The Cave Girl

Part II

Chapter X

The Head-Hunters

Edgar Rice Burroughs

NATURE so far, had been kind to Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones. No high winds or heavy seas had assailed him, and he had been upon the water for three days now. The wind had held steadily out of the south, varying but a few points during this time but even so Waldo Emerson was commencing to doubt and to worry. His supply of water was running dangerously low, his food supply would last but a few days longer; and as yet he had sighted no sail, nor seen any land. Furthermore, he had not the remotest conception of how he might retrace his way to the island he had just quitted. He could only sail before the wind. Should the wind veer around into the north he might, by chance, be blown back to the island. Otherwise he never could reach it. And he was beginning to wonder if he had not been a trifle too precipitate in his abandonment of land.

In common with most other landsmen, Waldo Emerson had little conception of the vastness of the broad reaches of unbroken water wildernesses that roll in desolate immensity over three quarters of the globe. His recollection of maps pictured the calm and level blue dotted, especially in the south seas, with many islands. Their names, often, were quite reassuring. He recollected, among others, such as the Society Islands, the Friendly Islands, Christmas Island. He hoped that he would land upon one of these. There were so many islands upon the maps, and they seemed so close together that he was not a little mystified that he had failed to sight several hundred before this.

And ships! It appeared incredible that he should have seen not a single sail. He distinctly recalled the atlas he had examined prior to embarking upon his health cruise. The Pacific had been lined in all directions with routes of long established steamer lanes, and in between, Waldo had felt, the ocean must be dotted with innumerable tramps that come and go between the countless ports that fringe the major sea.

And yet for three days nothing had broken the dull monotony of the vast circle of which he was always the center and the sole occupant. In three days, thought Waldo, he must have covered an immense distance.

And three more days dragged their weary lengths. The wind had died to the faintest of breezes. The canoe was just making headway and that was all. The water was gone. The food nearly so. Waldo was suffering from lack of the former. The pitiless sun beating down upon him increased his agony. He stretched his panther skin across the stern and hid beneath it from the torrid rays. And there he lay until darkness brought relief.

During the night the wind sprang up again, but this time from the west. It rose and with it rose the sea. The man, clinging to his crude steering black, struggled to keep the light craft straight before the wind which was now howling fearfully while great waves, hungry and wide jawed, raced after him like a pack of ravenous wolves.

Thandar knew that the unequal struggle against the mighty forces of the elements could not endure for long. It seemed that each fierce gust of brutal wind must tear his frail boat to shreds, and yet it was the very lightness of the thing that saved it, for it rode upon the crests of the waves, blown forward at terrific velocity like a feather before the hurricane.

In Thandar’s heart was no terror—only regret that he might never again see his mother, his father, or his Nadara. Yet the night wore on and still he fled before the storm. The sky was overcast—the darkness was impenetrable. He imagined all about him still the same wide, tenantless circle of water, only now storm torn and perpendicular and black, instead of peacefully horizontal, and soothingly blue-green. And then, even as he was thinking about this there rose before him a thunderous booming loud above the frenzied bedlam of the storm, his boat was lifted high in the air to dive headforemost into what might be a bottomless abyss for all Thandar knew. But it was not bottomless. The canoe struck something and stopped suddenly, pitching Thandar into a boiling maelstrom. A great wave picked him up, carrying with race-horse velocity within its crest. He felt himself hurled pitilessly upon smooth, hard sand. The water tried to drag him back, but he fought with toes and fingers, clutching at the surface of the stuff upon which he had been dropped. Then the wave abandoned him and raced swiftly back into the sea.

Thandar was exhausted, but he knew that he must crawl up out of the way of the surf, or be dragged back by the next roller. What he had searched for in vain through six long days he had run down in the midst of a Stygian night. He had found land! Or, to be more explicit, land had got in front of him and he had run into it. He had commenced to wonder if some terrible convulsions of nature had not swallowed up all the land in the world, leaving only a waste of desolate water. He forgot his hunger and his thirst in the happiness of the knowledge that once more he was upon land. He wondered a little what land it might be. He hoped that dawn would reveal the chimneys and steeples of a near-by city. And then, exhausted, he fell into a deep sleep.

It was the sun shining down into his upturned face that awoke him. He was lying upon his back beside a clump of bushes a little way above the beach. He was about to rise and survey the new world into which fate and a hurricane had hurled when, when he heard a familiar sound upon the opposite side of his bush. It was the movement of an animal creeping through the long grass.

