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Chapter 2 The Savage Home

  • Nor did they have long to wait, for the next morning as Clayton was emergin_n deck for his accustomed walk before breakfast, a shot rang out, and the_nother, and another.
  • The sight which met his eyes confirmed his worst fears. Facing the little kno_f officers was the entire motley crew of the Fuwalda, and at their head stoo_lack Michael.
  • At the first volley from the officers the men ran for shelter, and from point_f vantage behind masts, wheel-house and cabin they returned the fire of th_ive men who represented the hated authority of the ship.
  • Two of their number had gone down before the captain's revolver. They la_here they had fallen between the combatants. But then the first mate lunge_orward upon his face, and at a cry of command from Black Michael th_utineers charged the remaining four. The crew had been able to muster but si_irearms, so most of them were armed with boat hooks, axes, hatchets an_rowbars.
  • The captain had emptied his revolver and was reloading as the charge was made.
  • The second mate's gun had jammed, and so there were but two weapons opposed t_he mutineers as they bore down upon the officers, who now started to giv_ack before the infuriated rush of their men.
  • Both sides were cursing and swearing in a frightful manner, which, togethe_ith the reports of the firearms and the screams and groans of the wounded, turned the deck of the Fuwalda to the likeness of a madhouse.
  • Before the officers had taken a dozen backward steps the men were upon them.
  • An ax in the hands of a burly Negro cleft the captain from forehead to chin, and an instant later the others were down: dead or wounded from dozens o_lows and bullet wounds.
  • Short and grisly had been the work of the mutineers of the Fuwalda, an_hrough it all John Clayton had stood leaning carelessly beside th_ompanionway puffing meditatively upon his pipe as though he had been bu_atching an indifferent cricket match.
  • As the last officer went down he thought it was time that he returned to hi_ife lest some members of the crew find her alone below.
  • Though outwardly calm and indifferent, Clayton was inwardly apprehensive an_rought up, for he feared for his wife's safety at the hands of thes_gnorant, half-brutes into whose hands fate had so remorselessly thrown them.
  • As he turned to descend the ladder he was surprised to see his wife standin_n the steps almost at his side.
  • "How long have you been here, Alice?"
  • "Since the beginning," she replied. "How awful, John. Oh, how awful! What ca_e hope for at the hands of such as those?"
  • "Breakfast, I hope," he answered, smiling bravely in an attempt to allay he_ears.
  • "At least," he added, "I'm going to ask them. Come with me, Alice. We must no_et them think we expect any but courteous treatment."
  • The men had by this time surrounded the dead and wounded officers, and withou_ither partiality or compassion proceeded to throw both living and dead ove_he sides of the vessel. With equal heartlessness they disposed of their ow_ead and dying.
  • Presently one of the crew spied the approaching Claytons, and with a cry of:
  • "Here's two more for the fishes," rushed toward them with uplifted ax.
  • But Black Michael was even quicker, so that the fellow went down with a bulle_n his back before he had taken a half dozen steps.
  • With a loud roar, Black Michael attracted the attention of the others, and, pointing to Lord and Lady Greystoke, cried:
  • "These here are my friends, and they are to be left alone. D'ye understand?
  • "I'm captain of this ship now, an' what I says goes," he added, turning t_layton. "Just keep to yourselves, and nobody'll harm ye," and he looke_hreateningly on his fellows.
  • The Claytons heeded Black Michael's instructions so well that they saw bu_ittle of the crew and knew nothing of the plans the men were making.
  • Occasionally they heard faint echoes of brawls and quarreling among th_utineers, and on two occasions the vicious bark of firearms rang out on th_till air. But Black Michael was a fit leader for this band of cutthroats, and, withal held them in fair subjection to his rule.
  • On the fifth day following the murder of the ship's officers, land was sighte_y the lookout. Whether island or mainland, Black Michael did not know, but h_nnounced to Clayton that if investigation showed that the place was habitabl_e and Lady Greystoke were to be put ashore with their belongings.
  • "You'll be all right there for a few months," he explained, "and by that tim_e'll have been able to make an inhabited coast somewhere and scatter a bit.
  • Then I'll see that yer gover'ment's notified where you be an' they'll soo_end a man- o'war to fetch ye off.
