinoceros, the most dreaded of all Bornean beasts, the keen blade shearing through even the two-inch armor which that battleship of the jungle wears.
On the right-hand side of the belt of the old hunter was thrust a serpent kris, a short left-handed weapon with a narrow, wavy, double-edged blade, used only for thrusting.
The one worn by Mateo had an ivory handle and was beautifully inlaid with gold. Besides these tow deadly weapons, the old man wore, next to his campilan, a baron, perhaps the most effective cutting weapon for its size ever invented. This one had a wide blade shaped like a cleaver, with a heavy back and a thin, razor-like edge, while the handle was wound with palm-fiber, to give a firm grip.
“What do you do with all these slashers and stickers, Mateo?” inquired Jud.
The old Indian smiled grimly. “In the jungle one has to fight for his life often,” he replied at last. “When those times come, a good blade is a man’s best friend.”
After the siesta was over, they started off again in the cool of the afternoon through a part of the jungle more beautiful than any which they had yet passed through. Among the trees drifted butterflies, beautiful as the flowers whose colors they imitated. Here and there the trees were lined and laced with the flaming scarlet blossoms of the D’Albertia creeper, whose flowers have a color
which no paints yet discovered by man can imitate.
“How large do the flowers grow?” inquired Will, of Professor Ditson, as they admired the jeweled vine.
“Some which I found on the island of Mindanaeo,” returned the scientist, “had blossoms three feet across.”
As he spoke, Fred stooped and held up a vivid green pitcher-plant, whose gold-lined pitcher held nearly two quarts of water and, unlike the American variety, was provided with a neat cover. Another one of the same family had a narrow pitcher some twenty inches long, growing on a plant many feet in length. Just beyond these pitchers, Jud came across a number of small trees heavily laden with tempting fruit. Some were crimson in color, others of a deep gold, blotched with pink, while a third variety was all amber and russet, all of them being divided into two lobes separated by a deep groove, unlike any fruit which the old trapper had ever seen before. They had just passed through a fruit-
belt, the remains of orchards planted by some native tribe whose clearings had long been swallowed up by the jungle. There Jud had sampled several varieites and found them all good. Concluding that these brilliant specimens were equally good to eat, he picked a handful of the ripest. Just as he started to bite into one of them, Professor Ditson happened to turn around and saw what he was doing. For once he showed considerable excitement.
“Drop it!” he shouted. “They belong to the apocynaceæ family.”
“This belongs to the Judson Adams family,” returned the old trapper, obstinately, “and they smell mighty good.”
“Exactly,” returned the professor; “they look good and they smell good and likewise they taste good, but the Indians call them ‘apples of Satan.’ ”
“How come?” inquired Jud, somewhat taken aback by the name.
“Because,” Professor Ditson assured him, “if you eat a piece of any of them as big as
a half-dollar, in about half an hour you ’ll be tied up in knots. That condition lasts for some time, depending on the individual.”
“Yes, an’ then what?” queried Jud, as the scientist turned away to examine an orchid perched like a golden butterfly on a tree-fern.
“Then you die,” the professor called back as he joined the rest of the party.
“Huh!” grudged Jud, tossing away the treacherous fruit, “apples always did make trouble for the Adamses ever since Eve’s day.”
A little later on, he had a far more disastrous experience with another one of the demons of the plant-world. Turning off into a little by-path to get a look at a jungle-cock which had just strutted past, he brushed against the branches of a tree covered with glossy dark-green leaves, which looked much like those of the laurel at home. Instantly a dreadful burning pain shot through him, so agonizing that involuntarily he cried out. at the sound, Bariri, who was near, hurried to him and was immediately joined by Captain Vincton and the rest of the party. They found the old man writhing on the ground in
a paroxysm of pain which not even his tried and tested fortitude could conceal.
“It ’s the devil-tree,” said the captain, “one touch of its leaves is an unspeakable agony.”
“Is n’t there anything we can do for him?” implored Will, the perspiration standing on his forehead as he watched the suffering of his old friend.
“Nothing,” returned the captain; “he has been touched lightly and the pain will stop soon.”
The time seemed long enough to poor Jud. Gradually, however, the waves of agony, which had thrilled through every nerve of his body, died away, and, weak and shaken, he smiled wanly up at the sympathizing group surrounding him.
“What with Satan-apples and devil-trees,” he said at last, getting to his feet with difficulty, “this jungle ’s no safe place for respectable people.”
Although he protested that he was ready to go on, the old man was so plainly weakened by the dreadful venom of the tree that Captain Vincton decided to make camp im-
mediately and rest there the next day, until Jud was entirely recovered.
The next morning, as always, the party was up before sunrise in order to take advantage of the cool hours before the blinding heat came, in which every exertion was a burden.
After breakfast, Professor Ditson decided to spend every minute of this unexpected holiday in collecting.
“Collect anything but snakes,” requested Jud, weakly, from his hammock.
Professor Ditson was somewhat annoyed by his unreasonable attitude. “Do you realize, Mr. Adams,” he remarked reprovingly “that in these latitudes are found some of the largest, rarest, and deadliest of all the serpents? Surely you would be glad to be known as a member of a party which succeeded in securing a full-grown specimen of the hamadryas or king-cobra, the deadliest and fiercest serpent known, or to help secure a thirty-foot reticulated python.”
“I would not,” returned Jud, positively; “I want to be known as one of a party which
keeps as far away as possible from snakes, big, little, pizen, or harmless.”
Professor Ditson shook his head sadly at such a lack of scientific interest, but in view of Jud’s invalid condition, agreed to confine himself that day to butterflies and to have nothing to do with reptiles. In Borneo, however, it is sometimes easier to make than to keep such a resolution.
Across a low open glade where the party had made camp and which ran for several hundred yards into the jungle, butterflies of indescribable beauty drifted like floating flowers. Upon these the scientist descended armed with his butterfly-net and collection-jar. Among the first which he caught was the Arjuna butterfly, whose wings seemed powdered with grains of golden-green and blotched with moon-shaped spots of the same. He also secured five specimens of the specter butterfly, whose white wings reflected a variety of prismatic colors, the pale-winged peacock butterfly, the sapphire-colored little blue, and a host of others. As Will stood with him watching this kalei-
doscope of shifting beauties, Professor Ditson suddenly drew a deep breath and gripped his arm convulsively. Just in front of them, hovering over a patch of marshy ground, floated the most beautiful creature which the boy had ever imagined. It was a butterfly whose velvet-black and green wings had a spread of over seven inches, larger than many a bird. The wings were long and pointed, like those of the spynx-moth, with a curved band of brilliant emerald-green spots extending across them from tip to tip. Every spot was shaped like a small, triangular feather, which increased the insects resemblance to a brilliant bird. The butterfly’s body was of gold, and it had a crimson breast.
“It ’s the Poseidon, one of the most beautiful of all the bird-wing butterflies,” whispered the professor. “Don’t move,” he hissed, gliding like a snake toward the wet moss on which it settled as he spoke. Inch by inch, with the utmost care, he moved toward the spot where the great butterfly gleamed from the ground, waving its pointed wings like jeweled fans as it sucked up
moisture from the tiny puddle at whose edge it had alighted. At last the professor reached a point not more than six feet away from the living jewel which gleamed just before him. Slowly and with infinite pains, he stretched out the long handle of his butterfly-net, ready to swoop down upon the unwary butterfly as soon as he was near enough to do so with every chance of success. Perhaps at the last moment, in his excitement, he thrust the net out too quickly; perhaps the butterfly had drunk its fill and decided to go elsewhere; at any rate, whatever the reason, just as his outstretched arm quivered before it made the final swoop, the unfeeling Poseidon suddenly wheeled, swift as a swallow, into the air, and flew away. Although Professor Ditson swept his net through the air like lightning, he missed the jeweled wings by an inch, and, with a deep groan, stood watching the escaping bird-wing sail over the tops of the low trees like a meteor and disappear in the distance.
The great scientist walked dejectedly back to Will. “For years,” he said sadly, “I have
been trying to obtain a Poseidon for my collection. Once I had one, but the ants ate it before I reached home. Another time I was captured by a raiding-party of Moros just as I caught a superb specimen. My friends,” continued the professor, in a melancholy voice, “were kind enough to ransom me, but the Moros kept everything I had, including that magnificent bird-wing. The last I saw of my Poseidon it was pinned to the hat of a Moro chief.”
“Perhaps you ’ll get another one later in the day,” sympathized Will.
“I ’m afraid not,” returned the professor, pessimistically. “One does n’t often have a chance to catch two bird-wings in one day.”
He had no more than spoken when Will suddenly pointed excitedly to a flowering shrub showing through the thickets about fifty yards away. It was covered with brilliant yellow blossoms, and over these, like a gleaming bird, was poised the figure of another of the great butterflies. This one had broader wings than the Poseidon, and its
colors, a flaming gold and pansy-purple against the same background of velvety black, gave the new-comer an indescribably vivid beauty. The professor stared at the new butterfly like a man transformed. In all their life-and-death adventures together, Will had never seen him so excited. His long, gaunt arms shook as if he had a chill; beads of perspiration stood out all over his craggy face; and when he spoke it was in a strained, harsh, and unnatural voice.
“A Nova!” he said reverently; “a new specimen never before collected or catalogued!” And with the words he rushed toward the butterfly, his net streaming out behind him like the tail of a comet.
By the time that he had reached the bush, the butterfly had floated like a bird of fire over to another patch of flowering shrubs. Unheeding his steps, his eyes fixed only on that golden will-o’-the-wisp, Professor Ditson zigzagged back and forth through thicket, clearing, and jungle alike. Rattans, which the Indians called jungle-ropes, slender as strings and circled with cruel thorns, tangled
about his legs and slashed through clothes and skin alike. Now and then their grappling-lines wound about his waist and held him fast or hurled him headlong to the ground. When that happened he would struggle to his feet again, slash his way clear with the machete which he wore at his belt, and, with clothing torn and hanging in shreds, and his face, hands, and body bleeding from a score of gashes, still pursue the bird-wing, which danced on ahead like the image of gold with which fleeing Fortune used to lure her votaries, according to the old Greek mythology.
At first, Fred laughed heartily as he watched the excitement of Professor Ditson, usually so self-controlled and unruffled. Even Will, who had more of the collecting instinct, could not keep from smiling at the scientist’s frantic efforts. Only Captain Vincton and the Indians did not laugh. They knew from cruel experience the truth of the native proverb, “He who runs in the jungle, races with Death.” As the course of the flitting butterfly brought it nearer to
the watching party, the captain suddenly sprang to his feet. His quick eye had caught a glimpse of a flat, cruel head rearing itself among the bushes which had been shaken by the professor’s progress through them. Even as he looked, a great snake reared its thick, five-foot body threateningly above the ground. The swaying body was pale-brown in color, and covered with lines of black which enclosed chocolate blotches edged with yellow, all making a pattern like that of some oriental rug. At the sight, Captain Vincton shouted with all his might, “Look out! Russell’s viper!” while the Indians joined in with shrill cries of warning, “Tic Polonga! Tic Polonga!” the native name for one of the most fearsome and fatal of all of the Eastern serpents.
As they shouted, the professor neared his prize. Hatless, breathless, and panting, he waved his net aloft, hearing nothing and seeing nothing but the flaming gold and vivid purple of the prize which fluttered almost within reach. Swerving in his course, he approached the thicket sentineled by the
threatening serpent. There was a sudden thick hiss, that danger-signal which a million years of life-and-death struggle has taught every mammal to heed instinctively. Even that last warning of all fell upon unhearing ears, as, with eyes fixed only upon the butterfly, the scientist struggled toward his goal—the discovery and capture of a new species. As his hurrying figure reached the edge of the circle, beyond which no creature may approach a Russell’s viper and live, except some miracle be wrought, the staring, unwinking eyes of the great snake gleamed like jewels of death in the shadow of the bush. Its evil, heart-shaped head and erect body tense and taut as steel swayed back ever so little. Then the grim jaws gaped horribly, showing the flashing white of their lining, while the two retractile fangs, gleaming like crooked needles of ivory, unfolded from the glistening gums and were thrust straight out like twin spear-points.
An instant of tense waiting, and the stiffened body suddenly hurled itself forward in the stroke of the pit-viper, the swiftest move-
ment made by any creature, so fast that, when one of the great vipers strikes, the human eye cannot register the movement, but sees only a blur, with the snake back in coil as if it had never moved. To-day by one of the turns of fate on which life and death depend in the jungle, just as the Russell’s viper struck, the man’s loose khaki coat swung out and the keen fangs pierced the tough cloth, missing his body by inches. So fierce was the stroke that the curved fatal needles went clear through the cloth, twisting into the tough fibers so far that the viper was not able to draw them back for another stroke, while the force of the blow drove its blunt head full against the professor’s thigh. The impact of the snake’s head made the scientist for the first time turn his eyes away from the flitting bird-wing. Glancing down impatiently, he saw the great viper dangling from his coat and struggling to loose itself. Without hesitating an instant, Professor Ditson, still holding his butterfly-net in his right hand, seized with a quick grip the struggling viper just back of its heart-shaped head. The
rough-keeled scales gave him a good hold, and clutching the snake with all the force of his sinewy hand, he allowed the heavy body to trail along the ground and turned once more to the chase, with his net in one hand and his grim captive in the other.
Even yet the fates which rule the jungle had not finished with Professor Ditson. As if suddenly remembering some forgotten errand, the fleeing butterfly swooped back and forth among the flowering shrubs of a distant thicket. The scientist never hesitated. Breathing in flat gasps, like a distance runner at the end of a race, he hurled himself forward. As he ran, another shout of warning came from his watching friends. Already Fred and Will had started forward in horror as they saw the attack and capture of the great snake. It was the trained eye of Bariri who first caught sight of another danger which overshadowed the unconscious scientist. Directly in his path towered the trunk of a great penang-tree, whose vast branches made a circle of foliage a hundred yards in diameter. Half hidden among the leaves,
the Indian caught sight of the dark form of a great cat, whose skin gleamed and shimmered like watered silk.
“Tiger, tiger!” he whispered to the Captain beside him, whose monocle dropped from his eye as he dashed toward the tent to get his rifle. Even as he started, there was a movement in the tree, and, inch by inch, the dark gleaming body of the clouded or tree-tiger, one of the fiercest and most treacherous of all the cat tribe, stole foot by foot down the branch toward the approaching scientist. Unlike those other tree-cats, the puma or the jaguar, the clouded tiger will attack a man without provocation, especially if he can obtain the cruel advantage of springing upon him from a height; and more than any other animal is “Black Death,” as the natives have named him, feared and hated for his treachery and cool, flaming courage.
Aroused by the shouts and the professor’s circling footsteps, the great beast had been watching the unconscious man for some time, and the sight and sounds had gradually roused it to the pitch of a cruel fury in which it is
most dangerous. When it reached the end of the limb, it checked and crouched, and the spectators in this drama of the jungle could see the great muscles ripple beneath the sleek skin in smooth coils. Then the long tail began to twitch, the last signal of all which the great cat gives before it springs.
The captain had finally found his rifle, but it was Jud Adams, the old trapper and hunter and Indian fighter and one of the deadliest shots in the far Northwest, who that day saved the life of his friend. The old man had been lying on the couch, still weak from his encounter with the devil-tree, and had watched with amused interest the duel between the scientist and the butterfly. As the professor had approached the waiting snake, Jud had reached for his rifle, which never, night or day in the jungle, was out of reach of his hand; but the stroke of the viper and its capture by the scientist had been too swift to allow him even a snap-shot. This was not the case with the tree-tiger. Guided by the pointing finger of Bariri, he caught sight of the crouching animal, and, with one
swift movement, stepped out from the hammock and raised his rifle. Although tottering with weakness, his aim was steady as a rock. From his experience with mountain-lions in his own country, the old hunter knew by the quick twitching of the tiger’s tail that there was no time to waste. Like his brother, the leopard, the clouded tiger, springing from above, breaks the necks of his victims with one twist of his mighty paws—and Professor Ditson was already nearly under the bough on which the fierce beast crouched. Aiming high, Jud waited until the gleam of the ivory fore-sight showed just above the shoulder of the great cat.
Then, drawing a deep breath, he held the bead immovable for a tiny fraction of a second and squeezed the trigger. With the contraction of his hand, sounded the sharp, whip-like crack of the Mauser gun which Jud has chosen as his companion on this trip. A fraction of a second after the flash, came the thud of the striking bullet and a dreadful wailing shriek from the tiger as the fierce brute hurled himself from the tree.
The high trajectory of the rifle and the unerring aim of the man back of it had done the work. Even as the dark beast sprang, the soft-nosed bullet tore its way through his very heart, and his fierce life passed out in mid-air, so fatally sure had been the shot. As Professor Ditson, with a final successful swoop, entangled the brilliant bird-butterfly in the folds of his net, the heavy, limp body of the dying beast struck him full between the shoulders, whirling him over and over and driving him through the air, to land in a patch of fern ten feet away.
When the rest of the party reached him, they found the eminent scientist just struggling out from beneath the body of the tree-tiger. The grinning jaws of the great beast gaped not six inches from his throat, and showed the knife-like, canine teeth, longer than those of any other of the cat-family, which the clouded tiger inherits from his ancestor, the extinct saber-toothed tiger.
Directly against the scientist’s chest, the curved, sickle-like claws lay limp, which a moment before would have ripped deep into
his very heart. As Captain Vincton reached him, with an impatient thrust of his shoulders Professor Ditson pushed the heavy body of the dead tiger off from his own and scrambled to his feet, still gripping the dangling snake in his left hand, while with his right he clung to the net in whose folds was enmeshed the jeweled bird-wing. Without a glance at the dead animal beside him, he examined the prisoned butterfly with the utmost anxiety; and not until he found that in spite of his ground-and-lofty tumbling, his captive was uninjured did he even look up. It was larger and more brilliant even than the Poseidon which had escaped. Hurriedly slipping the Russell’s viper into a snake-bag which one of the bearers produced, he hastened to untangle his prize from the folds of the net. When at last he held it glowing and palpitating in his hands, strange and beautiful, as if it had flown straight from fairyland, the cold and self-contained professor trembled and grew so white that Captain Vincton put his arm across his shoulders, thinking that he was suffering from the shock of his escape.
“It was a close call,” he said soothingly; “but you ’re all right now.”
The professor misunderstood him. “It certainly was a close call,” he returned, resting one foot unheedingly on the tiger’s head. “A second later and I should have lost the most spectacular specimen of Lepidoptera which it has ever been my lot to see. Even after I had caught him,” he went on, “it was very nearly crushed because some one of you chose that moment to collect an ordinary specimen of Felis nebulosa. Could n’t you wait,” he continued peevishly, “until I got out of the way?”
Captain Vincton grinned as Jud came hobbling up. “No,” he said at last, “we could n’t. If it had n’t been for one of the best shots ever made on earth, that same ordinary specimen of a clouded tiger would have collected you.”
It was some time before Professor Ditson could understand what had happened. When he finally realized that Jud had saved his life, he regarded the old trapper for some time in silence. “I apologize for my impatience,” he said at last. “Moreover, I
want you to understand that I am not ungrateful for what you have done, and, to prove it, this unexampled specimen of the Ornithoptera shall bear your name!”
All of which is the reason why to-day one may see in the Smithsonian Museum (if he looks in the right place) the most beautiful butterfly in the world bearing the name of “Judsonius Adamii.”
THE TALKING TREES
That evening they shifted camp to a high knoll, which Mateo had discovered, where the trees were more widely separated and there was little underbrush. There, for almost the first time since the beginning of the expedition, they were able to sit outside of the screened tents, which the bearers set up every night as a protection against myriads of stinging insects. Professor Ditson, whose gaunt frame seemed made of wire and whip-cord, was none the worse for his encounter with the tree-tiger, while Jud had at last thrown off the effects of the touch of the venomous leaves. As they finished one of Mateo’s excellent suppers, the velvet, sudden dark of the tropics fell upon the jungle, and, with it, a great wave of coolness seemed to surge through the trees. A host of reptiles, birds, and insects, which had lain quiet under
the scorching sun, now came out and greeted the welcome night with a chorus of joyful cries and songs. Through the darkness the embers of the cooking-fire glowed red, and their gleam showed around the blaze a ring of native faces some distance from where the white men of the party were sitting.
Overhead through the black-green tracery of interlacing tree-tops the great stars of the tropics flared like lamps. Agena of the Centaur, wild, blue-white Canopus in the rudder of the great ship Argo, Achernar, the End of the River, blue as Vega, and great Acrux of the Cross flaming like Sirius of the North, all shone down upon that lonely camp.
The talk died away to low murmurs, and, as the night wore on, the jungle sounds were stilled until only the high, shrill, sweet voices of the tree-frogs throbbed through the soft air. Suddenly old Mateo sprang to his feet, his gaunt, wasted form outlined against the glow of the fire.
“Some one comes from far through the jungle,” he half-whispered to Captain Vincton.
At his word each one of the little group of white men around the supper-table turned and listened[.] Yet not even the trained ears of such woodsmen as Jud, the captain, or even Bariri could detect the faintest sound which told of the approach of any human being.
“There ’s no one comin’,” said Jud, at last, after listening intently.
“Mateo knows,” murmured Bariri, confidently, moving closer to Captain Vincton’s chair.
Again they listened, but still could not hear the sounds which were so clear to the old hunter’s senses, trained and tautened by years in the jungle, where life and death depended upon hearing the approach of an enemy.
“He comes,” muttered Mateo, and, a second later, “He is here.” At the word the old man’s unsheathed barong glittered in his hand, while from the depths of a thicket not ten feet from the fire a clear voice called in one of the universal Dyak dialects,
“Bali upas?” [“May I come?”]—the formula always used by a stranger who
approaches a night camp in the jungle.
“Upasi ben” [“Come in peace”], responded Captain Vincton calmly. At the word, into the circle of the firelight stepped Harun, the Dyak boy, whom they had left wounded at Tawao. Rested and fed, with his wound dressed, in spite of the protests of the doctor he had started on after the party. Jungle-bred and carrying only his sumpitan, barong, and kris, he had traveled far faster than the men he trailed, and, in spite of their long start, had overtaken them by the end of his third day in the jungle. Captain Vincton greeted him forbiddingly.
“Did I not tell thee to stay safe and rest until I returned?” he asked, in Harun’s dialect.
The boy bent his lithe figure before the captain’s chair until his thick blue-black hair fell below his knees.
“Why should I remain safe, and why should I rest when men of my own blood are captives of the Masai,” he said, standing slim and straight again before the captain.
“The jungle ’s no place for young boys,”
grumbled Sergeant Bariri, who, Malay born, grudged any Dyak the honor of having a part in the expedition.
“I have come in three days as far as thou hast traveled in six,” retorted the boy. “Moreover, my lord,” he went on, “I know the forest as a man knows his own house, and if so be that we come to close grips with the Masai, it may be that a Dyak boy can strike a blow for thee as well as any Malay man,” and there was a flash like steel in the boy’s brown eyes as he looked straight into the frowning face of Sergeant Bariri.
“Enough,” broke in Captain Vincton’s voice, as the little Malay was about to answer angrily. “There are dangers enough ahead for all without fighting among ourselves. It is right that the boy should wish to help rescue his father; and since he is jungle born, he may be useful, for the country between us and the Masai has never been mapped nor explored.
“Choose which one of these white chiefs thou wilt serve,” he went on, turning again to Harum. “As for me,” he finished, giving
the dark, tense figure of the old sergeant a little push, “only quarrelsome, bad-hearted old Bariri here shall guard my life.”
The grim face of the Malay softened. “Let the boy come if he will, so long as I and only I have watch and ward of thee,” he murmured, grinning affectionately at the captain.
The Dyak boy looked around at the little circle of strange faces. As his eyes met Fred, something like a wave seemed to pass between the two, the beginning of one of those strange, sudden friendships which flash out at first sight. The two boys looked long at each other. Then Harun turned and stood proudly behind Fred’s chair.
“So be it,” said the captain, seeing that he had made his choice. “See that thou guard his life with thine own.”
The boy bowed low again, and from that time on became Fred’s shadow, serving him eagerly and understandingly. Never a moment in the jungle was he out of call, and at night he slept in front of the boy’s tent on a square of matting in which he rolled himself
up like a ball, protected by it alike from the dampness and the stings of insects.
The march of the next day was enlivened by a discussion between Judson Adams, Esq., as he was accustomed to sign himself, and Professor Amandus Ditson on the subject of leeches. As the two passed a bush, which partly overhung the trail, one of its branches brushed against the back of the old trapper’s neck. Instantly, from the under side of one of the leaves which had touched him, a brown, yellow-striped wood-leech stretched its rubber-like body to an incredible length until it touched Jud’s neck, to which it clung. A moment later the old man felt what he thought was a dry leaf tickling his skin just under the collar of his shirt. Reaching his hand around to brush it away, he picked out from under his neck-band what looked like a small purple plum. As he pressed it too hard, it suddenly squashed, staining his fingers with the blood which the enterprising leech had managed to store up during the brief minute in which it had pastured on his
neck. The old trapper gave such a shout of horror and disgust that he attracted the attention of the eminent scientist, who was plodding along some distance ahead of him.
“What seems to be the trouble, Mr. Adams?” the professor inquired politely as he waited for the old man to catch up to him.
“I just picked this vermin off’n my neck!” yelled Jud, excitedly.
The professor examined the leech with sudden interest.
“Vermin, indeed!” he snorted. “Do you realize that by reason of your impatience and lack of scientific interest, you have destroyed a fine specimen of an entirely unknown species of wood-leech? Why, man,” he went on indignantly, “even the great Wallace, who catalogued the insects of Borneo, has left no record of any leech like this one. Why could n’t you show it to me before you ruined it as a specimen? What are a few drops of blood compared with a new species? It may be that I ’ll never see another one.”
Jud opened his mouth wide to say what he
thought of wood-leeches, but suddenly closed it and stared without speaking at the scientist’s neck.
“Don’t you worry, Professor, over the loss of that leech,” he said at last. “I just saw three more drop off that bush and go down under your collar.”
With an exclamation Professor Ditson tore open his shirt and plucked one reluctant leech after the other from his gaunt neck to the intense amusement of Jud and the boys.
These he dropped into his specimen-case, and resumed his march without a word. It was not until the next day, when Jud came out second-best with another jungle-dweller, that he became cheerful again.
Captain Vincton was leading, closely followed by Bariri and the bearers. Then came Jud and the boys with Harun, as always, hard on the heels of Fred. Behind them stalked the professor, still showing by his manner that his dignity had been much wounded by the manner in which the boys had laughed at his encounter with the leeches. Mateo brought up the rear, watching as usual for a
chance to add to the larger, which he carried in the great basket strapped to his back like a knapsack, without which he was never seen.
Just as the front of the long line of march disappeared around a bend, there suddenly sounded in the jungle the rush of some large animal coming in their direction. As it tore its way through the underbrush toward the open trail, Jud started back in alarm, since, contrary to his usual custom, he had allowed one of the bearers to relieve him of his gun, and the sound which the approaching animal made was so loud that he became convinced that the expedition had aroused one of the vicious little Borneo wood-buffaloes, know[n] as tamarau, which live in the depths of the jungle and are liable to attack any one whom they meet.