Thandar, the cave man, came noiselessly to his hands and knees, peering cautiously through the intervening network of branches. What he saw sent his hand groping for his wooden sword with its fire-hardened point. There, not five paces from him, was a man going cautiously upon all fours. It was the most horrible appearing man that Thandar had ever seen—even Thurg appeared lovely by comparison. The creature’s ears were split and heavy ornaments had dragged them down until the lobes rested upon its shoulders. The face was terribly marked with cicatrices and tattooing. The teeth were black and pointed. A head-dress of long feathers waved and nodded above the hideous face. There was much tattooing upon the arms and legs and abdomen; the breasts were circled with it. In a belt about the waist lay a sword in its scabbard. In the man’s hand was a long spear.

The warrior was creeping stealthily upon something at Thandar’s left. The latter looked in the direction the other’s savage gaze was bent. Through the bushes he could barely discern a figure moving toward them along the edge of the beach. The warrior had passed him now and Thandar stood erect the better to obtain a view of the fellow’s quarry.

Now he saw it plainly—a man strangely garbed in many colors. A yellow jacket, soiled and worn, covered the upper part of his body. Strange designs, very elaborate, were embroidered upon the garment which reached barely to the fellow’s waist. Beneath was a red sash in which were stuck a long pistol and a wicked-looking knife. Baggy blue trousers reached to the bare ankles and feet. A strip of crimson cloth wound around the head completed the strange garmenture. The features of the man were Mongolian.

Thandar could see the warrior pause as it became evident that the other was approaching directly toward his place of concealment, but at the last moment the unconscious quarry turned sharply to his right down upon the beach. He had discovered the wreck of Thandar’s canoe and was going to investigate it.

The move placed Thandar almost between the two. Suddenly the native rose to his feet—his victim’s back was toward him. Grasping his spear in his left hand he drew his wicked-looking sword and emerged cautiously from the bushes. At the same moment the man upon the beach wheeled quickly as though suddenly warned of his danger. The native, discovered, leaped forward with raised sword. The man snatched his pistol from his belt, leveled it at the on-rushing warrior and pulled the trigger. There was a futile click—that was all. The weapon had missed fire.

Instantly, a third element was projected into the fray. Thandar, seeing a more direct link to civilization in the strangely apparalled Mongol than in the naked savage, leaped to the assistance of the former. With drawn sword he rushed out upon the savage. The wild man turned at Thandar’s cry, which he had given to divert the fellow’s attention from his now almost helpless victim.

Thandar knew nothing of the finer points of sword play. He was ignorant of the wickedness of a Malay parang—the keen, curved sword of the head-hunter, so he rushed in upon the savage has he would have upon one of Thurg’s near-men.

The very impetuosity of his attack awed the native. For a moment he stood his ground, and then, with a cry of terror turned to flee; but he had failed to turn soon enough. Thandar was upon him. The sharp point entered his back beneath the left shoulder black, and behind it were the weight and sinews of the cave man. With a shriek the savage lunged forward, clutching at the cruel point that now protruded from his breast. When he touched the earth he was dead.

Thandar drew his sword from the body of the head-hunter and turned toward the man he had rescued. The latter was approaching, taking excitedly. It was evident that he was thanking Thandar, but no word of his strange tongue could the American understand. Thandar shook his head to indicate that he was unfamiliar with the other’s language, and then the latter dropped into pidgin English, which, while almost as unintelligible to the cultured Bostonian, still contained the battered remnants of some few words with which he was familiar.

Thandar depreciated his act by means of gestures, immediately following these with signs to indicate he was hungry and thirty. The stranger evidently understood him, for he motioned for him to follow, leading the way back along the beach in the direction from which he had come.

Before starting, however, he had pointed to the wreck of Thandar’s canoe and then toward Thandar, nodding his head questioningly as to ask if the boat belonged to the cave man.

Around the end of the promontory they came upon a little cove beside the beach of which Thandar saw a camp of nearly a score of men similar in appearance to his guide. These were preparing breakfast beside the partially completed hull of a rather large boat they seemed to have been building.

At sight of Thandar they looked their astonishment, but after hearing the story of their fellow they greeted the cave man warmly, furnishing him with food and water in abundance.

