In the center of the village the man could see the outlines of a loftier structure rearing its head above those of the others. As darkness fell Thandar crept closer toward his goal—the large building which Boloon had described as the temple.
Beneath the high raised houses the cave man crept, disturbing pigs and chickens as he went, but their noise was no uncommon thing, and rather than being a menace to his safety it safeguarded him, for it hid the noise of his own advance.
At last he came beneath a house nearest the temple. The moon was full and high. Her brilliant light flooded the open spaces between the buildings, casing into black darkness the shadows beneath. In one of these Thandar lurked. He saw that the temple was guarded. Before its only entrance squatted two warriors. How was he to pass them?
He moved to the end of the shadow of the house beneath which he spied as far from the guards as possible; but still discovery seemed certain were he to attempt to rush across the intervening space. He was at a loss as to what next to do. It seemed foolish to risk all now upon a bold advance—the time for such a risk would be when he had found the goddess and learned if she were Nadara, or another; but how might he cross that strip of moonlight and enter the temple past the two guards without risk?
He moved silently to the far end of the building, in the shadows of which he watched. For some time he stood looking across at his goal, so near, and yet seemingly infinitely further from attainment than the day he had left the coast in search of it. He noted the long poles stuck into the ground at irregular intervals about the structure. He wondered at the significance of the rude carving upon them, of the barbaric capitals sometimes topped by the headdress of a savage warrior, again by a dried and grinning skull, or perhaps the rudely chiseled likeness of a hideous human face.
Upon many of the poles were hung shields, weapons, clothing and earthenware vessels. One especially was so weighted down by its heterogeneous burden that it leaned drunkenly against the eaves of the temple. Thandar’s eye followed it upward to where it touched the crudely shingled roof. The suggestion was sufficient—where his eye had climbed he would climb. There as only the moonlight to make the attempt perilous. If the clouds would but come! But there was no indication of clouds in the star shot sky.
He looked toward the guards. They lolled at the opposite end of the temple, only one of them being visible. The other was hidden by the angle of the building. The back of the fellow whom Thandar could see was turned toward the cave man. If they remained thus for a moment he could reach the roof unnoticed. But then there was the danger of discover from one of the other buildings. An occasional whiff of tobacco smoke told him that some of the men were still awake upon the verandahs where most of the youths and bachelors slept.
Thandar crawled to where he cold see the only verandah which directly faced the portion of the temple he had chose for his attempted entrance. For an hour he watched the rising and falling glow of the cigarettes of two of the native men, and listened to the low hum of their conversation. The hour seemed to drag into an eternity, but at last the glowing butt of first one cigarette and then another was flicked over into the grass and silence reigned upon the verandah.
For half an hour longer Thandar waited. The guards before the temple still squatted as before. The one Thandar could see seemed to have fallen asleep, for his head drooped forward upon his breast.
The time had come. There was no need of further delay or reconnaissance—if he was to be discovered that would be the end of it, and it would not profit him one iota to know a second or so in advance of the alarm that he had been detected. So he did not waste time in stealthy advance, or in much looking this way and that. Instead he moved swiftly, though silently, directly across the open, moonlit space to the foot of the leaning pole. He did not cast a glance behind nor to the right nor left. His whole attention was riveted upon the thing in hand.
Thandar had scaled the rickety, toppling saplings of the cliff dweller for sol long that this pole offered no greater difficulties to him that would an ordinary staircase to you or me. First he tested it with eyes and hands to know that it rested securely at the top and that beneath his weight it would not move noisily out of its present position.
Assured that it seemed secure, Thandar ran up it with the noiseless celerity of a cat. Gingerly he stepped upon the roof, not knowing the manner of its construction, which might be weak thatching that would give beneath him and precipitate him into the interior beneath.
To his surprise and consternation he found that the roof was of wood, and quite as solid as one could imagine. It had been his plan to enter the temple from above, but now it seemed that he was to be thwarted, for he could not hope to cut silently through a wooden roof with his parang in the few hours that intervened before dawn.
He stooped to examine the roof minutely with eyes and fingers. The moonlight was brilliant. In it he could see quite well. He pulled away the thing palm frond thatch. Beneath were shingles hand hewn from billian. In each was a small square black hole through which passed a strip of rattan that bound the shingle to the frame of the roof.
Thandar lifted away the thatching over a little space some two feet square. Then he inserted the point of his keen parang beneath a rattan tie string, and an instant later had lifted aside a shingle. Another and another followed the first until and opening in the roof had been made large enough to easily admit his body.
Thandar leaned over and peered into the darkness beneath. He could see nothing. His own body was between the moon and the hole in the roof, shutting out the rays of the satellite from the interior.
The man lowered his legs cautiously over the edge of the hole. Feeling about, his feet came in contact with a rafter. A moment later his whole body had disappeared with the temple. Cling to the edge of the hold with one hand, Thandar squatted upon the rafter above the temple floor.
Now that his body no longer closed the aperture in the roof the moonlight poured through it throwing a brilliant flood upon a portion of the floor at the opposite side of the interior. The balance was feebly lighted by the diffused moonlight.