Suddenly, across the trail dashed a large wood-rat, running for its life. Hardly had it reached the open, before the bushes which fringed the trail were pushed aside and out rushed a monster lizard, some sixteen feet in length from the tip of its whip-like tail to the muzzle of its crocodile head. Its broad,
scaly back was covered with a pattern of rings and dots in dull, rich colors, like that of a Persian rug. As it ran, it carried its head high on its long neck, darting it from side to side, while a forked tongue, like that of a snake, flickered in and out between its formidable jaws, armed with a double row of sharp teeth. The rat ran fast toward Jud, but the great lizard, in spite of its size, was swifter, and overtook the little animal in a few yards. Springing like a leopard upon its prey, it seized the wood-rat with its long sharp claws, and shook it in its powerful jaws as a dog would do, killing it instantly; then tossing it up in the air, the great lizard caught the lifeless body dextrously and swallowed it in a series of quick, jerking gulps.
“Kabara-goya!” shouted old Mateo, from the rear, much excited at the sight. “He very good to eat; kill him quick with your machete!”
“He don’t look good to me,” muttered Jud, drawing the sharp blade with which he cut his path through the jungle when the trail was overgrown.
As he came near the great reptile, it turned toward him with its head on one side and its flaming yellow eyes glaring. Then flattening its great body, the kabara suddenly opened its mouth wide, puffed out its throat, and hissed so hard that little tears bubbled out of the corners of its glowing eyes.
Jud paused in some alarm. “Are you sure he ain’t pizen?” he inquired of Mateo, who was hurrying up from the rear.
“No! no!” shouted the latter. “Don’t let him get away. He make fine dinner.”
“Yes, go on, Jud!” shouted Will, from the middle distance. “What you afraid of! Cut his head off.”
“Go to it, Jud!” chimed in Fred. “He won’t eat you. You ’re too old and tough.”
“I ’ll show you!” snorted Jud, aroused at this last insult.
Professor Ditson smiled grimly. “It ’s a monitor lizard of unusual size, but absolutely harmless,” he remarked precisely.
Thus encouraged, Jud started to step forward—but it was the monitor who stepped first. With one appalling hiss, which made
its yellow eyes fairly bubble with tears, the great reptile rushed directly at Jud, who stopped in his tracks and raised his machete to strike. The monitor dashed forward until almost within range of the weapon, and then, suddenly turning its body sidewise, struck the astonished Jud a blow which cracked and stung like a whip with its long tail, hard and flexible as steel. Then, glaring backward at him out of its lambent eyes, the monster disappeared in the depths of a near-by thicket.
Mateo, the boys, and Professor Ditson hurried up, full of reproaches.
“Very good dinner, he gone!” mourned the old Indian.
“Why did n’t you slash him one with that big old sword you keep a-carrying,” demanded Will, who had refused to gird himself with a machete.
“I was goin’ to, boy,” returned the old rapper, “but the blamed coward, he slashed first, and run away.”
“That was the largest and most audacious monitor which I have ever observed,” was the professor’s contribution to the conversa-
tion. “I shall certainly make a note of its size, and also of its offensive behavior toward an elderly gentleman, who behaved very well under most trying circumstances,” he finished slyly.
“You need n’t make no notes at all,” snarled Jud, “especially about me being elderly. I allow,” he went on “that I showed up as well with this rampin’ dragon of a lizard as you did with them leeches,” and he turned to Fred, usually his firm ally, for comfort and support.
“No, Jud,” said that individual, shaking his head sadly. “I can’t allow you much on that. If that lizard was a monitor, all I can say is that you made a pretty fair Merrimac.”
Professor Ditson evidently felt that the balance between the leech and the lizard was in his favor, and continued the journey, restored to his usual dignified good humor.
Toward noon, just before the siesta period, the trail began to lead upward, and before long the party was traveling in a country of hills. From the distance came the droning roar of falling water, like the sound of a mighty wind, which increased in volume as
they went on. Old Mateo, who had been leading the party, turned to Captain Vincton with a grin on his shriveled old face.
“Trail run high here,” he remarked. “Sometimes white chiefs get dizzy and go back.”
“These white chiefs won’t,” returned Captain Vincton, grimly, realizing that before them was some test of courage in which it would never do for any of them to falter.
Still the path led up and up, until the jungle began to die away on the slope of a towering mountain, while ever the crash of the cataract in front of them became more and more deafening. Another mile, and they passed around a bend in the path and looked down upon a vast waterfall, larger and far higher than Niagara. For a long time the whole party stood staring in silence down into the vast boiling caldron of mist, foam, and whirling water which surged against jagged rocks thrust up like black fangs out of the white smother below. At their side a great river rushed downward at dreadful speed in a sheet of smooth water, with never a ripple
to break its glassy surface, and fell in a curve of sun-shot emerald which disappeared in the roaring foam a thousand feet below.
“The falls of Laloki,” said the captain, at last, in a half-whisper; “the largest and most beautiful in the world, hidden away here in the jungle. Few whit men have ever seen them.”
Straight up the mountain they climbed until the roar of the falls died away in the distance, and clouds of mist rolling down from the summit hid the far end of the winding path. A piercing coldness had taken the place of the steaming wet heat of the jungle, and the half-naked natives shivered as they walked. Still farther they climbed, until they were beyond the mist and the path grew narrower and narrower. Suddenly it seemed to end in a towering wall of black rock. As they reached this, old Mateo, who had been leading, stepped aside, with a sly grin on his wrinkled face, to let the white men of the party go first.
Although schooled against fear by many an adventure and hairbreadth escape, yet
even the eyes of the imperturbable captain bulged as he stared at what was ahead. A sharp spur of slippery rock, coming to an edge hardly two hand-breadths in width, ran across an abyss between two mountain peaks. On the right-hand side nothing could be seen but floating clouds, so deep was the drop. at the left far below showed dimly the eddying mist of the falls, and its muffled roar sounded faintly in the far distance. Even the Indians, who for the most part are free from horror of great heights, seemed to regard this pass as a supreme test of courage. Setting his teeth grimly, Captain Vincton tested the surface of the edge of rock first with one foot and then the other. His shoes, worn smooth by jungle paths, slipped dangerously, and after a few steps, he suddenly seated himself and straddled his way, leap-frog fashion, across the bridge, narrow and dangerous as that razor-edge which the Mohammedans believe leads to Paradise. With his eyes fixed straight ahead and taking care not to look down on either side, he had crossed more than half-way in safety when
he suddenly sprang to his feet and, in spite of the slippery surface and fearful height, ran at full speed the rest of the way, disappearing behind a rock on the other side.
“Some hurry, I ’ll say,” muttered Jud, who came next. “I wonder what ’s the great idea.” He found out when he reached the middle of the bridge. There in a crack which stretched clear across the ledge was a nest of bull-dog ants, whose bite feels like red-hot pincers and who get their name from the way they hold on to whatever they grip. As a score or so of these fierce insects fixed their envenomed mandibles deep into Jud’s flesh, the pain was so intolerable that he forgot all about the depths which stretched away on either side and, with a stifled yell, sprang to his feet and ran the rest of the way quite as nimbly as the captain had done. He found the latter behind a rock, pulling off the clinging ants with desperate haste.
“I think,” he grunted, his face twisted with pain, “that the rest of the party will join us shortly—and rapidly.”
He was quite right. They did. as Weill,
Professor Ditson, and Bariri, one after the other, reached te critical point, each one, as if he had rehearsed the act beforehand, sprang up and fled across the rest of the bridge, as though his life depended upon his speed. Fred alone escaped the attentions of the fierce insects. as he started to cross, Harun, who had been watching the strange actions of the white men, seemed suddenly to discover what was the matter with thm. Breaking a leafy branch from a near-by bush, he pushed his way ahead of Fred, who was about to cross, and, clinging to the slippery sides of the ridge with his bare feet and prehensile toes, walked unconcernedly above the awful depths. When he reached the ants’ nest, he swept the swarming insects off of the rock with his branch as with a broom, so that when Fred reached the place, there was ’nt an ant left to attack him. After him, the rest of the natives came walking erect and crossing unscathed, Mateo carrying his heavy basket filled with provisions on his back, and the bearers loaded down with guns and equipment.
As the whole party started to resume their journey on the other side, Bariri approached the captain most penitently.
“I did not know, O Heaven-Born,” he explained, “that there were ants on the ridge, or I would have gone first and saved thee.”
Fred said nothing to Harun, but gave him one look which made the boy’s face flush deeply with pleasure.
From the sky-bridge above the falls, the trail led down again into the jungle, and late in the afternoon the members of the little party found themselves once more following a narrow path through the depths of a dark and vast forest. There the trees were huger and higher than those they had met on the other side of the pass. Great tappans towered a hundred feet above the steaming jungle, their proud heads showing curved crowns of graceful branches, covered with glossy, dark-green leaves. Near them flourished iron-trees, whose wood will turn the edge of an ordinary ax, gutta-percha, and the strange lamazi.
Suddenly from far in the distance sounded
a dull, booming note. It was like some vast drum, but indescribably heavy, resonant, and sinister, as if it were throbbing up from underground through the steaming silence of the jungle. At the first note old Mateo, who had been leading the party, stopped in his tracks and listened intently, while the Indian bearers and even Bariri looked uneasy.
“It is the talking trees,” said the old hunter, at last, in a half-whisper, looking around as he spoke, as if he almost expected to see something evil close by him.
“What are the talking trees?” inquired Captain Vincton.
“I know not,” returned Mateo. “No one knows,” he went on, shaking his head. “Only this we know, that always, after they talk, something of evil comes to those who have heard them. Men are found done to death beside the trails; camps are robbed, and women and children are carried off. Some there be who say that the trees warn of the coming of the demons of the inner jungle. I know not. Only—evil will come to us soon, now that we have heard the trees talk.”
The superstitious Indians, as they listened and heard what the old hunter said, were instantly in a panic. One by one they began to take off their packs. Even Bariri himself, although he stood unflinchingly by the captain, looked gray and drawn as he listened to the strange sound, like drums of doom in the jungle.
“I carry a magic which fears man nor beast nor demon!” shouted the captain, suddenly stretching forth his rifle with its magazine full of the long vicious Mauser cartridges.
“Let no one here, for his life’s sake, lay down his pack or stir out of the trail,” he went on sternly.
As he spoke he seemed suddenly to be a different man. The lisp was gone from his voice, his monocle had disappeared, and his strange mismated eyes, glaring fiercely from one to another, gave again the strange effect of two men looking out of the same face. For the first time, his white companions caught a glimpse of the real Captain Vincton, the hero of desperate fights and forlorn hopes. For the moment his sudden show of author-
ity rallied the party, and the Indian bearers resumed their packs.
Then again came the same sinister note, this time sounding even nearer than before, and once more the natives stared uneasily into the dark depths of the forest around them and lagged on the trail. It was evident that brave as they were in fights against men and beasts, if once their superstitious fears were aroused, they would be easily stampeded. Then it was that the Dyak boy stepped forward, to the astonishment of every one there. Captain Vincton stared at him sternly, expecting some further protest on his part.
“I know the secret of the talking trees,” murmured the boy, so faintly that the captain could not catch what he said.
“What?” he demanded savagely. “Speak up, boy.”
“I said,” returned Harun, more loudly, “that I know the secret of the evil spirits who talk with trees. Listen, and I will answer them.”
As he spoke, the boy sprang nimbly to a
great strangler-fig which had encircled and grown around the trunk of a pandanus-tree, from which it shot out a curved buttressed root. Reaching inside the great basket which the network of circling roots had made, the boy fumbled for a moment and then brought out an enormous iron-wood club, with a heavy thick head nearly a foot in length. Swinging it over his head, he began to strike ponderous blows against the angle of the bent root. Instantly a deep, booming sound filled the air full with its vibrations, as the hum of steam from the escape of a locomotive boiler will make the air vibrate for many yards around. As he stopped, once more in the distance there boomed an answer.
“The Masai, through their scouts and jungle-trackers, have learned of thy coming,” said the boy, turning again to Captain Vincton. “It is they who make the trees talk and with them signal the approach of an enemy or plan killings and ambushes. Now will I give a signal which was taught me by a mighty sorcerer of our tribe, which will make them fear our magic.”
As he spoke, the boy shifted his position, and, swinging the great club with a slow, rhythmical motion, struck the echoing root a series of deliberate blows which tolled through the jungle, slowly at first, and then increasing in speed until they merged in a drumming single chord of sound. Three times he did that, running the whole gamut of speed, ending always in a fierce, droning rattle, which was terrifying in the silence of the jungle. When the echoes had at last died away, there came back no answering signal from the inner depths of the jungle.
“They have gone,” explained the boy. “That which I gave was the sorcerers’ signal. Those who are lurking about us are but outliers and trackers, and now they will not dare to come near us until they have sent back to their village for some medicine-man powerful enough to match our magic.”
Beyond the lower levels of the jungle, the trail stretched up until it reached a dry plain, covered thick with wild sugar-cane. There it ended.
“Beyond this and across the river,” ex-
plained Harun, “lies the village of the Masai. They plant belts of this cane three or four miles wide through which their secret paths run. Any stranger who comes unguided to their village must cut his way through.”
Only when the little party reached the cane thicket did they realize what it meant to pass it. Wild sugar-cane dies in the third year of its growth, leaving thickets ten and twelve feet high of dead cane growing as close together as blades of grass in a pasture, each dry stalk as hard as a piece of wire rope. Through this ran secret winding paths masked by cut canes thrust into the ground, which no stranger could distinguish from those growing naturally.
After vainly seeking to discover a path, Captain Vincton directed that one be cut through this natural palisade. This was a slow and laborious process. Two men cut side by side, while two others directly behind them pulled away the canes as they fell and thrust them into the thickets on either side, which were so dense that no man nor any large animal could penetrate more than a few
feet through the round, close-set stalks. Captain Vincton, compass in hand, kept the trail straight, while the Indians took turns cutting in relays wielding their machetes with a speed and dexterity which long years of practice had given them. Yard by yard they cut their way until by the middle of the afternoon they were a mile deep in the cane.
“It makes me think of how we used to play hide-and-seek in a big cornfield back home,” said Will to Fred, as he looked at the green stems which hemmed them in on every side.
Before Fred could answer, Harun, who as usual was just beside him, gave a plunge into the cane beside the newly cut trail where his quick eye had seen something move among the stems. In an instant he was back, carrying a little fawn no larger than a cat. In trying to escape, the little beastie had wedged itself between two canes, so close that it was unable to get away. As the Dyak boy held the little creature out to Fred, it looked beseechingly at him from a pair of lustrous brown eyes, gave a sorrowful little bleat, and
then snuggled its tiny head caressingly against the boy’s hand.
“A well-nourished specimen of a young mouse-deer,” observed Professor Ditson. “Its skin will be well worth preserving as a specimen.”
“Its life will be better worth preserving,” returned Fred, positively, stroking the wee animal’s head.
“Well, perhaps you are right,” agreed the scientist, as he watched the little fawn nuzzle hungrily against the boy.
Opening a can of condensed milk, and cutting down a live stalk of sugar-cane, Fred gave his new pet its first meal since it left its mother. This attention seemed to cement a friendship well begun, and in a short time the little animal was following Fred like a dog. When it became tired, Mateo would give it a lift in his basket, where it would ride, its tiny head peeping over the side like that of a squirrel.
Fred’s training of his new pet suddenly had a terrifying interruption. The cutters at the
front of the line were working away steadily at the great belt of cane which seemed to stretch away in front of them interminably. Suddenly, from far in the rear came a strange volley of sounds, almost like the rattle of a machine-gun. It grew louder and louder, mingled with fierce hissings and cracklings, and then, like a black pall, a cloud of smoke dimmed the blue of the afternoon sky behind them. It was Mateo, the old tracker skilled in the wiles of jungle warfare, who first realized what had happened.
“The Masai have fired the cane behind us!” he cried out to Captain Vincton, his face distorted with terror. “We are caught like rats in a trap!”
THE KING COBRA
At Mateo’s cry, the native bearers threw off their packs and huddled around the captain, half mad with terror. The wind was blowing in their direction, and as the fire crept toward them through the cane with frightful swiftness, it hissed like some fatal monster, while above the crackling of the flames sounded the sharp reports of the green cane as the sap exploded, under the heat, in one joint after another.
There seemed no escape. Behind them was a wall of solid fire, twenty feet high. Again and again the terrified natives threw themselves against the thick-set canes on either side and at the far end of the trail. Each time the little elastic trunks threw them back as if made of tempered steel. Behind the ring of fear-maddened Indians stood the
white men of the party—old Jud, Professor Ditson, Will and Fred, with Harun close beside him, and Captain Vincton, with Bariri at his shoulder, firm in his faith that in some way his master would yet save them all.
It was to the credit of their blood that not a man flinched nor cried out in the face of approaching death, as did the lesser breeds. Only Fred gripped Will’s arm tightly, and the old trapper’s lips were white and pressed firmly together, while Professor Ditson’s face was set like flint. Then it was that Captain Vincton again flamed out as a leader of men. Spurning with his foot the ring of kneeling, wailing natives, he roared at them like a lion.
“Up! up! you dogs and cowards!” he shouted. “Do you want to burn to death here while you cry like children? Take your machetes and cut for your lives, where I tell you. I will stand close behind you, and I promise you on my word as a British officer that, if the fire overtakes us, I will shoot each man through the head, so that he may have a quick and easy death. What more do you want?”
Much impressed by his liberality, the men seized their keen blades and hacked nad cut with the fury of despair. As fast as the two leading choppers fell exhausted, they were dragged out of the way and replaced by two fresh men, and the party moved ahead at double the speed with which they had been traveling before the alarm. Even so, the flames would have overtaken them, save that between the wall of fire and them lay a wide belt of almost green cane which it took the approaching fire some time to penetrate.
Suddenly, as the cut stems fell back on either side like corn before a harvester, there appeared, towering up through the smooth stalks, the high round trunk of a cabbage-palm.
“Quick, Mateo!” shouted the captain, “climb up and tell us what you see ahead.”
In an instant the old man had twisted around the palm the rope which supported his basket, and was walking up the trunk like a monkey.
“I see a patch of we marsh only a hundred
yards away on the left,” he piped from the top of the tree. “Cut toward that.”
“Give me the exact direction with your hand,” shouted back Captain Vincton, and, taking an observation with his compass, started his frenzied gang in a new direction, diagonal to that in which they had been going. By this time the fire had pierced the green barrier of live cane, and once more the flames were hissing and roaring hard on the heels of the fugitives.
“Hurry! hurry!” shrilled Mateo, watching the approaching flames from his perch above. “Work, you sick snails! you lazy turtles!” he bellowed down. “Do you want to let me burn up here while you idle away your time in the shade?”
The men below did not need any encouragement. With the sweat rolling down their faces, and the fear of death in their hearts, the desperate workers hewed and hacked their way through the stubborn cane. Fast as they worked, however, the fire was faster, and it was only one of those miracles still sometimes wrought for the children of men
which saved the lives of the despairing little party that day. Even as the hot breath of the flames scorched the backs of the hindmost men the two cutters in front gave a hoarse shout. Before them, as the cut cane fell on either side, showed a long winding path. By the happiest of chances, they had hit upon one of the concealed trails of the Masai. Clinging to their machetes, they led the way, followed by the whole party, all scampering like der along the narrow trail, and in a minute they had gained a good fifty yards on the roaring fire behind them and found themselves in a patch of open marshland covered with green sphagnum moss through which the water seeped in little pools. At the marsh the path they followed seemed to end. There was no time to search for the hidden entrance to any other, for already the fire was again close upon them.
“Dig under! dig under for your lives!” shouted the captain, bending down as he spoke and scooping a deep hole in the wet moss and mud of the marsh. His example was followed on the instant by the others.
As far down as they could dig, they buried their scorched bodies in the cool moss and piled it high over their heads. Even as the last one dug himself out of sight, with a hissing roar, the fire was upon them. The superheated air moved ahead of it with a whistling rush, like a blast from a furnace. Suddenly, like the spring of some monster, a great wave of flame leaped across the marsh and whirled through the big thicket of cane beyond. So fierce was the heat that the wet moss was scorched and clouds of steam went up above the whole bog. As the fire swept upon them, each fugitive held his breath and, like a hunted animal, dug deeper into the dripping moss. For an instant, which seemed an hour, the fire rolled in waves above the marsh. Then, with a hissing shriek, the flames passed on, to be succeeded by a hot wind which followed in their wake. As the roar died away, each man there, scorched and parboiled, raised his dripping head from the depths of moss and water. Then, like a resurrection, one figure after another rose from out of the wet graves they had dug for
themselves and came back again to life and safety.
As the flames roared away in the distance, the little party of rescued men grouped themselves around Captain Vincton, the man who had controlled the frantic natives and heartened his despairing companions. For a moment no one spoke, but all, brown and white alike, gazed at their leader in an admiration too deep for words. Even Jud and Professor Ditson, who had been the most skeptical, forgave him his monocle and his drawl.
It was Captain Vincton himself who first broke the silence which had fallen upon the little group. Wiping the mud and water from his face with a fine linen handkerchief, which in some miraculous manner he had managed to keep clean, he screwed his monocle once more into his right eye, twirled his drooping mustache into upturned points, and critically regarded the admiring group around him.
“You are certainly an amazing looking set of ruffians—what?” he remarked at last; “but you all seem to be fairly fit, in spite of
what we ’ve been through. Mateo,” he went on, addressing the old man with a twinkle in his mismated eyes, “I ’m going to raise your wages for being such a good climber and look-out. You agreed to come at nothing per day, and I ’m going to double it.” There was a chorus of loud guffaws from the natives at this very mild joke, and old Mateo bobbed his head respectfully, vastly pleased to be noticed and praised by the Great Chief.
“The last thing I saw before the fire reached us,” went on the captain, reflectively, “was a digging-in competition between Professor Ditson and Mr. Adams, in which the latter, in spite of his advanced age, showed himself the best specimen of a human wood-chuck whom I have ever met. He beat the professor by at least six inches of moss and three of mud.”
Even the insult about his age failed to get any rise out of Jud. “Go as far as you like, captain,” he responded affably. “Say what you please. I ’ll tell the world you ’re a real man even if you do wear a window in your eye and wax your mustache.”
“That goes for me too,” remarked Will, positively, and Fred and Professor Ditson nodded their assent to the sentiment.
Beyond the cane-belt was a wide stretch of forest, which ran for some miles to the banks of the Nolar River, the last obstacle which lay between them and the country of the Masai. As the natives were absolutely exhausted after their tremendous exertions in cutting a pathway through the cane, the captain decided to spend a day or so in the inner depths of the jungle in which to rest up before starting on the last lap of their journey.
All about them stretched the dark forest, where great trees thrust their way up through masses and mazes of rattans, creepers, and vines, twining everywhere like cables. Once Mateo stopped and showed them a number of curious pitcher-plants. Some of them trailed over bushes and low trees, and had vertical tendrils, at the ends of which hung graceful little pitchers, each one provided with a green lid and holding half a glass of water. Another variety had whorls of long, knife-like leaves,
the midribs of which projected beyond the blades and hung down to the ground, where each one bore an immense pitcher, which also was closed by a neat lid. These larger plants held nearly two pints of clear water which, although warm, with a curious, sweetish taste, was yet perfectly fit to drink.
Among the plants which most interested Fred were the tree-ferns. The trunks of some of these measured eight inches in diameter and stretched forty feet into the air, the leaves, eighteen feet long, curving out from the crown of the tree, each one finely cut, and graceful as the most delicate fern. Among the dark green of their serrated foliage gleamed orchids of exquisite beauty in all shades of yellow, green, red, purple, and brown. Only one color, blue, was never found among them. Here and there, beautiful crown-lilies wound among the bushes, and wild grape-vines heavy with bunches of hairy grapes which, although coarse, had a luscious flavor.
Mateo took no interest whatever in trees,
flowers, or butterflies. The one test he applied to everything, animal or vegetable, which he met in the jungle was whether it was good to eat. By this standard, the day so far had been a total loss and his great basket had very little in it. It was not until just as they were pitching camp that he found something which aroused his interest. This discovery was a great mound, some six feet high and twelve feet across, made of sticks, stones, earth, and leaves, and located in the midst of a thicket. At sight of it, Mateo gave a grunt of pleasure and rubbed his stomach suggestively.
“That the nest of the big-foot bird,” he remarked, grinning cheerfully. “We have good supper to-night.”
“Bird!” said Jud, incredulously. “No bird could build a mound as big as that.”
Even as he spoke, a dark olive-brown fowl, about the size of a small hen, glided away from the great mass and disappeared in the bushes with a cackle. Although a trim, daintily built bird, its feet were fully as large
as a man’s hand, giving the fowl a strange, misshapen appearance. Mateo wasted no time in argument.
“You come with me,” he said. “I show you.” In another minute, with a long flat stick for a shovel, he began to dig furiously into the very center of the great heap. As he went deeper, the wet wood and leaves of which the mound was built began to steam, and the interior of the great pile felt almost hot. In a very few minutes the old man uncovered a mass of brick-red eggs, some thirty in number, each one larger than a goose-egg. These he wrapped up in green leaves and packed carefully in his basket. As he did so he explained that a flock of these big-foot birds maintained a nest in common, each one laying several eggs in the mound, all of which, if not disturbed, would eventually hatch from the heat engendered by the rotting wood and leaves. That night the party had eggs in various forms, fried, boiled and roasted, and they proved to be of delicious flavor.
The next day Jud and Mateo started out
on one of their usual expeditions after foot, and Will went along with them on the chance of finding new specimens of the birds and butterflies which always aroused his keenest interest. Before they started, Mateo stepped into a thicket and cut for Will a straight, tapered bamboo-sprout some six feet in length, which quivered and vibrated in his hand as if made of tempered steel.
“You take this for snake-stick,” he said, handing it to the boy. “The ular-gonga, the king of all snakes, he live in this jungle. If he come, run—if there is time. If not, you shoot with your gun. If you miss, use this snake-stick.”
Will remembered then that Professor Ditson, who was a great snake-hunter, had also warned him that the hamadryas or king-cobra was sometimes met in Borneo, and that, unlike other venomous snakes, it would often attack a man on sight. When that happened, he said that experienced snake-hunters preferred to depend on a snake-stick rather than on their guns, since the motions of an attacking hamadryas are so rapid that even expert
shots may miss, with the result that the snake is upon them before they can shoot again. A machete or any other cutting weapon is quite useless in an encounter with a king-cobra, as the snake will slip the blow and either get away or get the man. With a bamboo snake-stick, however, a motion of the wrist will make the end of the stick quiver so rapidly that even the lightning-like hamadryas cannot evade its stroke, and with it a man can stave off the rush of a cobra and eventually kill it—if he keeps his head and nerve.
Will had no more than gripped his snake-stick when, curiously enough, he met the only snake they had encountered that day. It was Jud who saw it first.
