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Chapter 21 SAVAGE FEASTS AND ORNAMENTS—MARTIN GROWS DESPERATE, AND MAKES _OLD ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE

  • Hunting and feasting were the chief occupations of the men of the tribe wit_hom Martin sojourned. One day Martin was told that a great feast was to tak_lace, and he was permitted to attend. Accordingly, a little before th_ppointed time he hastened to the large hut in and around which th_estivities were to take place, in order to witness the preparations.
  • The first thing that struck him was that there seemed to be no preparation_aking for eating; and on inquiry he was told that they did not meet to eat,
  • they met to drink and dance,—those who were hungry might eat at home.
  • The preparations for drinking were made on an extensive scale by the women, _umber of whom stood round a large caldron, preparing its contents for use.
  • These women wore very little clothing, and their bodies, besides being painte_n a fantastic style, were also decorated with flowers and feathers. Marti_ould not help feeling that, however absurd the idea of painting the body was,
  • it had at least the good effect of doing away to some extent with the idea o_akedness; for the curious patterns and devices gave to the Indians th_ppearance of being clothed in tights,—and, at any rate, he argued mentally,
  • paint was better than nothing. Some of the flowers were artificiall_onstructed out of beetles' wings, shells, fish-scales, and feathers, and wer_xquisitely beautiful as well as gorgeous.
  • One of the younger women struck Martin as being ultra-fashionable in he_aint. Her black shining hair hung like a cloak over her reddish-brow_houlders, and various strange drawings and figures ornamented her face an_reast. On each cheek she had a circle, and over that two strokes; under th_ose were four red spots; from the corners of her mouth to the middle of eac_heek were two parallel lines, and below these several upright stripes; o_arious parts of her back and shoulders were curiously entwined circles, an_he form of a snake was depicted in vermilion down each arm. Unlike th_thers, she wore no ornament except a simple necklace of monkeys' teeth. Thi_eauty was particularly active in manufacturing the intoxicating drink, whic_s prepared thus:—A quantity of maize was pounded in the hollow trunk of _ree and put into an earthen pot, where it was boiled in a large quantity o_ater. Then the woman took the coarsely ground and boiled flour out of th_ater, chewed it in their mouths for a little, and put it into the pot again!
  • By this means the decoction began to ferment and became intoxicating. It was _ery disgusting method, yet it is practised by many Indian tribes in America;
  • and, strange to say, also by some of the South Sea islanders, who, of course,
  • could not have learned it from these Indians.
  • When this beverage was ready, the chief, a tall, broad-shouldered man, whos_ainted costume and ornaments were most elaborate, stepped up to the pot an_egan a strange series of incantations, which he accompanied by rattling _mall wooden instrument in his hand; staring all the time at the earthen pot,
  • as if he half expected it to run away; and dancing slowly round it, as if t_revent such a catastrophe from taking place. The oftener the song wa_epeated the more solemn and earnest became the expression of his face and th_ones of his voice. The rest of the Indians, who were assembled to the numbe_f several hundreds, stood motionless round the pot, staring at him intentl_ithout speaking, and only now and then, when the voice and actions of th_hief became much excited, they gave vent to a sympathetic howl.
  • After this had gone on for some time, the chief seized a drinking-cup, o_uja, which he gravely dipped into the pot and took a sip. Then the shaking o_he rattle and the monotonous song began again. The chief next took a goo_ull at the cup and emptied it; after which he presented it to his companions,
  • who helped themselves at pleasure; and the dance and monotonous music becam_ore furious and noisy the longer the cup went round.
  • When the cup had circulated pretty freely among them, their dances and musi_ecame more lively; but they were by no means attractive. After he had watche_hem a short time, Martin left the festive scene with a feeling of pity fo_he poor savages; and as he thought upon their low and debased condition h_ecalled to mind the remark of his old friend the hermit,—"They want the Bibl_n Brazil."
  • During his frequent rambles in the neighbourhood of the Indian village, Marti_iscovered many beautiful and retired spots, to which he was in the habit o_oing in the evenings after his daily labours were accomplished, accompanied,
  • as usual, at a respectful distance, by his vigilant friend the tall savage.
  • One of his favourite resting-places was at the foot of a banana-tree whic_rew on the brow of a stupendous cliff about a mile distant from the hut i_hich he dwelt. From this spot he had a commanding view of the noble valle_nd the distant mountains. These mountains now seemed to the poor boy to b_he ponderous gates of his beautiful prison; for he had been told by one o_is Indian friends that on the other side of them were great campos an_orests, beyond which dwelt many Portuguese, while still further on was _reat lake without shores, which was the end of the world. This, Martin wa_onvinced, must be the Atlantic Ocean; for, upon inquiry, he found that man_onths of travel must be undergone ere it could be reached. Moreover, he kne_hat it could not be the Pacific, because the sun rose in that direction.
  • Sauntering away to his favourite cliff, one fine evening towards sunset, h_eated himself beneath the banana-tree and gazed longingly at the distan_ountains, whose sharp summits glittered in the ruddy glow. He had long racke_is brain in order to devise some method of escape, but hitherto withou_uccess. Wherever he went the "shadow" followed him, armed with the deadl_low-pipe; and he knew that even if he did succeed in eluding his vigilanc_nd escaping into the woods, hundreds of savages would turn out and track him,
  • with unerring certainty, to any hiding-place. Still the strength of his ster_etermination sustained him; and, at each failure in his efforts to devis_ome means of effecting his purpose, he threw off regret with a deep sigh, an_eturned to his labour with a firmer step, assured that he should eventuall_ucceed.
  • As he sat there on the edge of the precipice, he said, half aloud, "Wha_revents me from darting suddenly on that fellow and knocking him down?"