The temple seemed to consist of a single large room. In the center was a raised platform, and also about the walls. From the rafters hung baskets containing human skulls—one sung directly in the moonlight beneath Thandar. He could see its grisly contents plainly.
His eyes followed the moonlight toward the area which it touched upon the far side of the room. It reminded Waldo Emerson of a spot light thrown from the gallery of theater upon the stage.
Directly in the center of the light a woman lay asleep upon the platform. Thandar’s heart stood still. About her figure was wrapped the gloss hide of Nagoola. Over one bare, brown arm billed a wealth of thick, black hair, fine as silk, upon the third finger of the left hand blazed a large solitaire. The woman’s face was turned toward the wall—but Thandar knew that he could not be mistaken—it was Nadara.
From the rafter upon which he squatted to the floor below was not over twelve or fifteen feet. Thandar swung downward, clinging to the rafter with his hands, and dropped, cat-like, upon his naked feet to the floor below.
The almost noiseless descent was sufficient, however, to awaken the sleeper. With the quickness of a panther she swung around and was upon her feet facing the man almost the instant he alighted. The moonlight was now full upon her face. Thandar rushed forward to take her in his arms.
“Nadara!” he whispered. “Thank God!”
The girl shrank back. She recognized the voice and the figure; but—her Thandar was dead! How could it be that he had returned from death? She was frightened.
The man saw the evident terror of her action, and paused.
“What is the matter, Nadara?” he asked. “Don’t you know me? Don’t you know Thandar?”
“Thandar is dead,” she whispered.
The man laughed. In a few words he explained that he had been stunned, but not killed, by the earthquake. Then he came to her side and took her in his arms.
“Do I feel like a dead man?” he asked.
She put her arms about his neck and drew his face down to hers. She was sobbing. Thandar’s back was toward the doorway of the temple. Nadara was facing it. As she raised her eyes to his again her face when deadly white, and she dragged and pushed him suddenly out of the brilliant patch of moonlight.
“The guard!” she whispered. “I just saw something move beyond the door.”
Thandar stepped behind one of the tree trunks that supported the roof, looking toward the entrance. Yes, there was a man even now coming into the temple. His eyes were wide with surprise as he glanced upward to the hold in the roof. Then he looked in the direction of the platform upon which Nadara had been sleeping. When he saw that it was empty he ran back to the doorway and called his companion.
As he did so Thandar grasped Nadara’s hand and drew her around the opposite side of the temple where the shadows were blackest, toward the doorway. They had reached the end of the room when the two warriors came running in, jabbering excitedly. One of them had passed halfway across the temple, and Thandar and Nadara had almost reached the door when the second savage caught sight of them. With a cry of warning to his companion he turned upon them with drawn parang.
As the fellow rushed forward Thandar drew the pistol the pirates had given him and fired point blank at the fellow’s breast. With a howl the man staggered back and collapsed upon the floor. Then his fellow rushed to the attack.
Thandar had no time to reload. He handed the weapon to Nadara.
“In the pouch at my right side are cartridges,” he said. “Get out several of them, and when I can I will reload.”
As he spoke they had been edging toward the doorway. From the street beyond they could already hear excited voices raised in questioning. The shot had aroused the village.
Now the fellow with the parang was upon them. Thandar was clumsy with the unaccustomed weapon with which he tried to meet the attack of the skilled savage. There could have been but one outcome of the unequal struggle had not Nadara, always quick-witted and resourceful, snatched a long spear from the temple wall.
As she dragged it down there fell with it a clattering skull that broke upon the floor between the fighters. A howl of dismay and rage broke from the lips of the head-hunter. This was sacrilege. The holy of the holies had been profaned. With renewed ferocity he leaped to close quarters with Thandar, but at the same instant Nadara lunged the sharp pointed spear into his side, his guard dropped and Thandar’s parang fell full upon his skull.
“Come!” cried Nadara. “Make your escape the way you came. There is no hope for you if you remain. I will tell them that the two guards fought between themselves for me—that one killed the other, and that I shot the victor to save myself. They will believe me—I will tell them that I have always had the pistol hidden beneath my robe. Good-bye, my Thandar. We cannot both escape. If you will remain we may both die—you certainly.”
Thandar shook his head vehemently.
“We shall both go—or both die,” he replied.
Nadara pressed his hand.
“I am glad,” was all she said.
The savages were pouring from their long houses. The street before the temple was filling with them. To attempt to escape in that direction would have been but suicidal.
“Is there no other exit?” asked Thandar.
“There is a small window in the back of the temple,” replied Nadara, “in a little room that is sometimes used as a prison for those who are to die, but it lets out into another street which by this time is probably filled with natives.”
“There is the floor,” cried Thandar. “We will try the floor there.”
He ran to the main entrance to the temple and closed the doors. Then he dragged the two corpses before them. And a long wooden bench. There was no other movable thing in the temple that had any considerable weight.