“Hi!” he shouted suddenly, pointing to a tree some distance away. “Watch out! here comes a flying-snake.”
As he spoke, the two companions looked up just in time to see a slim, brilliantly colored snake sweep down through the air toward them in a long curve. As it fell, its ribs thrust themselves out and its undersurface
hollowed in, so that it formed a kind of parachute, much as a flying squirrel does when it springs into the air from a tree. As the air-pressure increased beneath the falling snake, it dropped slower and slower, and at last seemed almost to glide through the air like a bird, striking the ground only a few feet away from where the boy stood. Before it could escape, Will killed it with a quick blow from his new snake-stick, intending to bring it back for Professor Ditson’s collection. Mateo assured him that the little reptile had no fangs and was entirely harmless. As its slim body lay quivering on the ground, it seemed as if set with brilliant jewels. The ground color of its back was a shining black, and in the center of each scale gleamed a spot of golden-green, while along the spine ran a long row of what looked like tiny, four-petaled flowers, a vivid coral-red in color, the snake’s under-scales being of a brilliant green, edged with black.
Jud shook his head despairingly as Weill deposited the serpent in his collecting-bag.
“I ’ve got used to snakes on the ground and
in the water and in the trees,” he remarked; “but when they come flying through the air, I wisht I was back home.”
A short distance farther, Mateo and Jud started back for the camp, while Will kept on through the open stretches of the upper jungle, hoping to pick up some jungle-fowl for supper. The first new bird of which he caught sight was one of the loveliest of all the many beauties which flit through East Indian jungles, being none other than the paradise flycatcher, sometimes called the raja-bird, snow white, with a deep-blue head and long, graceful tail. In the old days, before the British came to Borneo, these birds could only be killed by permission of the rajah of the tribe in whose country the birds were found. He alone might wear its beautiful plumage, and the man who killed one without his permission paid for its life with his own. Although Will had with him a light twenty-bore shot-gun, he made no attempt to shoot the magnificent bird, preferring the pleasure of studying it alive, rather than by a crook of his finger to change a resplendent
creature radiant with life and beauty into a quivering mass of blood-stained feathers.
As if the birds appreciated the fact that he came among them as a friend, within the next half-hour he was fortunate enough to see at close range a number of rare and brilliant jungle dwellers. A hundred yards beyond the rajah-bird, a magnificent peacock strutted out into the open, its neck radiant with scarlet and green feathers, with a breast of the same color. Even as Will delightedly watched the bird, it spread before him its magnificent tail, eyed and jeweled with gleaming violet, emerald, and shimmering gold.
Through the thicket flitted gorgeous little minivet flycatchers, like flames of fire, and the black-and-crimson orioles, rare even in the wildest parts of the island. Then there were beautiful grass-green doves, and wild jungle-cocks, ancestors of our own domestic fowls, scurried here and there among the thickets. Two of these Will shot for supper. One of the most beautiful of all the birds which he met was a tiny violet-and-orange
kingfisher, which, instead of catching fish, fed on snails and insects which it picked up from the ground, diving into the jungle just as its western relatives dive into the water. The last variety of bird which Will met that day was one of the most beautiful birds of the East, a large ground-thrush, with long, strong legs, which hopped about like a robin or a chewink, on the ground, through the tangled jungle. Its plumage was velvety black, and it had a pure white breast, while its shoulders were of azure blue. Underneath, it was a vivid crimson.
Beyond the thicket where this thrush lived stretched a deep gully, fairly free from underbrush, which ran up the side of a little hill. On either side the trees grew so thick that they cut off the light, so that a gloom hung over the tiny ravine even at noon. With his gun in one hand and his snake-stick in the other, Will started up the dim gulch, which stretched like a sword-slash along the hill. He had hardly covered a third of the distance when he heard in front of him a curious whirling rustle among the dried leaves with
which the ravine was carpeted. Even as he strained his eyes to determine the cause of the sound, not fifty yards away a great serpent suddenly reared itself a full five feet from the ground and glided down the slope toward the boy with appalling swiftness. Although he had never seen the snake before, Will instantly recognized the terrible hamadryas, the king-cobra of the jungle, the ular-tonga of the natives. Although some sixteen feet in length, the serpent was so lithe and slim, and so swift in all its movements, that it seemed far smaller. For an instant, the great snake stopped not thirty feet away from the boy and stood swaying among the leaves, its large eyes gleaming like black glass in its narrow head, while its pale olive coloration, crossed by darker olive bands, blended with the shadowed green of the vegetation in which it was. For an instant it swayed back and forth, poised for the lightning-like dart with which it rushes at man and beast alike. Suddenly its slim neck flattened out until it showed as wide as a man’s hand, and Will realized that this lurking death of the jungle
was about to strike at his own life. From his talks with Professor Ditson, he knew that no snake on earth has a venom so instantaneously fatal as that of the hamadryas. Even the dreaded mamba of South Africa, which also attacks man, the hideous puff-adder, and the terrible bushmaster of South America, fatal as they all are, do not compare in deadliness with the king-cobra of the Far East. A chill of mortal fear crept like ice towards the boy’s heart as he realized that unless he kept his nerve, he had but a moment to live. The great snake towered in front of him to a height nearly equal to his own, and, when he did decide to strike, would rush forward with a swift stroke which no human could parry if it once came within striking distance. As all this flashed through the boy’s mind he threw back his shoulders, set his teeth grimly, and, throwing up his shot-gun for a snap-shot, pulled first one trigger and then the other. Instead of a report, only dull clicks sounded, and with a sudden sinking at his heart, Will realized that he had forgotten to reload after shoot-
ing the jungle-fowl and that he probably had but a few seconds more to live. Even as he helplessly dropped the barrel of the gun, the great snake made its rush. With a flicker of its dusky body, it shot like a flash of death across the thirty feet which separated it from the boy. As it came, Will dropped his useless gun and instinctively thrust out like a rapier the slim wand which he still held in one hand, falling unconsciously into the pose of a fencer, with his right foot forward and right arm extended. In the tiny tick of time before the serpent reached him, he remembered that Mateo had said that, with a cool head and a supple wrist, a man might ward off the rush of any snake with such a bamboo stick. Just as the terrible head was almost near enough to deliver the deadly, lashing stroke of the cobra, with a turn of his wrist, the boy struck a short, lightning-like blow at the moving figure. The long stick vibrated like a tuning-fork, and although it moved scarcely a foot, even the lightning-swift cobra could not avoid its tap. The end of the wand, limber as a steel
spring, struck the side of the snake’s light, tense body just below the flattened neck and hurled it to the ground. Rearing up again, like the flick of a whip-lash it darted once more at the boy from another angle. For a second time came the wrist-stroke, too swift for the snake to side-slip, and again it was overbalanced and sprawled on the ground. Irritated by blows not heavy enough to disable it, the fatal serpent was aroused to a pitch of demoniacal rage as again and again the light swift taps of the wand kept it away from its opponent. Its great eyes gleamed like fire, and it hissed with rage as it darted repeatedly at the alert, watchful figure confronting it. Each time the boy’s eye and wrist served him well. Each time, in this duel to the death, as he checked again the fatal rush of his dark antagonist, he moved backward a step at a time toward the entrance of the little ravine. Then came one of those little accidents which turn the scales of life and death. Stepping back, his eyes fixed upon the cobra, will’s foot caught in a tangling vine, and he fell sidewise, catching
himself on his right hand. Like some grim, inexorable duellist, the great snake pressed the sudden advantage which had come to it and, with a hiss like the escape of steam from a boiler, reared up to its full height and rushed toward the prostrate boy. Just as it was almost within striking range and Will expected every instant to feel the sting of its fangs in his flesh, he managed to reach over and grip the bamboo with his free hand. Snapping the stick desperately with a stroke of his wrist, he succeeded in landing a tap against the serpent’s body in the very nick of time. As the snake again sprawled its length on the ground, the boy sprang to his feet and regained control of his weapon. Although shaking all over at his narrow escape, his eyes starting and the cold sweat trickling down his forehead, he yet made up his mind that he would retreat not a step more. Once again the the furious snake rushed upon him, only to be met again by the lashing stroke of the bamboo. This time Will put the full strength of his wrist into the slash, and the snake whirled over and over on the
ground in a tangle of writhing coils. Before it could recover, Will staked his life on the next blow. Stepping forward and raising the wand a trifle, yet still not daring to risk a full-arm stroke, he struck down with a half-swing. The steel-like spring of the bamboo added its force to the blow which for the first time seemed to disable the slender body of the great serpent. It writhed terribly, raising its head and hissing, but did not advance. Raising the stick still higher, Will struck again and again, until the hamadryas lay shattered and helpless among the leaves. Not until he landed a final stroke just back of the cobra’s head, which broke the upper part of its spine, did he dare approach nearer. When at last the great snake lay stretched out dead, but still moving feebly, Will wrapped the long body up gingerly in palm-leaves and popped it into his collecting-bag as a present for Professor Ditson.
It was not until after the fight was over that the boy realized what a strain he had been through. For a long hour he sat in the shade of a great ironwood tree, faint and
weak as if convalescing from some dangerous illness. Little by little that feeling passed and his lithe body recovered its poise. Locating the trail by which he had come, in another hour he was safely in camp. There, when he told them of his fight with the hamadryas, he was received with the greatest enthusiasm. The rarity of the great serpent, its deadly ferocity, and fatal venom all combined to make it an object of superstitious fear among the natives. Old Jud, who hated all snakes, was especially impressed.
“My way of killin’ snakes,” he observed instructively, “is to run so fast that they drop dead tryin’ to catch me.”
“The jungle belongs to you, now that you have killed its lore,” murmured Mateo, sidling up to Will.
“T ’was a brave deed; only a Malay could have equaled it,” was Bariri’s remark.
“Even a Dyak chief is proud to kill a ular-tonga,” whispered Harun.
It was Professor Ditson, however, who was the most moved. When Will handed him the dead king-cobra, the worthy scientist
was so pleased that he nearly hugged the boy.
“I have an example of the Naja bungarus which I once secured in India,” he remarked with deep emotion; “but never before have I been able to obtain a perfect specimen of the Bornean sub-species. Once I had a chance, but a careless friend of mine, who was with me, blew a magnificent, full-grown male hamadryas all to pieces by wantonly discharging both barrels of a shot-gun at the snake as it approached us.”
“He done right!” ejaculated Jud.
The professor paid no attention to this unworthy remark. “It remained for William here,” he went on, “with the true scientific instinct, to secure a specimen with a snake-stick. When it is sent to the Smithsonian, I shall refer to his kindness.”
“Don’t mention it,” returned Will, somewhat embarrassed by the professor’s praise. “I am certainly glad to have you get the specimen and not have it get me.”
THE WILD MAN OF THE WOODS
That night they all sat late around the camp-fire in the velvet-purple dark, while great fireflies flitted here and there among the leaves like wandering stars. Now and then a flight of them would settle upon some nearby sapling, and instantly the tree would blaze out as if lighted by electricity. Then, as if obeying some unknown signal, each one of the swarm would turn off its light at exactly the same instant, to shine out again a moment later like the flash-light of a light-house.
The next morning the trail led through a rolling country, partly open and partly covered by a thick jungle with large single trees showing here and there and a wide river flowing in the distance. Again Harun, the Dyak boy, was the authority on the route.
“This is the country of the mias, the wild men of the forest,” he informed them. “They live in nests in the trees, and are so fierce and strong that they are not afraid of any animal in the jungle except the poison people.”
“I have always heard,” explained Captain Vincton, “that there was a colony of the great apes, which we call orang-utans, somewhere in this part of the country. I have never yet seen one during all the time I have been in Borneo, but they are enormously strong and are said sometimes to attack men.”
Mateo agreed with Harun as to the disposition of these great apes. “When mias come, I go—fast,” he remarked earnestly.
Accordingly, that day they journeyed keeping a sharp lookout, but saw no sign of either mias or Masai, and by the middle of the morning reached the banks of the wide, sluggish river which they had seen in the distance. Harun told them that somewhere along this river was a ford by which it could be easily crossed, and that the village of the Masai lay concealed in the forest on the other side.
“There be where the wild men live,” whispered the Dyak
Leaving the rest of the party to pitch camp and get dinner ready, the captain and Bariri started up-stream, while Fred and the Dyak boy went down the river, in a search for the hidden ford.
For several miles the two boys followed the windings of the muddy stream, as it twisted here and there through the jungle, without finding any trace of a crossing. Then, as they turned a bend in the river, there appeared an open grove of great trees, which stretched nearly to the water’s edge. Suddenly Harun laid his hand warningly on Will’s shoulder.
“Look!” he whispered, pointing toward the top of some of the largest trees about two hundred yards away, among whose branches showed nests made of sticks, somewhat like those made by the larger hawks.
“There be where the wild men live,” whispered the Dyak, again.
Even as he spoke, there sounded a rustling in the grove, and a red haired animal with a body about as large as a boy of fifteen moved through the branches. He walked deliber-
ately along the larger branches, supporting himself by the knuckles of his dangling hands. Then, grasping the ends of branches in the next tree, he swung himself slowly across, never jumping or springing as the smaller monkeys do. Although each of his motions was singularly slow, yet in a minute he was out of sight in the depths of the forest, leaving the two boys staring at each other.
“Mias,” whispered Harun. “Make no noise.”
Moving with great care, the boys crept along through the bushes, keeping themselves screened from view as much as possible and yet taking care not to go too near the water’s edge for fear of crocodiles. Just beyond the grove which contained the homes of the wild men, Harun, who was leading the way, suddenly turned with a warning gesture. Following his gaze, Fred saw at the water’s edge a monster mias, drinking. Standing on his enormous hand-like feet and leaning over the water, the beast drank in the same fashion as do the Malays, by scooping the water up in his cupped hands alternately and throwing
it into his mouth. Standing there in the sunlight, he was a terrifying sight. When he stood upright, he was as tall as a man, his vast arms, when extended to their full length, had a stretch of over ten feet and were thatched and covered with shaggy red hair, which was also the covering of his enormous barrel-like chest, on which the naked black skin showed in patches. As he turned his hideous face and glowered arrogantly around out of his deep-ste little red eyes, he seemed like some ogre of the deep jungle surprised by the sunlight. The wide wrinkled patches of loose skin on the sides of his face, and his great size, showed him to be an old male. Suddenly he turned and began to crutch himself along back to the trees, walking upright, with a curious lurching gait, and supporting himself at every step by the knuckles of his great hands, which, owing to the enormous length of his arms, touched the ground in front of him
“Look!” whispered Harun, pointing toward the water as the great ape turned his back on the stream. Following the direction
of his finger with his eyes, Fred saw a strange sight. Fifty feet from where the mias stood, a great patch of gray, sandy beach seemed slowly to move toward the retreating animal. Stare as he would, Fred could see nothing in the moving ground which looked like anything alive.
“Crocodile!” whispered Harun, again. “King of the River going to fight King of the Woods.”
“Which will win?” queried Fred, watching the scene with all his eyes.
“The mias, he win,” asserted Harun, positively. “No animal can kill the mias.”
Foot by foot from behind ridges of mud and vegetation the crocodile crept into view, and even in the full glare of the sunlight was hard to tell from the bank on which it lay. It dwarfed any other specimen which even Harun had ever seen, and showed itself a monster in size and girth. There were thirty feet of space between the tip of its knobbed muzzle and the end of its serrated tail, and its squat body was as big around as a horse. Its grayish-black back was studded with
irregular plates of horn thick enough to turn a spear-stoke or knife-thrust, and was armed with seven lines of spines, all gray with caked mud. The deadly tail, nearly as long as all the rest of the body put together, was equipped with a double row of horny spines, which reached nearly to its tip, which itself was edged like a gigantic saw. The rough skin of its long snout exactly resembled bark and was set here and there with knobs, which made the crocodile’s head look in the water like the end of a floating log. The lump at the tip of the nose marked the nostril, and larger lumps near the back of the head guarded the eye-sockets, from which gleamed long, unearthly, yellow eyes, like those of some monster left over from the days before man came to earth.
Rising on its short crooked legs, the great saurian moved toward the ape with infinite care and craft. Only a super-monster, made arrogant by half a century of victories by land and water over dwellers in jungle and river alike, would have dared attack the great orang-utan of the forest, which even
the tiger and the python fear to encounter.
As the crocodile drew near and nearer to the mias, in spite of its stealthy, silent movement, the keen senses of the great ape caught some signal of danger. With a movement incredibly swift for a beast of its bulk, the orang raised himself to his full height and turned toward the river, his vast crooked arms hanging so low that his steel-like fingers touched the ground. Turning his black face from side to side, he glared fiercely around. At his first movement the crocodile flattened itself against the ground, and so perfectly was it camouflaged by its covering of mud and its gray-black coloration, that it seemed instantly to disappear, leaving in its place only a long ridge of mud and sand with a part of a tree-trunk at one end covered with bark and knots.
Before the fierce eyes of the orang-utan turned, Harun pulled Fred down behind a bush. Through the leaves they watched the aroused beast as it stared menacingly around, rumbling deep in its vast chest big as a barrel. Even his keen eyes failed to detect the
crocodile, and the boys were too far away to be seen through their thick screen of leaves.
At last, evidently convinced that there was no danger near, the monster turned his back on the river and, crouching down upon the ground, began eating a wild durian which he had brought with him out of the woods. As he held it, the boys could see that his thumbs ere mere stubs, and could watch the flashing of the two enormously long canine teeth set in his uppper jaw, which pierced the thick husk of the fruit as it if had been paper.
Suddenly, from where it lay, still as the mud which it imitated, the crocodile raised its great head, with its lurid eyes, and stared evilly across the mud at the unconscious mias. Then, either convinced that it could not stalk its prey any nearer or unable to control longer the untamable temper of its race, it slowly raised its vast body from the ground on its crooked, bowed legs, and, like the rush of a torpedo-boat, shot across the space which separated it from the orang.
In spite of its great weight and of its unwieldy bulk, the giant saurian covered fifty
yards at a rate of speed which no human sprinter could have equaled. As its sharp-curved claws dug their way into the mud, and its powerful bowed legs flashed back and forth like piston-rods, its huge flattened body seemed fairly to flow over the ground. Almost before the boys could realize that it had started, the crocodile was upon the orang-utan, and the seam which stretched in an irregular curve along either side of its pointed muzzle suddenly widened and showed rows of keen and flashing teeth. Then, with a fierce hiss, its dreadful, rending jaws gaped wide as it hurled itself upon the squat, bowed figure of the great ape. Rapid as was the rush of the reptile, the response of the mammal was quite as swift. As the crocodile’s great body slithered through the sand close upon him, the great beast sprang from the ground as if driven up by steel springs, and, whirling in the air, faced the jaws of doom which yawned before him and threw himself to one side just as the slashing teeth snapped shut. As they clashed together, they missed the ape’s tawny side by the fraction of an inch.
Without any break in its furious speed, the great reptile struck that terrible follow-up blow of its kind, which a crocodile always keeps in reserve when it fails to grip an intended victim. Bending its monstrous body almost double, like a huge steel bow, the ridged tail hissed through the air, and its toothed and jagged edge caught the red beast square across his massive thighs, just as he was about to throw himself upon the back of the fierce saurian. Clutching the empty air with hands and feet alike, the orang-utan shot through the air with a coughing roar and pitched headlong into the mud, fully ten feet from where it had been standing. With the same automatic speed and precision with which the stroke had been delivered, the great tail snapped back into place and the crocodile swung out at right angles to its previous course and rushed toward where the mias lay stunned and motionless on the bank. The crashing blow and the headlong fall would have killed or disabled any human, but the ape-folk seem to be built of steel and sinew, and just as the
crocodile reached him, the mias sprang to his feet ready to battle for his life. That second of delay, however, gave his opponent the chance which it was seeking. Before the red body could swerve from its path, the fatal jaws of the ruler of the river snapped like a trap on the huge leg of the ape, close to where the thigh sets into the body. Its double rows of dagger-like teeth cut through the matted hair and leathery skin of the mias and riveted themselves deep into the tough muscles beneath. Once clinched, and the great saurian began to back toward the edge of the river, dragging the huge ape irresistibly along in spite of its weight and strength. The river once reached, the saurian would have an unfailing ally which wins by waiting—water, cold, unresisting, in whose stifling clutch no mammal can fight long against the water-folk.
In his fifty ferocious years of life, the vast king of the river had never yet failed to kill whatever his jaws had once closed upon. Even the tiger, that demon of the woods, the sun-bear whose glowing fur hides an unbelievable amount of strength, and the rhi-
noceros himself, that armored tank of the jungle, would have shunned an encounter with that monster survival of an age when reptiles ruled the world. Yet to-day the great saurian had met a deadlier foe even than the tiger, and one to be feared more than the rhinoceros. The great man-ape of the inner jungle has a brain developed beyond that of all the other brutes, a fierce and flashing courage, and, above all, incredible strength. Even the chimpanzee, which ranks well below the orang-utan in size, is some seven times stronger than the strongest man. The mias yields in strength only to his vast cousin, the gorilla of Africa. He can bend steel bars two inches in diameter as if they were made of rubber, nor does there seem to be any limit to the sudden force which his red ridged arms with their ten-foot reach can put forth.
With a hollow roar which seemed to come from underground, the monster ape twisted his huge body terribly in the jaws of the crocodile as he was dragged irresistibly down the bank toward the river. Even his mighty
strength was not equal to the task of tearing loose from the clutch of thsoe locked and dreadful jaws. At the rending agony of their grip, a flaming rage came upon him. Bracing his clutching feet flat against the bank, he suddenly seized with either hand the upper and lower jaws of the monster. As sometimes happens with very old crocodiles, four of its fierce teeth showed even when its jaws were closed, having worn holes clear through its horny muzzle. The rest of them, razor-edged and close-set, fitted together in unbroken rows, and only at the extreme end of its triangular head were there any gaps between them.
Thrusting his long fingers like steel clamps into these openings, the great ape obtained a leverage which enabled him to apply the full strength of his vast arms. By a curious interlocking device, the bones of a crocodile’s jaws when once shut are clamped tight beyond the power of any number of men to open them. Only with the aid of iron bars and blocks can they be pried apart. The orang-utan required no such help. Bracing his feet, he tugged at the locked jaws with the
full force of his vast red arms, hard as steel girders. For a moment they held fast; then, furious with pain, the great mammal bent double and brought his mighty back into play, while the straining muscles which sheathed his arms stood out in knots and knobs, and his vast chest heaved gaspingly. Flesh and blood could not hold out against his incredible strength. Slowly, but steadily, in spite of clamped bones and binding sinews, the fell jaws of the crocodile gaped apart until the piercing teeth were drawn clear of the flesh in which they were imbedded, and with a quick swing of his lithe body, the mias was clear of their fearful grip. A fighter of a lesser breed would have seized this chance to escape, only too thankful to be freed from those jaws of doom, without risking any further encounter. Not so with the red ruler of the inner jungle. Rumbling deep in the cavern of his chest, he dragged the fanged jaws back and back irresistibly until they gaped their widest, showing the insatiable maw of the crocodile all blood-red within.
In vain the great dragon of the river bent its body like a bow, lashed with its mighty tail, and plunged and threw itself from side to side. Like an Old Man of the Sea, the mias clung with its gripping feet to the bloated back and scaly sides of the saurian. then, with a foot against either of its armored sides, the great ape wrenched the rending jaws backward with all his strength until, with a sickening, tearing sound, the scaled skin and tough flesh ripped clear to where the angles of the jaws met the reptile’s body. Then loosing the limp and shattered jaws, the orang reached beneath the struggling saurian and, gripping one of its fore paws, ripped it nearly off. In vain the vast tail, the crocodile’s only remaining weapon, swept back and forth with a shattering force against which nothing living could have stood. The mias, crafty as he was powerful, never once ventured any part of his body within range of that fatal flail. A hoarse bellowing, like that of some stricken bull, sounded from the struggling saurian, and the pungent, sickly scent of musk floated
through the air. Suddenly the red beast released his hold, and clinching his great hands until the sharp knuckles stood in rion ridges, he swung his arms like clubs high over his head and delivered blow after blow, like the strokes of a trip-hammer, on the crocodile’s back between the toothed ridges of horn with a force which it seemed incredible any living creature could have.
In spite of the saurian’s plates of mail and the tremendous muscles which bound and reinforced the bones and cartilage of its mighty frame, the shattering shower of blows seemed to numb and crush the vertebræ of even its armor-protected spine. Little by little the furious strokes of its deadly tail became weaker and weaker and finally stopped altogether. Suddenly the mias sprang from the disabled body, thrust his vast arms beneath the ton weight of its bulk, and rolling the crocodile over on its spined back, ripped his talons clear through its unprotected under parts. As the dragon of the river quivered in its death-agonies, the furious orang lifted the
great body fairly from the ground and hurled it, still struggling faintly, contemptuously to one side.
Amazed at the almost unearthly strength of the great ape of the inner jungle, Fred had involuntarily stepped out beyond the screen of the bushes just as the great beast hurled the dying crocodile from him.
For an instant the orang-utan stood in the full sunlight, a fearsome sight, his red eyes flashing from under his overhanging brows, and his broad black face wrinkled and distorted with fury as he looked about for any other enemy which might wish to challenge his supremacy of the jungle. Before Fred could conceal himself, the red beast saw him and with a roar started across the fifty yards of space which lay between him and the boys. There was no escape. The trees above offered no refuge, the river swarmed with crocodiles, nor, in spite of his clumsy gait, can any man outrun an orang-utan. There was nothing to do but to stand and fight, and with a terrible sinking at heart, Fred realized that he was armed with nothing but a shot-gun,
loaded with number-eight shot, which he had brought along hoping to secure a brace of duck for Mateo’s larder.
It ws the voice of Harun just behind him which steadied his nerves. “Stand firm, master,” the Dyak murmured, “I am back of thee with my barong and kris.”
Even as he spoke the maddened brute was close upon them. Raising his hands from the ground, he stood at full height ten feet away, and, wrinkling the sooty skin of his wide face, roared like a lion as he stalked with dreadful deliberation toward the waiting pair. Fred leveled his gun with hands which trembled in spite of himself, and, before the Dyak couls stop him, fired both barrels at the advancing monster. His one chance would have been to wait until the very last second and fire so close that the shot would have concentrated like a bullet. As it was, the light charges scattered, and flattened themselves harmlessly against the heavy bones and iron muscles of the invulnerable orang. What happened next was like a blur before the boy’s eyes. As if in a
dream he remembered clubbing his gun and striking one blow at the hideous face scowling into his own. The next instant the gun was snatched from his hands, a great paw shot out and caught him, and he was whirled over the head of the mias, to fall with a splash in the shallow water just beyond the bank. For an instant he lay half stunned, but the coolness of the water revived him; and just as several sinister black knobs moved toward him through the water, he splashed back to the shore.
As he threw the boy through the air, the great beast turned and rushed upon Harun. In him he found a foe far more to be feared, although not armed with a gun. Drawing a deep breath, his red-brown eyes flashing, the boy stood poised on the balls of both feet, gripping his serpent-kris in his left hand, while with his right he swung back his heavy-balanced, razor-edged barong.
