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.