Saturday, 18 May 2013
A French Legend based on the original story by Anatole France
GLOBE-DEMOCRAT SUNDAY MAGAZINE, DECEMBER 25, 1966
Many years ago in France, there lived a poor juggler named Barnabas who went through the towns and cities performing tricks of strength and skill. Crowds that would gather in the streets and market places to watch him tossed coins which enabled him to earn his bread.
Barnabas was a great performer. He could throw himself backwards until his neck touched his heels, his body forming a perfect wheel, and in that position juggle twelve knives. He was known all over the country. Nevertheless, he had a hard time earning his livelihood by the sweat of his brow. He carried more than his share of the miseries attached to the sin of Adam. He could not work as much as he wished and in winter he suffered from cold and hunger. But because his heart was simple, he suffered his ills in patience.
He lived honestly, soberly, never taking God's name in vain. Barnabas was not inclined toward material things and he had a simple prayer he would say before the image of the Mother of God:
"Madame, take care of my life until it may please God that I shall die, and when I die let me have the joys of paradise"
One cold, rainy night he was walking along a road seeking a barn that he might use for sleeping when he met a monk who befriended him and convinced him it was more noble to spend his life working for God in a monastery than being a juggler. Thus Barnabas became a monk. In the priory he became aware of the many devoted men, each contributing his skill, learning and service to the glory of God. Some composed books, others copied them with a learned hand on leaves of vellum, others carved great and beautiful statues and still others executed magnificent paintings and composed poems and hymns. At Christmas the monks would bring their finest works and offer them as gifts to God. Seeing such competition, Barnabas lamented his ignorance and simplicity.
"Alas" he sighed while alone, "I am not able, like my brothers, to offer much in praise to God and His Blessed Mother. I am a rough and artless man." He was sad indeed and forlorn.
One night when the monks were conversing, he heard one of them relate the story of a religious who could recite nothing but the Ave Maria. This monk was disdained for his ignorance; but when he died five roses came out of his mouth in honor of the five letters in the name of Maria, and thus his simplicity was manifested.
While he listened to this tale, Barnabas admired once more the kindness of Mary, the Mother of God; but he was not consoled by the example of that death, for his heart was full of zeal and he wished to serve the glory of God. He sought the means of doing this but failed and his affliction increased day by day. But one morning, he awoke joyfully, ran to the chapel and stayed there alone for more than an hour.
Each day after this, he visited the chapel at an hour when it was deserted and passed there a great part of his time. He was no longer sad and no longer complained.
His behavior was soon thought curious by the Prior and the Elders and they decided to watch Barnabas in the solitude of the chapel. They saw him through the cracks in the doors before the altar, head downward, his feet in the air, juggling with six copper balls and twelve knives. He was doing for God those professional feats which had pleased his audiences most and provided the greatest applause.
Not comprehending that this simple man was offering his only talent and learning to God, the Elders thought it a sacrilege. The Prior knew that Barnabas's heart was innocent but thought he had fallen into insanity. They were preparing to drag him from the chapel when they saw Mary, the Mother of God descend the stairs of the altar, take her blue mantle and wipe the perspiration from Barnabas's forehead.
The Prior witnessing this, fell to his knees and said:
"Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God"
"Amen,” replied the Elders, kissing the earth.
Tuesday, 14 May 2013
In the depths of swamp and jungle in Unknown Africa, CAPTAIN JUSTICE and his Comrades are prepared for everything but—Cannibals, black and hungry ones at that!
By MURRAY ROBERTS
[Part 4 of 12] [Part 1 here]
The Modern Boy magazine 28 July 1934, No. 338, Vol. 13. Contributed by Keith Hoyt; digitized by Doug Frizzle, May 2013.
Midge Gets a Bite!
“STEADY, Len! Haul the wind another point—so! Good enough—make fast!"
Looking back over one partly bare brown shoulder with eyes red-rimmed and swollen by the heat, studying the little catspaws of wind that ruffled the oily surface of the water, Captain Justice issued the orders in his customary quiet, firm manner.
And as Len Connor obediently hauled on the starboard sheet and altered the set of the tiny improvised sail, the castaways' raft swung sluggishly on to its new course.
A strange craft it was that bore the famous Gentleman Adventurer and his four comrades across the glossy bosom of that wide, unnamed African rive r, winding through swamps and jungles in the shadow of gigantic mountains. A clumsy, crazy affair, but the best the luckless adventurers could contrive with the few materials and the one single-bladed knife they possessed between them.
Eight rotting logs, partially hollowed out by destructive white ants, formed the hull of the raft, and these had been deftly and strongly lashed together by cords cut from the parachutes under which Justice & Co. had made their forced descent into the wilderness. The small lug-sail, set on a stumpy "mast," had been fashioned out of parachute fabric.
Leafy branches, jammed end-on into the crevices between the logs and interlaced with tough, rubbery vines, acted as a picturesque and highly necessary awning against the rays of the afternoon sun.
The raft looked like a floating patch of vegetation detached from some larger mass, and liable to become waterlogged at any moment.
But under Justice's guidance the cumbersome craft continued to bear them away from the jungle deathtrap into—what? None of them knew exactly. The five comrades could only hope for the best.
On the south bank of the river, half a mile away, stretches of green-black swamp steamed in the heat—the home of crocodiles, mosquitoes, and twisted mangroves. And beyond bulked the dense masses of the jungle, dark, mysterious, deadly. Over twenty-four hours Justice & Co.had spent amid the stifling, fever-haunted glades, and the experience still lay heavy upon them, like the memory of a bad dream.
But now that evil region lay behind them. For every second on the river was bringing the castaways nearer to the north bank, above which towered the unknown mountains. Save for a narrow fringe of trees and grasses skirting their base, these colossal heights rose sheer and majestic from the water, banking upwards in superb array until the fanged summits were lost in the heat-haze that dimmed the tropic sky.
Huge and formidable though the ramparts appeared, Captain Justice & Co. nevertheless regarded them as a sort of Promised Land, after the ghastly confinement and lurking perils of the bush. Fierce animals and fiercer tribes might dwell among the mountains, but up there they would at least stand some chance of sighting danger before it overtook them; of finding clear, pure water, and breathing air uncontaminated by germs of malaria and other dread diseases. Already the gentle breezes wafting down from the heights fanned .their streaming faces and limbs, and set the raft slop-slopping along at a faster gait.
Captain Justice, leaving Len in charge of navigation, stared hopefully up at the mountain-wall. Not long now, he mused, switching his gaze to the low-lying banks. He sighed wearily; then, his glance falling on his legs and feet, he scowled.
His scarecrow appearance, and, worse still, the knowledge that he could do little as yet to improve it, filled him with disgust.
Gone now was the once-immaculate man who made a fetish of spruceness and cleanliness. Justice's pointed beard was bristly and unkempt, scratches and cuts scored his sinewy back and shoulders where they showed through the remnants of his pyjama-jacket, while torn, mud-caked pyjama-trousers arid shooting boots were all that covered his nether limbs. Nor were his comrades in any better plight.
Without food, water, or any equipment, the five had been cast adrift by a pitiless enemy from an aeroplane, in their pyjamas and without weapons, to float down on parachutes. Thus they were marooned in this unexplored jungle—doomed to death by starvation, fever, or wild beasts, and all to satisfy a madman's craze for vengeance!
Xavier Kuponos, the renegade Greek gun-runner and slaver, was the fiend who had designed this ghastly plan of revenge, carrying it out with diabolical thoroughness and cunning. The castaways were lost; buried so deeply in this unmapped stretch of the African wilds that not even Justice could do more than guess at their present position.
ALL five had long abandoned hope of rescue by their loyal followers in the great airship Flying Cloud. Only their own toughness, nerve, and resource had enabled them to survive and keep their peckers up so far.
On the other side of the raft huddled Professor Flaznagel, the world-famous scientist and inventor, patiently plaiting wide, floppy hats out of the heap of rushes beside him. From conducting delicate and astounding experiments in his marvellously equipped workshops to hat-making on a wild African jungle-river was a far cry for such a genius. Yet the gallant old scientist, worn out and still feeling the effects of his gruelling parachute jump into the jungle, stuck to his task with characteristic skill and determination.
He, too, wore the remains of a silk pyjama-suit. His feet were encased in sandals made of parachute harness, and a soiled bandage covered his shaggy mane of white hair.
Next to him, in the centre of the raft, squatted the genial, bald-headed Irish heavy-weight, Dr. O'Mally, Justice's second-in-command, puffing in the heat, but keeping a watchful eye on young Midge. And that chirpy, red-haired youngster, hungry and optimistic as ever, was fishing!
Midge's line was a length of parachute cord. His hook consisted of a big thorn, and for bait he was using a piece of very dead and very smelly lizard.