“Come on!” he taunted, as the great beast glowered almost in his face[.] “You will not throw a Dyak warrior into the river. Come on, coward!”
As if he understood Harun’s words, the red ape, sudden as the stroke of a snake, thrust out a long arm to grip him. Swift as he was, the boy was swifter. Swinging his lithe body to one side, he gave the terrible diagonal slash of the Dyak warrior which it is almost impossible to party. As he struck, he threw the whole weight of his body into the blow, and the whirring blade cut clear through the skin, flesh, and bone and buried itself deep in the monster’s body. As the severed arm fell to the ground, with a choked roar the maddened mias sprang forward, while the foam flew from his gnashing teeth. In vain Harun tried to recover his weapon, whose blade was stuck in one of the tough ribs of the orang. The second of time lost in trying to disengage it nearly cost him his life. Even as he sprang back, a red hand reached for his throat. Throwing himself to one side against the stump of the beast’s severed arm, the boy ducked inside of the clutch, dodged the snap of the fatal jaws, and thrust with all his force the long, thin blade of his kris deep into the beast’s breast.
Winding his remaining arm around him, the wounded monster tried to pull him within the grip of his deadly teeth. Once and again, twisting like an eel, Harun just escaped. Yet writhe as he would, the mighty arm of the orang drew him ever closer and closer to the fatal jaws. Waves of blackness seemed to roll over his head. Then, just as it seemed impossible to hold out an instant longer, there was a deafening bang right in his ears, the grip around his shoulders relaxed, and with a long sigh, the lifeless body of the orang sagged to the ground. Sprinting as he had never run in a race, Fred had recovered his gun, slipped a shell into one of the barrels, and, in the very nick of time, had pressed the muzzle against the head of the mias and pulled the trigger.
It was late afternoon before Fred and Harun came back to camp to find that Captain Vincton had succeeded in locating of the ford. Both the boys were so shaken and bruised from the fight for life that in spite of their protests the captain decided to remain in camp for another day.
He made them tell every last detail of the battle between the crocodile and the great ape, as well as their own deadly struggle with the latter, each one trying to belittle his own part and to give all the credit to the other. When the last detail had been dragged from them, vcz drew a deep breath.
“You boys have watched a fight such as few men have ever seen,” he said at last, “and you have acted like brave men rather than boys. I made no mistake in trusting
the life of this one to your care,” he went on, turning to Harun. “No warrior of your tribe could have done better. Few there be who fight with the Wild Man of the Inner-Jungle and live.”
Even grim little Bariri, who had always regarded Harun as an interloper, was moved to praise him.
“Many a man of Malay blood,” he remarked, “has killed the great mias in single combat; but never before have I heard of a Dyak who would face him. He is a brave boy and one who will be a credit to us all.”
Harun, shy as ever, was much embarrassed at all these compliments and welcomed an interruption by Will. Reaching suddenly up among the branches just over his head, the latter brought down into the light a strange-looking animal.
The body of his captive was about six inches long, covered with soft, brown fur, and it had a naked tail with a tuft of hair at the end. Its face looked like a gargoyle, with enormous eye, flapping, naked ears, and a wide, smiling mouth. The little creature did
not try to escape, but clung to the boy’s arm with hands which had curious disks o each finger, like those which enable a tree-toad to cling easily to the smoothest kind of bark.
As the rest of the party crowded up to look at it, the little animal turned its head clear around, until it seemed as if it must break off, and, when it finally stopped, was staring directly behind its back. Professor Ditson told them that it was one of those curious, ghostly little creatures known as lemurs, which feed on insects in the jungle of the Far East and are like no other animals in the world.
In spite of its quiet ways and smiling face, the little animal was entirely alert, as Will found when he loosened his grip for a second. With a tremendous bound, the lemur shot out of his hands, landed on the smooth side of a near-by tree, ducked under an overhanging branch, and was gone. Old Mateo was much relieved.
“That very unlucky beast,” he said.
Professor Ditson did not agree with this view. “Why did you let him go,” he in-
quired crossly. “I wanted to stuff him for my collection.”
“I did n’t have anything to do with his going,” returned Will, still staring at the place where the lemur had vanished. “He attended to that personally. Probably he figured out that it was unlucky to be stuffed.”
Later on, the beauty of the night was disturbed by the quarrels of the fruit-bats, great dark animals with a wing-spread of three or four feet, which fed all night on the wild fruit of the jungle and squalled and wrangled like cats. Captain Vincton assured them that a single bat had been known to eat more than his own weight in bananas in twenty-four hours and that they in turn were eaten by certain tribes, who also cooked and ate a variety of large water-beetle.
Jud was much disturbed at this information.
“Don’t you go cooking up any of them bats or you ’ll lose your pull with me,” he notified Mateo. “I draw the line at eatin’ bats an’ beetles.”
That night, Mateo once more impressed
Jud with his resources. The supply of water in the camp had given out, and Jud wanted a drink before he went to bed.
“There ain’t no spring in sight,” he grumbled. “If I go down to the river, one of them crocodiles is liable to get me, so I suppose I ’ll have to wait till morning. Probably you ’ll find me dead in my hammock from thirst,” he went on, shaking his head sadly.
“You come with me,” said Mateo unsheathing his machete and taking Jud’s canteen. For a short distance he led the way into the jungle, until they came to a long creeper with glossy green leaves swinging from a tappan-tree. Handing Jud an empty canteen, Mateo cut the creeper apart with his machete. Immediately a stream of clear water trickled from the upper end, which the old man thrust into the neck of the canteen and kept there until it was completely filled with soft, clear, slightly bitter water.
“That water-vine,” the old man informed him.
“Mteo,” returned Jud, solemnly, as they
started back to camp, “I shall always be glad to recommend your jungle for light housekeeping—fire, food, and water free and no rent to pay.”
The next morning the whole party was awakened early by the musical, ringing shouts of the biggon monkeys. There was a delightful, bubbling, joyous sound to their cry, which seemed to call upon every one who heard it to wake up and enjoy the wild, free life of the jungle.
By the captain’s instructions, Fred and Harun stayed quiet in their hammocks, while the rest of the party went hunting, fishing, and collecting, according to their individual tastes. Will elected to go for a walk with Mateo and Jud. Pebu, Mateo’s yellow dog, took charge of the trip.
Although he was probably one of the scrawniest specimens of a dog which could be found in all the great island of Borneo, to his master he represented everything that was brave and noble. He had named him Pebu, which means in English “Great Chief,” and always spoke of him admiringly.
As the three followed the narrow trail into the jungle, Pebu marched majestically ahead, with tail erect and ears pricked forward. AT times he looked back condescendingly over his shoulder, as if assuring the party that they were under his protection and that there was no reason for them to be afraid. Occasionally, he would give a short, stern bark, presumably to warn the beasts of the jungle to keep away from them if they valued their lives.
Suddenly, across a little clearing, strolled an animal a little smaller than the dog, with a curious blunt head, apparently covered with thick, shaggy hair. Paying no attention to Pebu’s threatening barks, the stranger moved leisurely forward nor even quickened his pace when Pebu dashed at him, growling fiercely, deep in his throat.
“Come back! Come back, Great Chief,” squealed Mateo, who recognized the animal. “Such a beast is not for thee.”
Pebu paid no attention to his master’s voice. Probably he reasoned to himself that he had given the stranger fair warning and
that it was time to make a dreadful example of him, so that the other dwellers in the jungle might beware of Pebu, the Great Chief. Looking back over his shoulder, the stranger ambled away from his pursuer. Pebu increased his speed and was just on the point of overtaking the fugitive when a curious thing happened. The strange animal suddenly stopped and seemed to swell to double his former size. What had seemed to be coarse hair turned out to be the long, sharp spines of an East Indian porcupine. His long tail was raised and became a savage spiked club, which made a sound like a watchman’s rattle as its owner switched it back and forth. Pebu stopped abruptly, just in time to save himself from running into a hedge of steel-sharp quills. His face showed surprise and indignation at the unsportsmanlike behavior of his opponent. Then against all rules of single combat, as Pebu understood them, the porcupine suddenly began to run backward toward the dog, swishing his armed tail fiercely as he came. Even the Great Chief
could not stand against such tactics. Slowly at first, then more and more rapidly, he retreated before this tank of the jungle. Rattling his loose quills, the porcupine pursued him, still going backward. Then he stopped and retreated in his turn when Pebu circled around him trying to find some part of him that was safe to grip. The porcupine would either wheel suddenly, so that Pebu was fronted with a bristling wall of spines, or else would dash away at full speed, his armed tail whizzing and clanking as he ran. Pebu kept hard on his heels and protested by frenzied barks against the irregularity of the whole procedure. The porcupine seemed to enjoy the encounter immensely. Several times he could have escaped into a thicket, but preferred to stay out in the open and tantalize poor Pebu.
The bloodless battle was finally brought to a close when Pebu in one of his dashes came within the range of his opponent’s tail and was slashed across the nose. The Great Chief immediately retired from action and pawed
frantically at three for four barbed quills which had sunk deep into his flesh. Failing to dislodge them, he fled to his master with howls of surprise and distress, while the porcupine waddled unconcernedly into a near-by tangle of thorny vines.
“I told you to let that animal alone,” said Mateo, reprovingly, as he sat down and gripped Pebu’s head between his knees. Then with some difficulty, he pulled out spine after spine, each operation being punctuated by doleful howls from the Great Chief.
“There,” said Mateo at last, when it was over, and Pebu licked his hand, relieved, “that will tach you come back when old man Mateo calls you. Go out and hunt elephants and tigers, but let porcupines go.”
Pebu sniffed and snorted several times to make sure that his nose was still there, and then strutted fiercely around the clearing, while his deep growls told what he would do to that porcupine if he ever met him again.
Jud and the two boys had been amused spectators of the combat.
“That Pebu dog ’s a good rabbit-fighter,
but that ’s about as far as he goes,” remarked Jud. “Say, Fred,” he went on, “I understand that you ’re quite a botanist.”
“I admit it,” said Fred. “If you want to know anything about trees or flowers, shoot.”
“What kind of pine has the sharpest needles,” queried Jud.
Fred reflected deeply. “I give it up,” he said at last. “You tell me.”
“Porcupine,” returned Jud, solemnly. “Ask Pebu, if you don’t believe me.”
The next morning they broke camp early and traveled directly to the ford. Beyond the river, the smoke of the Masai village showed distinctly in the early morning air. On the way Captain Vincton explained to his companions that his plan was to capture the chief of the tribe single-handed, and then take him down the river to the British station at Saraput.
After he had finished speaking in his languid drawl, the boys, Professor Ditson, and even old Jud looked at him as though they had never seen him before. It seemed incredible that this slim, dapper, well-groomed
officer, with the monocle and waxed mustache was actually planning to carry off the chief of a hostile tribe, guarded by a hundred warriors, with no other support than two men, two boys, and a handful of native attendants. Only little Sergeant Bariri seemed to see nothing strange about the captain’s plan. In fact, he took special pains to spruce up his somewhat dilapidated uniform. His example was catching. Even old Mateo carefully painted four stripes of yellow clay down the side of his face and along each arm, that being his idea of full dress, while Harun produced from some mysterious pocket of his sarong a flaming handkerchief of yellow and green silk, which he used as a bandeau across his blue-black hair. Jud spent no time on his personal appearance, but was at great pains to recharge the chamber of his rifle with fresh cartridges, and to see that new clips were inserted in each of the two automatic pistols which he carried.
“If I ’ve got to stay here, there ’s going to be quite a few of them Masai who ’ll stay with me,” he confided to Will.
As they came nearer and nearer to the village the tension on the boys’ nerves increased.
“I feel just as I used to just before a big race,” confided Fred to Will.
“Same here,” said the latter. “I guess though,” he went on, “things can’t be any worse than they were many a time at Akotan when we were after the ‘Blue Pearl’.”
Professor Amandus Ditson showed no signs of any alarm. He did, however, pack carefully the most valuable of his specimens and put them in the care of one of the bearers, after making the man promise not to get killed.
As they splashed through the shallow water of the ford and climbed up the opposite bank, a green woodpecker called from the right side of the trail, and then flew across it. Immediately the bearers gave a shout of pleasure and relief, and Sergeant Bariri told them that this was the luckiest of all the seven omen-birds which foretell the fate of travelers. It would now, he assured them, be virtually impossible for any misfortune to happen to the party.
“That certainly takes a load off my mind,”
remarked Jud, when the matter had been explained to him. “I was gettin’ kind of worried, but now we can leave the whole thing to the green woodpecker.”
“Yes,” agreed Bariri, not suspecting any sarcasm, “we are fortunate indeed. We might have met a centipede, which would have meant the doom and death of all of our party.”
As they pressed on through the open forest, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by a thin ring of armed and painted Masai warriors, wearing grinning masks. In grim silence the ring of hideous figures slowly opened and closed like some huge, fatal snare, in which Captain Vincton’s little company had been trapped to their death.
As the white men pressed forward, the Masai gave back, only to form again and again in a ring which kept constantly opening and closing.
“These be the Dobuduras, the chief’s own body-guard,” murmured Harun to Captain Vincton as the grim figures closed about them.
It was then that the picked men whom Bariri had brought showed their worth that
day. Superstitious, easily frightened as children by unseen dangers, yet when once faced with something which they could see and understand, they would fight to the death without a sign of fear. To-day they swung forward under their loads as if safe at the station, disregarding entirely the gaping, ghastly faces all around them. The white members of the party followed their example. Captain Vincton paid no attention at all to the fierce figures which with naked knives in their hands crept closer and closer to the little company. Professor Ditson was apparently lost in some profound scientific meditation. Will whistled softly to himself, and Jud regarded them with an air of amusement. Even Fred, although not so accustomed to danger as the others, moved forward with an air of complete unconcern. Harun alone was unable to control himself entirely in the presence of the hereditary foeman of his tribe.
He gripped the handle of his barong until his knuckles showed white, and scowled fiercely into the menacing faces which ringed him around.
Straight on up the broad trail which led through the trees to the village, the little company marched, and it soon became evident that the Masai hesitated to take any steps against the strange white men who knew the secret of the talking trees.
Soon in the distance showed the high, pointed stockade which surrounded the village of the tribe, and a few minutes later they stood before the great gates made of tree-trunks, locked and barred, which guarded the Masai stronghold. Each gate was guarded by seven posts of tappan wood, three on each side and one in the middle. On the top of each post was carved the image of a tiger-cat grasping a human head. These were the kapatongs which guard the entrance to every Malay village against evil antohs, or jungle demons.
Within the village, there was utter silence, although Captain Vincton well knew that the chief must have long before been warned of his approach by his scouts.
“Hammer on the gates, and shout thy loudest,” the captain directed the sergeant.
Nothing loath, Bariri seized a vast club which lay near the entrance and pounded on the tree-trunks with blows which boomed like thunder through the village.
“Open! Scum of the earth!” he bellowed in a surprisingly big voice.
“The Heaven-Born, the Ruler of the British, visits thy ant-hill of a village. Open, Swine! Dogs! Eaters of Mud!” And the little Malay pounded and shouted until his voice and his vocabulary both gave out.
A fierce mutter went up from the grim, masked figures which surrounded them. It was not usual for strangers to call the Masai swine in their own village. Bariri, however, knew that nothing impressed even the fiercest jungle tribes so much as contempt. Moreover, he relied implicitly upon his captain and the green woodpecker. Wherefore, once again he thundered and bellowed until, with a sound of drawn bars, the great gates swung open and the captain and his company marched through them into a village swarming with armed men. Not a woman or a child was in sight, of itself a most ominous
sign. As they moved on toward the center of the village, the Dobuduras closed in after them, and with a clanking rattle the huge gates swung shut and were instantly barred and locked. Attended only by two old men, two boys still in their teens, and half a score or so of natives, Captain Vincton was trapped beyond all rescue in the stronghold of one of the fiercest and most treacherous of the tribes of the jungle. Surrounded by a ring of menacing, sneering faces, not by the quiver of an eyelid or the twitching of a muscle in his impassive face did he show that in any way he considered them worthy of notice.
“Lead us to thy chief!” shouted Bariri, again in the Masai dialect, acting as the mouthpiece of his leader.
“He waits for thee,” returned an evil-faced Masai, evidently in charge of the armed men within the village. “I will bring thee to him, but I will not promise to bring thee back,” he went on.
At this veiled threat, a hiss of sneering laughter ran through the company of Masai
warriors which encircled Captain Vincton’s little company.
“Speak softly, thou Masai dog!” thundered Bariri, instantly, “lest my master overlook thee with his eyes of death.”
As he spoke, Captain Vincton, who had been gazing off into the distance, turned and regarded the other fixedly. As he glared at him the captain’s monocle shot across his face from one eye to the other and back again, and then dropped dangling from its cord, and his strange-different-colored eyes seemed fairly to bore into those of the Masai officer. Then, without a word, he suddenly stretched out his right arm and pointed a long forefinger at the shrinking chief. The sudden shifting of the magic monocle, and his strange stare, were too much for the arrogant officer, who, like all the natives, believed firmly in the evil eye. Involuntarily, he bowed before the captain with the salaam which is given only to a great chief.
“Nay, I spoke but in jest,” he murmured to Bariri. “Tell thy master so, that he use no magic on me.”
“Bring us to the ruler of this tribe and that quickly. My master has no time to waste on such as thee,” was all the answer which Bariri vouchsafed him.
At the sight of his sudden obeisance, the crowd made instant way for them, and a few moments later they found themselves in the presence of the chief of the Masai nation, himself. He was an enormously fat man, with a shiny, shaved head ringed with a heavy circlet of pure gold, evidently not usually worn, since it was constantly slipping off and having to be replaced. The chief was seated on a sort of raised platform, as a throne, and surrounded by at least a hundred armed British officer stood face to face with the ruler of the Masai. Then, without a word, Captain Vincton strode up on the platform throne and calmly sat down at the other end of the wide divan occupied by the chief, followed by Bariri, who stood at attention behind his shoulder. At the sight of his crowning audacity, a fierce shout went up from the little army surrounding the throne. With mut-
tered threats which sounded in their sibilant language like the hissing of snakes, the Dobuduras pressed forward, drawing keen, serpent krises and razor-edged barongs, eager to avenge the insult to their ruler.
“Command this man to tell his people to stop shouting, for it annoys me,” Captain Vincton remarked in even tones to Bariri.
This order the sergeant translated to the chief. For an instant the latter hesitated. It would take but a wave of his hand to have every last one of these audacious strangers hacked to pieces by the blades of his body-guard, who pressed forward toward them like hounds straining at a leash. As if surprised by his delay, Captain Vincton turned his head and flashed at him a look of cold command from his strange, compelling eyes. For a moment the chief tried to hold his gaze level. Then, in spite of himself, his eyes dropped, and almost unconsciously he signed for silence. As he raised his hand an absolute stillness fell upon the excited crowd.
“Where be the men ye keep as prisoners contrary to the laws of thy overlords, the
British,” demanded the captain, through his interpreter. “Bring them before me at once and it may be that I will remit part of the punishment which is due thee.”
Shaking with anger, the chief sprang to his feet.
“Ye should think more of safety for yourselves than punishment for thy betters!” he hissed, and turned to give a last, fatal signal to his fierce body-guard, who circled the throne with their drawn weapons. Captain Vincton understood his actions, if not his words, and acted with that trained promptness which had saved his life in many a desperate crisis. Without rising and with a single motion of his right hand, he drew an automatic pistol and thrust its square muzzle right into the middle of the chief’s substantial stomach.
“Tell him,” he murmured softly to Sergeant Bariri, “that if one of the dogs who bay at his bidding so much as move against me, he will be but a dead man, and that I carry in my belt the lives of twenty more.”
Once again, actions spoke louder than
words, nor was it necessary for Bariri to translate even a single sentence of the captain’s message. From past experience, the chief had learned the deadliness of the white men’s weapons, and knew that his life hung upon the crooking of the captain’s finger. Shaking and trembling as if seized by a sudden chill, he raised both hands high with palms outspread, the peace-sign universal the world over among savage tribes. Then, with a shaky voice, he called to him his general, the same evil-faced officer whom the party had met as they entered the village, and ordered him to bring the prisoners before the throne and to warn the people, as they valued their lives, to make no threat nor attack against the white strangers. While Captain Vincton sat at ease, his automatic resting against the chief’s ample paunch, the messengers sent by the general returned in a surprisingly short time, bringing with them two Dyaks, who, though scarred and emaciated, still kept the proud bearing of their race. At the sight of them the boy Harun gave a little cry and, forgetting all but the love and long-
ing suppressed for many a weary day, rushed toward them and caught the elder one of the two in his arms.
“O my father!” he half sobbed. “I had feared never to see thee again. Now thou and my uncle shall go with me and enter the service of the great white chief who to-day has saved you.”
Captain Vincton slowly rose to his feet. Stifling a yawn with one hand, he pressed his automatic closer against the chief’s plump person with the other.
“Tell this one,” he said to Bariri, nodding toward the ruler of the Masai, “that we go. Let him provide for us his best war-canoe in which to travel down the river to the British station at Saraput. Tell him, too,” he went on, as Bariri translated his words, “to provision and equip the canoe well—because he goes with us.”
At this last word the chief gave a start, and, suddenly turning to the captain, said in excellent English, “Why must I go?”
“To stay there until thy people pay such indemnity to the Dyaks as the British court
may fix,” returned the captain, grinning at the way the chief had concealed his knowledge of English.
The latter tried to protest, but the automatic argument close to his midriff convinced him instantly. In less than an hour he led the little party down to where the largest canoe of his tribe lay waiting for them.
Around them, as they embarked, was a cloud of scowling Malay faces. Grim warriors who had brought back the heads of their enemies from many a foray in the forest gripped the handles of their barongs or half raised spear-headed sumpitans, ready to speed tiny arrows of death against the white invaders. It was the chief himself who saved the situation.
“Down on your faces, dogs!” he bellowed. “Do you wish these foreign demons to shoot a hole through the sacred stomach of your ruler?”
Evidently, his subjects desired no such interference with their chief’s digestion, for, at the word, they fell flat on the ground. Taking advantage of this favorable moment, the
captain signed to Sergeant Bariri, and the latter, with the ease of long practice, locked a pair of light steel handcuffs around the fat wrists of their captive. Then, with the population still prostrate, he urged the latter, fallen from. his high estate, into the great prau or war canoe which, laden and provisioned, lay rocking in the river before them. The chief of the Masai found time for one last request before embarking.
“Take my crown,” he said to Captain Vincton, “and throw it ashore. It will be safer with my people than among these Dyak thieves with whom, it seems, I must live for a time.”
Captain Vincton grinned at the fat chief’s coolness, and, in spite of Harun’s lowering face, lifted the circlet of soft gold from his shaven head and tossed it over into the prostrate crowd, where it was promptly secured by the sinister-faced general.
The giant prau had bamboo outriggers on either side and was propelled by the bearers, who were all noted paddlers. The Masai paddles were so long and slender that they
had to be thrust into the water with a peculiar sidewise sweep, and struck against the side of the boat at the end of each stroke. From his station in the stern, where he wielded an enormous steering paddle, old Bariri suddenly produced from the depths of his beltpouch a squat native trumpet on which he blew notes which sounded like the croaking of some monster frog. At the sound the paddlers started a native chantey, and to the rhythmical clicking of a score of paddles, the bellowing croaks of Bariri’s trumpet, and the wild shouts of the crew, the huge prau swept down the broad river toward the sunset.
THE DEMON OF THE JUNGLE
Captain Vincton seated himself well up in the bow of the great war-canoe beside Kamboli, the name borne by the captured chief, for whom, in spite of his many Iniquities, he had already begun to feel a certain regard.
“It is quite right that thou and I, leaders of mighty nations, should sit here apart,” remarked the fat ruler of the Masai, complacently.
“Yes,” a greed Captain Vincton. “It will not be for long, however. The jail awaits thee at Saraput.”
“They will not keep me there many days,” returned Kamboli, confidently. “Mine is a fierce people, and without me, they will take to raiding. Moreover, I will pay many cattle for the worthless Dyak huts which my
men burned, and doubtless thou, too, wilt speak a good word for a fellow-chief.”
“That depends on how my fellow-chief behaves himself on this trip,” returned the captain, much amused at the old barbarian’s coolness and confidence. “Perhaps you will allow my friends to join us here,” he went on. “They be all great ones in their own country.”
“Let them approach,” returned Kamboli, waving his shackled hands condescendingly.
A moment later the boys, with Jud and Professor Ditson, seated themselves with the captain and the chief in the bow and listened to the latter’s stories of the deeds and doings of the Masai, who, according to him, was one of the leading nations of earth. This was the beginning of many long happy days of voyaging down the great river. Behind them, the wild voices of the natives seemed to blend with the amethyst water and the purple-shadowed jungle as they moved deeper and deeper into the dim forest which stretched away unendingly. As they traveled and talked together, a certain real friendship
began to spring up between the chief and his captors; for in spite of his unscrupulous ways, old Kamboli had a sly humor, a quaint philosophy, and a fund of stories which made him a delightful traveling companion.
On the fourth day of their journey, as the light faded, a cloud of the same huge fruit-bats which they had observed before eddied up from the jungle on their way to their roosts in the dead trees which overhung the banks. Most of them had a wing-spread of fully five feet, and when they alighted in the branches they swung head downward, fanning themselves with one wing and squealing and squawking in a perfect pandemonium of sounds.
“I lived for a week once on fruit-bats,” said Captain Vincton, as they stared at the hideous faces and hairy reeking bodies of the great bats clustered above them.
“Were they good?” inquired Jud, as he studied a monster specimen with a face like a gargoyle which hung close to the prau.
“They made strong meat and hard to keep down,” answered the captain, shaking his
head at the memory; “but it was bat or nothing, and after two or three days of nothing, we chose bat.”
“I would n’t have,” returned Jud, positively. “I’d have starved to death like a gentleman before I ate bats—or dragonflies—or snakes—or grubs,” he went on, as he remembered past experiences.
In spite of the dreamy peace which seemed to brood over the water, the day was not to end without a proof of the fact that watchfulness is the price of life in the jungle. Beyond the bat-roost the river narrowed, and at a point some distance ahead a vast rambutantree, with its arched crown of foliage, towered high above the forest on the right-hand bank. As the canoe came near this tree, Kamboli suddenly stopped talking and carefully studied its green crown, where his quick eye had caught sight of a number of withered leaves. Suddenly, the towering top swayed ever so slightly, although there was no wind. At the sight Kamboli started to his feet.
“Back water! back water!” he roared at the paddlers in the native dialect. Involun-
tarily, they obeyed him, and the long, lean prau hung for a moment motionless on the still water.
A second later, there came from the thicket around the tree the sound of a slashing blow, and a great liana, which alone had kept the huge tree with its severed trunk standing, snapped apart. With a rending roar, the vast rambutan crashed into the river, missing the bow of the craft by a scant yard and raising a foaming wave, which, but for the outriggers of the prau, would have certainly capsized it. If Kamboli had not given the alarm just in time, the prau would have been smashed under water by the falling trunk, leaving crew and passengers, while struggling in the water, to be speared like fish by the natives who had set this trap. As the tree fell, a ring of fierce faces suddenly showed around its base. To them, Kamboli barked out angry commands which rattled through the bushes like a machine-gun. As if by magic, the men seemed to melt into the jungle and disappear, leaving no trace of their
presence save the severed trunk of the treetrap.
