“Gabula!” exclaimed the white man, lowering his weapon. “What are you doing here?”
“Bwana,” said the warrior, “I could not desert you. I could not leave you to die alone at the hands of the spirits that dwell upon these mountains.”
Von Harben eyed him incredulously. “But if you believe that, Gabula, are you not afraid that they will kill you, too?”
“I expect to die, Bwana,” replied Gabula. “I cannot understand why you were not killed the first night or the second night. We shall both surely be killed tonight.”
“And yet you followed me! Why?”
“You have been kind to me, Bwana,” replied the man. “Your father has been kind to me. When the others talked they filled me with fear and when they ran away I went with them, but I have come back. There was nothing else that I could do, was there?”
“No, Gabula. For you or for me there would have been nothing else to do, as we see such things, but as the others saw them they found another thing to do and they did it.”
“Gabula is not as the others,” said the man, proudly. “Gabula is a Batoro.”
“Gabula is a brave warrior,” said von Harben. “I do not believe in spirits and so there was no reason why I should be afraid, but you and all your people do believe in them and so it was a very brave thing for you to come back, but I shall not hold you. You may return Gabula, with the others.”
“Yes?” Gabula exclaimed eagerly. “The Bwana is going back? That will be good, Gabula will go back with him.”
“No, I am going down into that canyon,” said von Harben, pointing over the rim.
Gabula looked down, surprise and wonder reflected by his wide eyes and parted lips.
“But, Bwana, even if a human being could find a way down these steep cliffs, where there is no place for either hand or foot, he would surely be killed the moment he reached the bottom, for this indeed must be the Land of The Lost Tribe where the spirits of the dead live in the heart of the Wiramwazi.”
“You do not need to come with me, Gabula,” said von Harben. “Go back to your people.”
“How are you going to get down there?” demanded the Negro.
“I do not know just how, or where, or when. Now I am going to descend as far along this fissure as I can go. Perhaps I shall find my way down here, perhaps not.”
“But suppose there is no foothold beyond the fissure?” asked Gabula.
“I shall have to find footing.”
Gabula shook his head. “And if you reach the bottom, Bwana, and you are right about the spirits and there are none or they do not kill you, how will you get out again?”
Von Harben shrugged his shoulders and smiled. Then he extended his hand. “Goodby, Gabula,” he said. “You are a brave man.”
Gabula did not take the offered hand of his master. “I am going with you,” he said, simply.
“Even though you realize that should we reach the bottom alive we may never be able to return?”
“I cannot understand you, Gabula. You are afraid and I know that you wish to return to the village of your people. Then why do you insist on coming with me when I give you leave to return home?”
“I have sworn to serve you, Bwana, and I am a Batoro,” replied Gabula.
“And I can only thank the Lord that you are a Batoro,” said von Harben, “for the Lord knows that I shall need help before I reach the bottom of this canyon, and we must reach it, Gabula, unless we are content to die by starvation.”
“I have brought food,” said Gabula. “I knew that you might be hungry and I brought some of the food that you like,” and, unrolling the small pack that he carried, he displayed several bars of chocolate and a few packages of concentrated food that von Harben had included among his supplies in the event of an emergency.
To the famished von Harben, the food was like manna to the Israelites, and he lost no time in taking advantage of Gabula’s thoughtfulness. The sharp edge of his hunger removed, von Harben experienced a feeling of renewed strength and hopefulness, and it was with a light heart and a buoyant optimism that he commenced the descent into the canyon.
Gabula’s ancestry, stretching back through countless generations of jungle-dwelling people, left him appalled as he contemplated the frightful abyss into which his master was leading him, but so deeply had he involved himself by his protestations of loyalty and tribal pride that he followed von Harben with no outward show of the real terror that was consuming him.
The descent through the fissure was less difficult than it had appeared from above. The tumbled rocks that had partially filled it gave more than sufficient footing and in only a few places was assistance required, and it was at these times that von Harben realized how fortunate for him had been Gabula’s return.
When at last they reached the bottom of the cleft they found themselves, at its outer opening, flush with the face of the cliff and several hundred feet below the rim. This was the point beyond which von Harben had been unable to see and which he had been approaching with deep anxiety, since there was every likelihood that the conditions here might put a period to their further descent along this route.
Creeping over the loose rubble in the bottom of the fissure to its outer edge, von Harben discovered a sheer drop of a hundred feet to the level of the next terrace and his heart sank. To return the way they had come was, he feared, a feat beyond their strength and ingenuity, for there had been places down which one had lowered the other only with the greatest difficulty, which would be practically unscalable on the return journey.
It being impossible to ascend and as starvation surely faced them where they were, there was but one alternative. Von Harben lay upon his belly, his eyes at the outer edge of the fissure, and, instructing Gabula to hold tightly to his ankles, be wormed himself forward until he could scan the entire face of the cliff below him to the level of the next terrace.
A few feet from the level on which he lay he saw that the fissure lay open again to the base of the cliff, its stoppage at the point where they were having been caused by a large fragment of rock that had wedged securely between the sides of the fissure, entirely choking it at this point.