Turning a deaf ear to Len's chaff and O'Mally's advice, Midge had been endeavouring to catch a meal for the past half-hour—without success.
Suddenly, as Justice passed another quiet-spoken order to Len, the words were drowned by a triumphant howl.
"A bite! Gotcher!" yelled Midge, rising excitedly to his knees as a scaly form flashed green, gold, and silver on the surface of the river. Eagerly he hauled in his line, his pinched, freckled face aglow with enthusiasm. Len and O'Mally greeted the event with derisive cheers.
But the diminutive youngster's luck was still out.
Right against the raft there came a violent swirl in the water. A hideous snout appeared, and there came the clash of savage jaws and an ugly grunt as another fisherman snapped at the prize. Next moment the line broke. Midge promptly fell over backwards, performing a complete somersault before finishing up with both feet in O'Mally's face.
"Och, misery and murder!" bellowed the startled Irishman, shoving him off vigorously. "Away with ye, ye clumsy little pest! Sure, you've flattened my nose entirely!"
"Blow your silly nose!" snorted the pugnacious and exasperated Midge, glaring around for the marauder that had robbed him. "Sufferin' cats, did you see that? A real whopper—the biggest fish I've ever hooked! What snaffled it? What blinkin' bandit grabbed my fish?"
"One of the gentry who own all the fishing rights in this river," Len replied dryly, jerking a significant thumb towards the crocodile swamps. "Never mind. Have another shot, and yank the next one out quicker."
"I'll bet there won't be any next one!" grunted Midge, though he hastily threw over a second line, freshly baited. Moodily he watched the hook sink. Ten seconds later a tremendous tug on the line wiped the boy's scowl away as by magic.
" 'Nother bite!" he yelled. "Quick, everyone—shout like mad! Jump in the river, doc, and scare the crocs away! By thunder, I'll land this one!"
Which the youthful fisherman did. Wasting no time in "playing" his catch, Midge lay back on his line, and, with O'Mally's help, unscientifically but successfully yanked a second monster from the river—a rainbow-coloured beauty, with crimson-spotted gills and lashing tail. For several moments it flapped and twisted all over the craft before Justice ended its struggles with a well-aimed jab.
Jubilantly Midge thumbed his nose in the direction of the swamps.
"Bats! Stung you that time!" he crowed.
As the youngster stooped to pick up his prey, Dr. O'Mally collared it, neatly sliced it open, and made a brief examination before passing the fish over to Flaznagel. The latter, after inspecting it, frowned and shrugged. Next instant Midge nearly exploded with wrath as his hard-won prize was tossed back into the water!
"Hey! What the—why the——My fish!" he howled, staring blankly at the ripples.
"Poisonous as strychnine!" grunted O'Mally; and that, for Midge, was the last straw. Clutching at his fiery locks, the boy stamped about till the raft rocked again.
"Weepin' willows, what a country!" he spluttered. "Suffering cats, if only I had my hands on the swab who dumped us down here! If Mister Botten Kuponos was here I'd bait my blinkin' hooks with him! Moaning moggies, I'd—"
Captain Justice, turning from another survey of the north bank, interrupted the raging Midge with a quick but soothing gesture.
"Never mind the fish, lad—we'll be hunting better food soon. And never mind Xavier Kuponos, either, for we'll get even with that skunk one day!" he added, with a sudden, fierce glint in his eyes. "Meanwhile, here's a good spot to land at last."
Justice rose, one arm outstretched.
"Haul up again, Len!" he commanded cheerily. "Now, lads, out poles, and stand by to get ashore!"
A Sinister Sentinel!
THE castaways jumped to their feet, Midge, O'Mally, and Justice himself snatching up the long and fairly straight saplings which the captain had laboriously hacked off and sharpened at one end.
These they plied vigorously while Len tended the sail, driving the butts deep into the soft river-bed as the water shoaled. Thus propelled, the raft swung about, and began gurgling and clucking its tardy way into the mouth of a V-shaped inlet that cut back shore-wards between banks of reed-crowned mud.
"Let go the sheets, Len! Keep your eyes open, everyone!" snapped Justice presently, as the heavily laden craft fouled a submerged snag. Weeds rustled the side, a swarm of whining insects whirled into the air. "Shove, O'Mally—now your side, Midge! Good man! E-easy, all!"
To the last strenuous thrust of the punt-poles the raft eased itself over a small mud-bar and drifted on slowly of its own accord. The crew, leaning on their staves, wiped the sweat from their eyes, the better to study the landfall ahead.
A shelf of noisome mud, sun-baked on top but treacherously soft underneath, divided the shoal-water from the bank. As the raft approached, slimy, iridescent river-snakes wriggled out of sight, and a small flock of flamingoes rose leisurely from the weeds on rose-tinted wings, trailing their dangling legs behind them.
Midge watched them hungrily, a pensive look crossing his face as he saw the great birds settle again not far away, until the sudden jar as the raft barged into the mud turned his thoughts to more immediate problems.
Beyond the oozy margin the bank of the river rose steeply. But in Midge's judgment at least there was no need to jump from the raft and risk a fall back into the mire. For close to the brink the willowy trees grew thickly, and, as usual, their drooping branches were festooned by vines that dangled into the water like brightly twisted ropes.
"Yo-heave-ho! Here's where we do a grand trapeze act and swing ourselves safely ashore!" remarked the youngster, and he reached out with his pole to hook one of the pliant creepers nearer.
A split second later—swish!
With terrific force something whistled past his red head! A frantic hand jerked him backwards, and Captain Justice's voice rang out, sharp with loathing and alarm.
"Look out! Duck—lie flat!"
Midge's blood froze as though liquid ice had been injected into his veins. Even as he fell prostrate, he caught a glimpse of a vicious triangular head darting through the air at the end of a long, supple, spotted body. Again Justice's stave lashed out, the shrill whistle of the stroke ending in a soggy thwack, and Len, whipping up Midge's pole, hastened to his leader's aid.
Desperately the pair struck and struck again at the writhing python, slashing into it with blows that would have cracked a man's skull. But all the effect they had was to make the battered serpent recoil on to its branch. Sluggishly it hauled itself higher into the trees until only the rustle of leaves marked its sinuous passage.
Satisfied that the terrible foe had been beaten off, Captain Justice sank down on the raft, exhausted by the heat and the mad activity of the last awful seconds.
Midge was almost overcome by the narrowness of his escape. So perfect was the python's protective colouring, and so guilefully had it camouflaged itself into a limp, hanging vine, that he had actually flicked it with his pole, arousing the fearful reptile to fury.
Trembling, the boy sat back, feebly patting himself all over.
Professor Flaznagel, whose curiosity no shock could subdue for long, hitched up his big horn-rimmed spectacles and blinked rapidly at the tree-tops.
"A half-grown but remarkably dangerous member of the family Python sebae," he announced. "H'm! I would most emphatically advise you to select some less harmful apparatus for your—er—trapeze act next time, you foolish and impulsive youth!"
"Lucky for you that the brute was feeling pretty torpid after a recent meal, my lad!" Justice added breathlessly. "Those beggars strike with the speed of light when they're in proper fighting trim. Are you hurt at all?"
"Hurt! Jumping jamjars, of course not!" Midge's outraged squeak was proof that he was more frightened than damaged. "Suffering cats, what a country!" he repeated feverishly. "For Pete"s sake let's get ashore—only you go first, Fatty O'Mally!"
"Faith, and so I will, ye windy worm!" retorted the valiant doctor.
Gathering himself together O'Mally gained the bank by a mighty leap, and, clinging to the swaying creepers, drew himself up to the brink. Thence he thrust back his staff to help Professor Flaznagel ashore, and Midge, after sundry nervous glances all round, followed. But Len, in response to a word from Captain Justice, remained behind.
To the surprise of the three on land, their comrades began to pole the raft out into the stream again.
"Begorrah! What's the game, Justice?" exclaimed O'Mally, knitting his brows. For answer Justice smiled and held out both hands.
In one, he swung a leather sling, which he had fashioned out of the remnants of the parachute harness in the intervals of conning the raft across the river. And in the other he hefted one of the half-dozen stones he had found on the south bank. At the same time, the captain jerked his head downstream in the direction of the flamingoes and uttered the one magic word:
Justice muttered an order to Len to punt away, then laid himself flat beneath the awning of branches. Len's lusty drives sent the raft bobbing out of the inlet again. But as soon as the craft began to drift downstream in the grip of the slow current, he, too, ducked out of sight.
"What the dickens—"
On shore, O'Mally and Flaznagel exchanged puzzled glances, frowning uneasily, until Midge, peering through the network of vines, gave a sudden gleeful chuckle.
"I've got it!" he exclaimed. "The skipper's going bird-nesting! Whoopee! Eggs for tea—and maybe a fine fat flaming-hoho into the bargain! Look!"