For a moment no one spoke as, panting heavily, the shackled chief sat down again. Then Captain Vincton fixed his monocle more firmly in his eye and regarded Kamboli with marked approval.
“Toppin’ quick work—what?” he remarked, and, fumbling in his pocket, produced a key with which he swiftly unlocked the handcuffs which ringed the chief’s wrists and tossed them to Sergeant Bariri.
Kamboli was much pleased at this mark of confidence, although he tried not to show it.
“It was quite right to take them off,” he observed, “for I am too fat to run far. I did not know,” he went on a moment later, “that this trap was set. I have spoken to my people and thou need fear nothing more.”
“The only reason why the chief warned us,” said Jud, teasingly, “was because he was afraid of being drowned himself.”
“Thou canst not drown a Masai,” returned Kamboli. “Although I cannot run, I can
swim better than any white man ever born. No,” he explained, “the thought came to me that if these foreign devils be killed, others may come who will be even worse.”
Captain Vincton regarded the chief fixedly through his monocle for a long minute, while Jud, Professor Ditson, and the two boys also stared at him in silence. Under their gaze, the Masai began to fidget and, if he had been white instead of yellowish-brown, would undoubtedly have blushed.
“Kamboli,” said the captain at last, with assumed sternness, “why dost thou try to deceive us great ones? Do we not well know that the reason why thou hast saved this prau from the tree-trap was because there has come into that wicked heart of thine a liking for us all?”
Kamboli shuffled uneasily from one foot to the other and hung his head like a convicted criminal.
“It may be so,” he said at last, “though why such a thing should happen to me, a chief of the Masai, only the gods know.”
As the sun went westering down the sky
There came the sound of a slashing blow, and a great liana snapped apart
its level rays just cleared the top of the jungle.
“Make camp in one hour,” Captain Vincton called to Bariri who was at the far end of the boat.
“How can he tell the time without any watch?” queried Will, who was sitting next to the captain.
“Easy enough,” explained Captain Vincton; “every prau carries a cocoanut-clock,” and he called to one of the men in the stern to bring the timepiece to him. A minute later the boys were examining a clock such as most of the native tribes in that part of Borneo use. In a bucket of water floated the hollow half of a cocoanut-shell in which a tiny hole had been bored of a size just large enough to let the floating cup fill in sixty minutes, the plop of the sinking shell striking the hour.
Just before sunset, Bariri brought the prau to shore, where a high, dry bank showed in the jungle. Mooring the great canoe for the night, the natives swarmed out, and under the direction of the sergeant soon had the underbrush cleared away at the crest of the bank,
the tents pitched, and a cooking-fire started. Before they had left the village of the Masai, Mateo had laid in a supply of meals already prepared in the native fashion. These consisted of boiled rice and fish, which had been poured into joints of green bamboo, each one about a foot in length with the open end corked, making each section a forest-grown thermos-bottle of prepared food. After the cooking-fire had been started, all he had to do was to place the green joints over the coals until the rice and fish within were heated through and ready to serve, whereupon a wooden bottle of food was handed to each man.
As the dusk spread through the trees, many of the forest-folk who had never learned to be afraid of humans came to see who had come into their jungle.
The first to arrive was a flycatcher of burnished gold, frightened from his roost by the flicker of the flames, who called plaintively as he moved here and there among the branches. Then a band of monkeys came swinging through the tree-tops to examine the
new arrivals. One old veteran with a set of gray side-whiskers, which gave him a clerical air, was much irritated by the presence of the party. Climbing down to the lowest branch of a tree which overhung the camp-fire, he shook his clenched fist at them all, at the same time using the strongest expressions known in monkey language.
“He does n’t like your looks, Jud,” remarked Fred, highly entertained at the old chap’s actions.
“It’s Captain Vincton ’s monocle,” returned Jud. “He says he won’t stand for it in his jungle.”
“I think, myself,” drawled the captain, “that he ’s found out that Professor Ditson collects monkeys and is tellin’ him what he thinks of his cruelty.” The professor refused to be drawn into the argument and paid no attention to the chattering, coughing, and howling which went over his head. Finally, the leader of the band stopped his speech and sat down by himself at the end of a dead stub. Before long a young monkey crept quietly down the trunk,
stole up behind the patriarch, and suddenly pushed him off the limb. Whirling down through the air, he struck the jungle floor with a force which would have broken every bone in the body of a man, but which seemed to have little effect, however, on the old monkey. For a moment he lay motionless. Then he leaped to his feet and scuttled back up the tree from which he had fallen with a swiftness which the young joker could not equal. Around and around the trunk the old monkey chased the young one until he finally caught him out at the end of a long branch. There, in spite of his struggles and squeals, the aged leader gave his grandson a sound shaking and biting, evidently a warning for the younger members of the tribe not to monkey with their elders. All of the white men of the party laughed uproariously at the comical actions of the monkeys, but none of the natives even smiled. It was old Mateo who explained to the boys the different viewpoint of white and brown men regarding animals.
“It very bad luck to laugh at any of the
wild-folk,” he murmured. “Once,” he went on after a pause, “when I young I laugh at a monkey who fell out of a tree. That same day,” he continued, “a cocoanut fell on my head and nearly cut it off. Never again have I laughed at animals.”
“You don’t think that happened just because you laughed?” inquired Fred, much interested.
“Most surely,” returned Mateo. “First the laugh, then the nut.”
The next morning they embarked again, and, as the knife-like bow of the great canoe slipped through the smooth water between dim green banks starred with flowers, the hours passed as in a dream. Early in the afternoon they came to a place where the river made a great bend, forming a glassy pool close to the bank. Over this, thrust straight out from the jungle, hung a huge tree with dark-green glossy leaves, like those of the mountain-laurel, aud loaded down with yellow fruit about the size of a large plum, which gleamed through the green leaves like nuggets of gold. Every now and then one would drop with a
tiny splash into the still depths below. Instantly, the water would boil and bubble, as great fish leaped and darted, like trout of an early summer evening.
“What are those fish rising at?” inquired Fred.
“Crevaia,” explained Bariri, who had joined the group in the bow. “Fish care more for that fruit than for anything else. We ’11 stop here and catch enough for dinner,” and at his signal the crew held the canoe motionless against the slow current.
“But we ’ve got no tackle,” objected Fred.
Bariri only grinned and began to fumble in the depths of a locker which stretched the whole length of the prau. From this he produced a large ball of twine made of cocoanut fiber, thin and pliable, yet strong as steel. Then, digging deeper, he brought up a square object made of bamboo splints and the tough fiber-paper which the Malays, like the Japanese, use in making lanterns.
“It’s a box-kite,” exclaimed Fred, who had been watching him curiously. “You don’t expect to catch fish with that!”
Bariri grinned again, and fastened to the kite long streamers of the same woven fiber, which ended in tassels of the tough, sticky cobwebs of the crab-spider which are large and tough enough to hold fast even birds in their meshes. Then, standing up in the canoe, he gave the kite a quick toss up into the air. As it caught the current of a little breeze which had sprung up, it began to rise, and no boy in all the United States could have flown his kite more expertly than did the little Malay that day. Reeling in the cord, paying it out, and taking advantage of every puff and eddy in the air, the sergeant soon had his paper box mounting and tugging with that kick which an expert kite-flyer likes to feel. When at last he had it flying high and strong, he reeled it in and snubbed it back until it began to dance and zigzag in irregular circles, just high enough above the river so that the bunches of cobwebs hanging from its sides flicked its surface. Back and forth the kite zigzagged, with the trailing tassels shooting along the top of the water like living things. Suddenly, there was a silvery flash, and a fish
covered with wide scales and with a curved thin beak some six or seven inches long projecting from its upper jaw broke water and snapped at one of the dancing wisps of cobweb dangling above it. The tough, sticky fibers entangled themselves about the fish’s teeth, and although it leaped and plunged like a salmon until it dragged the kite down into the water, it could neither disentangle its teeth nor break the cord which held it. In spite of its struggles, Bariri reeled it in scientifically and soon had it flapping in the boat. This fish, he told the boys was a “pipe-head,” taking its name from the shape of its beak. Again and again Bariri flew his kite, snaring sometimes two and three pipe-heads at a time with the sticky skeins of cobweb, until he had a dozen or so strewing the bottom of the canoe. The last fish of all was of a more formidable variety. It had an olive-brown back with silvery stripes along its sides and a mouthful of sharp, protruding teeth which made its head look like that of a bull-dog.
“Look out!” exclaimed Bariri, as it landed in the bottom of the boat, “that fish a water-
wolf.” The wolf certainly lived up to its name for it leaped and snapped viciously until stunned by a tap from the butt-end of a paddle.
As the day drew on toward noon, the heat increased until the paddles faltered in their strokes; Bariri no longer blew his deep-toned trumpet, and the chant of the crew grew fainter and at last died away altogether. Soon Captain Vincton give the signal to make a landing where they could eat their midday meal and pass the siesta hour on shore in the shade. This time they landed on a tree-covered point beyond which lay mud-flats where here and there showed the gray and black forms of sleeping crocodiles.
After the meal, while the others slept, Jud persuaded the two boys and Mateo to start out with him on a foraging expedition. Back of the point a virgin jungle stretched away, probably never trodden before by the foot of a white man. Here Mateo took the lead and followed unerringly a dim game-trail through the forest. At first the jungle seemed silent and deserted, since the wild-folk, like the
tame-folk, for the most part sleep during the hottest part of the day. Suddenly, just ahead of Mateo, an attractive little animal scurried down the side of a tree and, instead of dashing away, seemed to await their coming with pleased interest. It had lustrous dark eyes and a long, flowing tail, which it carried erect like a squirrel, while its silky hair, which stood up around its little face like an aureole, was gray and yellow and brown. Mateo approached the little animal confidently. As he came near, it would start down the trunk toward him and then dash back with a quick and alert motion, watching him all the time intently out of its bright eyes. Mateo fished out of his belt-pouch a morsel of sago bread, of which they had laid in a large supply at the station, and quietly held it out. Advancing and retreating, the little animal seemed finally to decide that the old Indian was to be trusted, and, sallying down the trunk ,scrambled up his lean leg and perched itself on his shoulder, where it nibbled away at the bread like a squirrel. When it had finished, Mateo gave its sleek, silky back a caressing pat and
with a bound the dainty stranger regained its tree and disappeared in the deep foliage. Mateo told the boys that the little animal was a palembang.
“Is it always as tame as that?” inquired Will.
“Yes,” returned the old Indian. “No one ever harms a palembang. Often in our villages they come and live in our houses and bring us good-luck.”
A little farther on, Will’s ornithological eye spied one of the strangest of all the strange birds of Borneo. Directly ahead of them, on the limb of a large hollow tree, sat a bird with a bill nearly as long as its body, the upper mandible of which was crowned with a curved segment of horn. At the sight of this grotesque creature he turned inquiringly to the Indian.
“That old man hornbill,” explained the latter. “He seal up his mate in a tree and not let her out until she hatch the egg she has laid. There she is now,” he went on, pointing toward the top of the tree. Following the direction of his finger, the boys saw another
huge bill protruding from a hole in the tree closed up with soft mud which had hardened in the sun like plaster. Even as the boys looked, the enormous beak opened and closed hungrily, evidently a signal to the waiting mate, who immediately flew up and fed the prisoner. There she would remain for a month, Mateo told the boys, guarded and fed by her faithful mate. Not until the single egg which she had laid was hatched and the young bird partially feathered would the male hornbill break open the mud which blocked up the entrance and allow her to come out again into the sunlight.
At last there came a day when the great prau, with trumpet blowing and the crew chanting a wild rowing song, swept into the broad lagoon where lay the little river-town of Saraput, in which a British garrison was stationed. There old Kamboli was turned over to the military authorities, who would keep him in comfortable custody until such time as his people brought down the indemnity, in cattle and cocoanuts, fixed by the court
for the burning of the Dyak village. When that was received he would be released.
In his last interview with the chief, Captain Vincton presented him with presents of great value and beauty, to wit: one bar of yellow soap, one tooth-brush, and one pair of scissors. Old Kamboli was affected almost to tears by these princely gifts.
“I wish,” he said earnestly, “that I could make some fitting return for thy generosity.”
“You can,” returned the captain, regarding him benignly through his monocle. “It is in my mind to travel to Trobiand and bring back from there a yellow pearl. What present shall I take to the sultan of that island so that he and his followers may help and not hinder me?”
At the mention of Trobiand, Kamboli shook his head doubtfully. “I am a great chief,” he stated impressively, “but the Sultan of Trobiand is a greater. It is said that he commands even the trees not to drop their leaves on his streets, and they obey. Nor is he friendly to strangers, and even the British
have never gained a foothold on his island. He is a giant himself, and his men are fierce and as the sands of the sea for number,” and the old chief paused.
“Yes?” returned Captain Vincton, not at all impressed. “What gifts shall I bring him? Even a mighty ruler like thyself had a weakness for soap and scissors. What is it that the sultan cares for most?”
Kamboli puffed out his chest like a pouter-pigeon. “It is well,” said he, “that thou hast come to me for counsel. Once I myself had traffic with his people. More than any thing else on earth the Sultan of Trobiand prizes the skins of those birds of many colors which we Masai call the Birds of Heaven. Only,” he finished in some confusion, “I know not where those birds can be found.”
“I do,” interrupted old Mateo, who had been listening in. “In my youth I was cast away on the Island of Trenggu, many days’ journey to the south. There I found the sacred Birds of Heaven and learned how to take them.”
Kamboli was much incensed at Mateo’s
audacity in interrupting a conference between two great potentates.
“What does this dead dog mean by thrusting himself into a council of chiefs?” he observed indignantly.
Old Mateo, who hated the Masai with a racial hatred, was not favorably impressed by Kamboli’s remark.
“Dead dog yourself and in your face and twice as much and then some more,” he returned, at the top of his voice. “You are but a Masai robber—” But at this point, Captain Vincton interfered.
“It is not seemly for a great hunter like thyself to taunt a captive chief,” he said. “Nor Should you miscall one of my followers,” he went on, turning to Kamboli. “Here is another token of my friendship which will outlast the soap and even the tooth-brush,” and he handed the overjoyed chief a small pocket-mirror. The last sight they all had of the ruler of the Masai, he was examining with the most intense admiration his fat face in the mirror.
The next day while Captain Vincton was
arranging to charter a good motor-boat to take them all to Trenggu, the rest of the party started out for a day’s exploring in the deep jungle which lay around Saraput. By the middle of the morning they came to a tiny valley in which lay a deep pool ringed around with low shrubs, while its further edge was all green and gold with water-weed. At the sight of this water, Will longed for a plunge.
“Here,” he proclaimed loudly, “is where that well-know[n] explorer and treasure-hunter, William Henry Bright, Esq., takes a much-needed bath.”
“Wait until we get back to the station,” objected Jud, who was in a hurry to get on.
“Just one dip and I’ll be with you,” returned Will, hurrying toward the still water.
As he reached the edge of the pool, there was the slightest of movements among the low shrubs which fringed its farther side and a ripple shot across its smooth surface. Will stopped, startled, for a moment, but look as he would, he could see nothing suspicious or threatening. The rest of the party had stopped some distance away to examine a pair
of brilliant little kingfishers, all red and blue and green, which darted here and there among the trees and caught insects off the ground instead of fish out of the water.
As Will reached the water’s edge he stopped to admire the way the sand at the bottom of the pool glimmered like gold through the lune-green water. Even as he leaned over to bathe his hot face and hands, a huge flat head in which were set sinister red eyes with vertical pupils, lashed the luminous water into foam at the farther bank as it shot out from among the water-weeds beneath which it had lurked. With a single motion, a great body, sinuous, lithe, yet strong as a wound-wire cable, rushed out of the thicket and followed the head like the flick of a whip-lash. In the sunlight it gleamed and shimmered like a Persian rug, iridescent with woven blotches of old gold, sepia, and clove-black, with here and there a splash of somber crimson—the dull rich colors of the reticulated python, the largest and most formidable of all of his fearful family. Even as the deadly head with its staring red eyes hurled
itself upon the boy, the jaws of the great serpent gaped, showing a double set of keen, recurved teeth. Before Will could clear the water from his eyes, or even stir, the terrible teeth of the monster riveted themselves in his shoulder and its fierce red eyes gleamed full into his. As the great serpent dragged him down into the water with a strangled shout of horror Will whipped out his automatic and fired two shots, as fast as he could pull the trigger, directly into the great bulk which threatened to lap around his own body. They were the last two shots left in the pistol and they seemed to have no more effect on the steel-like muscles and interlocking bones of the great serpent than if the weapon had been a pop-gun.
At the sound of the boy’s shout, Mateo looked up just in time to see him struggling in the coils of the great snake.
“Ular-Sawa! Ular-Sawa!” he shouted frantically, throwing to the ground the great basket which he wore on his back and starting for the pool. Fred was a trained runner who had won in his time many a race. Run
as he would that day, however, he could not overtake the flying gaunt figure of the old Indian as it sped down the jungle path.
“Hurry!” Mateo called back as he ran, “it is the Demon of the Jungle. No man comes out of his coils alive.”
Even as he spoke, the great serpent drew back its flat head, while its lidless, ghastly eyes glared still closer to those of Will. The movement pulled the boy against the mighty body, which instantly looped itself into the fatal coils which can crush the bones of a water-buffalo or squeeze the fierce life out of a tiger. As they flowed toward him, by a desperate effort Will succeeded for a moment in evading their grip.
“On the nose, pound the nose of him!” shrilled Mateo, now close to him. As he shouted, the long pointed tail of the serpent licked through the water aud around Will’s legs, and the cold coils began to twist upward. Gripping the monster’s throat desperately in his left hand, with his right the boy brought his automatic down with every atom of force in his wiry body full on the
blunt muzzle of the monster. The tip of a python’s nose is its sensitive spot, and the huge body quivered and slackened under the pain of the blow. Again and again, as fast and as hard as he could strike, Will brought the butt of his pistol down upon the same spot until, unable to endure the pain, the clutching jaws unlocked and the great serpent tried to draw back its head for a more fatal grip. Still keeping his hold on the reptile’s neck, Will reached back and caught the tip of the snake’s tail with his other hand and just managed to free his leg, although, if the full coil had once wound around him, no power on earth could have unlocked it.
By this time Mateo had reached the bank, closely followed by Fred and Jud, who had drawn their automatics as they ran. Mateo, although he could use white man’s weapons, like all of his race relied upon cold steel. Straightening his gaunt, wasted, half naked body, on which the tough muscles stood out like loops of wire, he drew from the wooden sheath where it hung that most deadly of all cutting weapons, the Malay penang. Forged
by some long-ago smith, the blade tapered out in a perfect curve beautifully balanced and with the weight in the head, so as to give the deadliest effect to a blow. Poising himself on the balls of both feet, the old Indian swung the weapon backward and, throwing into his stroke every ounce of weight and strength stored up in his lithe body, struck a blow which, in the days of chivalry, would have been sung for a thousand years. No Richard Cur de Lion, with his two-handed sword, no Saladin, with his curved and tempered blade of Damascus, no William Wallace, with his six-foot claymore, no Paladin, crusader, no champion ever struck a better blow than that half-naked Indian in the dim depths of a far-away, unknown jungle, struck that day for his friend. The curved blade swung clear back of his head and ripped through the air with a long hiss, cutting straight through the tough skin, the steel-like muscles, and the locked bones, actually severing the python’s vast bulk in twain. The great jaws snapped shut only a few inches from Will’s face and the halves of the huge body writhed dread-
fully in the stained water. Weak from the strain, but grinning happily, Will pitched forward into Jud’s and Fred’s extended arms as they reached him.
“I ’11 tell the world,” he gasped “Mateo is some pinch-hitter!”
BIRDS OF HEAVEN
Like Beowulf bearing back the head of Grendel from the depths of the haunted mere, Mateo returned to the station that night bringing with him the head of the great python. On the instant he found himself no longer an obscure and despised wanderer of the forest, but a hero of heroes among all the natives, for he who dares face and slay in his lair the great Demon of the Jungle is held to be the bravest of the brave among the wild tribes of the Far East.
The next day, thanks to an unlimited letter of credit from the lumber-king, Captain Vincton succeeded in chartering a native vessel whose captain and crew knew the way not only to Trenggu, but also to Trobiand itself, and who would sail there or anywhere else—if they were paid enough. The boat
was a lateen-rigged felucca with wine-red sails and had been christened the Dragon. It was captained by a sinister-looking old Malay named Baram, who had but one eye and carried a scar which ran across the right side of his face from forehead to chin.
Baram was said to have been a pirate in his younger days. Whether that were so or not, he was now one of Captain Vincton’s most trusted agents and entirely devoted to him in his own surly way. Of all the navigators then living, white, yellow, black, and brown, who passed through the Strait of Macassar on their way to strange seas and forgotten islands, he alone had visited Trobiand, where in ten fathoms of water in the seethe of whirling tides are found the strange yellow pearls which in the East are regarded with superstitious reverence.
In past years, other traders had found their way to Trobiand and had brought back pearls and stories of the cruelty and arrogance of the sultan of the island. Always, however, there came a day when they disappeared beyond the misty blue of the horizon and returned
no more, and Baram alone, of those living, knew the latitude and longitude of the great island.
As the dawn breeze swept across the paddy-fields and made the topmost branches of the great palms sway and sigh, the Dragon slipped like a ghost out of the little harbor and into the straits. With the five white men went Bariri and Harun and old Mateo. The latter insisted that with him must come Pebu the Great Chief.
“Let him come,” said Jud. “Now that I’ve taught Mateo to lay off bugs and bats, there ain’t a better cook in the Far East—and good cooks allers have to be humored.”
All that day with a fair wind they sailed through a lapis sea which as the sun went gleaming down the sky deepened to a gentian-blue. Across its shimmering surface the wine-red sails of distant praus drifted like tinted shadows, while here and there the pearl-white wing of a gull gleamed and was gone. Slowly the sun sank through a haze of misty purple until its level rays made a long pathway of dim gold across a fairy sea.
From overhead, the notes of a flight of plover fell like drops of molten silver down through the still air, and the sun, fire-red in a dusk of haze, hung on the gold rim of the horizon and slowly sank out of sight. On the instant the sudden dark of the tropics strode across the sea, and without any twilight or after-glow, the stars of the South flamed and flared in a sky of midnight violet. There was no sound on that silent sea but the throbbing of the water against the sides of the boat, like the beating of the ocean’s heart. Then in the east shone a light, white as melting snow, and from the deep blue of the water a honey-yellow moon wheeled up the sky, and even the stars of the tropics paled before the flaming white-gold of her light.
All that long night the white men sat and talked on the after-deck or dozed in camp chairs, while the Indians squatted in little groups at the bow and told stories and sang weird chanteys to tunes which cried and sobbed and tried to tell of something strange and very sad which had happened long ago,
yet with a lilt of exquisite melody running through it all the time which made one fear every moment that it might stop.
It was a night of stories. Jud led off with a long one, a tale of the days when he was young and sailed the southern seas.
“It must have been all of thirty years ago,” he began.
“Fifty, you mean,” interrupted Will, rudely.
“I suppose you young birds think I’m over a hundred,” snarled Jud, rising at the bait as usual.
“I, for one, Mr. Adams,” Professor Ditson hastened to assure him, “do not consider you to be a day over seventy-five.”
Jud stared at the scientist in speechless indignation.
“Go on, Jud,” broke in Fred. “Let ’s hear the story. You have n’t told one for a week, and I’ll bet this is going to be good.”
“All I was intendin’ to say,” resumed Jud, staring sternly at Professor Ditson, “was that once I sailed through these very straits in a tradin’ schooner with a bunch of miners on
their way back from Australia. The boys had pooled all their gold in a big leather bag which they kept on top of the hatchway where they could keep a watch on it day and night. Then one mornin’ a squall came up of a sudden, the boat heeled over, and the bag shot right through the scuppers into the water. My, oh my!” the old trapper went on, wagging his head sadly. “I’ve heard loud, bad talk in my time, but never such language as them miners used. We was all mighty sorry for ’em, for their whole year’s work was gone, so the skipper brought the schooner up into the wind and lay to and anchored. The water was shallow there and I was a mighty good diver in them days,” went on the old man modestly stopping to fill his pipe. “Well, sir,” he resumed, when it was drawing to his entire satisfaction. “I dived an’ dived, but I could n’t find hide nor hair of that blame bag. At last the skipper had to tell the boys there was nuthin’ more doin’ and give orders to hist the anchor and go ahead.”
Again the old man stopped to fuss with his pipe.
“When that anchor come up,” he went on at last, “stuck in the mud on one of its flukes was that old buckskin bag of gold.”
There followed an utter silence not befitting the happy ending of the story. Jud was much incensed at the lack of appreciation on the part of his audience.
“Don’t you believe it happened?” he demanded of Professor Ditson.
“Have you ever noticed,” returned that scientist, evasively, “how much larger the moon looks in these southern latitudes than at home?”
Jud stared at him for a moment without replying.
“Don’t you think that was a true story?” he insisted again, turning to Captain Vincton.
“Mr. Adams,” responded that officer, following Professor Ditson’s example, “do the Dyaks look anything like your American Indians?”
As a last resort Jud turned to Fred, his most faithful ally. “You believe me, anyway, don’t you, Freddie?” he said imploringly.
The latter stared sadly across the water without replying, and Will refused to catch the old man’s eye.
Again it was Captain Vincton who made a diversion. “Speaking of stories,” he said, “let ’s get the skipper here to tell us how he lost his eye—that ’s some story too, if you ask me.”
The old Malay, who had been sitting near Captain Vincton, smiled grimly.
“It happened once when I was pearling with a crew of Papuans,” he said at last, in perfect English.
“I know ’em,” interjected Jud, “frizzly-haired, black boys from New Guinea, who ’ve got a careless habit of eatin’ their employers.”
“Yes,” agreed the old Malay, “but they were all I could get at that time. One afternoon in the Timor Sea they took me by surprise, cut me up pretty bad, and threw me overboard. I pretended to be dead and let myself sink until I was under the boat. Then I crawled along the keel until I was hidden by the overhang, and managed to climb up
the rudder and sit under the counter until night.”
Here Baram came to a full stop, as if there were no more to be said.
“Go on,” urged the captain, “tell us what happened then.”
“I climbed aboard and yelled,” Baram continued indifferently. “The crew thought I was a ghost and went over the side, and I managed to sail the boat to Laut, where I got help. That ’s all there was to it. No more Papuans,” he ended. “Nialays are good enough for me.”
“The man is right,” said Sergeant Bariri, who had been listening with much interest.
“Dyaks would be better,” piped up Harun, from where he stood.