The fissure, which had narrowed considerably since they had entered it at the summit, was not more than two or three feet wide directly beneath the rock on which he lay and extended with little variation at this width the remaining hundred feet to the comparatively level ground below.
If he and Gabula could but get into this crevice he knew that they could easily brace themselves against its sides in such a way as to descend safely the remaining distance, but how with the means at hand were they to climb over the edge of the rock that blocked the fissure and crawl back into the fissure again several feet farther down?
Von Harben lowered his crude alpenstock over the edge of the rock fragment. When he extended his arms at full length the tip of the rod fell considerably below the bottom of the rock on which he lay. A man hanging at the end of the alpenstock might conceivably swing into the fissure, but it would necessitate a feat of acrobatics far beyond the powers of either himself or Gabula.
A rope would have solved their problem, but they had no rope. With a sigh, von Harben drew back when his examination of the fissure convinced him that he must find another way, but he was totally at a loss to imagine in what direction to look for a solution.
Gabula crouched back in the fissure, terrified by the anticipation of what von Harben’s attempted exploration had suggested. The very thought of even looking out over the edge of that rock beyond the face of the cliff left Gabula cold and half paralyzed, while the thought that he might have to follow von Harben bodily over the edge threw the Negro into a fit of trembling; yet had von Harben gone over the edge Gabula would have followed him.
The white man sat for a long time buried in thought. Time and again his eyes examined every detail of the formation of the fissure within the range of his vision. Again and again they returned to the huge fragment upon which they sat, which was securely wedged between the fissure’s sides. With this out of the way be felt that they could make unimpeded progress to the next terrace, but he knew that nothing short of a charge of dynamite could budge the heavy granite slab. Directly behind it were loose fragments of various sizes, and as his eyes returned to them once again he was struck with the possibility that they suggested.
“Come, Gabula,” he said. “Help me throw out some of these rocks. This seems to be our only possible hope of escaping from the trap that I have got us into.”
“Yes, Bwana,” replied Gabula, and fell to work beside von Harben, though he could not understand why they should be picking up these stones, some of which were very heavy, and pushing them out over the edge of the flat fragment that clogged the fissure.
He heard them crash heavily where they struck the rocks below and this interested and fascinated him to such an extent that he worked feverishly to loosen the larger blocks of stone for the added pleasure he derived from hearing the loud noise that they made when they struck.
“It begins to look,” said von Harben, after a few minutes, “as though we may be going to succeed, unless by removing these rocks here we cause some of those above to slide down and thus loosen the whole mass above us—in which event, Gabula, the mystery of The Lost Tribe will cease to interest us longer.”
“Yes, Bwana,” said Gabula, and lifting an unusually large rock he started to roll it toward the edge of the fissure. “Look! Look, Bwana!” he exclaimed, pointing at the place where the rock had lain.
Von Harben looked and saw an opening about the size of a man’s head extending into the fissure beneath them.
“Thank Nsenene, the grasshopper, Gabula,” cried the white man, “if that is the totem of your clan—for here indeed is a way to salvation.”
Hurriedly the two men set to work to enlarge the hole by throwing out other fragments that had long been wedged in together to close the fissure at this point, and as the fragments clattered down upon the rocks below, a tall, straight warrior standing in the bow of a dugout upon the marshy lake far below looked up and called the attention of his comrades.
They could plainly hear the reverberations of the falling fragments as they struck the rocks at the foot of the fissure and, keen-eyed, they could see many of the larger pieces that von Harben and Gabula tossed downward.
“The great wall is falling,” said the warrior.
“A few pebbles,” said another. “It is nothing.”
“Such things do not happen except after rains,” said the first speaker. “It is thus that it is prophesied that the great wall will fall.”
“Perhaps it is a demon who lives in the great rift in the wall,” said another. “Let us hasten and tell the masters.”
“Let us wait and watch,” said the first speaker, “until we have something to tell them. If we went and told them that a few rocks had fallen from the great wall they would only laugh at us.”
Von Harben and Gabula had increased the size of the opening until it was large enough to permit the passage of a man’s body. Through it the white man could see the rough sides of the fissure extending to the level of the next terrace and knew that the next stage of the descent was already as good as an accomplished fact.
“We shall descend one at a time, Gabula,” said von Harben. “I shall go first, for I am accustomed to this sort of climbing. Watch carefully so that you may descend exactly as I do. It is easy and there is no danger. Be sure that you keep your back braced against one wall and your feet against the other. We shall lose some hide in the descent, for the walls are rough, but we shall get down safely enough if we take it slowly.
“Yes, Bwana. You go first,” said Gabula. “If I see you do it then, perhaps, I can do it.”
Von Harben lowered himself through the aperture, braced himself securely against the opposite walls of the fissure, and started slowly downward. A few minutes later Gabula saw his master standing safely at the bottom, and though his heart was in his mouth the Negro followed without hesitation, but when he stood at last beside von Harben he breathed such a loud sigh of relief that von Harben was forced to laugh aloud.