Amid the rushes and weeds on a larger bank lower down the flamingoes' nests jutted up like small conical hillocks of mud, each with a hen-bird fussing around it. Shrill squawks sounded from the males as the raft slipped towards them, but so well had Justice and Len concealed themselves behind the leafy branches that the gawky, stork-like creatures obviously suspected no danger from human foes. Although they craned their long necks, snapping heavy curved beaks menacingly at the lumbering craft, none made any attempt to fly,
":Ready with your pole, Len!"
Captain Justice sprang up with a swiftness that made even his comrades start. His right arm whirled back in a wide, smooth arc. Simultaneously a deafening outcry echoed across the river, and a vivid flash of crimson plumage dazzled the eye. With a crashing and a flapping of brilliant wings, the panicky flock soared aloft—all save one!
"Got him! Good shooting. Skipper!"
Exultantly, Midge's piercing yell rang out as one of the birds dropped floundering in the water, brought down by Justice's deftly slung missile. Another moment and Len had dispatched the quarry with a blow of his stave, while Justice, dropping his sling, poled the raft right into the bank.
At the cost of much labour and some risk, he waded gingerly through the reeds, helping himself to an egg from each of the nearest clump of nests. That done, and with the booty safe aboard, the hunters punted triumphantly back into the inlet, where willing hands helped them ashore.
Captain Justice's face wore its old quizzical smile as he contemplated the "bag." "Not very sporting, I'm afraid—potting at sitting birds!" he said. "Still, hungry castaways can't be too particular, so—"
“Blow being sporting!" interrupted Midge, busily gathering dry sticks together. "Quick, professor, gimme your giglamps to start a fire with, and Len, dip those dried gourds into the water, will you? I don't know what boiled flamingo eggs taste like, but I jolly soon will."
To Midge's intense dismay, Captain Justice speedily put a stop to the youngster's preparations for an immediate meal.
"Sorry, lad, you'll have to tighten your belt a little longer. We've got our supper, and that's all I wanted from this infernal river," Justice said quietly, slinging the flamingo over O'Mally's brawny shoulder and dividing the eggs between himself and the others. "We'll eat when we're on higher and healthier ground, so the sooner we start our climb the better. Come along—march!"
So saying, the intrepid adventurer took the lead, his comrades bunching close at his heels, ever on the alert for danger. River and jungle were behind them. And although each was uncomfortably aware that vigilant eyes, human and animal, might well be watching them from the heights, the courageous party tramped on—en route for the mountains at last!
"LISTEN! Stop a second, captain—there's something mysterious on here! Hark! What's that noise?"
Len gasped out that startled question some two hours later—two of the longest, most gruelling hours Justice & Co. had ever endured.
For most of that period the castaways had been climbing—scrambling, crawling, clawing their way over hot granite boulders, and slipping painfully on beds of loose stones that rattled down in miniature avalanches behind them.
After some hesitation, Justice had decided to invade the mountains by way of a long, low spur, whose jagged crest still loomed up about a hundred feet above them. But though the slopes had not looked too steep and difficult from the river-bank, they had flattered only to deceive.
The heat, too, thrown back from sun-baked rocks, was terrific, while every so often the climbers were balked by clumps of parched and stunted thorns, bristling with strong, cruel spikes, the perching-place of gorgeous butterflies and venomous winged insects.
Progress had proved heart-breakingly slow, and was rendered slower still by the frequent long rests imposed upon the heroic five by giddiness and hunger. Elbows, shins, and knees were skinned raw by constant falls, muscles ached dully, the soles of their feet felt as though they had been roasted over slow fires.
The unbroken silence, the ever-present spectacle of vast, impregnable cliffs above them, and that ghastly feeling, from which only veteran mountaineers are free, that the whole stupendous pile might topple over and crash down upon them at any moment, tortured their already lacerated nerves.
Midge, for one, felt as he imagined an ant must feel just before a massive foot smashes down to crush it out of existence.
Yet, with uncomplaining fortitude, the youngster and his companions had followed their leader, taking turns to assist Professor Flaznagel over the rougher places and steeper ledges. For Captain Justice had spotted a definite objective.
Far above them, at a point where the ragged spur ran out from the parent mountain, the mouth of a cave showed like a small black patch against the red-brown mass.
The climbers were making their way hopefully towards this likely camping-site when Len Connor uttered his warning.
Halting suddenly, Captain Justice's young wireless operator raised a hand, tilting his head back sharply. The others also listened, and gradually puzzled frowns deepened on their faces.
"Bedad, that's queer!"
O'Mally cupped a hand to his ear as he, too, heard the sound that had brought Len to a standstill.
Faint and elusive, a strange, vibrant booming quivered on the air, quickening at times to a staccato beat, then blurring once more into a monotonous rumble, haunting and curiously sinister! In vain the comrades strained their ears, trying to discover whence the eerie muttering came; but the slumbrous echoes among the crags baffled their efforts. Now the sound seemed to float from somewhere in the very heart of the rock, close at hand, then from different directions at once.
Midge shivered, suddenly filled with vague misgivings. O'Mally thrust out his under lip, cocking a dubious eye at the evening sky.
"Thunder, d'ye think?" he asked. "Faith, that coppery haze up above looks plaguey threatening, now I come to look at it! Yon rumbling might be—"
"Drums!" Captain Justice exclaimed, almost to himself. But his comrades heard plainly enough, and the effect of that word was electric.
"Drums?" Len stiffened, his eyes raking the boulder-strewn slopes, "By gosh, if I didn't think so myself, only it seemed cock-eyed! You're right, though, skipper—signal-drums or war-drums! And any sort of drums out here mean—"
"Natives!" said Justice, in the same tense voice.
There on the naked rock the castaways looked at each other soberly.
Natives! Ever since the jungle had engulfed them, all had wondered uneasily if this back-o'-beyond was inhabited by human beings. And now—now their questions were answered!
BEYOND all shadow of doubt, the distant muttering they could hear issued from native drums, beaten by sticks or human fingers. The longer they listened the more menacing that ominous rumbling sounded.
"Natives, sure enough!" Captain Justice broke a strained pause that had threatened to become endless. "And," he added grimly, "whatever natives we find in this wilderness will prove hostile to white men. Kuponos warned us of that—the hound! Now, the question is, are they drumming out news of our arrival or—"
The celebrated gentleman adventurer broke off. There was no need to complete the sentence. The others understood.
"That's a question we can't answer yet," Justice went on calmly. "Hurry, now, lads. Up to the top of this spur and on to the cave as fast as you like! Whether there's a tribe after us or not, I want to get under cover."
“And how!" murmured Midge, as he lurched to his feet.
Fighting against exhaustion and the pangs of hunger, the weary little party carried on, spurred to greater efforts by their discovery. The ugly, mysterious drumming followed them still, but though they half expected such a calamity, no yelling enemies swarmed out of hiding to attack them.
They toiled up the last hundred feet of that grilling climb. Then, motioning his friends to remain quiet, Justice crawled on alone over the crest of the spur.
Suddenly, after one swift glance ahead, the captain froze. In a flash his muscles relaxed, his head dropped. Face downwards he sprawled, motionless as the rocks around him.
For the next few seconds that dragged like eternity the adventurer lay prone, anxiously watched by the dumbfounded four below. Then, very slowly and cautiously, Justice raised his head again, propping his chin on the back of one lean hand.
Right before him, on the inner flank of the spur, the rock-face slanted down to a narrow ledge, about ten feet below the ridge on which he lay. A mere shelf it was, ending in a tip-tilted brink above an abyss. One end of it ran into the mouth of a snarling ravine, while the other gave out on to a gorgeous mountain glen, carpeted by green grasses and gemlike flowers, walled in by frowning buttresses of rock.
Justice could not gauge the extent of this smiling valley; nor did he waste time in trying. After that first sharp, all-embracing glance, his eyes flashed back to the ledge—and remained there, fixed and wary!
Out of the ravine, racing for dear life, with head flung back, darted a giant native—one of the most magnificent specimens of humanity Justice had ever clapped eyes on.
Close behind him, running mute but with glittering throwing-spears poised over their massive black shoulders, followed three hunters, straining every nerve as they tore out on to the dizzy ledge.
It was a dramatic scene; an evil yet thrilling cameo of life in those gaunt mountains. And Justice had seen it in the nick of time!
His finger-nails dug deeply into the palms of his hands, and a suffocating feeling of excitement, repugnance, and alarm surged through him as he watched. No sound broke the stillness, save the soft patter of flying-bare feet on the rock, and, once, a sharp indrawn breath as the runaway gathered himself for another dashing spurt.
Agile, sure-footed, hunters and hunted sped silently across the sheer scarp, with Justice, an unseen spectator, holding his breath till his lungs filled to bursting-point.