Jud was much aggrieved. “You fellows believe that whopper,” he protested, after Baram had gone forward to give some orders to the crew, “yet you won’t believe a simple little story like the one I told you. It ain’t fair!”
“I move that we pass a vote of confidence in our friend and comrade the Honorable
Judson Adams,” proposed Captain Vincton. The motion was carried unanimously, and Jud became his cheerful self again.
As the little craft under the night wind fled along the moon-path of raw gold which stretched across the cobalt-blue water, suddenly every wave was crested with flame and the water broke before the driving bow in an arrow-head of lambent light, while behind the fleeing boat stretched a wake, white as milk, shot here and there with a foam of fire. The water everywhere had become filled with the phosphorescence which so often shows in those southern seas.
“It ’s like the night we sailed to Goreloi,” said Fred to Will.
Even as he spoke, Jud pointed with shaking hand toward the gleaming water. “Look!” he whispered.
Following the direction of his pointed finger, the boys saw a strange sight. For a wide space before the bow and on either side of the vessel swam a school of sea-snakes, writhing and coiling through the lighted water. The phosphorescence made their
black backs show a dusky gold, and they were a brilliant yellow underneath, with flattened black-and-white tails. Although thick-bodied, none of them was over a yard in length.
“There are fifty-five varieties of these sea-snakes,” announced Professor Ditson, who had joined them. “All of them have flattened tails and nostrils on the top of their heads. They are all venomous except one fresh-water variety.”
“That settles it,” grumbled Jud. “I was goin’ to take a bath if we got becalmed, but here ’s where Mr. Adams does all his swimmm’ this voyage in a pail.”
In spite of this wise resolution, the very next morning Jud had an encounter which might easily have proved fatal. Rising early as usual, he was walking along the deck looking out to sea when he was suddenly halted by a bellow from the Malay captain.
“Look out!” he shouted pointing towards the deck in front of Jud. The old trapper stopped with his foot in the air. Just before him, in a black and yellow figure-of-eight,
lay a sea-snake, which had evidently climbed aboard during the night through a hawser-hole. Even as he stopped, with a thick hiss the serpent struck, missing Jud’s leg by an inch, whereupon the old man withdrew one pace to the rear with exceeding promptness.
“Well, well,” said Professor Ditson, hurrying forward with his ever-ready snake-bag, “I’m certainly glad you did n’t step on that hydrus platurus. You might have crushed it badly, and I need a good specimen for my collection.”
For a moment Jud was speechless.
“I ’11 tell the world I’m glad too,” he said at last. “The next trip I take will be as far north as I can get,” he went on positively. “Down here, snakes hide in pools and jump out of the grass and climb trees and fly through the air, and now they ’ve taken to swimmin’ out to meet people on the high seas. I ’ll say this ain’t no place for me!”
Later in the morning the wind died away and a heavy haze settled over the water. Soon from all parts of the vessel came a doleful whistling in different keys from the crew.
“What ’s the matter with them noodle-heads?” inquired Jud, crossly, after listening for some time to the mournful chorus.
“They ’re whistling for a breeze,” replied Captain Vincton.
Every minute the air became hotter and hotter until it felt like the breath of a furnace. Suddenly, without warning, a jagged, dazzling flash of lightning seemed to split the sky from zenith to horizon, followed by an appalling crash of thunder. Immediately, the voice of the Malay captain sounded bellowing commands to his men as he rushed aft to help them reef the red wings of his Dragon. Captain and crew alike worked desperately, yet before everything could be made fast a white wall of foam and water rushed down upon them, and a gale which seemed to blow from all points of the compass at once roared and screeched through the darkened air. Two of the sails were torn to shreds, and the little vessel was tossed like a chip among huge waves. Only the fact that, like most Malay boats, it was built to stand just such tests kept it afloat. For a bad quarter of an hour
the crew worked desperately to save the Dragon, while over the roar of the storm came ever the voice of the one-eyed captain, who seemed to be everywhere at once. After the wind, came a steady, roaring downpour of rain and hail, and it was impossible to see a yard ahead through the smother of the storm. Then, as suddenly as it started, the squall passed, the sun came out, and the Dragon, with splintered spars and shattered sails, was laboring heavily through a sea which grew calmer every minute. The white men of the party, who during the storm had clung for dear life to the ropes and rail of the lurching boat, relieved, wiped their dripping faces. It was Jud who summed up the situation.
“Skipper, you tell that crew of yours that they whistled the wrong tune,” he remarked, as the Malay commander, panting heavily, joined them again. “It was wind we wanted, not a hurricane.”
Just at sunrise the next morning the island of Trenggu showed above the horizon, and an hour later the whole party was safe ashore
and being welcomed enthusiastically by the British resident.
“You ’re the first white men I’ve seen for months,” he told them. “My house, the island, and about a million worthless Malays are yours if you want ’em. In the meantime, come to breakfast.”
After breakfast, leaving the Dragon and its crew in the harbor, they took leave of their host and, guided by Mateo, started into the jungle. In this island, belonging to the Australasian group, everything was entirely different from Borneo. Instead of dim, green depths where the trunks grew closely together and some of the leaves were ten feet long, they found themselves in open woods, where many of the trees seemed to have no leaves at all. There were the giant eucalyptus; tallow-wood, which is leafless; jarrah, whose wood will turn the edge of an ax; gum-trees, acacias, and everywhere the mallee-scrub, which looks like thickets of dead brush, scratches like barbed wire, and smells like violets, when broken. Here and there were grass-trees1 which have a stem
like a walking-stick ten feet high ending in a long spiral of white blossoms; flame-trees afire with crimson red blossoms, and flowering waratahs, which seemed full of enormous, many-colored tulips.
The birds were as different as the trees. Rifle-birds, all emerald green and velvety black, golden sunbirds, with dark-blue throats and brown backs, and bower-birds with sea-green eyes flitted here and there through the open foliage. The most brilliant of them all were the pitas, which Professor Ditson told them combined more different colors in their plumage than any other known bird. The heads of these birds were of a dark reddish-brown streaked with blue; the back of their legs were dull red; their throats were velvet-black; their beaks, deep green; and their breasts, turquoise-blue deepening into scarlet; while at the base of their wings were patches of indigo-blue.
“I don’t see how anything which flies can beat these birds for beauty,” exclaimed Will, enthusiastically, as he tried to count the different colors on a near-by pita.
“Wait until you see the Birds of Heaven,” remarked Mateo, who stood beside him.
“Yes,” agreed Professor Ditson, “these are all beautiful birds, but the birds of paradise are in a class by themselves.”
Three hours of steady walking along the line of the coast brought them at last to an open grove of larger trees than they had yet seen, and before long they came to an enormous eucalyptus-tree, under which the ground was covered with small twigs and green leaves.
“This is a dancing-tree for the smaller Birds of Heaven,” whispered Mateo. “They strip off all the leaves and twigs so as to leave themselves room. Do you hide yourselves in the bushes, and I will climb up and shoot as they dance. Be sure to catch them soon as they strike the ground, for my arrows will only stun them,” and he showed a sheath of arrows, each one of which had a conical wooden cup fitted over its head so as not to make any wound which might spoil the plumage of the exquisite birds.
Strapping a short stout bow to his neck and hanging his quiver of cupped arrows over one
shoulder, the old Indian easily climbed the tree and built for himself a blind among the branches just outside of the stripped dancing-floor. There he stationed himself, while the party below hid in a thicket until the birds should come.
An hour went by with no sign of any visitors from paradise. While they were waiting, however, a black cockatoo, one of the rarest birds of the island, alighted in a near-by tree. It had a small weak body, bare, blood-red cheeks, and an enormous hooked, notched beak, while its plumage was of a sooty black, sprinkled with the curious white powder which only cockatoos secrete. As they watched the bird it plucked with its beak a heavy triangular nut from a canary-tree, a nut so smooth and hard that it is difficult for a man to crack even with a hammer. The cockatoo, however, had no trouble with it at all. Seizing the nut in its bill and holding it firmly with its long tongue, the bird sawed a groove in it with the sharp-edged lower mandible of its huge beak. Then it shifted the nut from its bill to its claws, and, biting off a
piece of leaf, fitted the fragment into the deep notch which showed in its upper mandible. Then it again seized the nut and, the leaf keeping it from slipping, fixed the edge of its lower mandible into the groove which it had cut, and, with a twisting wrench of its beak, broke off a large piece of the shell. Into this opening it thrust its long, slender red tongue, which was tipped with a horny black blade. With this it picked out and swallowed the kernel morsel by morsel until every grain of the nut’s meat was gone. The whole performance seemed to show an almost uncanny intelligence on the part of the bird.
Just as the cockatoo finished its meal, there was a fluttering noise in the upper branch of the eucalyptus beneath which they were hidden. Immediately, in the leafless center of the tree appeared a flock of birds, brilliant and beautiful beyond belief. Spreading their gorgeous, many-colored tails, waving their jeweled wings and iridescent plumes and streamers, they flitted and strutted and hopped in a rainbow of glowing tints before a critical gallery of quiet-colored females, who sat in
the upper branches ready to choose their mates from the dancers who most caught their fancy. The performance was at its height when there sounded a thud, and like a meteor, one of the birds fell whirling to the ground, followed by a cup-headed arrow. So quickly and quietly had the shot been made that the rest of the strutting males were not alarmed, but continued their dance until no less than six had been shot out of the tree by the Indian’s clumsy missiles. Then the remaining birds suddenly sensed that something was wrong and flew away from the fatal tree, followed at a distance by the females.
As each bird struck the ground, it was instantly secured by one of the party hidden below. Will secured the first one. As the boy raised it from the ground, finding it dead from the blow of the blunt-headed arrow, he gave a gasp of admiration as he held in his hand a specimen of the most beautiful bird on earth. Its back was of an intense cinnebarred with a gloss like spun glass. Toward the head the feathers became short and velvety,
shading into a rich orange. From the breast downward, they were pure white with the softness and gloss of silk; while across the breast a band of deep metallic green separated the snowy white from the red of the throat. Above either eye was a round spot of emerald-green, the bill was yellow, and the head and legs of a fine cobalt-blue. Springing from either side of the breast were little tufts of gray feathers which spread out like fans and ended in a broad band of intense malachite-green. The two middle feathers of the tail curved away from each other in the form of slender wheels, each about five inches wide and ending in a curled spiral of glittering green. Professor Ditson took the bird from Will’s hands and looked at it almost reverently.
“Not one of the eight thousand and odd birds classified in the world can equal this one!” he murmured, holding it up so that the sunlight made the bird glitter like a feathered gem.
As they were still admiring one bird after
another of the six which Mateo had secured, a strange far call came down from midsky like the syllables “Wawk-wawk-wawk!”
“Hide quick!” called down Mateo, “the big Birds of Heaven come.”
They had no more than concealed themselves in the thicket when another rainbow of birds settled down over the tree. These newcomers were twice as large as the smaller birds of paradise, being some eighteen inches long from beak to the tip of their tails. Although not so brilliantly colored, they were even more spectacular.
The body, wings, and tail were of a rich coffee-brown, deepening on the breast to a dark violet, and the whole top of the head and neck were of a delicate straw-yellow, the feathers being short and close set, so as to resemble velvet, while the lower part of the throat up to the eyes was set with gleaming feathers, like scales, of an emerald-green color, and velvety plumes of a still deeper green extended in a band across the forehead as far as the eye of the bird, which was of a bright golden yellow. The beak was pale
blue and the feet of a pale pink. It was their tails and plumes, however, which made them an even more resplendent sight than the lesser birds of paradise. The two middle feathers of the tail were some thirty inches long and spread out in a double curve. From each side of the body beneath the wings sprang dense tufts of glossy and delicate plumes, some two feet in length, of the most intense golden-orange color, but changing toward the tips into a pale brown. These tufts the birds could spread out so wide that their bodies were completely hidden by these glowing plumes.
Using the same methods, Mateo secured four of these great birds of paradise. All that night Professor Ditson, after they had made camp, sat up preparing the skins of these glorious birds, half of which were to be given as a present to the Sultan of Trobiand and half to be kept for his own collection.
It was Pebu, Mateo’s yellow dog, who took charge of the party the next morning on their way back to the station. For some days after his adventure with the porcupine, Mr. Pebu had retired from public life and kept well in the rear during every expedition. His nose, however, had at last healed up and once more he felt that it was absolutely necessary for him to lead the way, which he did, growling deeply in his throat now and then as he reflected on what a desperate character he was. Occasionally, he would stop and wait until Mateo and the others caught up with him, when he would hurry on again with an important air. Old Jud was much amused at the dog’s pompous manner.
“Look out, you Pebu!” he called; “you’ll run across one of them porcupines again.”
Pebu, quite properly, paid no attention to such an impertinent remark, but continued to guide the party across a wide plain covered with scrub and ferns. Suddenly, two strange animals sprang out from a tangled thicket just ahead of him, of a species which no one of the white men, except Professor Ditson, had ever seen before.
“Kangaroos!” shouted Fred, joyfully. “I always hoped some day I ’d see a wild kangaroo.”
“Them birds seem wild enough,” remarked Jud, as the two orange-red animals soared over the brush in fifteen-foot jumps.
The smaller one of the two, the “flying doe” of the natives, in her swift flight, left her mate behind as if he had been anchored.
Pebu promptly dashed after them, barking furiously. At the sound the old male suddenly stopped and faced his pursuer. Propped up by his enormous fleshy tail, he was well over five feet in height, and with his huge hind feet thrust out in front of him, armed with savage claws, he looked like an ugly beast to tackle. However, in spite of his
prideful ways and lack of judgment, there was nothing yellow about Pebu except his color, and although the marsupial was ten times his size, he rushed at him like a lion. As the dog raced toward him, the old kangaroo sat back on the wide tripod made by his tail and hind legs and waited for him grimly, while his nose twisted and his mobile lips curled back, showing his two long incisor teeth, like those of a great woodchuck. Undaunted, Pebu rushed in to close quarters. The kangaroo’s eyes suddenly gleamed like fire, and with a hissing grunt, he leaned to one side and struck a swinging scythe-like blow with his bent hind leg. If the blow had landed, the kangaroo’s curved, keen talons would have ripped through skin and flesh and bone. Just in time, Pebu flattened himself against the ground, and the deadly stroke whizzed harmlessly over his head. The force of the blow swung the great beast clear to one side, and before he could recover, the dog had sprung up from the grass and, leaping for his throat, managed to clamp his narrow jaws in the loose skin of the kangaroo’s breast.
With an indignant grunt, the veteran gripped the dog in his powerful forearms, tore him loose, and, holding him like a baby, hopped down the slope toward a water-hole which showed in the brush some fifty yards away. As he was borne through the air, in spite of his strong, stern nature, Pebu howled for help. His cry was echoed by a shout from Mateo who, with the rest of the party, rushed up just in time to see the kangaroo disappear down the slope with the dog in his grip.
“Hurry!” gasped the Indian to Jud, who was nearest to him. “Old man kangaroo go to drown Great Chief in water-hole.”
As the party raced down the slope the great marsupial had waded shoulder-deep into the pool and was trying to thrust the struggling dog under the water, tactics learned from fighting with packs of dingoes, when the old kangaroo would take his stand in a water-hole and drown one wild dog after another as they swam out to him.
Just as Pebu, in spite of his struggles, was disappearing beneath the surface, Jud raised his rifle, sighted carefully, and fired. At the
crack of the gun the kangaroo exploded from the pool like a bursting bomb, in a whirl of water, foam, and flashing legs, and the next moment was sailing over the tops of the scrub like a red aëroplane. As he disappeared, the half-drowned Pebu crawled up the opposite bank and hurried back to Mateo for comfort and protection.
“You missed, Jud!” exclaimed Will, in surprise, as he watched the kangaroo disappear.
“No, boy,” returned the old trapper. “I did n’t miss, neither. That old kangaroo was protectin’ his mate and there wa’n’t no use in killin’ him. I just put a bullet through one of his big, floppy ears as a kind of a hint to drop Pebu and go on about his business.”
It was Jud himself who had the next surprise on this island of curious creatures. The trail led through open woods where strange trees, like the jarrah, whose wood is like iron, and the red-gum, which never rots, were interspersed with red cedars and beeches.
Jud happened to be in the lead and, skirting a thicket, came suddenly upon a huge bird some six feet high which stood browsing
on the shrubs like an animal. It was covered with long, coarse feathers, like black hair, and wore on its head a horny helmet, while the bare skin of its neck showed a brilliant blue and red. In place of wings were only masses of black spines, like porcupine quills, and its great stocky legs ended in three enormous toes.
“Grab it, Jud, quick!” urged Will, who was close behind; “it ’s a cassowary.”
Jud dashed forward with outstretched hands to seize the strange fowl, which stood staring at him out of a pair of mild black eyes. As he came closer, however, the great bird suddenly turned and kicked like a mule at the old man, its heavy claws just grazing his coat. Then turning, it ran like a race-horse up the slope and disappeared in the scrub. Well in the background, Pebu barked impressively, but stayed close behind his master.
“Them casseroles sure show some speed!” remarked Jud, at last, staring at the spot where the bird had disappeared.
“Cassowary, not casserole,” corrected Fred.
“Well, whatever you call him,” returned his friend, “he ain’t a bird I’d have for a pet.
Two inches more, an’ he ’d of kicked in all my slats.”
Two days later and they were afloat on the Banda Sea, which skirts Australia and whose uncharted depths still contain many a mystery.
Then came the morning when Captain Bariri announced that they were nearing Trobiand. A heavy fog shrouded the water, and from dead ahead came the ominous roar of breakers. The captain bellowed orders, but the little vessel drove on in the grip of some tremendous current.
Then, just in time, like the winking of some great eyelid, the fog lifted and showed them the entrance of a channel, marked by its dark-blue water, which ran through a maze of shoals and reefs into a concealed little harbor. As they all stared ahead, Bariri suddenly gripped Captain Vincton’s arm.
“Master,” he cried, “this is none other than Amboyna! Though it has been thirty years since I was here, I remember well the three high mountains against the sky—the Three Sisters where live the People of the Peaks.”
“This island is Trobiand,” asserted old Baram, who stood by him; “I know it well and carry scars to remind me of its name. Yet I remember that the men of this island call those three mountains far away against the sky the ‘Three Sisters’ and say that they belong to the People of the Peaks, whom it is death to meet.”
Without replying to either of them, Captain Vincton examined carefully the chart and map which had been given him by the dying castaway.
“I believe that you are both right,” he said at last. “This is certainly Trobiand, for Baram has been here many times. Yet the notes on the map of Amboyna which I have here show the Three Sisters and speaks of a current which follows a channel among the reefs and tells of a fierce people who guard the coast and a strange tribe of water-Dyaks who live in the great marsh which surrounds the mountains where the People of the Peaks live.”
Even as he spoke, the prau, following the narrow channel which ran like a dark-blue
ribbon through the shallows and reefs, shot into a little land-locked harbor. Fifteen minutes later, the five white members of the party, with Bariri, Harun, and Mateo closely followed by Great Chief Pebu, were safely landed with all their baggage and equipment on a broad green bank which stretched into the water like a natural wharf.
“Where do we go to find the people of this place?” inquired Captain Vincton of old Baram, who, with his crew, had helped them disembark, but who one and all had avoided touching foot on shore themselves.
“You ’ll see them soon enough,” returned the old man, grimly. “They are here watching us now.”
Even as he spoke, there was a movement in the thicket which surrounded the landing-place, a muttered a word of command, and out filed a band of several hundred full-armed native warriors led by a short, broad-shouldered man whose face, like those of his band, had a singularly fierce, wild look. This officer immediately addressed himself to Baram.
“Thou hadst the command of the Great One never to return,” he said in a voice so deep that it seemed to come from underground.
“The order was not to set foot again on this island,” returned Baram, with a certain surly firmness. “I have obeyed it and have brought hither mighty chiefs from a far country, who bring gifts to the Great One.”
The swarthy leader laughed contemptuously. “How know I that these men be chiefs?” he questioned. “They may be but sea-robbers like thyself.”
Baram turned to Captain Vincton. “The game is in thy hands,” he said. “Play it well. If we both live, I will meet thee here a month from to-day.” And with a gesture of farewell, the old Malay headed the prau out to sea again.
For a moment after he left, there was utter silence. Then it was that far from any help, outnumbered a hundred to one, ringed around and hemmed in by the fierce warriors of an implacable race, Captain Vincton showed that he had that rare courage which flames
highest in the face of death. Striding forward, he thrust out his lean aquiline face and stared into the sinister eyes of the dark chief. For a long moment there was a conflict of sheer will between the two, until at last the chief sullenly lowered his gaze. As with an effort and a fierce scowl he looked up again, the captain’s gleaming monocle shot from one eye to the other and back, dropped, and hung dangling from its cord, leaving his strange different-colored eyes, unscreened, to bore themselves into the face of the chief.
As the two stared at each other the captain swept his hand across his mouth with a gesture familiar to Jud, at least, if to no other of the party. As he brought it away, his face changed to that of an old wrinkled man, with hollowed cheeks and grinning, toothless gums, while in his outstretched hand he held out two perfect sets of teeth toward the startled chief. With his other hand, he reached to his temple and there came a gasp from even his unsuspecting white companions as his heavy, close-clipped black hair joined his teeth in his outstretched hand. Then, as he reached toward
his gleaming scalp, there came the same click which Jud had heard the night he first met the captain, and his right ear was added to the offerings. Then gripping his shining head with both hands, he made as though he would unscrew that too and hand it to the chief. This last bit of generosity was too much for even the well-seasoned nerves of the latter.
“Trouble not to take thy head off for my sake,” he observed hurriedly. “I can see that thy magic is very great and that thou art doubtless a mighty chief, even as that dog of a trader said.”
As he spoke, one of his attendants stepped forward, evidently a sorcerer of the tribe, since he was decked out with necklaces of snake-skins, human bones, and the other ghastly bric-a-brac which seem to be the insignia of sorcerers of savage tribes the world over.
“The magic of this white man from far, O Chief,” he said, “is not to be compared with that which guards the Great One of Trobiand. I, myself, the least of the men of magic of this nation, can do mightier works than these which thou hast seen.”
What said works were will never be known, for Captain Vincton acted instantly in accordance with his invariable principle of getting in the first blow when engaged in any contest with lesser breeds. Without a word, he pulled out from one of his pockets a small glass bottle full of water. Uncorking it, he took a long sniff, returned it to his pocket, and looked sternly at the sorcerer. Then, waving his hand impressively skyward, he drew apparently the same bottle out again and stretched it toward the medicine-man. Accepting the challenge, the latter likewise made what was evidently a super-magic gesture—since he used both hands. Then leaning forward, he sniffed scornfully at the bottle, and promptly fell over backward with a yell; as well he might, since the second bottle was filled with ammonia. A gasp went up from the wide ring of native warriors at this defeat of one of their leading sorcerers. Immediately the second of the three medicine-men who attended the chief stepped forward. He was an old man with a crafty, wrinkled face and half-shut eyes.
“Let the pale magician try his arts against the wisdom which the gods have taught me,” he announced sonorously.
Without a second’s hesitation, Captain Vincton drew from another pocket a small powder-flask and, shaking a few of the black grains into the palm of his hand, stretched it out toward the sun and held it there motionless for some seconds. Then with a flourish of his flask, he challenged the other to do the same. The second sorcerer, more wily than the first, took the flask himself and, after shaking out a few grains of gunpowder, compared them carefully with those showing in the captain’s hand. Convinced that they were the same, he held out his right hand as the other had done. Captain Vincton’s monocle dropped from his eye as if by accident, and he swung it carelessly in his right hand. Suddenly, he pointed with his left at the sorcerer. Involuntarily the eyes of nearly all present followed the movement of his hand. Will, alone, noticed that at the same moment, through his monocle as through a burningglass, the rays of the sun were focused on the
powder in the medicine-man’s hand. Then came a puff, a flash, and a howl from the unlucky sorcerer, who thereupon departed with much haste. This last exhibition of black art convinced the army that they were in the presence of a master-magician indeed. Raising their serrated spears, the warriors gave Captain Vincton the salute which belonged to their sultan alone. At this moment the last of the three sorcerers who had come with this company sprang forward. A young man with a thin, rather kindly face and brilliant brown eyes, he was evidently of a different tribe from any of the rest of those present.
“Look well at me, O white strangers,” he chanted. “I am the Keeper of the Charm. Over my heart I wear it, nor can any one harm me or my master, so mighty is its magic. Before the chief and the warriors of the tribe,” he went on, “will I prove its worth. Let the aged white stranger with the gray beard and funny face, who carries a gun, shoot at me. I will blow the bullet aside or catch it in my fingers and throw it back at him, so great is the power of the charm.”
When Bariri translated to Jud the sorcerer’s remarks about his age and his funny face, he became very indignant.
“It would serve that brown fraud right if I handed him one for his line of fresh talk!” he exclaimed.
“I’ll say he ’d have a good time blowin’ aside a Mauser bullet,” went on Jud. “You tell him in his own lingo,” he directed Bariri, “that I won’t murder any man, but if he ’ll put the charm itself down on the beach, I’ll bore a hole clean through it.”
“Toppin’ idea!” murmured Captain Vincton, to the little group who surrounded him. “The beggar ’s banking on Jud’s not daring to shoot, for if he kills this faker, the army will run amuck and we ’ll end up in pieces.”
The sorcerer was plainly taken aback at Jud’s offer; but on the face of it, there was nothing to do but to accept the challenge. Fumbling in his girdle, he brought out a little parcel wrapped in raw silk, which he handled with exaggerated caution. Walking down to the beach some fifty yards off, he knelt on the black sand and, turning his face reverently
away, unwrapped the package and took from it a tiny book, bound in snake-skin and containing two vellum pages. This he opened so that the writing scrawled within showed plainly. Then, still with bowed head and averted eyes, he returned to his chief.
“Let the stranger shoot at that,” he remarked confidently. “The might of my charm will turn aside the bullet and I prophesy that at once the wrath of the high gods will fall upon these white strangers and their slaves.”
The respect which he showed the charm and his impressive manner had their effect upon his audience, easily influenced as children. A threatening murmur went up and the ring of dark warriors drew closer around the white men. As Captain Vincton looked at their implacable faces he decided that if anything went wrong with the next exhibition of white magic, the prophecy of the sorcerer stood a very fair chance of being fulfilled immediately.
The crafty magician had taken the precau-
tion to set the charm close to the water and as far away as possible from where Jud stood. The slope of the beach and the fact that the target was on the ground made the shot a difficult one. Even under the most favorable conditions, to hit a mark smaller than a man’s hand with a rifle at fifty yards is a feat which tests the skill of the most expert marksman. Jud, however, seemed to have no misgivings whatever. Opening his rifle, he made certain that it was properly loaded and carefully rubbed the barrel and polished the sights on his sleeve. Fred and Will, who knew something of his skill, showed no signs of any uneasiness. It was different with the others.
“It may not be altogether healthy to miss that mark,” muttered Captain Vincton, not daring to say more for fear of unnerving the old hunter.
