The Wizard of the Sea/Chapter 22


CHAPTER XXII.

FIGHTING THE SAVAGES.


"They are retreating!" cried Mont joyfully.

"No! no! they are coming on again!" put in Carl, a few seconds later.

"At 'em again, boys; let them have it," said the professor.

"Hot and strong this time, sir," said Stump, advancing a step to take better aim.

Again the bullets flew, and three more savages went down.

The others turned to fly to the shelter of the neighboring forests.

"Hurrah! they're bolting," said Mont.

"But they've collared what was left of our bread, and the remains of the roast pork," said the hired boy angrily. "Oh, the varmints! I'll just give them something."

He advanced to fire better.

An aged chief, however, turned at this moment and discharged a parting shot which took effect in the calf of Stump's leg.

"Oh, dear! I'm hit," he cried. "A great wooden skewer's stuck right in my leg, sir. Perhaps it's poisoned, sir. Oh, dear, but I wish it hadn't been me. There's the professor, now; he could have borne it better than me."

"Thank you, my young friend," said the professor, "the calf of my leg is as susceptible to pain as yours; let us get away, as arrowheads are sharp, and in certain parts of the body mortal."

"Where shall we go?" asked Mont.

"We are not safe here. The savages will return in larger numbers directly, and we shall probably lose our lives, so I propose to seek our boat."

"And go back to the Searcher?" asked Carl.

"Yes."

"Never! I for one will not go!" cried Carl.

"And I can't crawl. I'm as lame as a dog," said Stump, half crying.

"Roll, if you can't walk," said the professor jokingly.

"Pull it out, sir. Give me a hand with it. It hurts awful."

Mont advanced to the boy and seized the arrowhead, which he tugged at until, with a torrent of blood, it came out of the wound.

It was with difficulty Stump managed to limp on one leg, and seemed very grateful when Mont bound up the wound and told him to lean on his shoulder.

"My dear boy," said the professor, "discretion is the better part of valor. I am averse to the taking of human life, for I am a man of science and not a fighter. My advice is to check the advance of those bloodthirsty savages, and when your ammunition is spent, to run. As I am old, and not quick of foot, I will start at once."

So saying, he ran with all speed to the boat.

"Coward!" said Mont angrily.

"What are we to do?" asked Carl blankly.

"Follow him, I suppose," replied Mont. "Bring up the rear, Carl, while I help Stump along, and if the beasts show again, call us, and we will turn and fire."

They began to beat a retreat in this order, and, fortunately, the natives did not again make an appearance.

The half-mile was traversed quickly, Stump groaning dreadfully as he was forced along.

When within a few paces of the boat awful yells were heard behind them.

Turning to see from whence they proceeded, Mont saw a horde of savages in pursuit. The sands seemed to be alive with them.

Evidently the defeated party had returned to obtain re-enforcements and apprise their companions of the slaughter which had taken place, urging them to avenge it.

An army of at least three hundred wild-looking fiends were at their heels, and not a moment was to be lost.

"Quick, for Heaven's sake!" said Professor Woddle. "The savages are upon us. Quick, boys, or we are lost!"

The boys sprang into the boat, placing Stump in the bows, and pushed off.

Carl and Mont plied the oars vigorously.

Fortunately, when the savages reached the beach they were some distance out.

A flight of arrows fell close to them without doing them any harm.

At least a hundred of the natives plunged into the sea up to the waist, but they did not attempt to swim after the boat, which soon reached the Searcher.

Mont expected to see someone, but the platform was deserted.

Our hero at once went to the captain, being alarmed at the hostile attitude of the savages, whom he did not doubt were possessed of canoes and would make an attack upon the ship.

He was annoyed at being obliged to take shelter so soon, but what could he do?

All his hopes of liberty in flight were nipped in the bud.

He began to see now that Captain Vindex knew the character of the coast, and had calculated well on their return to their captivity.

Imprisonment with him was better than death or slavery among the savages of the island.

The captain was sitting in front of the organ playing an exquisite air of Beethoven.

Full of excitement, Mont had no time to listen.

He touched him on the shoulder.

The Wizard of the Sea seemed unconscious of his presence.

"Captain," said our hero.

The strange being shivered and turned round.

"Ah," he cried, "'tis you, Mr. Folsom. Have you had good sport? You have returned sooner than I expected."

"The sport was not bad," replied Mont, "but unfortunately we met with a troop of savages, who spoilt our fun."

The captain smiled ironically.

"Savages!" he repeated. "Were you surprised at meeting with them? Have you so little geographical knowledge that you do not know they swarm hereabouts?"

"All I know is," replied Mont, "that if you don't want them on board the boat, you had better look out."

"My dear fellow," said the captain, "I am not likely to trouble my head about such wretches."

"But there are lots of them."

"How many?"

"Over three hundred, I should think, as well as I could count."

"We have nothing to fear from them, nothing at all," said the captain. "Don't be alarmed."

Without another word he turned again to the organ, and played a Scotch air which had an indescribable charm about it.

He was plunged again in a reverie that Mont did not think it prudent to interrupt.

He remounted to the platform without seeing a single negro.

The most absolute want of precaution reigned on board the Searcher, and it looked as if no one knew that hundreds of howling savages were within five minutes' row of them.

In the growing darkness, which came on while Mont was alone, he could see the forms of the natives running backward and forward on the beach.

They were evidently planning an attack upon a large scale.

What could account for the captain's strange apathy?

After a time he forgot the natives in admiring the lovely night of the tropics.

The zodiacal stars appeared, and the moon shone brightly amidst innumerable constellations of the zenith.

He wished that the moon would light the Searcher to the coral bed, and that they would sink to the bottom, where they would be safe from their enemies.

Proceeding below again he sought his friends.

The door giving access to the interior of the boat remained open, and he observed a slave standing at the bottom of the staircase as if on watch.

Stump had his leg plastered up, and, though in pain, was much better.

Strange to say, all were pleased to return to the boat, and to escape a fearful death of lifelong slavery among the savages, who are known to travelers as the Papouans.

Mont slept badly, for he anticipated a night attack.