  • This was a question that might have been easily answered. No doubt he wa_hysically capable of coping with the man, for he had now been upwards of _ear in the wilderness, and was in his sixteenth year, besides being unusuall_all and robust for his age. Indeed he looked more like a full-grown man tha_ stripling; for hard, incessant toil had developed his muscles and enlarge_is frame, and his stirring life, combined latterly with anxiety, had stampe_ few of the lines of manhood on his sunburnt countenance. But, although h_ould have easily overcome the Indian, he knew that he would be instantl_issed; and, from what he had seen of the powers of the savages in trackin_ild animals to their dens in the mountains, he felt that he could no_ossibly elude them except by stratagem.
  • Perplexed and wearied with unavailing thought and anxiety, Martin pressed hi_ands to his forehead and gazed down the perpendicular cliff, which wa_levated fully a hundred feet above the plain below. Suddenly he started an_lasped his hands upon his eyes, as if to shut out some terrible object fro_is sight. Then, creeping cautiously towards the edge of the cliff, he gaze_own, while an expression of stern resolution settled upon his pale face.
  • And well might Martin's cheek blanch, for he had hit upon a plan of escap_hich, to be successful, required that he should twice turn a bold,
  • unflinching face on death. The precipice, as before mentioned, was fully _undred feet high, and quite perpendicular. At the foot of it there flowed _eep and pretty wide stream, which, just under the spot where Martin stood,
  • collected in a deep black pool, where it rested for a moment ere it rushed o_ts rapid course down the valley. Over the cliff and into that pool Marti_ade up his mind to plunge, and so give the impression that he had fallen ove_nd been drowned. The risk he ran in taking such a tremendous leap was ver_reat indeed, but that was only half the danger he must encounter.
  • The river was one of a remarkable kind, of which there are one or tw_nstances in South America. It flowed down the valley between high rocks, and,
  • a few hundred yards below the pool, it ran straight against the face of _recipice and there terminated to all appearance; but a gurgling vortex in th_eep water at the base of the cliff, and the disappearance of everything tha_ntered it, showed that the stream found a subterranean passage. There was n_ign of its reappearance, however, in all the country round. In short, th_iver was lost in the bowels of the earth.
  • From the pool to the cliff where the river was engulfed the water ran like _ill-race, and there was no spot on either bank where any one could land, o_ven grasp with his hand, except one. It was a narrow, sharp rock, that jutte_ut about two feet from the bank, quite close to the vortex of the whirlpool.
  • This rock was Martin's only hope. To miss it would be certain destruction. Bu_f he should gain a footing on it he knew that he could climb by a narro_issure into a wild, cavernous spot, which it was exceedingly difficult t_each from any other point. A bend in the river concealed this rock and th_ortex from the place whereon he stood, so that he hoped to be able to reac_he point of escape before the savage could descend the slope and gain th_ummit of the cliff from whence it could be seen.
  • Of all this Martin was well aware, for he had been often at the place before,
  • and knew every inch of the ground. His chief difficulty would be to leap ove_he precipice in such a manner as to cause the Indian to believe he had falle_ver accidentally. If he could accomplish this, then he felt assured th_avages would suppose he had been drowned, and so make no search for him a_ll. Fortunately the ground favoured this. About five feet below the edge o_he precipice there was a projecting ledge of rock nearly four feet broad an_overed with shrubs. Upon this it was necessary to allow himself to fall. Th_xpedient was a desperate one, and he grew sick at heart as he glanced dow_he awful cliff, which seemed to him three times higher than it really was, a_ll heights do when seen from above.
  • Glancing round, he observed his savage guardian gazing contemplatively at th_istant prospect. Martin's heart beat audibly as he rose and walked with a_ffectation of carelessness to the edge of the cliff. As he gazed down, _eeling of horror seized him; he gasped for breath, and almost fainted. The_he idea of perpetual slavery flashed across his mind, and the thought o_reedom and home nerved him: He clenched his hands, staggered convulsivel_orward and fell, with a loud and genuine shriek of terror, upon the shrub_hat covered the rocky ledge. Instantly he arose, ground his teeth together,
  • raised his eyes for one moment to heaven, and sprang into the air. For on_nstant he swept through empty space; the next he was deep down in the water_f the dark pool, and when the horrified Indian reached the edge of th_recipice, he beheld his prisoner struggling on the surface for a moment, er_e was swept by the rapid stream round the point and out of view.
  • Bounding down the slope, the savage sped like a hunted antelope across th_ntervening space between the two cliffs, and quickly gained the brow of th_ower precipice, which he reached just in time to see Martin Rattler's stra_at dance for a moment on the troubled waters of the vortex and disappear i_he awful abyss. But Martin saw it, too, from the cleft in the frowning rock.
  • On reaching the surface after his leap he dashed the water from his eyes an_ooked with intense earnestness in the direction of the projecting roc_owards which he was hurried. Down he came upon it with such speed that h_elt no power of man could resist. But there was a small eddy just below it,
  • into which he was whirled as he stretched forth his hands and clutched th_ock with the energy of despair. He was instantly torn away. But another smal_oint projected two feet below it. This he seized. The water swung his feet t_nd fro as it gushed into the vortex, but the eddy saved him. In a moment hi_reast was on the rock, then his foot, and he sprang into the sheltering clef_ust a moment before the Indian came in view of the scene of his suppose_eath.
  • Martin flung himself with his face to the ground, and thought rather tha_ttered a heartfelt thanksgiving for his deliverance. The savage carried th_ews of his death to his friends in the Indian village, and recounted wit_eep solemnity the particulars of his awful fate to crowds of wondering,—i_any cases sorrowing,—listeners; and for many a day after that, the poo_avages were wont to visit the terrible cliff and gaze with awe on th_ysterious vortex that had swallowed up, as they believed, the fair-haire_oy.