Fully six-feet-six in height the fugitive stood—lithe, slim-waisted, graceful as a deer. His head, crowned by black kinky hair, was small and well shaped, his features clear, bold, and scornful.
The westering sun cast a glossy sheen over his smooth, golden-brown skin, beneath which the elastic muscles swelled and rippled as he ran. A tawny leopard's skin, secured by a copper clasp, revealed rather than hid his superb breadth of shoulder and depth of chest.
Onwards and upwards he tore, his long, raking stride making light of the slope. Yet, fast as he was, his three determined pursuers, hideous as their quarry was handsome, stuck to him grimly, never faltering for an instant.
Squat, brawny negroes they were, naked save for beaded loin-cloths, and each as black as the ace of spades. Their short but tremendously powerful legs ate up the track, their flattened, rage-distorted faces looked worse than those of fiends seen in a dreadful nightmare.
The Battle of the Ledge!
NOT a sound escaped from the hunters' lips as, with eyeballs rolling, woolly hair bristling, the grisly trio raced along the lofty trail like wolves to the kill. Fresher and stronger than the fugitive, they cut down his lead gradually, relentlessly.
A gasp escaped Captain Justice, fetching his comrades swiftly but cautiously up on to the crest beside him. Even as they reached his side the golden giant stumbled beneath them, and the leading black hurled his javelin, uttering a blood-curdling howl at the same instant.
The hunt ended there and then!
Flung with terrific force and skill, the weapon streaked through the air, straight to the mark. It struck the runner fairly behind the left shoulder, and the slender blade, piercing him through, jutted out redly between the muscles of his arching breast.
Staggered by the impact, the stalwart native reeled on to the very brink of the ledge, where, for a sickening moment, he swayed groggily.
Then, recovering, he turned savagely at bay, swinging back his own short, three-pointed spear as the screaming blacks rushed him.
And forthwith Captain Justice & Co. cleared for action with a roar!
It was no part of the castaways' programme to butt into tribal vendettas! Their plan had been to sneak through the mountains as unobtrusively as possible. But three black devils hounding a wounded man was more than they could stand.
Almost unconsciously, Justice snatched up a loose rock, half as big as his head. Once having got it in his hand, however, the captain slammed it down with deliberate accuracy and vim!
Crack! Full on the forehead of the foremost black thudded the missile, and without so much as a groan the savage threw up his hands, lurched over the edge of the shelf, and went whirling down into space. It was as if a bombshell had burst! His fellows checked, recoiled, stared frantically upwards.
Strangled yells broke from their throats at sight of the five ragged whites glaring down at them from the crest. Their thick lips parted in a grimace of fear, displaying betel-reddened teeth, filed to dagger-points.
"Cannibals!" snapped Justice; and the sound of his voice startled the two blacks into a fresh paroxysm of terror.
So silently and unexpectedly had Justice & Co. entered the fight that the superstitious blacks clearly regarded them as apparitions—evil ogres sprung from the rock. Nor did they have much chance to recover from the numbing shock.
Forgetful of their quarry, the stricken pair cringed back, thrown into helpless panic. And suddenly, swift as thought, a long arm flicked lout, an iron-pronged trident struck home—and the battle of the ledge was over!
Pierced to the heart, the nearer black toppled backwards to join his leader in the chasm below, while the survivor fled screaming, with stones flung by O'Mally and Len singing past his ears.
Suddenly, as the clatter of metal and the thump of a heavy fall sounded below. Justice and Midge went shinning down on to the ledge at breakneck speed.
Justice cried out to O'Mally to follow, the instant his feet touched solid rock again. For now that the danger had passed the golden-brown giant, weakened by pursuit and loss of blood, had collapsed.
Sprawled out, the handsome native lay across the ledge, with the spear-shaft sticking up out of his back and one leg doubled under him. He stirred slightly, fumbling weakly for his curious weapon when the rescuers bent over him. But Justice, with a quick gesture, gently pressed his arm down and raised the limp, black head.
Two dark brown eyes stared defiantly into the adventurer's, and the trident rattled again as the wounded warrior shuddered and tensed his muscles suspiciously. But, after a piercing scrutiny of Justice's face, he seemed to realise that the mysterious strangers around him were friends.
His breast heaved in a deep sigh, and he relaxed heavily into the captain's arms.
Dr. O'Mally climbed down, crimson with exertion. He shoved Midge aside, then bent to make a careful examination of the giant's grievous wounds. Wonderingly the man looked on while the Irishman unfastened his leopard skin and stooped closer still. There was an expression of mingled wrath and relief on O'Mally's rubicund countenance when, after several long minutes, he raised his head again.
"Glory be, it is not poison as I feared!" he announced, flicking the spearhead contemptuously. "The poor fellow's mighty lucky in a way, for this skewer has drilled him cleanly through the muscles without touching an artery.
"All the same, 'tis a plaguey hurt those black imps o' Satan have done the fine lad—though he looks healthy and strong enough to get over anything! Och, now, if only I had my first-aid case—"
"Well, you haven't! We have nothing, and must do our best with that!" snapped Professor Flaznagel bitterly.
Captain Justice stood up, clinging with one hand to the wall. He cast a keen, sweeping glance towards the ravine, and ordered Len up to the crest again to keep a good look-out in case any more of the blacks appeared. Then he exchanged a significant look with Dr. O'Mally, who nodded.
"I fear this is goin' to hurt ye, me brave bucko!" he muttered, raising the native carefully into a sitting position. "But sure, we must have this spear out quick, so ye'll just have to grin and bear it. Right, Justice—now!"
Midge, who had been quietly studying the superbly built stoic, clenched his fists hard as the rough surgical operation began without instruments or anaesthetic. But, coolly and deftly, Justice and O'Mally went to work, while the giant sat perfectly quiet, with eyes gazing into nothingness.
Dr. O'Mally pinned his supple wrists, and suddenly Justice drove the spear in deeper from behind. Then, exerting the full strength of his steel-fingered hands, he snapped the shaft with a sharp, dexterous wrench.
Whereupon, O'Mally, wrapping his rush hat round the blade, tugged, strained, and panted till he toppled backwards—and the rest of the broken weapon pulled clear!
Midge had had to turn his head away. But though the torture must have been excruciating, never once did the golden-brown Hercules groan or stir. Patient, seemingly indifferent to pain, he endured it with a hardihood amazing as it was heroic.
Only the slight stiffening of his lips and a greyish pallor under his cheekbones betrayed the agony he suffered. Impulsively, Midge wheeled and gripped the man's huge right hand when at last the spear had been extracted.
"Suffering cats, old hoss!" gasped the youthful hero-worshipper. "I don't know who you are, or where you come from, but you're a blinkin' Trojan! Golly, if that had been Me—"
"Ye'd have yelled blue murder—and so would I!" grunted O'Mally. "But hold your whisht now, there's more to be done. Nay, Justice, 'tis no use plugging the wounds yet, for they'll have dirt in 'em, like as not. We must strap him up tight to stop the blood, then carry him along till we find water to wash 'em."
Doffing his capacious pyjama coat, the doctor ripped off a wide strip, the native watching him with softly glowing eyes. At last, with his shoulder tautly bandaged, he was assisted up by Justice and O'Mally, and, for the first time, a faint smile flickered across his proud, impassive face. His sound hand twitched slightly. He smiled again as Midge, interpreting the gesture aright, eagerly passed over the trident.
So tall was the native that he overtopped even the lanky professor by a good three inches as he stood upright, leaning on his pronged spear. Justice & Co. regarded him with frank admiration, marvelling at his splendid physique and pluck.
Who was he, and from what unknown race had he sprung? they wondered—Professor Flaznagel most of all! There was no trace of the negro about him, either in nose, lips, or cheekbones. His features were clear-cut and regular, handsome as a god's!
"By th' powers, there's enough of ye, my friend!" O'Mally said softly, gazing up at the strapping warrior. "And, faith, ye must be as strong as a lion even to stand up after what ye've been through! But, come, ye need water now, and plenty of it. Justice, we might find a stream in yonder valley, so—"
That was as far as the doctor got. His words ended in a grunt of perplexity.
For suddenly the giant shook himself like a dog, and seemed to grow taller still. Fresh life and vigour flowed back into his body, as though by a deliberate effort of will power he had tapped some untouched reservoir of strength and stamina within him.
His chest arched itself again, the brown eyes glinted, and gravely he stared down at the bandage, flexing the corded muscles of his forearm. And what followed left Justice & Co. petrified with astonishment!
Evidently recognising Captain Justice as the castaways' leader, the warrior suddenly reached out and grasped his hand. Then, with simple dignity, he bowed and laid it upon his own black head. A brief sentence, uttered in a deep, sonorous voice, boomed out on the evening air.
And with that the mighty stranger went!