This done he took Nadara’s hand and together the two ran for the little room. Here again they barricaded the door, and Thandar turned toward the floor. With his parang he pried up a board—it was laid but roughly upon the light logs that were the beams. Another was removed with equal ease, and then he lowered Nadara to the ground beneath the temple.
Clinging to the piling, Thandar replaced the boards above his head before he, too, dropped to the ground at Nadara’s side. The streets upon either side of the temple were filled with savages. They could hear them congregating before the entrance to the temple where all was now quite and still within. They were bolstering their courage by much shouting to the point that would permit them to enter and investigate. They called the names of the guards, but there was no response.
“Give me the pistol,” said Thandar.
He loaded it, keeping several cartridges ready in his hand. Then, with Nadara at his side, he crept to the back of the temple. Pigs, routed form their slumbers, grunted and complained. A dog growled at them. Thandar silenced it with a cut from his parang. When they reached the edge of the shadow beneath the temple they saw that there were only a few natives upon this side of the structure, and they were hurrying rapidly toward the front of the building. A hundred yards away was the jungle.
Now a sudden quiet fell upon the horde before the temple doors. There was the sound of hammering, then a pushing, scraping noise, and presently shouts of savage rage—the dead bodies of the guardsmen had been discovered. Now, from above, came the padding of naked feet running through the temple. The street behind was momentarily deserted.
“Now!” whispered Thandar.
He seized Nadara’s hand, and together the two raced from beneath the temple out into the moonlight and across the intervening space between the long houses toward the jungle. Halfway across, a belated native, emerging from the verandah of a nearby house, saw them. He set up a terrific yell and dashed toward them.
Thandar’s pistol roared, and the savage dropped; but the signal had bene given and before the two reached the jungle a screaming horde of warrior was upon their heels.
Thandar was confused. He had lost his bearings since entering the village and the temple. He turned toward Nadara.
“I do not know the way to the coast,” he cried.
The girl took his hand.
“Follow me,” she said, and to the memories of each leaped the recollection of the night she had led hem through the forest from the cliffs of the bad men. Once again was Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones, the learned, indebted to the greater wisdom of the unlettered cave girl for his salvation.
Unerringly Nadara ran through the tangled jungle in the direction of the coast. Though she had been but once over the way she followed the direct line as unerringly as though each tree was blazed and sign posts marked each turn.
Behind them came the noise of the pursuit, but always Nadara and Thandar fled ahead of it, not once did it gain upon them during the long hours of flight.
It was noon before they reached the coast. They came out at the camp of the pirates, but to Thandar’s dismay it was deserted. Tsao Ming had awaited the allotted time and gone. If Thandar had but known it, the picturesque cutthroat had overstayed the promised period, and had but scarce left when the fugitives had emerged from the jungle beside the beach. In fact his rude craft was but out of sight beyond the northern promontory. A pistol shot would have recalled him; but Thandar did not know it, and so he turned dejectedly to search for his hidden canoe.
It lay behind the little clump of bushes that had hidden Thandar the morning that he had saved Tsao Ming’s life, several hundred yards to the south.
All signs of pursuit had now ceased, and so the two walked slowly in the direction of the craft. They found it just where Tsao Ming had promised that it would be. It was well and staunchly repaired, and in addition contained a goodly supply of food and water. Thandar blessed Tsao Ming, the unhung murderer.
Together they dragged the frail thing to the water’s edge, and were about to shove it out when, with a chorus of savage yells, a score or more of the head-hunters leaped from the jungle and bore down upon them. Thandar turned to meet them with drawn pistol.
“Get the canoe into the water, Nadara,” he called to the girl. “I will hold them off until it is launched, then we may be able to reach deep water before they can overtake us.”
Nadara struggled with the unwieldy boat which the rollers picked up and hurled back upon her each time she essayed to launch it. From the corner of his eyes Thandar saw the difficulties that the girl was having. Already the horde was halfway across the beach, running rapidly toward them. The man feared to fire except at close range since his unfamiliarity with firearms rendered him and extremely poor shot. However, it was evident that Nadara could not launch the thing alone, and so Thandar turned his pistol upon the approaching savages, pulled the trigger, and wheeled to assist the girl.
More by chance than kill the bullet lodged in the body of the foremost head-hunter. The fellow rolled screaming to the sand, and as one his companions came to a sudden halt. But seeing that Thandar was busy with the boat and not appearing to intend to follow up his shot they presently resumed the charge.
Thandar and Nadara were having all that they could attend to with the canoe and so the savages came to the water’s edge before they realized their proximity. When he saw them, Thandar wheeled and fired again, then picking the canoe up bodily above his head he struggled out through the surf, Nadara walking by his side, steadying him.
After them came the savages—perhaps half a dozen of the bolder, when suddenly a great roller caught them all, pursuers and pursued, sweeping them out into deep water. Thandar and Nadara clung to the canoe, but the head-hunters were dragged down by the undertow.
Upon the beach, yelling, threatening and gesticulating, danced thirty or forty baffled savaged; but now Thandar and Nadara had crawled into the craft, which the outgoing tide was carrying rapidly from shore, and with the aid of the paddle were soon safely out upon the bosom of the Pacific.