“It is the demon himself,” said the warrior in the dugout, as von Harben had stepped from the fissure.
From where the dugout of the watchers floated, half concealed by lofty papyrus, the terrace at the base of the fissure was just visible. They saw von Harben emerge and a few moments later the figure of Gabula.
“Now, indeed,” said one of the men, “we should hasten and tell the masters.”
“No,” said the first speaker. “Those two may be demons but they look like men and we shall wait until we know what they are and why they are here before we go away.”
For a thousand feet the descent from the base of the fissure was far from difficult, a rough slope leading in an easterly direction down toward the canyon bottom. During the descent their view of the lake and of the canyon was often completely shut off by masses of weather-worn granite around which they sometimes had difficulty in finding, a way. As a rule the easiest descent lay between these towering fragments of the main body of the cliff, and at such times as the valley was hidden from them so were they hidden from the watchers on the lake.
A third of the way down the escarpment von Harben came to the verge of a narrow gorge, the bottom of which was densely banked with green, the foliage of trees growing luxuriantly, pointing unquestionably to the presence of water, in abundance. Leading the way, von Harben descended into the gorge, at the bottom of which he found a spring from which a little stream trickled downward. Here they quenched their thirst and rested. Then, following the stream downward, they discovered no obstacles that might not be easily surmounted.
For a long time, hemmed in by the walls of the narrow gorge and their view further circumscribed by the forest-like growth along the banks of the stream, they had no sight of the lake or the canyon bottom, but, finally, when the gorge debouched upon the lower slopes von Harben halted in admiration of the landscape spread out before him. Directly below, another stream entered that along which they had descended, forming a little river that dropped steeply to what appeared to be vivid green meadow land through which it wound tortuously to the great swamp that extended out across the valley for perhaps ten miles.
So choked was the lake with some feathery-tipped aquatic plant that von Harben could only guess as to its extent, since the green of the water plant and the green of the surrounding meadows blended into one another, but here and there he saw signs of open water that appeared like winding lanes or passages leading in all directions throughout the marsh.
As von Harben and Gabula stood looking out across this (to them) new and mysterious world, the warriors in the dugout watched them attentively. The strangers were still so far away that the men were unable to identify them, but their leader assured them that these two were no demons.
“How do you know that they are not demons?” demanded one of these fellows.
“I can see that they are men,” replied the other.
“Demons are very wise and very powerful,” insisted the doubter. “They may take any form they choose. They might come as birds or animals or men.”
“They are not fools,” snapped the leader. “If a demon wished to descend the great wall he would not choose the hardest way. He would take the form of a bird and fly down.”
The other scratched his head in perplexity, for he realized that here was an argument that would be difficult to controvert. For want of anything better to say, he suggested that they go at once and report the matter to their masters.
“No,” said the leader. “We shall remain here until they come closer. It will be better for us if we can take them with us and show them to our masters.”
The first few steps that von Harben took onto the grassy meadow land revealed the fact that it was a dangerous swamp from which only with the greatest difficulty were they able to extricate themselves.
Floundering back to solid ground, von Harben reconnoitered in search of some other avenue to more solid ground on the floor of the canyon, but he found that upon both sides of the river the swamp extended to the foot of the lowest terrace of the cliff, and low as these were in comparison to their lofty fellows towering far above them, they were still impassable barriers.
Possibly by reascending the gorge he might find an avenue to more solid ground toward the west, but as he had no actual assurance of this and as both he and Gabula were well-nigh exhausted from the physical strain of the descent, he preferred to find an easier way to the lake shore if it were possible.
He saw that while the river at this point was not swift, the current was rapid enough to suggest that the bottom might be sufficiently free from mud to make it possible for them to utilize it as an avenue to the lake, if it were not too deep.
To test the feasibility of the idea, he lowered himself into the water, holding to one end of his alpenstock, while Gabula seized the other. He found that the water came to his waist-line and that the bottom was firm and solid.
“Come on, Gabula. This is our way to the lake, I guess,” he said.
As Gabula slipped into the water behind his master, the dugout containing the warriors pushed silently along the watery lane among the papyrus and with silent paddles was urged swiftly toward the mouth of the stream where it emptied into the lake.
As von Harben and Gabula descended the stream they found that the depth of the water did not greatly increase. Once or twice they stumbled into deeper holes and were forced to swim, but in other places the water shallowed until it was only to their knees, and thus they made their way down to the lake at the verge of which their view was shut off by clumps of papyrus rising twelve or fifteen feet above the surface of the water.
“It begins to look,” said von Harben, “as though there is no solid ground along the shore line, but the roots of the papyrus will hold us and if we can make our way to the west end of the lake I am sure that we shall find solid ground, for I am positive that I saw higher land there, as we were descending the cliff.”
Feeling their way cautiously along, they came at last to the first clump of papyrus and just as von Harben was about to clamber to the solid footing of the roots, a canoe shot from behind the mass of floating plants and the two men found themselves covered by the weapons of a boatload of warriors.