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Chapter 7 THE BALLOON TREE

  • ### I.
  • The colonel said:
  • We rode for several hours straight from the shore toward the heart of th_sland. The sun was low in the western sky when we left the ship. Neither o_he water nor on the land had we felt a breath of air stirring. The glare wa_pon everything. Over the low range of hills miles away in the interior hung _ew copper-colored clouds. "Wind," said Briery. Kilooa shook his head.
  • Vegetation of all kinds showed the effects of the long continued drought. Th_ye wandered without relief from the sickly russet of the undergrowth, so dr_n places that leaves and stems crackled under the horses' feet, to th_ellowish-brown of the thirsty trees that skirted the bridle path. No growin_hing was green except the bell-top cactus, fit to flourish in the crater of _iving volcano.
  • Kilooa leaned over in the saddle and tore from one of these plants its top, a_ig as a California pear and bloated with juice. He crushed the bell in hi_ist, and, turning, flung into our hot faces a few grateful drops of water.
  • Then the guide began to talk rapidly in his language of vowels and liquids.
  • Briery translated for my benefit.
  • The god Lalala loved a woman of the island. He came in the form of fire. She,
  • accustomed to the ordinary temperature of the clime, only shivered before hi_pproaches. Then he wooed her as a shower of rain and won her heart. Kakal wa_ divinity much more powerful than Lalala, but malicious to the last degree.
  • He also coveted this woman, who was very beautiful. Kakal's importunities wer_n vain. In spite, he changed her to a cactus, and rooted her to the groun_nder the burning sun. The god Lalala was powerless to avert this vengeance;
  • but he took up his abode with the cactus woman, still in the form of a rai_hower, and never left her, even in the driest seasons. Thus it happens tha_he bell-top cactus is an unfailing reservoir of pure cool water.
  • Long after dark we reached the channel of a vanished stream, and Kilooa led u_or several miles along its dry bed. We were exceedingly tired when the guid_ade us dismount. He tethered the panting horses and then dashed into th_ense thicket on the bank. A hundred yards of scrambling, and we came to _oor thatched hut. The savage raised both hands above his head and uttered _usical falsetto, not unlike the yodel peculiar to the Valais. This cal_rought out the occupant of the hut, upon whom Briery flashed the light of hi_antern. It was an old woman, hideous beyond the imagination of a dyspeptic'_ream.
  • "Omanana gelaãl!" exclaimed Kilooa.
  • "Hail, holy woman," translated Briery.
  • Between Kilooa and the holy hag there ensued a long colloquy, respectful o_is part, sententious and impatient on hers, Briery listened with eage_ttention. Several times he clutched my arm, as if unable to repress hi_nxiety. The woman seemed to be persuaded by Kilooa's arguments, or won by hi_ntreaties. At last she pointed toward the southeast, slowly pronouncing a fe_ords that apparently satisfied my companions.
  • The direction indicated by the holy woman was still toward the hills, bu_wenty or thirty degrees to the left of the general course which we ha_ursued since leaving the shore.
  • "Push on! Push on!" cried Briery. "We can afford to lose no time."