In one long, lithe stride he backed away, bent his head again, then turned and began stumbling off towards the valley, his left arm pressed close to his side, his right hand twirling the trident. Justice & Co. made not the slightest attempt to stop him. Utterly bewildered by such an action on the part of a badly wounded man, they simply stood and gaped.
"Hi! Ye daft madman, come back!" roared O'Mally at last, finding his tongue after a struggle. "Your wounds, man—ye'll open 'em! Och, burn it, never have I had a patient run away from me so fast before! Come back, ye big spalpeen, come back!"
But the injured warrior paid no heed. Staggering now and then, he ran on down the sloping ledge, not stopping until he had gained the steep entrance to the valley, where he turned to face the comrades once more. For a moment he stood gazing back at them steadfastly, a statue of bronze in the level sun-rays. His trident swung up in a farewell salute, then, suddenly, he was gone—vanishing as though the ground had opened and swallowed him!
Len Connor, perched up on the ridge, let out a long, gusty sigh.
"Well! If that don't beat it!" he exclaimed shakily. "Talk about a giddy land o' mystery! I've often heard that natives can stand more punishment than we can, but for triple-distilled strength and grit, that fellow's got 'em all licked! Who on earth can he be?"
"A scout, possibly—or a lone hunter," Justice hazarded slowly. "And those black fiends are his tribal enemies, I'll bet. By James, though, the whole affair is a mystery—like those confounded drums!" The captain listened for a second or so to the distant throbbing, and shook his head worriedly.
"As for us, lads," he added grimly, "we seem to have made a friend, but I'm afraid we've made enemies, too, seeing that one of the beggars got away! I'm glad we butted in in time to save that hero, but unless we keep our eyes peeled, we stand a fine chance now of having his pretty playmates with the sharpened teeth round our necks!"
Midge sniffed. Now that all the excitement was over as far as he was concerned, the freckled grub-enthusiast's thoughts had returned to their usual channel.
"Blow the black blighters!" he growled. "All I know is that there's a fat flaming-yoyo up beside Len, and some hefty eggs that are probably sun-baked by now. So, if those plug-uglies want me, my address will be care of that cave up there, and all I hope is they don't start any rough stuff till I've fed. And that won't be till morning now, 'cos the sun's going, so we can't start a fire! Oh, what a country!"
Dr. O'Mally smote him a buffet that made the lad's teeth rattle.
"Cheer up, misery!" he cried encouragingly. "Begorrah, we've come so far, and since we're not dead yet we'll go farther, black cannibals or not! Hoist your slacks, professor! I'll give ye a bunk up!"
And so the comrades wearily resumed their laborious climb to shelter—lost, practically defenceless, and with the sure knowledge that savage foes, as well as one possible friend, knew of their presence in the wild mountains. It was a prospect that tested the courage of Justice & Co. to the full!
NEXT Part 5
Monday, 13 May 2013
Hopefully these images are improved over the sets from before. Remember they are 'clickable' so you can see the text and details./ drf
Snared in a tropical death-trap, at the mercy of every denizen of the jungle, unarmed, cut off from friends and all hope of rescue, CAPTAIN JUSTICE & CO. are putting up the Fight of Their Lives! [Part 3 of 12] [Link to Part 1]
By Murray Roberts
From The Modern Boy magazine, 21 July 1934, No. 337, Vol. 13. Contributed by Keith Hoyt; digitized by Doug Frizzle, May 2013.
Two Missing Hunters!
“AM I hungry, did you say? Am I tired?"
Midge, the diminutive junior member of Captain Justice & Co., sat up in the shade of the giant tree that dominated the stifling, mosquito-infested clearing in the African jungle—their temporary camp.
The boy's damp red hair seemed to crinkle with wrath as he wiped the perspiration from his freckled face and glared at Dr. O'Mally, the stout, bald-headed Irishman who squatted beside the limp form of Professor Flaznagel.
The acrid tang of smoke in the air irritated Midge's nostrils; and although the tropical sun was going down at last, the steamy jungle heat caused his bedraggled pyjamas and thin khaki shooting jacket to cling to his body in clammy folds.
Overhead, the raucous screaming of parrots and the chattering of a monkey tribe mingled in deafening chorus, while faintly, from beyond the dense green walls of vegetation, floated the ugly, coughing grunts of crocodiles.
But to all these discomforts, discordances, and dangers Midge paid little heed. Only the doctor's well-meant but tactless questions on the subject of food and fitness had served to rouse the lad from his lethargy.
"You'll excuse me," he continued, speaking with freezing politeness. "I think my ears must be going on the blink, or something. Did I hear you ask if I was hungry, Dr. O'Mally?"
To this question the doctor disdained to reply. Whereat Midge drew a deep breath, making a supreme effort to hold on to his self-control.
"After all," he went on, in a voice of suppressed fury, "why should I be hungry and tired? It's only about twenty-four hours—or is it weeks?—since I last had a square meal, isn't it? And since then nothing much has happened to tire me out, has it? I've only been scruffed out of a comfy tent by a mob of yelling Abyssinian dogsbodies! Then slung into a plane and carted goodness knows where for umpteen hundred miles before being given a blinkin' parachute and booted off into this nice warm, juicy corner of the African Oven that's never yet been explored by white men!
"And after that"—Midge was getting well into his stride now—"all I've done is to scurry about this blighted, blinkin', bloomin' jungle with you others, dodging crocs and scaring leopards, just to find Professor Flagwobbie here!
"And when we did find him, hanging from the tree in his parachute straps, like Sunday's joint in the larder, who shinned up the ghastly-tree and cut the old pelican loose? Me! And who landed head first on the ground after Flipdoodle had been cut down and safely caught? Me! And now you, you bloated, bone-headed balloon—Yah!
"Of course I'm hungry, you gurgling gasometer!" he roared. "I'm so hungry my tummy thinks my throat's been cut, and if the captain hadn't found that tiny pool of decent water I'd be too thirsty even to tell you what I think of you! Oh, if I could only get my mitts on that rotten Greek gun-runner, Kuponos! I'd teach him to dump us all out of his bloomin' aeroplane without food, water, or weapons—and in our pyjamas, too!"
Midge closed his eyes in a dreamy ecstasy of revenge.
"I'd take Xavier Kuponos," he explained, slowly and carefully, "and first I'd skin him alive! Then I'd cut him into small bits with a rusty knife and toast him over a slow fire! And then, because I hate him so much, I wouldn't even eat him! I'd chuck him to the monkeys instead!"
"Ah, yes? Faith, ye'd do wonders!" Dr. O'Mally granted sarcastically, and lumbered to his feet, a fat and frowsy figure, clad in what had once been gaily striped pyjamas. Now, alas! they were nothing but strips of rags, held together by caked and evil-smelling mud.
Furiously he slapped at the flies that hovered about his bald head, and ducked closer into the smoke of the smudge-fire which Captain Justice had lighted. Having no matches, the captain had used one of the thick lenses of Professor Flaznagel's spectacles as a burning-glass—the professor himself having little need for specs or anything else just then, save O'Mally's constant attention.
For the renowned old scientist, suffering badly from the effects of his enforced parachute descent into the jungle, was completely hors de combat. Justice & Co. were not only in a fearfully tight corner, but they had a casualty on their hands into the bargain.
Only after prolonged searching, followed by an heroic and heartbreaking dash to the rescue, had Flaznagel's comrades arrived just in time to save him from the grisly attentions of two hungry leopards as he had dangled, helpless, in his tangled parachute harness, from the branches of a tree.
Now, motionless as a log, and still barely conscious, the old professor lay on a bed of fern, with the doctor and Midge watching anxiously over him.
"Ah dear! We do see life, bedad!" O'Mally, stooping again with a weary groan, adjusted the compress of cool, damp moss which he had clapped upon the professor's bruised head and feverish temples. That done, the Irishman exchanged a doleful glance with Midge, and gazed around earnestly in search of the two missing members of the castaway party—Captain Justice and Len Connor.
Both had been absent a long while—overlong, O'Mally thought worriedly, peering in the direction of the mangrove swamps and the sluggish river that divided the jungle from the unknown mountain-wall whose stupendous peaks, tipped with flame by the fiery rays of the dying sun, could just be seen through breaks in the canopy of branches overhead.
Yet there was nothing the doctor could do to help the absentees save wait with all the patience he could muster. In every direction cascades of green, orange, and crimson foliage baffled the eye. And the din from the treetops blotted out all other sounds.
"Faith, I wish I knew where they were!" O'Mally muttered uneasily, heaping fresh twigs and leaves on the fire to increase the volume of smoke. "Sure, they were both as frazzled as we were when they started back to the river, so goodness knows what they feel like now! And the swamps down there are as full o' crocodiles as your head is full o' nothing, Midge, me dear young spalpeen!"