“No man born of woman can hit so small a thing at that distance,” murmured Bariri to Harun, who shook his head dolefully, for once agreeing with the Malay. Even Professor Ditson, although he already owed his
life to Jud’s marksmanship earlier in the trip, was very pessimistic over the outcome of the exhibition.
“Success in shooting at such a mark connotes an extraordinary combination of eye-sight and nerve-control,” he remarked dubiously. None of these comments made any impression on the old trapper. He grinned cheerfully into the strained faces of his companions.
“Don’t worry,” he remarked as he raised his rifle; “I ain’t a-goin’ to miss.”
There was not a sound from the crowd as he fitted the crooked stock of the rifle firmly against his shoulder while the fingers of his left hand gripped the barrel like a vise. For an instant the veins of his forehead swelled as he held his breath and lowered his head to the level of the barrel. When at last the tiny ivory bead of the farther sight showed clear against the distant mark, with infinite delicacy he squeezed the trigger. At the touch, there sounded the whip-like crack of the Mauser, and the little book on the faraway sands sprang into the air and settled
down, fluttering like the wing of a bird. “Aha!” observed the sorcerer, optimistically, “the amulet leaped to escape the bullet. Probably soon the doom of the gods will fall upon this impious one.”
As none of the natives seemed willing to bring the charm in for inspection, Fred sprinted down to where it lay and brought it back to the waiting crowd. Straight through the middle of the white page showed a black, ragged hole where the bullet had gone.
“You tell this here medicine-man,” said Jud, grimly, to Bariri, “that I may have a funny face, but that there ain’t nothin’ aged about my shootin’. If I’d done as he asked me to, there ’d be the same kind of a hole drilled right through the middle of his chest.”
The crestfallen sorcerer had nothing further to say as the spears of the waiting army were again raised in royal salute.
“It is certain,” said the chief, convinced at last, “that ye are undoubtedly mighty men of magic, and I will conduct you to the Great One.”
Fred handed to Jud the discredited charm.
On the vellum page were drawn two intersecting triangles with the signs of the zodiac around them in a circle, while in their center was scrawled in script the single Latin word Salus, through which the bullet had cut its way. It might have been an amulet worn by one of the cruel, brave conquistadores in the days when all men believed in magic. Perhaps its owner helped win the Philippines and half a world besides for Spain and then fell in some forgotten foray and the charm had been handed down through the centuries until it came into the possession of an Indian sorcerer on an almost unknown island.
Jud tucked the little book carefully away in a trouser pocket. “Seein’ as I brought down this charm with my own gun, I’ll just keep it,” he observed, nor did the sorcerer raise any objection.
Captain Vincton took advantage of the situation to put a most baneful and far-reaching taboo upon the pump, the diving-suit, and the boat which he had to leave anchored by the shore while he went to meet the sultan.
“Come to me,” he said suddenly, beckoning to the three sorcerers.
Slowly and reluctantly they stood before him.
“Tell these thy people that the magic of all the sorcerers here, white and brown, guards this boat and all that is in it,” he said impressively in the vernacular. “Let but a man lay the weight of his finger upon it, and such things shall happen to him as even I fear to mention.” This tactful including of the defeated sorcerers with himself made a favorable impression upon all three of them.
“It shall be done,” said the oldest; and with a booming voice, he straightway proceeded to impress upon every member of the tribe the pains and penalties which awaited him who should dare to tamper with the white magicians’ property.
Then came a long and tedious march up from the coast to the plateau where the village of the Sultan of Trobiand lay, and it was not until toward evening that the expedition and its escort reached the palace, a vast collection of joined bamboo huts. There in an open
square they were received by the sultan himself attended by an army of fully a thousand men. The Great One was a huge man fully seven feet in height with a coal-black skin, probably like Goliath of Gath, a remnant of some forgotten giant race which had peopled Trobiand long before the first Malay pirates ever came there. From his great height, two yellow eyes glared down upon them out of a face so evil that it seemed more like that of a demon than a man.
“He looks like Scar Dawson, only worse,” whispered Will to Jud, and he shivered a little as he remembered that desperate, deadly outlaw who had nearly burned him alive in Canada and afterward dogged him all the way to Eldorado in South America on the quest for the Inca Emerald. To their surprise, the giant chief spoke to them in excellent English.
“Why have you come to Trobiand unbidden?” he asked in a voice like the clang of steel.
It was Captain Vincton who answered.
“We have heard of thy might and bring
gifts,” he said impressively. “Moreover, we seek beyond thy beaches a golden pearl—not for ourselves, but as an offering of good will to a forgotten nation.”
“Many there be who have come here with lying tales for pearls—and have not gone hence,” returned the black chieftain, grimly. “Moreover, it is not fitting,” he went on forbiddingly, “that ye should bring slaves to a conference with the Sultan of Trobiand,” and he pointed threateningly toward Harun and Bariri and Mateo.
Captain Vincton neither flinched nor faltered at the menace in the words and look of the dark chief.
“O Great One, it is not wise to threaten those mightier than thyself,” he said sternly. “Has it not been told thee what happened to thy magicians who dared to contend with us? Speak softly, lest we blast thee with our magic. As for those who come with us, they be not slaves, but free men, who have won by great deeds the right to attend us and stand in the presence of kings. This one,” he went on, pointing to Bariri, “is the captain of my
body-guard and a man of proved valor and might with his hands. This Dyak boy, too, is worthy to come before thee for, single-handed, he saved his master from the great man-ape of the farther forest. As for this old hunter,” he continued, pointing to Mateo, “he too has won the right to come with us, for he has slain unaided that demon of the inner jungle, the great serpent whom all men dread.”
At these last words, there went up from his hearers a hissing intake of breath, and a look of gloating cruelty suddenly flashed into the sultan’s face, while the warriors ringed around him stared strangely at the gaunt and wasted form of old Mateo.
For a moment, there was silence broken at last by the sultan.
“Why should great chiefs who talk face to face waste words?” he said slowly. “Thy servants, and especially the one who killed the demon, shall stay as long as they will—perhaps longer,” he finished softly. “It may be that the matter of the pearls can be arranged,” he went on smoothly. “In the
meantime, do thou and thine eat and sleep, and we will talk again to-morrow.”
With a wave of his huge arm, he ended the interview and strode into his palace, while the white men and their attendants were conducted back to the guest-house by the same thick-set officer who had brought them up from the coast. He too seemed to stare constantly at the unconcerned Mateo, with an air of almost pitying respect.
The guest-house was large and cool and clean, and after the evening meal was over, Captain Vincton arranged that Bariri, Harun, and Mateo should take turns in standing guard outside the door during the night.
“Something strange in the way that black fellow acted toward the last, what?” observed the captain, as they all sat together after supper.
“I noticed it too,” returned Will. “He looked at Mateo in a way that gave me the creeps; yet he was kind of respectful, too.”
“Yes,” chimed in Jud, “respect mixed with murder.”
It was the ebb-tide of night, that strange gray hour just before dawn when the life of man is at its lowest. Sergeant Bariri, who in his day had himself ruled mightily a fierce tribe, kept guard over the guest-house, standing in the shadow of the overhanging roof, while at his feet, wrapped in their fiber mats, Harun and Mateo slept heavily. Suddenly, from the blackness beneath the branches of a great penang tree beside the house, came a voice in the half-forgotten language of his own people.
“Listen, thou who wast once a Punan chief,” it said. “I too am of thy race and blood and would warn thee of danger and evil to come.”
“Come forth, whoever thou art, that we may talk face to face,” returned Bariri, calmly. As he spoke, there was a movement in the darkness of the shadowing tree, and into the dim light stepped the youngest of the sorcerers, whose charm Jud had pierced with a bullet on the beach.
“I was but a boy when thou wert chief,” he said; “but I knew thee for a Punan when
first I saw thee. Since then I have remembered thy face and who thou art. Thy master,” continued the man, with strange earnestness, “did ill to tell the sultan that thy old hunter had killed the Great Serpent. We of Trobiand fear more than any other beast the Ular-Sawa, the Demon of the Jungle, and we believe that he who kills the man who has slain the serpent will receive all the courage which the dead man had in his lifetime.
“To-morrow,” he went on solemnly, “the Great One will give out that he is sick. The witch-finders will search for the one who has bewitched the sultan. Without doubt, they will find that thy hunter is a wizard and his life forfeit. Then the sultan will slay him to gain for himself his bravery. I come to tell thee this, so that thy master may deliver him up to the Great One when the time comes, otherwise every man of you shall die.”
There was a moment of utter silence in the darkness as the sorcerer stopped speaking. Then Bariri answered him in a low voice which nevertheless thrilled and vibrated with an intensity of feeling.
“It was kind of thee to come,” he said, “and to advise me as thou hast. I serve a chief, however,” he went on proudly, “who would not let even a dog which had once claimed his protection be harmed. Thou hast seen his magic. Woe be to him who seeks to lay a finger on him or his!”
“I have seen,” returned the sorcerer, gloomily. “I too know something of magic, and I say to you, O man of my own blood, that the spears and blades of a thousand men are of more avail than all the magic in the world.
Let but the sultan say the word, and every man, white or brown, in thy party will be cut to pieces, magic or no magic.”
Bariri thought deeply for a moment. In his heart he agreed entirely with the sorcerer.
“What do you advise, O my brother,” he said at last. There was a long pause. Then out from the shadow into the half-light of the coming dawn stepped the form of the sorcerer. There was no sign nor sound of any one near, yet he moved around Bariri in a wide circle, peering, listening, waiting for any sign of guard or spy who might hear what he would say. Then, in the hush of the ebbing night, when even the high-pitched notes of the frogs had died away before the coming day, he spoke in a whisper so low that the old Punan could scarcely catch his words.
“Around his neck,” he murmured, “the Great One wears the talisman of his race-the ‘Luck of Trobiand.’ He is not one of this tribe, but of the blood of that giant people who once ruled mightily all the islands of this sea. From father to son, for generations, has been handed down the charm which he wears
against his heart. Night and day it hangs on a chain of gold around his neck.”
“What is it?” muttered Bariri, impressed in spite of himself by the evident awe and fear of the sorcerer.
“No one knows but me,” returned the latter, in a fierce whisper. “Before that he fell under the evil spell of the witch-finders, who eat men’s lives as they would bread, I was nearest to him of his counselors and knew all the secrets of his life and of his reign. The Talisman of the Great One of Trobiand is the strange, misshapen egg of the Great Bird of Heaven. Not once in a hundred years has one been found. Not in my generation, nor in that of my father, nor my father’s father has even the nest of one been known. Set in soft gold, it hangs ever against his heart. If one were brave and quick enough to snatch the chain from his neck, he would hold in his hands the life and fortune of the sultan; for let but that egg be crushed, and, within a month, he dies, nor will any of his blood reign after him. So his gods have spoken and so he believes.”
The whispering voice trailed away into silence.
“How could that be done?” breathed Bariri, at last, after pondering the other’s words for a moment.
“That should be an easy thing for the great magic of thy master,” returned the sorcerer, a little spitefully. “Leave it to him who shot away my amulet from me. Doubtless he can devise some way to seize the Luck of Trobiand.”
“Nay, but tell me what thy plan would be.” insisted Bariri.
“If thy master is not willing to let the sultan have the life of that old wanderer of the jungle when the sultan claims him,” returned the other after a moment’s reflection, “let one of the boys of thy party offer to him the gifts which thy master has brought. Since he is but a boy and bears gifts, the sultan’s bodyguard will allow him to come near. It may be then, that, with a quick hand and a brave heart, he may snatch safety for you all. If once he gain the talisman, rather than let him crush it, the sultan will give thee the life of
thy slave, the pearls ye seek, and will hasten thee on thy way. Only take care not to return his Luck to him until ye are all safe aboard thy ship again.”
“Such would be my plan,” went on the sorcerer, pausing to let his words sink into Bariri’s mind. “It may be that thy master will have a better one. Only let the boy he chooses be swift and of a brave heart. If he fail, no one of you will live many minutes. Farewell. I haye risked my life many times in telling thee what I have. May good fortune and safety await thee on the morrow.” And before Bariri could thank him, he was gone.
For a long minute Bariri stared at the tangle of branches in the ghostly light where the sorcerer had disappeared. Then, slipping like a shadow into the hut, he moved noiselessly through the dark until he came to where Captain Vincton lay sleeping, and touched his face with his hand. Accustomed to sudden emergencies, the captain stood up without a sound and followed his sergeant outside. There, in a few quick words, Bariri told him
all that had happened. For a moment Captain Vincton said nothing.
“When did he say that the witch-finding would come off?” he asked at last.
“To-night, as soon as it is dark,” returned the sergeant.
“We have plenty of time, then,” returned the captain, calmly. “Let us sleep and eat, and later on we will decide what is best to be done.” And he quietly went back to bed again.
All that day, after breakfast, the little party wandered through the village or hunted and collected in the jungle near by. Not until after the evening meal had been served did Captain Vincton say a word to them of what he had heard from Bariri.
“I believe in never facing a danger until the time comes. It has come now,” he said, and he outlined to them rapidly what he had learned from Bariri. There was a silence after he finished speaking.
“Well,” he said at last, “this is a council of war. Let us hear from our youngest members, first,” and he turned to Fred.
“I would say to stand by old Mateo,” said the boy, his voice trembling in spite of himself. “I, myself, would n’t want to live if we gave him up.”
“The kid speaks sense,” growled Jud.
“That also is the way it impresses me,” observed Professor Ditson.
“Same here,” agreed Will.
“Then,” said Captain Vincton, “it only remains to pick out the boy. Fred, here, is young and quick and brave. I nominate him to bring us the Luck of Trobiand.”
The election was unanimous.
“But I ’m not brave,” protested Fred, shaking all over. “I ’m scared at the very thought of it. If I don’t make good, I throw away the lives of every one here. I ’m not big enough for the job.”
“That ’s the way he always talks,” explained Will. “I used to run on a team with him. Before every big race he ’d act like a baby, but when the time came he always went in and won against any old odds.”
“Yes,” agreed Captain Vincton, “I have generally found that the men who show up
best in a battle are those who were the worst scared before it began.”
As he spoke, there sounded from all parts of the village the throbbing beat of great drums and the thud of marching feet as the army of the sultan gathered again before the palace.
“I can’t! I can’t!” almost sobbed the highstrung Fred, trembling with nervousness. “Will is the one. He shows up much better than I do in danger.”
“All right,” said Captain Vincton, coldly; “this is a volunteer job. I think that you are quicker than Will, and because you are younger and smaller, you could probably get nearer to the sultan than any one here; but if you have n’t the nerve, the time to quit is now rather than later,” he ended, a little contemptuously.
As their leader finished speaking, the little group stared at the boy in silence. He fancied that Bariri, standing at the shoulder of the captain, regarded him sternly, while little Harun, who had stolen to his side, seemed to look at him a little sadly. Nevertheless, Fred
could not bring himself to make a decision which meant life or death for every one there. Working at a desk in the city since his return from the journey after the Blue Pearl, two years before, he lacked the year in the open and the more extended experience with danger in many forms which had given Will his calm poise in times of stress and strain. Moreover, Fred was cursed with that vivid imagination which doubles every difficulty and danger by looking ahead and adding the future to the present. As he stood there, it did not seem possible to him that he could face the grim giant before his army and be quick and cool enough to seize the talisman at just the right instant. It was really not so much the thought of his own danger which unnerved him as the feeling that on him would depend the life of his best friend and of all the others whom he had learned to care for very dearly. Suddenly, while he hesitated, there flashed into his mind, as if sent to him from some great power above and beyond his own life, a memory of his graduating day at the old Cornwall High School. That last
morning for the senior class, Mr. Sanford, the principal, had read to them a part of that great story of Esther, which tells how a girl dared death to save her nation. His chapter that morning was the one where Mordecai, lying in sackcloth and ashes, sent this message to the young queen:
“If thou holdest thy peace at this time then shall deliverance arise from another place. Who knoweth whether thou art not come to the kingdom for just such a time as this?”
Fred still remembered his principal’s earnest words that morning.
“Some day every one of you will face some such choice as this. There will come a time in your lives when you must risk danger or death itself for others or for what is right. Remember, then, not to be a quitter!”
“I ’ll do it,” said Fred, turning suddenly and facing the little group which waited on his words. “If you all think that I am the one to face the sultan, I’ll go—and do the best I can.”
“Good egg!” grunted Captain Vincton, approvingly, while Will patted him on the back
and old Jud gripped his hand and Harun looked at him understandingly with a world of devotion in his dark eyes.
The decision had hardly been made when a company of the sultan’s body-guard came to conduct the little party to another audience with that grim ruler. Carefully wrapping in a great square of unbleached linen the beautiful, gleaming skins of the birds of paradise, Captain Vincton entrusted them to Fred to present, when the time came, to the black chief. Then, after looking carefully to their weapons, the eight, surrounded by their armed escort, marched to the palace. As before, in the light of the setting sun, they stood once more in the presence of the sultan. Before the assembled army, in apparent weakness, he lay upon a litter, carried and guarded by six of the fiercest and tallest of his body-guard.
“Welcome, O strangers from a far land,” he said in a low voice, sitting up languidly in his litter. “I, the Great One of Trobiand, have been stricken down this day with a strange and sudden illness. Some evil one hath bewitched me. I have sent for my witch-
finders, who guard my life night and day,” he went on, his voice rising fiercely. “They shall hunt down this very evening the evildoer who plots against me the ruler of this island. In thy presence shall justice be done, and the wizard who would slay me shall lose his life, though he were my own brother.”
As he finished, there sounded again the deep boom of a hundred drums, which rolled like thunder from all sides of the great ring of waiting warriors. Suddenly, into the circle rushed the strange, repulsive figure of a huge woman, whose fierce, cruel face was painted a ghastly white. Around her neck and waist were necklaces and girdles of human bones, which rattled and clanked as she moved, while tightly coiled about her neck and right arm was the richly hued body of a tree-python some eight feet in length, a snake which has extraordinarily long teeth and a fiendish temper. To the throbbing of the drums, the witch-finder moved forward with a curious dancing step, her head bent forward like a bloodhound following a trail to the death. In front of her ghastly, questing figure, the great snake thrust
its flat head out menacingly, its thick mottled body wavering to and fro with every step. Around the great circle the witch-finder ran sniffing at the air, while even the grim warriors shrank in terror before her face and the red, lidless eyes of the swaying snake. In time with the beat and throb of the drums, she chanted imprecations upon the head of him who had brought sickness to the Great One. Little by little the circlings of her strange dance became narrower as she approached the little group of white men near the center of the wide ring.
“Woe to the wizard who has dared to plot against the Great One of Trobiand!” she chanted in a whispering monotone, like the hiss of a snake, and the roll of the deep drums accented her words. Then the drums were silent, and in the stillness she spoke again.
“I, the witch-finder of the sultan, shall point him out, shall point him out!” she shrilled. “No longer and no longer shall he trouble Trobiand.” And crouching, she crept nearer and nearer to where the white men stood. Suddenly, she stiffened like a hunting-dog
pointing and stretching out her long arm, festooned by the shimmering body of the great serpent, shouted in a dreadful voice, “There is the man,” and, like the thrust of a knife, hurled her hand toward old Mateo, who stood a little apart from the others, watching her in disdainful unconcern. At the motion, the narrow jaws of the python opened, showing its crooked gleaming teeth, and the flat head darted forward toward the Indian like the lunge of a thrown spear. Quick as was its motion, the old hunter was quicker. Even as the open jaws hung in the air above his bare shoulder, he unsheathed his barong, swerved, and with a sweep of his sinewy arm too swift for eye to follow, severed the fierce head from the lithe body and swung back into position for another stroke, glaring defiance at the fierce throng which encircled him.
A dreadful scream came from the mouth of the witch-finder, and her face showed deadly as the Greek mask of Medusa or the terrible, sculptured faces of the Furies.
“Kill! kill!” she shrieked. “There stands the wizard who has bewitched the Great One
and slain the sacred serpent of Trobiand.”
At the cry the sultan stood up suddenly, forgetting to feign illness any longer. The circling army raised their spears, and at a nod from their leader, his body-guard moved forward to seize the old hunter, against whom the witch-finder still stretched her shaking arm, wreathed with the writhing body of the dead snake. As the grim warriors came on with bared weapons, Captain Vincton stepped forth and spoke in a voice which carried sharp as steel to where the sultan stood.
“This man, O Great One,” he said, “is no wizard, but a brave man and true, of my company. Whoever tries to harm him shall be blasted by the might of our magic. Moreover, we carry, each one of us, a score of lives at our belts. Let not any man, not even thyself, O Sultan, attack us or him, or he shall drop dead in his tracks.”
As he stopped speaking, an ominous, deep-throated murmur went up from the waiting warriors, and the ring of armed men closed in upon the little group at its center. The next few moments would show whether the
white men and their followers were to live or die. A thousand spears were aimed at them; a thousand knives flashed forth to take their lives. It was as the sorcerer had said the night before-they might kill one or ten or a hundred, but in the end they must go down before the terrible odds against them.
At this moment, and in the very nick of time, Captain Vincton spoke again, and his voice rang out as unconcerned and compelling as if he were drilling his own company at Saraput.
“Why should we dispute just now over any man’s life?” he said. “I have brought with me presents, beautiful skins of the Birds of Heaven, which will bring good fortune to the Great One and his kingdom. Let the lad who has them in charge offer them to the sultan. It may be that they will free his mind from evil illusions and prove to him our goodwill.”
At the captain’s words, the menace which showed in the sinister face of the black giant slowly died away. Old Kamboli had advised rightly that the skins of the birds of paradise
were the most prized presents which could be brought to Trobiand. Gold or gems, or even arms and ammunition, would have meant nothing to the sultan, but at the very mention of the Birds of Heaven his lowering face brightened. Although he had no thought of giving up his design on the life of the old hunter, yet, like a child with a new toy, he wished to view the skins instantly.
“I will see the gifts which the white chief has brought,” he said at last, almost graciously, checking the approach of his executioners toward Mateo with a wave of his hand. “Later on I will pass judgment upon the man who hath been accused of plotting against my life.”
At a signal from the captain, Fred stepped forward, carrying in his arms the large, light bundle of bird skins. The great moment had come. Strangely enough, all that he could think of was the day of the Interscholastics, when he had won a bitter mile for Cornwall. There was the same feeling of tension, the same struggling against the fear that he might fail his fellows and himself. To-day, how-
ever, instead of tiers of seats filled with spectators, flaming with colors and echoing with school cheers, there was a flat plain under the rays of a setting sun and ringed around with hating, hateful faces. Instead of a silver cup, he was contending to-day for the lives of men; and instead of a foot-race with school-boys, he must match his courage and quickness of eye and hand against the grim, black giant who towered before him.
“Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”—down the centuries the words of that old Hebrew patriot seemed to ring in his ears.
As he approached the sultan the bodyguard surrounding him fell back at his signal, and the Great One, leaning on his spear, raised himself to his full height. For an instant the thin, earnest face of the slight boy stared up at the brutal countenance of the sultan lowering down at him. So might the boy David have faced the grim Goliath in that fateful valley of Elah three thousand years ago.
As the black chieftain leaned toward him, the boy saw the dull gleam of a golden chain
around a neck like the trunk of a tree, and a wave of despair swept over him. There seemed to be no possibility that he could reach up and snatch the amulet away from its giant owner; yet even while he despaired, he found himself moving forward until he could almost touch the huge, evil bulk before him. Then, with a quick gesture, he unfastened the folds of linen which held his offering and poured forth at the sultan’s feet a great spoil of the flaming plumage of the birds of paradise. Shimmering, gleaming like many-colored jewels, the feathers of these shooting-stars of the jungle glowed like fire from the ground in a mass of yolk-yellow, amber, dragon’s-blood red, saffron, blood-brown, pansy-violet, emerald, turquoise, Tyrian rose—there are not names enough to describe the coruscating colors of the mass which shimmered before the feet of the black ruler of Trobi and. Somewhere within his blood-stained soul was hidden a passion for sheer color and barbaric beauty which only those incomparable feather-skins could satiate. With a gasp of utter ecstasy, he stooped down and gathered the
gleaming treasure up into his great arms. As he did so, the circle of tiny gold links fell forward on a level with Fred’s shoulder, and the instant on which depended his own life and the lives of his friends had come!
Drawing a deep breath, he leaned forward. 8wift as the stroke of a striking snake, his right hand shot out and gripped the chain. Lifting it clear, he pulled it toward him with all his might. There was a snap and, as he swung back into position, there dangled from his clenched hand a package wrapped in oiled silk. With an instantaneous motion of his swift fingers, the boy tore this covering loose and grasped a mass of soft gold, in which was set a strange, pear-shaped egg with a shagreen surface of a dull crimson color. Enraptured over the skins of the birds of paradise, the sultan had not noticed the boy’s swift movement, and it was not until he felt the pressure and heard the snap of the breaking chain that he realized what had been done. With a shout of desperate rage, he straightened up and clutched his spear, while the great veins swelled on his forehead and
his bloodshot eyes glared madly at the boy before him. At the sight, Jud threw his rifle to his shoulder and drew a quick bead on the sultan’s forehead, although he knew all too well that the shot would be followed by the rush of a horde of maddened warriors. Even as the dark chief raised his spear and the finger of the old hunter started to tighten on the trigger, Fred saved the situation.
“Drop that spear,” he snapped sharply, “or I crush this egg and your life with it!”
For a moment the huge swarthy figure towered over him, every muscle knotted and tense with the wild lust of slaughter. Then as the sultan faced the boy’s unflinching eyes and saw his hand begin to tighten over the talisman, a great wave of fear and foreboding swept his rage away. For centuries the remnant of his race had ruled this alien people, and always, interwoven with their most sacred beliefs was the conviction that the future of their clan depended upon keeping uninjured the talisman of his race. No blow that he or his army might strike could prevent the closing of the boy’s hand, swift as the winking of
an eye. Greatly as he longed to kill the lad who had tricked him of his talisman, the fear of death outweighed even the blood-lust which surged through his veins. Lowering his spear, he signaled his body-guard and the army beyond to stand back, and in another minute the giant and the boy stood alone in the center of the great circle.
“Give me back the Luck of Trobiand,” he half-whispered, with the menace gone from his voice. “Give it back and your chief shall have the life of his servant.”
“He has that anyway,” returned Fred, steadily, “and I hold in my hands your life and your kingdom. It is not for you to make conditions, but for me to say what you are to do.”
There was a moment of tense silence, while the somber, murky eyes of the giant searched those of the boy. Slowly and reluctantly his gaze fell before them—and the battle was over.
“Speak,” he whispered sullenly.
“Send away your army and your witch-woman and listen to her no more,” ordered
the boy, rapidly. “Tell the people that our hunter goes free and that no one on pain of death shall lift his hand against us. Bring us back to the beach and show us where the yellow pearls may be found.”
“And then?” questioned the sultan in a low voice.
“When we find a pearl of the right size and color, then shall you send men to guide us across the marshes to the People of the Peaks—who await us,” finished Fred.