For three days Thandar worked with these men upon their craft, picking up their story slowly with a slow acquirement of a bowing acquaintance with the bastard tongue they used when speaking with him. He soon became aware of the fact that fate had thrown him among a band of pirates. There were Chinese, Japanese and Malays among them—the off-scourings of the south seas; men who had become discredited even among the villainous pirates of their own lands, and had been forced to join their lots in this remoter and less lucrative field, under an unhung ruffian, Tsao Ming, the Chinaman whose life Thandar had saved.

He also learned that the storm that had cast them upon this shore nearly a month before had demolished their prahu, and what with the building of another and numerous skirmishes with the savages they had had a busy time of it.

Only yesterday while a part of them had been hunting a mile or two inland they had been attacked by savages who had killed two and captured one of their number.

They told Thandar that these savages were the most ferocious of head-hunters, but like the majority of their kind preferred ambushing an unwary victim to meeting him in fair fight in the open. Thandar did not doubt but that the latter mode of warfare would have been entirely to the liking of his piratical friends, for never in his life had he dreamed, even, of so ferocious and warlike a band as was comprised in this villainous and bloodthirsty aggregation. But the constant nervous tension under which they had worked, never knowing at what instant and arrow or lance would leap from the shades of the jungle to pierce them in the back, had reduced them to a state of fear that only a speedy departure from the island could conquer.

Their boat was almost completed, two more days would see them safely launched upon the ocean, and Taso Ming had promised Thandar that he would carry him to a civilized port from which he could take a steamer on his return to America.

Late in the afternoon of the third day since his arrival among the pirates the men were suddenly startled by the appearance of an exhausted and blood smeared apparition amongst them. From the nearby jungle the man had staggered to fall halfway across the clearing, spent.

It was Boloon—he who had been captured by the head-hunters the day before Thandar had been cast upon the shore. Revived with food and water the fellow told a most extraordinary tale. Even from the meager scraps that were afterward translated into pidgin English for Thandar the Bostonian learned the Boloon had been dragged far inland to a village of considerable size.

Here he had been placed in a room of one of the long houses to await the pleasure of the chief. It was hinted that he was to be tortured before his head was removed to grace the rafters of the chief’s palace.

The remarkable portion of his tale related to a strange temple to which he had been dragged and thrown at the feet of a white goddess. Tsao Ming and the other pirates were much mystified by this part of the story, for Boloon insisted that the goddess was white with a mass of black hair, and that her body was covered in the pelt of a magnificent black panther.

Though Taso Ming pointed out that there were no panthers upon this island Boloon could not be shaken. He had seen with his own eyes, and he knew. Furthermore, he argued, there were no white goddesses upon the island, and yet the woman he had seen was white.

When this strange tale was retold to Thandar he could not but recall that Nadara had worn a black panther skin, but of course it could not be Nadara—that was impossible. But yet he asked for a further description of the goddess—the color of her eyes and hair—the proportions of her body—her height.

To all these questions Boloon gave replies that but caused Thandar’s excitement to wax stronger. And then came the final statement that set him in a frenzy of hope and apprehension.

“Upon her left hand was a great diamond,” said Boloon.

Thandar turned toward Tsao Ming.

“I go inland to the temple,” he said, “to see who this white goddess may be. If you wait two days for me and I return you shall have as much gold as you ask in payment. If you do not wait repair my canoe and hide it in the bushes where the man hid who would have killed you but for Thandar.”

“I shall wait three days,” replied Tsao Ming. “Nor will I take a single fun in pay. You saved the life of Tsao Ming—that is not soon to be forgotten. I would send men with you, but they would not go. They are afraid of the head-hunters. Too, will I repair you canoe against your coming after the third day; but,” and he shrugged, “you will not come upon the third day, nor upon the fourth, nor ever, Thandar. It is better that you forget the foolish story of the frightened Boloon and come away from the accursed land with Tsao Ming.”

But Thandar wold not relinquish his intention, and so he parted with the pirates after receiving from Boloon explicit directions for his journey toward the mysterious temple and the white goddess who might be Nadara; and yet who could not be.

Straight into the tangled jungle he plunged, carrying the spear and parang of the head-hunter he had killed, and in the string about his loins one of the long pistols of a dead pirate. This latter Tsao Ming had forced upon him with a supply of ammunition.

The Cave Girl - Contents    |     Part II - Chapter XI - The Rescue

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