"Cheer up, fatness!" Midge encouraged him, ignoring the doctor's last little crack. "The skipper set his mind on salvaging at least two of the parachutes we came down under, and, suffering cats, he's right when he says that all that cord and fabric will come in mighty useful!
"Not only that, but someone had to hunt for grub somewhere," added the battered youngster earnestly. "And, anyway, you know what the captain is. Once he sets out to do something, he generally does it! You trust Captain Justice, Mister Moanin' O'Mally, and—Hi—listen! Weepin' willows, what's that?"
Despite the pain of his own aching head, Midge scrambled up excitedly. And O'Mally hastily swept the smoke aside with a thick, muscular arm as suddenly there came a loud threshing among the bushes ahead.
Something—a lean, spotted phantom—started up from the undergrowth and streaked across the clearing so swiftly that neither of the startled castaways could tell what manner of beast it was, while the jabbering monkeys up above flung themselves about in a perfect frenzy of rage and alarm. And then:
"By St. Patrick!" O'Mally boomed, as a clump of gracefully plumed grasses swayed apart suddenly. Next moment into the clearing tottered the returning hunters—Captain Justice and Len!
Dinner at Last!
"HURRAH!" Uttering a husky but heartfelt cheer, Midge limped forward to meet the dishevelled pair, O'Mally making haste to follow. For, after one glance, it was painfully clear that both Justice and Len needed all the help they could get just then.
Both were half naked. They had twisted their ragged pyjama-jackets round their heads and the back of their necks as some protection against the sun whilst working in the open. And from the state of their bare, glistening bodies, both looked as though they had been thrashed with whips.
Ugly red weals and jagged tears, administered by lashing branches and thorny vines, criss-crossed their ribs and backs. Their streaming faces were puffed and swollen almost out of shape by innumerable insect bites. In addition to those injuries, the resolute pair had loaded themselves with burdens so heavy that their knees buckled under the weight.
With the load balanced precariously on his head, Len staggered on beneath a great pile of yellowish fabric—a parachute, folded as tightly as the mud-caked cords and envelope would allow. So utterly exhausted was the young wireless operator that, having greeted Midge and O'Mally with a feeble grin, he collapsed, flopped face downwards on the ground, and stayed there, half buried beneath his cargo.
In scarcely better plight was Captain Justice. He, too, was burdened with a salvaged chute, though in his case the fabric had been cut and torn and converted into two bulging sacks, which he dragged after him. Hanks of cord hung in festoons around his neck. From a lanyard slung over his shoulders dangled an old single-bladed knife.
Originally this implement had belonged to Midge. It had reposed, among other and quite useless articles, in the pocket of his shooting jacket, and—because it belonged to Midge—the blade had been as blunt as a boar's snout. Captain Justice, however, had promptly whetted it on a damp stone. Now it constituted the only weapon and tool the party possessed.
"Phew-w! By James, we've had a sweet time!"
Justice's teeth gleamed for an instant in the old familiar smile. But the moment Midge and O'Mally relieved him of his loads the famous gentleman adventurer tumbled to the ground beside Len.
There, with unkempt beard sunk upon his broad, heaving chest, Justice sat fighting to regain his breath, wearily massaging the powerful muscles that rippled under his bronzed skin.
"How's the professor?" was the first question he asked; and his tired eyes brightened a lot when, to the delighted surprise of Midge and O'Mally, Flaznagel himself answered. The courageous old scientist was beginning to pull round at last.
"I—I am feeling a trifle better now, my dear fellow," Flaznagel muttered, in a weak and broken voice. "My head—causes me some considerable discomfort still, I am afraid; and I fear, too, that the—the very abrupt termination of my descent, followed by a lengthy confinement in the parachute harness, has severely strained the—the intercostal and abdominal muscles—"
"Or, in other words," chirped Midge, in high feather now that Justice and Len were back, "getting caught up in a tree and then dancing a gay fandango on nothin’ but thin air has put a crimp in rib and tummy muscles! Never mind, keep smiling, Whiskers!
"One thing, your tongue muscles sound O.K., and a good long rest'il soon put the rest of you in shape again—if Sawbones O'Mally don't polish you off first! Gosh, captain, you and Len look as if you'd been through the hoop! Did you—um— find any—er—"
"Grub? Trust you to ask that!" panted Len, struggling up into a sitting position and pushing back the matted hair from his forehead. "Of course we found some! This country's a blessed storehouse, if you know where to look—which is something Mr. Rotten Kuponos didn't reckon on, I'll bet! Anyway, open the home-made shopping-bags, fathead, and see what daddy's brought home!"
"Wow!" exclaimed Midge. And without further ado he pounced upon the loads Captain Justice had hauled into camp. Another cheer escaped his cracked and swollen lips as the famished youth untied the first bag, revealing a strange and fearsome variety of eatables, animal and vegetable.
"I bagged the lizards." Justice smiled wryly, pointing to half a dozen small dead reptiles of evil aspect, whose brilliant scales were already growing dull.
"Stalked 'em, and hit 'em with a stick while they were sunning themselves on a rocky outcrop near the river. I'd have got some more, only a brute of a crocodile started to stalk me. We'll just have to skin and toast ‘em over the fire, lads, as best we can. They're awful to look at, but not bad eating, I know.
"These?" he continued, as Midge tumbled out two large objects that looked like green leather pumpkins. "Len found them. He also picked those wild tamarinds, and dug up the ground-nuts there with a sharpened stick. I tell you, we've been busy! What d'ye make of these pumpkin fellows, doctor? Think they'll be all right to eat?"
"Faith, they will that!" replied O'Mally, who, being a medical man, was also something of a naturalist and botanist. "Man, they're gourds; and when we've scoffed the insides the tough rinds will make good pots for water, if we dry 'em carefully. Stout work, Len!
"We can chew the ground-nuts, too—they contain oil. But go steady with those tamarinds, Midge, ye greedy gossoon! Suck a little of the juice, but don't swallow the pulp, unless ye want a tummyache that'll twist ye into knots!"
"I should worry!" Midge was busy applying a lighted brand from the smudge-fire to a pile of dry twigs and grass. And while Justice and Len rested, Dr. O'Mally husked the gourds carefully, then used the precious knife to perform delicate surgical operations on the lizards.
Thus, with Midge's cooking-fire glowing hotly, and portions of lizard impaled on sticks and held over the embers, preparations for the much-needed meal were soon under way. Captain Justice, rising at last, picked up one of the emptied "food-bags" and strode warily to the fringe of the clearing.
Beneath a clump of giant ferns, laced with orchid vines, he had discovered a tiny pool of water fed by a subterranean spring. The surface was scummy. But the deeper water looked fairly clear and did not smell too badly—which is as much as one can expect of an African jungle pool. "And, anyway, we'll be up against worse dangers than niffy spring-water presently!" Justice shrugged philosophically as he dipped the bag cautiously.
By hurrying back to the fires, sufficient water was retained in the dripping receptacle for each thirsty castaway to slake his parched throat, tongue and lips; and afterwards Len gently sponged the professor's head and neck with the sopping bag.
"Dinner is served, my lords." grinned Midge, two minutes later, and gravely presented Captain Justice with "roast reptile a la skewer," as he termed the first course.
As a meal, judged by civilised standards that dinner in the jungle was terrible! The lizard meat, partly toasted and partly raw, tasted so gamey that after every bite the adventurers had to cleanse their palates with the acid juice of the tamarinds.
The soft pulp of the gourds proved slightly more appetising. But Justice, sorely missing his favourite cigars, sighed as he finished the meal by chewing one of the oily groundnuts. In the minds of all were wistful memories of the peace and comforts, the well-served food they had left behind on Justice Island, thousands of miles away in the solitudes of the South Atlantic.
However, as Justice remarked: "Beggars can't be choosers, and we're lucky to be alive. We'll hunt up better grub than this, though, lads, when I've contrived a few primitive weapons, which won't be long now. In the meantime—"
"Waste not, want not, pick it up and eat it!" chanted Midge, helping himself to the last skewerful of lizard and tearing at it enthusiastically with his strong teeth. "Skipper, I think you've done wonders!" he added feelingly. "Now, what's the next stunt?"
"More work! Hard work, too, before the light goes!"
Justice, feeling better for the meal, poor though it had been, stretched himself and glanced up through the trellis-work of foliage at the patches of lemon-hued sky.
"In about an hour," he said quietly, "we'll be in darkness. And then the hunters will be out and the insects busier than ever. We've been lucky so far, inasmuch as we've had time to settle ourselves down before the heat of the day cooled off and the more dangerous brutes wakened from their siesta. But night-time in the jungle spells danger. We must be prepared for anything!
"Midge, you're the official fire-tender. Build two more fires under this tree, and make sure you collect enough fuel to keep 'em going all night. Len, you and I will make a bivvy-tent out of the chute you brought in—tie one edge to the branches and peg the others to the ground. That'll keep any festive leopards and pythons from dropping in on us from above; and, doc, I'll show you how to discourage ground snakes.