Involuntarily the Great One bent his head. “It was not told me that you had dealings with the mighty ones of the Peaks,” he said almost humbly. “My people guard their coasts, and once a year we send to the borders of their kingdom and meet there their mighty men. What you ask I will do—for why should there be enmity between your race and mine?” he went on fawningly. “After that, pledge me your word that the Talisman of Trobiand shall be given back to me.”
Fred hesitated. They breed good bargainers in the little hilltown of Cornwall, as any one who has ever lived there will testify,
and although there seemed to be no reason why the talisman should not be restored, Fred knew better than to pledge himself to anything before the time came.
“This far I will promise,” he said at last. “So long as you keep faith with us and do our bidding and stop hunting down innocent men with your witch-finders and rule this island well and wisely, the Luck of Trobiand shall be safe and remain unbroken.” And with this ultimatum, the boy turned away and walked back to his party with the deliberation and dignity of an emperor. A moment later the sonorous voice of the sultan was heard announcing to his people the result of the conference.
“These white strangers are men of might and magic and bear a message to the People of the Peaks for whom we guard this island,” he proclaimed. “They have brought with them skins of the Birds of Heaven, which will bring good fortune to this nation, and have proved to me that the serpent of my witch-finder was mistaken when it attacked their servant. By their magic they have freed me
from the sickness which was upon me. Any one who raises hand or voice against these mighty ones or their servants shall be cut in sunder, as was the serpent. It is enough,” he ended, in the ceremonial words of dismissal.
In an instant the ring which had surrounded the great field was broken. Part of the king’s body-guard conducted the white men and their followers back to the guest-house with a respect which had been lacking before, while the rest of the sultan’s retainers attended him as he strode sullenly back to the palace.
It was not until Captain Vincton and his companions were safe once more in the guest-house, with Bariri, Mateo, and Harun on guard outside, that they exchanged a word on what had happened. It was Will who spoke first.
“Great work, old Freddie,” he said, slapping the latter mightily on the back. “I knew you ’d come through all right!”
Captain Vincton removed his monocle and slowly shook the hand of the embarrassed boy. “I congratulate you and ourselves on your
courage and coolness under fire,” was all that he said.
Professor Amandus Ditson gripped Fred’s other hand. “The captain has expressed my feelings exactly,” he said, and his precise voice halted in the effort he made to control an emotion which he rarely showed.
No such restraint held Jud back. Throwing his wiry arms about Fred’s shoulders, he fairly hugged him.
“Tell us all about it, boy,” he half sobbed. “Ever since you saved old Negouac from the bull-walrus and stood by me when that old squid had me goin’, I’ve allers been willin’ to stake my life on you. I see you make a snatch at that black baby, but I could n’t tell whether you got the amulet or not,” he went on, patting Fred’s much smitten back affectionately. “When he lifted his spear, I thought it was all off; but he ’d of passed out the very first one of all,” continued the old man, his voice rising in his excitement.
When at last he got his breath, Fred told them the whole story, finishing up by showing
them the talisman, which he had tucked inside of his flannel shirt for safe-keeping.
“It would seem to me that with this we are all to the good, as you say in the States,” remarked
Captain Vincton, polishing his monocle and examining the amulet carefully. “We must plan some safe place to keep it, though, where we can get at it in a hurry if necessary,” he went on.
Not since he caught the new bird’s-wing butterfly had Professor Ditson shown so much excitement as he did when he held the Luck of Trobiand in his hand.
“Do—do—you—you realize,” he stuttered “that no white man has ever before seen the egg of the great bird of paradise? For many years, there has been a standing reward of a thousand dollars offered for one; and for over a century, ornithologists of a dozen different nations have searched for the nest, but it has never yet been reported. This egg,” he went on, gazing at it ecstatically, “is undoubtedly that of a bird of paradise, for it looks like a monster, strange-colored crow’s egg, and the birds of paradise are cousins of the crows. I
will take charge of it,” he continued firmly, “and will wear it night and day where no one will ever find Moreover,” he finished, turning to Fred, “that egg is never going back to the sultan. I’ll attend to that personally. The Smithsonian Institute is the safest place for his talisman and you tell him so—after we ’re safe aboard the prau.”
THE RED DIAMOND
Guarded by the faithful three, the white men slept late and the sun was well up in the sky before they sat down to breakfast in front of the guest-house the next morning. While they ate, a half-tame adjutant-bird, one of the scavengers of the village, came stalking along a narrow lane which ran between the huts of the natives. With his black-and-white plumage, bald head, and fishy eyes, he reminded the boys of a rather sinister old gentleman about four feet high in a black tail-coat and white shirt-front stalking along with his hands behind his back. As he moved, the bird made a hungry, grating note, like a rusty saw cutting through wood, and snapped up with his long spear-like beak any fragment of food which he could find.
All at once, from around a corner of one of
the huts, appeared a tiny boy carrying a string of small fish, which he had evidently just caught in the lagoon. As he moved along, with his little round shaved head and fringe of black hair, he looked like a Japanese doll out for a walk. At the sight of his catch, the adjutant-bird, which overtopped him by several inches, hurried up and made vicious jabs with its powerful beak at the dangling fish, one of which landed on the little chap’s bare, fat leg. With a howl of terror, the boy hastily pulled a fish from the forked stick on which they were strung, threw it as far away as he could, and promptly scuttled off toward the distant hut where he evidently lived. With a few quick strides, the adjutant-bird reached the fish, lifted it from the ground, and, with a tremendous gulp, bolted it down whole. Then, with flapping wings and striding legs, it hurried after the fleeing boy, overtaking him before he had gone very far. Once again he sacrificed another fish for safety. Once again the big bird swallowed it and hurried after him for more. This was kept up until only one, the largest fish of the
half-dozen, was left. To this one the little fellow clung desperately, but after a few sharp pecks from the pursuing bird, flung that away too and burst into tears, screwing his round little fists into both eyes quite as an American child might have done. It was not until Fred hurried out to him and brought him back to breakfast that he would be comforted. As he sat among them, enthroned on a camp-chair, alternately smiling with pleasure and glaring fiercely at the greedy adjutant-bird which still stalked about seeking for what he might devour, the same squat, swart chieftain who had met the party on their arrival at the island came to the guest-house with a body-guard of twenty picked warriors. At the sight of the child his grim face softened, and with a single motion of his powerful arm, he drew the child to him. The little boy nestled against his shoulder.
“They be good men, O my father,” he said in the native dialect. “They saved me from the bad old bird and have given me many pleasant things to eat.”
A moment later the little fellow, both hands
filled with lump-sugar, started once more for his hut, scowling ferociously at the adjutant-bird as he passed it.
For the first time since they had met, the chief spoke to Captain Vincton with real friendliness and announced that, by the sultan’s orders, he had been sent to conduct the party first to the pearl-beds and afterward to the Hidden City of the People of the Peak.
Although scarcely five feet high, his enormous shoulders and long sinewy arms showed him to be a man of unusual strength, while the merciless fierceness of his face indicated the qualities which had led to his selection by the sultan as the general of his army.
“His name is Jentel and he is a very great fighter,” announced Bariri.
“That may be his name,” objected Jud, who had been studying the chief, “but he don’t look it.”
So rapid was the return march that by noon Captain Vincton’s party and his escort were again at the harbor of the island, where they had left the boat and diving equipment. The little craft was soon anchored out beyond the
surf at a point where the tidal currents had scoured the sandy bottom clean, for the pearl-oyster is rarely found with other shells. Then, after leaving instructions as to signals and the use of the air-pump, Jud crawled into the diving-suit, his helmet was bolted fast, and he was lowered fifteen fathoms through the shimmering green water. Hardly had he reached the bottom before there came a triple pull, repeated on his lifeline,—the signal of distress,—and a few moments later the old man was once more on the deck of the boat panting for breath.
“My heart ain’t so young as it used to be,” he gasped. “It won’t stand the pressure of fifteen fathom.”
For a moment no one spoke.
“Let me go down,” said Will, suddenly. “I used to dive pretty well and my heart ’s all right.”
Captain Vincton looked inquiringly at Jud.
“I guess he can do it all right if he ’s careful,” said the old man, slowly. “Now, boy, you listen and don’t forget a word of what I’m tellin’ you,” he went on impressively. “There
ain’t nothin’ dependin’ on it except your life. If you want to stop, pull once on your life-line; to be let down, twice; to come up, three times. If you get too much air, pull once on the hose; if you don’t get enough, twice. If a shark comes around, shoot some bubbles at him from the exhaust of your hose. If a rock-cod, groper some call ’em, comes foolin’ around, go up ahout twenty feet. They can’t see very far and they never follow a man. Before you go down, wash your hands with this soap,” and he passed the boy a cake of white soap which had been packed with the diving outfit.
“What ’s that for,” inquired Will.
“Sometimes a rock-cod will nose around a diver,” explained his friend. “If he sniffs his naked hands, he ’ll nibble them off, so it pays to have ’em clean before you go down.”
Will shook his head reproachfully. “Nothing to that kind of talk,” he said. “I’ve seen rock-cod many a time. None of them grow big enough to bite a man’s hands off.”
“Bill,” responded the old trapper, grimly, “if you meet one of the rock-cod which swim
these seas, you ’ll change your mind.” And without further words, he helped the boy put on the diving-suit.
With its waterproof body, it was like squeezing into a pair of rubber boots running clear to one’s chin. With the help of the others, Jud fitted on Will’s feet a pair of thirty-pound iron shoes, set a heavy copper collar around his neck, and slipped about his waist a belt weighted with a hundred pounds of lead. Underneath his arms was fastened the life-line, and beside it trailed the hose through which the air on which his life depended was to be pumped. Last of all a copper helmet with three goggle glass eyes, one in front and one on each side, was fitted over his head and screwed down.
A moment later they helped Will over the side of the boat; there was a roar in his ears, a flash of silvery bubbles, and very slowly, so as to allow for the change in pressure, he sank through the gleaming water, feeling light as a feather in spite of his heavy weighted suit. All sound ceased as if it had never been, and the water seemed like a vast crystal block of
changing greens, lune-green, viridium, malachite, emerald-until ten fathoms below the surface all the tints seemed to blend into a deep and lovely cypress-green.
As he moved steadily down through the clear water, schools of tropical fish flashed and hovered all about him like brilliant birds in the air. Never had the boy imagined that such gorgeous creatures lived below the surface of the sea.
Turquoise parrot-fish swam side by side with cardinal fish of a dazzling crimson color, or fled away from tarpon which gleamed like molten silver as they shot through the water. Pale-pearl moon-fish, yellow amber-jacks, clove-black butterfly-fish with golden fins, resplendent angel-fish, hog-fish which changed their colors like chameleons, and scores of others flashed and lazed through the warm, gleaming water. For the most part they disregarded entirely the black, grotesque figure which sank through their ranks on its way to the bottom. A sinister-looking fish some eight feet in length was an exception. Slim and stripped for speed, it looked like a
gigantic pike, with its undershot jaw filled with keen, double-edged teeth, and as it came near, Will recognized the dreaded barracuda, which is feared more than a shark by the natives, since it is swifter and can deliver its slashing bite without turning over on its back. Like a flash the sea-tiger rushed upon Will, its daggered jaws gaping wide. A feeling of terrible helplessness came over the boy. Even if he signaled to be drawn up, he could be quickly overtaken by this speed-king of the sea whose attack might easily sever the lifeline, which alone could bring him back to the surface, or cut the hose on which he depended for air and leave him to stifle slowly to death sixty feet under water. For a moment, under the instant danger and the water-pressure, which at that depth was some eighty tons, his mind seemed in a daze, nor did it clear until the great fish was so close upon him that he could see the fixed, brassy stare of its crystal-gold eyes. Just in time he remembered Jud’s instructions in regard to dealing with sharks, and turning his helmet so that its escape-valve pointed directly toward the bar-
racuda, he suddenly blew toward the fish a string of air-bubbles which gleamed like fire as they shot through the water. At the sight of them, the barracuda checked his speed, hovered for an instant like some huge bird of prey, and then, as the flaming shower approached him, turned tail and flashed away to return no more.
Down and down the boy wavered through the shimmering water until at last his feet reached the hard white sand at the ocean bottom. There the tug of the tide pulled him forward in spite of his weighted suit, so that he had to prop himself with the iron-tipped stick which he carried as he slowly made his way toward the silvery gleam of pearl-shell which showed in the distance.
Beside him in the dim light of the deep water loomed a reef of dark rock fringed with masses of waving, richly colored seaweed. As he stared at the wall towering over his head, it was like looking into some underwater jungle where great madrepores thrust themselves up like trees out of tangled thickets of sea-anemones, coral, and waving seaweed.
Suddenly, from out of the shadowed depths of the reef, a vast dark shape moved slowly toward him, and the boy found himself looking into the goggling eyes of a codfish-such a cod, however, as he had never realized could exist. Its scales were as large as a man’s hand, and from the end of its blunt head to the tip of its forked tail was a good ten feet, while its jaws could easily engulf a full-grown man.
Before Will could move, the giant fish edged its way slowly toward him and, rubbing its enormous bulk against his helmet, pushed him back and forth through the water as if he were a doll. As the huge muzzle of the monster nosed him over, its gaping jaws showed blunt teeth four inches long, one nibble of which would take his hands off as cleanly as if sheered through by the iron jaws of a steam-dredge. Will hoped desperately that the scrubbing which they had undergone would keep the deadly creature from scenting them. Then, remembering Jud’s advice, he gave a single quick tug on his life-line and was hauled up some thirty feet through the water before he gave the signal to stop. The
groper’s staring, near-sighted eyes were not able to see him at that distance and, true to form, the rock-cod did not try to follow him as he disappeared from its sight. There Will stayed, floating well above it until its black bulk drifted back among the underwater thickets of the reef. Not until then did he signal his friends at the surface once again to lower him to the bottom.
Then bending forward against the tide as a man might walk against a high wind, he moved along the hard white sand of the ocean bed toward a spot where a group of half-open pearl-oysters showed gleams of their mother-of-pearl linings. Here and there were boulders of different sizes, all alike overhung and fringed with sea growth. As he hurried along he skirted the edge of a long, flat-topped ledge from which, like wreaths of colored mist, masses of waving water-weed streamed, entirely covering the surface of the sea-floor for several feet on each side of the rocks. If Will had been an experienced diver, he never would have set foot in this colored cloud without first exploring its depths with his diver’s
staff; but as it was, he hurried forward waist-deep in the floating weed. At his third step he felt beneath his right foot the touch of a tough, slippery mass; there was a snap like a sprung trap, a sickening, grinding pain, and he stood with his right leg engulfed above the knee between the fluted three-foot shells of a giant clam which had been gaping wide beneath the weed.
Only the fact that leaden weights hung above his knees on each side of both legs kept the flinty shells from breaking his bones, so tremendous was their grip. Clutching his iron-shod staff, Will tried to break them and release his prisoned leg. The valves were over an inch thick even at their edges and hard as flint, and with his light stick he had about as much of a chance of breaking them as of battering in the chrome-steel sides of a battle-ship. Moreover, the mighty mollusk weighed some five hundred pounds and was too heavy and too firmly anchored to admit of Will’s being hauled up clam and all.
As he stopped his efforts to break the shell, he realized that the unaccustomed pressure
of the depths was having its effect upon him. A constant clanging, as of deep-toned bells, throbbed in his ears; the beating of his heart seemed like the ticking of some gigantic clock, while the scratching of a grain of sand in the air-valve of his diving-suit irritated him almost beyond endurance. Drops of perspiration ran down his face behind his helmet and he longed inexpressibly to be able to wipe them off. Then a tiny fly, which unfortunately had been enclosed in his helmet, began to buzz around his head and alight now and again on his nose, his forehead, and his chin. With nerves tensed by the pressure, it almost seemed to him that he would willingly unscrew the helmet and let the waters of death rush in upon him rather than endure that buzzing fly any longer. Then all petty torments were forgotten in the agony from the pressure of the gripping grooved valves of the huge clam. Never had Will imagined such pain as rushed like a burst of flame through his tortured body. With a desperate effort, he finally managed to thrust the iron-pointed, knife-edged end of his staff between the crush-
ing shells, and stabbed it deep again and again into the soft mass within, but without loosening in the least the grip which held him so fatally fast. Finally, the sharp edge of his diver’s staff came against the hinge of the shell, a column of tough muscle as large around as a man’s leg. Setting his teeth grimly and fighting off the unconsciousness which threatened to engulf him, the boy sawed away at the leathery muscle for his very life’s sake. The edge of the staff was neither very sharp nor yet very wide, and it soon became a race as to whether he would be able to cut through the tough column before he became unconscious. Just as a black cloud seemed about to overwhelm him, the boy felt the fibers of the vast muscle begin to loosen, and sawed on desperately until, with a click, the end of his staff cut clear through the hinge and struck the side of the shell beyond. Then, as the grim trap which had brought him so nearly to his death gaped open, he drew out his bruised and throbbing leg and signaled to be drawn up. Just as his life-line tightened, his eye caught a strange gleam at the edge of
The boy sawed away at the leathery muscle for his very life’s sake
the fringed mantle of flesh which lined the inside of the shell. Even as he shot upward, the boy clutched a smooth, shimmering object as large as a small marble which in the green shadowed depths seemed to glow with a soft golden light. There in his hand gleamed such a pearl as Will had never imagined could exist in any of the seven seas.
A minute later, half-conscious, but still clinging to the treasure of the depths, he was lifted into the boat and freed from the prisoning diving-suit.
After he had recovered enough to tell them the story of what had happened sixty feet below the surface, Captain Vincton examined the pearl almost reverently.
“Once in a life-time,” he said at last, “a pearl is found in one of those giant clams. Almost always it is a wonder, but this one goes beyond anything I have ever heard of in the Far East. Whether we get the Red Diamond or not, he went on, “we have a golden pearl such as no man has seen in twice two hundred years.”
A week later Captain Vincton’s little band,
guided by Jentel and his retinue, followed a hidden trail through the jungle toward where the triple peaks, which the natives had named the “Sisters,” towered in the distance. Toward the middle of the second afternoon, as they reached the foothills of the mountains, three white-robed figures suddenly appeared ahead of them around a bend in the trail. On the instant Jentel halted his party and his hand shook as he pointed to the strangers.
“These be Great Ones sent from the People of the Peaks,” he whispered. “Let no man move forward until they come.”
Slowly the strangers approached the waiting group. As they came nearer it was evident that they were all old men. One had a long white beard which gave him a singularly venerable appearance, while the clean-shaven faces of the others showed deep lines of stern self-control and thought. Only when they were close at hand was a surprising fact evident.
“They ’re white as we are!” muttered Captain Vincton to Professor Ditson, who nodded as he looked at the ruddy faces, blue eyes, and
straight noses of the strangers. Raising his hand commandingly, the eldest of the trio stepped forward and spoke a few words in a singularly musical language whose accented vowels and sharply cadenced syllables were in marked contrast to the slurring, clicking dialect used by Jentel and his people.
Then a strange thing happened. As the old man began to speak Professor Ditson, with an air of astonishment, unconsciously moved toward him. Then, to the amazement of his companions, the scientist answered him hesitatingly in the same language. As he listened to Professor Ditson ’s words a smile so transformed the stern face of the patriarch that he looked like some hermit of old, welcoming to the wilderness a company of would-be disciples, and he raised his hands as if blessing the sound of the golden tongue which he had feared was forgotten on earth by all save his nation.
Once more the old man spoke; once more Professor Ditson answered and then pushed Will to the front.
“Show him the pearl,” he whispered. “He
asks if we have brought the Pearl of Peace.”
At the word the boy drew out from an inside pocket a little buckskin bag from which he took out his deep-sea treasure and, at a sign from Professor Ditson, dropped it into the outstretched hand of the old man before him, where it shimmered like a moonbeam. With little exclamations of delight, the other two strangers crowded close to their leader and, passing the pearl from hand to hand, studied it carefully. Then with a gesture almost of benediction, the spokesman of the three returned it to Will and, stepping aside, spoke to his companions.
As he spoke, Will and the rest of the party turned in bewilderment to Professor Ditson for an explanation.
“When I was at Yale thirty-five years ago,” he said, “we had a professor of Greek nicknamed ‘Tommy’ Goddell. Tommy used to make me translate classical Greek by sound and afterward put the English translation back into Greek.”
“Most interestin’,” broke in Jud, impatiently, “but what ’s all this got to do with
your talkin’ to these people in their own language?”
“Simply that these men speak the same kind of Greek I used to read at college,” returned the scientist, “and, thanks to my old professor’s system, I remembered enough of it to understand and answer them. They say that they can take only two of us into their city. The finder of the pearl is to be one, and they are trying to make up their minds as to who the other one shall be.”
As Professor Ditson finished speaking, the Fates who rule the jungle decided that question in their own way. From a near-by thicket, there came a roaring bellow and a crashing of trees and underbrush, as if an elephant were smashing his way toward the little group on the trail.
“Seladang! seladang!” shouted a score of voices, and Jentel and his band scattered like a covey of quail, followed by all of the others save one. Some plunged into near-by thickets; others swarmed up trees or went up lianas hand over hand like monkeys, until almost before the echoes of the shout had died
away, every man there had followed the example of the jungle dwellers who had learned from bitter and blood-stained experience that, in dealing with the seladang, life or death is a matter of seconds. Largest of all the animals of the Far East save only the elephant, this jungle buffalo is said, by the natives who have hunted both, to be the stronger as he certainly is the fiercer of the two. Possessed of incredible craft and malignancy, the seladang is dreaded, by Malays and Dyaks alike, even more than that cruel demon of the jungle the royal tiger himself.
The next instant, smashing through the trunks of close-set trees as if they had been stubble, an enormous chocolate-colored beast with great horns stood in the trail, glaring around out of wicked, crimson-flecked eyes. A long fringe of shaggy hair dangled from his throat, and at his shoulders he stood higher than the tallest man; yet in spite of his bulk and weight, he moved so swiftly and lightly that it seemed impossible that any one on the ground could evade his attack.
As the monster stood pawing the turf with
his wide, razor-edged hoofs, his cruel eyes caught sight of the white robe of the patriarch from the hidden city, who had made no attempt to escape, but stood in the middle of the trail calmly regarding him. Whirling with a speed which it seemed impossible for such a huge bulk to attain, the great brute lowered his curved black horns, sharp and pointed as spears, and rushed down upon the old man like an avalanche. The aged leader never moved, though he faced what seemed certain death, but looked at the charging seladang with a certain calm dignity, as if he knew himself to be above and beyond the dangers which other men needed to fear.
Snorting through his wide nostrils, his deep-set little eyes gleaming like rubies, the raging brute hurled himself toward the unmoved stranger. At the request of Jentel, the white men had left their guns behind when they stepped forward to confer with the ambassadors from the City of the Peaks, and it seemed as if no power on earth could save the stranger from a terrible death. Suddenly, from behind a tree-trunk just back of the
charging buffalo, Fred’s lithe figure slipped into view. Running as he had never run before, the boy reached the seladang’s flank and drawing the well-balanced barong which Harun had taught him to wear, he cut the hamstrings of the maddened creature when he was almost upon the white-robed figure. With a crash the animal pitched forward, bellowing with rage, and though he could use only his forelegs, struggled desperately to reach the old man who stood a few feet away regarding this helpless fury with the same calm with which he had faced his charge. A moment later the savage beast’s life went out under the swift strokes of Jentel’s body-guard, who rushed upon him from their hiding-places as soon as they saw that he was down.
The venerable leader pointed commandingly toward Fred and spoke in his own language to Professor Ditson, who had just emerged painfully from the middle of a mimosa bush, bristling with long white thorns.
“He says that Fred and the finder of the Golden Pearl are to go with him to the City of the Peaks,” he announced.
“Suppose they don’t come back,” objected Jud.
“I ’ll take a chance,” said Fred, suddenly, looking with a certain awe into the majestic face of the white-haired stranger.
“So ’ll I,” agreed Will.
As they spoke, the old man looked at them with a smile which transfigured his whole face and increased the trust which they already had begun to feel in him.
“When do they go?” inquired Jud.
“At once,” returned Professor Ditson. “The way to the city is through a great cave into which this trail runs. We are to make camp and wait for them here until they come back with the Red Diamond.”
“Them boys need me to go along and keep ’em out of trouble,” grumbled Jud. “You tell your friend Elijah or Jeremiah the Prophet or whoever he is that if they ain’t back in three days, Judson Adams, Esquire, one rifle, and a hundred ’cartridges is comm’ after ’em.”
For a few rods farther the trail ran straight. Then it turned at right angles toward the
mountain-side and disappeared in the depths of a yawning cavern. Here the three from the hidden city and the two boys left the rest of the party. As Will and Fred waved good-by, the last glimpse they had of the outer world before they entered the cave was the sight of the intent faces of their friends half-doubtfully watching them disappear into the darkness of the cave.
Straight ahead without a pause the three envoys guided them along a path which led ever upward through the darkness. At last, after they had been traveling over an hour, a luminous glow showed in the far distance; the path widened into a vaulted aisle whose sides were of gleaming white stone fretted by the action of water into lace-work patterns, while stalactites hung from the groined ceiling and stalagmites thrust themselves up in columned rows beside the way. At the end of the long passage, massive doors of carved alabaster barred with shimmering silver swung open at the approach of the white-bearded leader, who strode ahead of the others as some cardinal of old might lead a procession into his cathedral.
For a moment the boys were dazzled with the light which streamed out from the vast temple which towered before them. Partly hollowed out of solid marble by the action of water through tens of thousands of years, it had been completed by the work of such architects and sculptors as had made Greece glorious in her Golden Age. From every corner shot up columns of tossing flame ten feet high, lighted jets of natural gas, whose wavering light gleamed like gold over the frozen white beauty of the great cathedral. At the far end on a high marble throne, which was surrounded by gleaming stalactites until it seemed suspended in air, sat a colossal figure. Originally it must have been a single column of sky-white chalcedony stretching from the floor of this natural temple clear to its arched ceiling. From this mass some eminent sculptor of the long ago had carved a reproduction of the statue of Zeus, the king of the gods of ancient Greece, which Phidias had wrought out of ivory and gold to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Through the silence and the beauty of that
vaulted temple the three men led the boys until they stood before the huge statue carved from the gleaming stone and looked up into the mighty face in which that sculptor of old time had embodied his ideal of beauty, nobility, and immortality. As they stared up into the deathless face above them, Will felt the truth of what he had once read in Plutarch—that no man could look into the face of the Zeus of Phidias without being a better man all the days of his life. One hand lay with open palm on the knee of the great figure before them. Urged on by the signs of their guides, Will moved forward until he could look into the hollow of that mighty hand. There, glittering like fire in the shifting light, in shape and size like the half of a hen’s egg, glowed a gem such as neither boy had ever imagined could be found on earth. Coruscating like a live coal or a mass of petrified flame, and containing in its gleaming depths the very essence of color, the Red Diamond blazed before them. At a signal from the leader of the three, Will drew forth the treasure which he had won from the sea and, taking the flame-
red jewel from out of the carven hand, laid in its place the yellow pearl, which glowed like the moon in the shadow of the great palm. At last the Red Diamond was won. How it came to New York and the new quest that sent the boys half-way across the world again—well, that ’s another story too.