"To-morrow, we build a raft and get across the river, by hook or by crook, for the sooner we're out of this sweating jungle and up into those healthier-looking mountains, the better for us all! So now, lads, on your toes!"
Midge's Eventful Night!
OBEDIENT as ever to his commands, Justice's loyal comrades, all save Flaznagel, got to their feet and set to work immediately.
But, although strained muscles and injured head prevented the professor from joining in the more strenuous jobs, the gallant old inventor had no intention of lying idle.
Assisted by Justice, with many a gasp of exasperation and pain, Flaznagel insisted on levering himself up till his back was propped comfortably against the tree-trunk. Then he reached for the harness of his parachute, and, with his customary ingenuity, speedily set about making himself sandals.
First he cut the harness straps into narrower strips, then, having pierced holes in them with the knife-point, he laced them together with thongs, pared from the remaining straps. The result, though rough and ready, appeared to give him some satisfaction, for he stroked his long white beard and chuckled.
Then, tired out by the effort it had cost him to sit up and work, Professor Flaznagel, a true hero if ever there was one, sagged down on to his fern-bed again and relapsed at once into restless slumber.
Meanwhile the others were throwing themselves heart and soul into the task of preparing a night-camp. Midge, shouting and singing lustily to scare animal and reptilian intruders away, foraged round the clearing for wood and built up the fires; while Len, shinning laboriously up the tree, assisted his leader to rig the improvised tent, thereby creating fresh uproar amongst the monkey audience.
At the same time, O'Mally, following Justice's instructions, smashed down the twisted branches of a thorn bush, and laid the sharply spiked leaves and twigs in a wide circle around the little encampment. "A snake is tender under the throat!" explained Justice, with a grim chuckle. "Any inquisitive adders, mambas, or cobras trying to slither across that zareba will think better of it! Len, chuck me the knife, please, and a fathom or so of parachute."
And so the hard toil went on until darkness closed down with all the abruptness so characteristic of tropical climes.
It was as if a great lamp in the sky had been switched off suddenly. One moment there was sufficient light in the clearing to reveal the dim figures of the workers, and the next it was dark.
And silent—a silence such as only endures at dusk in an African jungle.
With the passing of daylight, all sounds ceased for a while as by magic. The monkeys ceased chattering and departed, bird-noises died down, and even the incessant hum of insects abated. Upon jungle and swamp a stillness descended like a soft black pall.
Midge hurriedly lighted the new fires. The aromatic smoke curled upwards and thickened, little flames sprang to life, gleaming brightly. Somehow, then, the busy crackling of twigs snapped the sudden tension, born of darkness and overtaut nerves. Captain Justice spoke quietly.
"Wrap your heads and arms in these, lads," he directed, handing over lengths of freshly cut fabric. "They'll make some protection from the skeeters, anyhow. And now, how about sentries?"
"I'll take first pop, if Doctor Fatness will relieve me," offered the stout-hearted Midge. "We've had a bit better time than you and Len. Three-hour shifts, as near as we can judge, eh? And you jolly well wake up sharp when I call you, doc, unless you want a dig in the ribs with my catstabber!"
"More likely I'll have to wake up and wake you just before a lion gets his teeth into ye, ye insolent boll-weevil!" growled O'Mally. "Still, the little spalpeen's made the right suggestion for once, Justice. Get ye to bed!"
So it was settled. And the first night in the wilderness—the first of many—began.
No sooner had Justice, Len, and O'Mally rolled themselves up in their parachute blankets and mosquito-nets than their weary limbs relaxed and sleep poured over them in a healing flood.
But Midge, with his piece of fabric thrown over head and shoulders, crouched in the opening of the tent between the fires, and grimly set himself to endure that most gruelling of all vigils—standing guard at night in the midst of unknown dangers.
The four fires, glowing redly, cast a flickering sheen across part of the clearing, glistening on the waxen branches overhead and the "snake-fence" of shiny thorn-leaves. But beyond this shifty pool of light sinister shadows hovered and swayed; and creepy sounds, stealthy rustlings and murmurs among the undergrowth sent icy chills trickling up and down Midge's spine.
A suffocating feeling of peril and hopelessness gripped the young sentry who huddled there, staring wide-eyed at the black walls of the clearing. It seemed as if every wild beast—all the forces of the jungle—were lurking outside the radius of the firelight, gathering themselves for an attack at any moment.
Gradually the heavy dew seeped down, and the air grew sickly with the overpowering fragrance of thirsty shrubs and flowering vines. The camp-fires sputtered sullenly as Midge, with beating heart and eyes probing the darkness, replenished them at intervals with dampened twigs.
To the nervous youngster time appeared to stand still, so that he lost all idea of the dragging minutes. Then suddenly, with the effect of an artillery salvo, the brooding hush was shattered by a savage roar.
Deep, reverberating, the harsh, awe-inspiring challenge crashed through the jungle glades till the air quivered to its thunderous echoes. Again and again it swelled out, ending in a sobbing snarl as the lion and its mate slunk down at last to their favourite drinking-pool on the river.
And with that the full bloodcurdling orchestra of the night burst forth in all its hideous discord.
From far and near a chorus of howls, roars, and screams rang through the darkness as other beasts glided out on their nightly prowl. Midge shivered, for all his hardihood, and, glancing back into the tent, saw that his comrades were stirring and twitching in their sleep.
The next instant, smothering a whoop of terror, he clutched his knife and whirled as pandemonium broke out on the edge of the clearing.
"Oh gosh! Talk about cats on the tiles!" he gulped.
Scarce thirty yards away, bushes thrashed and crackled to the accompaniment of a sudden outburst of wicked snarls, screeches, and sibilant gasps as hunting rivals charged and came to grips. Once Midge received a brief but hair-raising glimpse of two shadowy forms, writhing, clawing, slashing at each other, rolling over and over till the undergrowth engulfed them again. A moment later a gurgling wail, a triumphant howl, and then sudden, electrifying quietness again told him that the battle was over, and that the loser had paid the inevitable price of defeat!
"Phew-w!" Midge sank closer to the ground, muttering to himself to keep his spirits up. "Sufferin' snakes, I'll never go near a zoo again! I've heard about sentries sleepin' at their posts, but any sentry who could sleep in all this row deserves—A-a-ah!”
A stifled yell forced itself from his trembling lips. He sat up jerkily, gazing with bulging eyes at other eyes—glinting, tawny eyes that suddenly appeared out of the darkness, glaring straight back into his! Dimly he made out a shaggy, majestic head, a smooth, powerful body, and lashing tail.
So noiselessly had the great brute materialised that Midge's limbs, muscles, even his tongue, were paralysed. As in a nightmare he watched the monster prowl to and fro outside the circle of fires as it strove to pluck up nerve enough to brave the dancing flames and attack. Twice more it snarled, deep down in its throat, baring gleaming fangs at the petrified lad. As the fourth husky note of menace throbbed in his ears Midge could stand the strain no longer.
Desperately he sprang up, swinging the knife up level with his ear. The growling lion crouched, bristling at sight of the hostile move, but Midge was past caring. Scarcely aware 'of what he was doing, he took a stumbling stride forward—then yelled at the top of his voice as a strong hand grasped his ankle, pulling him headlong to the ground!
"Arragh, be still!" snorted a familiar voice above him, and Dr. O'Mally burst out of the tent into action.
In one swift grab he snatched a burning stick from the nearest fire, hurling it just as the lord of the jungle poised itself for a leap high over the fires. Full into the brute's distorted face flew the faggot, and Midge's brain rocked under the terrific roar of terror and rage that exploded upon his eardrums.
Dazed and deafened, he doubled up. For a sickening moment everything went black. The next he knew, O'Mally's arms were round him, shaking him back to consciousness.
"Ye mad, crack-brained, plucky young goat!" scolded the doctor breathlessly, amid sleepy cries of alarm from Justice, Len, and Flaznagel. "Sure, no one but you would go tacklin' such beasts as that with only an old knife! Och, be aisy, now! The beggar's gone—and lucky for ye the blackguard mosquitoes kept me wakeful, for I've singed his whiskers finely! Get ye to sleep this minute, ye blatherskite! All right, Justice—'tis my watch now, I'm thinking."
Lifting Midge up, he deposited him bodily into the tent, where Captain Justice gently tucked a "blanket" round the shivering youngster.
"Sleep, lad!" he ordered calmly. But Midge's only reply was a dismal groan.
"Sleep? With all these man-eaters-around?" he muttered thickly. "Moanin’ moggies, I reckon I'll never—I'll never sleep a—Snor-r-k!"
Midge's protests petered out into a long-drawn, curious gurgle. His red head dropped back on the ferns, and for the second time everything became a blur. Whacked to the wide, oblivious to the increasing hullabaloo in the forest, Midge slumbered.
The Demon of the River!
“HI, rise and shine! Show a leg, you lubber!” It was Len Connor's cheery hail and the friendly jolt of Len's boot against his ribs that hauled Midge out of the depths of slumber at last. Several minutes passed before the drowsy youngster could pull his wits together. But presently, with memories of his spell of sentry-go piercing the mists of sleep, he uttered a startled squawk and sat up.
A chorus of chaff from his comrades greeted his noisy eruption from the tent.
"Faith," chuckled O'Mally, "and here's the big bold hunter himself! Just in time to catch another lion an' skin it for breakfast, me brave bucko!"
"Scat!" Midge—after a hurried glance round to make sure that no such beast was in sight—wrinkled his snub nose and sniffed. Then he wrapped his arms around himself and shivered, as the chill of dawn, following the sweltering night, struck deep into his bones.
Darkness had fled. But the sun had yet to rise above the invisible horizon, and cold blue-grey mists, filled the clearing. Somewhere out of sight a jungle-cock crowed brazenly, and guttural noises began to filter through the tree-tops as other birds and the monkeys awakened to another day. Bull-frogs croaked hoarsely. Snorts and grunts from the crocodile swamps sounded louder than ever.
"Huh! Funny, aren't we, this mornin'!" growled Midge, gazing owlishly at the grinning O'Mally and hunching himself up beside a fire. From this cosy spot, however, Captain Justice callously shifted him.
"Work, my lad—action's the stuff to warm you!" declared the castaways' leader, himself busily refolding the cut lengths of parachute and re-coiling the cords as Len climbed up and lowered the tent. "Breakfast first, then down to the river to make a raft! And the more work we do in the cool o' morning the better I'll like it. I want to get out of this pest-hole before we're all down with fever."
"Or down a lion's gullet!" grunted Midge, piling in, nevertheless.
Breakfast, consisting of groundnuts and a mouth-wash of water, was soon over; for not even Midge of the magnificent appetite could face the pappy remains of the gourds. In another ten minutes, with Professor Flaznagel leaning heavily on Justice's shoulder, and Len, Midge, and O'Mally carrying the slender stock of gear, camp was struck, and the march to the river commenced.
Through dew-drenched undergrowth and grasses the little party thrust their way, ears and eyes alert for danger. Steamy mist filled the jungle recesses, mysterious creakings sounded on all sides, and once Captain Justice broke his stride in the nick of time as a speckled adder writhed almost from under his feet. It took all his iron nerve and self-control to stifle a cry of horror and carry on, outwardly calm.
Safely the five emerged at last into the old elephant track that cut a wide swathe through the tangle of trees and bush. From then on, the remainder of the trek down to the river was comparatively easy.
"Bedad! 'Tis a proper pea-souper down here till the sun breaks through!"
Dr. O'Mally, halting beneath a great palm near the river brink, puffed out his cheeks disgustedly.
Thicker than ever now, the mists blanketed the oily stretch of water, and of the marshes farther up all that could be seen were fringes of greeny-black mud, and the vague outlines of mangrove-trees and soggy clumps of papyrus and reed. To add to the doctor's repugnance, a musky, fetid odour arose therefrom. Captain Justice, with a significant smile, pointed aloft.
High above, so high that the comrades had to lay their heads back to see, the peaks of the mountains swam serenely above the gauzy veils of cloud that draped the lower levels. Like fantastic castles in the air, remote, yet oddly encouraging, they spanned the sky in far-flung array, bastions, turrets, and towers all ashine in the upflung rays of the sun. The hearts of the castaways leapt at the glorious spectacle, so magnificently inspiring after the stifling closeness and shade of the jungle.
What natives and wild beasts dwelt within and behind that vast welter of glimmering crags and cavernous ravines no one knew. Even the ruffianly Greek, Kuponos, had confessed that he had heard nothing save bloodcurdling rumours of the tribes who inhabited this unknown, unmapped range. Anything might befall white men venturing into those unexplored uplands. But Captain Justice, in his cool, determined way, had decided to tackle them for two reasons, come what may.
One reason was health—a prompt escape from the humid, fever-haunted jungle and swamps. The second and stronger was—that the mountains barred the road back to civilisation.
"My scheme, lads, is to collect as many suitable logs for a raft as we can find and haul down to the river." Thus the captain opened his plan of campaign. "These we'll lash together with parachute cord, caulk 'em with mud and reeds, and brace the raft with cross-spars of bamboo.
"For sweeps and poles we’ll use more branches, and if a breeze springs up before we're across I can rig some sort of sail. Luckily, there are plenty of fallen trees around without having to venture back into the bush."
The fallen trees lay all along the margin of the jungle most of them partly hollowed out by the voracious white ants, and all mottled with mushy, brightly hued fungus.
But before the party moved on to inspect the nearest tree, Len, standing above the river bank where it sloped down into the muddy shallows, was smitten by a labour-saving idea.
"Half a sec, skipper—maybe we'll have no need to sweat ourselves hauling those logs down," he cried. "Look, here's one below me now—already in the water and lying half-awash! There may be others, too."
So saying, Len picked up a long, stout stick. Then, sinking to his knees, he bent lower to prod the partly submerged log that floated beneath him, among the tufted weeds close to the bank.
AS he did so, Captain Justice and O'Mally apparently went crazy!
"Len! Good heavens—look out!"
Shouting a frantic warning, the Irishman launched himself through the air in a flying tackle that bowled the dumbfounded Len head over heels and sent him rolling through the grasses farther up the bank.
Simultaneously, Captain Justice pounced on a mossy rock bigger than his head, wrenched it from its bed, and hurled the missile with all his strength at the floating log.
What followed was an eye-opener to the unwary Leonard!
For, with a speed and vicious energy that chilled the youngster's blood, that "log" came to life. As the heavy rock crashed down upon it, swirls of scummy water boiled and foamed to the furious strokes of a six-foot tail, and a horrifying vision of long, gaping jaws and sharp fangs yawned before Len's eyes.
Steel-hooked talons clawed up into view, the reeds parted to disclose a black, wrinkled snout and armoured body. For seconds that seemed like years, the monster clung there until the slimy bank gave way and slithered down under its weight. Then, to the sound of a wrathful coughing bellow, the mad flurry subsided.
"There goes your log!" remarked Captain Justice, in a strained voice.
Shaking in every limb, Len staggered up, and the captain pointed. Farther out, a series of triangular ripples were spreading across the misty river as the enormous and baffled crocodile, with only its ugly snout showing, glided off silently towards a mudbank in midstream.
Midge sat down suddenly, as though his groggy legs had given way.
Len swallowed hard and gripped O'Mally's hand.
"Thanks, doc! The treacherous, scaly hog—gosh, he nearly had me!" Len forced a grin to his pallid lips. "After this, we'll thumpin' well get our logs from the jungle, if I have to carry 'em out myself," he added, so decisively that his comrades vented their feelings in a roar of laughter;
But that was the final burst of hilarity from any of them that morning.
Work was the order of the day from then on—back-breaking, muscle-grinding work that spared them little enough breath for desultory talk, let alone mirth. The raft had to be built—and quickly.
All Captain Justice's experience and skill at rigging pulley-ropes and hauling-tackle with the cords came into play. But his efforts served only to lighten their arduous labours a little. For the rest, it was sheer, unremitting heaving, pulling, and dragging, while the sun waxed hotter, the cloud of insects thickened, and the least exertion meant sweat and torment.
Yet somehow, urged on by the inflexible will and fierce courage of their leader, the castaways stuck it out—slogging into their tasks with cracking sinews and bursting hearts, till eight good-sized, decaying logs had been hauled, rolled, and yanked down to the river bank.
Between spells, while O'Mally and Len, who bore the brunt of the hauling, lay prone, and Professor Flaznagel fanned them with bunches of fern. Captain Justice and the ever-hungry Midge mustered up sufficient energy to hunt lizards for dinner. For, as Midge declared huskily: "We've got the job of a lifetime ahead, skipper! We've had a horrible night, too, and we're going to cross this blinkin' river to-day, in spite of all the crocs, and we're going up into those mountains, no matter if all the cannibobbles in Africa bar the way! And sooner or later we're going to get back and find Xavier Kuponos, and then we'll dance on his grave! But, meanwhile, dash it——" Swiftly and accurately, a small cudgel smashed down on a rock with disastrous results to the frilled lizard that had been sunning itself there.
"A fellah must eat!" sighed Midge contentedly, as he gathered up the spoils!
There are worse things than wild animals for the comrades to face in this terrible African jungle—and that's CANNIBALS! Mind YOU are present at the encounter—in Next Saturday's MODERN BOY! [Part 4]
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.