  • "It would be a hard matter to land you in civilization without a lot o'
  • questions being asked, an' none o' us here has any very convincin' answers u_ur sleeves."
  • Clayton remonstrated against the inhumanity of landing them upon an unknow_hore to be left to the mercies of savage beasts, and, possibly, still mor_avage men.
  • But his words were of no avail, and only tended to anger Black Michael, so h_as forced to desist and make the best he could of a bad situation.
  • About three o'clock in the afternoon they came about off a beautiful woode_hore opposite the mouth of what appeared to be a land-locked harbor.
  • Black Michael sent a small boat filled with men to sound the entrance in a_ffort to determine if the Fuwalda could be safely worked through th_ntrance.
  • In about an hour they returned and reported deep water through the passage a_ell as far into the little basin.
  • Before dark the barkentine lay peacefully at anchor upon the bosom of th_till, mirror-like surface of the harbor.
  • The surrounding shores were beautiful with semitropical verdure, while in th_istance the country rose from the ocean in hill and tableland, almos_niformly clothed by primeval forest.
  • No signs of habitation were visible, but that the land might easily suppor_uman life was evidenced by the abundant bird and animal life of which th_atchers on the Fuwalda's deck caught occasional glimpses, as well as by th_himmer of a little river which emptied into the harbor, insuring fresh wate_n plenitude.
  • As darkness settled upon the earth, Clayton and Lady Alice still stood by th_hip's rail in silent contemplation of their future abode. From the dar_hadows of the mighty forest came the wild calls of savage beasts—the dee_oar of the lion, and, occasionally, the shrill scream of a panther.
  • The woman shrank closer to the man in terror-stricken anticipation of th_orrors lying in wait for them in the awful blackness of the nights to come, when they should be alone upon that wild and lonely shore.
  • Later in the evening Black Michael joined them long enough to instruct them t_ake their preparations for landing on the morrow. They tried to persuade hi_o take them to some more hospitable coast near enough to civilization so tha_hey might hope to fall into friendly hands. But no pleas, or threats, o_romises of reward could move him.
  • "I am the only man aboard who would not rather see ye both safely dead, and, while I know that's the sensible way to make sure of our own necks, yet Blac_ichael's not the man to forget a favor. Ye saved my life once, and in retur_'m goin' to spare yours, but that's all I can do.
  • "The men won't stand for any more, and if we don't get ye landed pretty quic_hey may even change their minds about giving ye that much show. I'll put al_er stuff ashore with ye as well as cookin' utensils an' some old sails fo_ents, an' enough grub to last ye until ye can find fruit and game.
  • "With yer guns for protection, ye ought to be able to live here easy enoug_ntil help comes. When I get safely hid away I'll see to it that the Britis_over'ment learns about where ye be; for the life of me I couldn't tell 'e_xactly where, for I don't know myself. But they'll find ye all right."
  • After he had left them they went silently below, each wrapped in gloom_orebodings.
  • Clayton did not believe that Black Michael had the slightest intention o_otifying the British government of their whereabouts, nor was he any too sur_ut that some treachery was contemplated for the following day when the_hould be on shore with the sailors who would have to accompany them wit_heir belongings.
  • Once out of Black Michael's sight any of the men might strike them down, an_till leave Black Michael's conscience clear.
  • And even should they escape that fate was it not but to be faced with fa_raver dangers? Alone, he might hope to survive for years; for he was _trong, athletic man.
  • But what of Alice, and that other little life so soon to be launched amids_he hardships and grave dangers of a primeval world?
  • The man shuddered as he meditated upon the awful gravity, the fearfu_elplessness, of their situation. But it was a merciful Providence whic_revented him from foreseeing the hideous reality which awaited them in th_rim depths of that gloomy wood.
  • Early next morning their numerous chests and boxes were hoisted on deck an_owered to waiting small boats for transportation to shore.
  • There was a great quantity and variety of stuff, as the Claytons had expecte_ possible five to eight years' residence in their new home. Thus, in additio_o the many necessities they had brought, there were also many luxuries.
  • Black Michael was determined that nothing belonging to the Claytons should b_eft on board. Whether out of compassion for them, or in furtherance of hi_wn self-interests, it would be difficult to say.
  • There was no question but that the presence of property of a missing Britis_fficial upon a suspicious vessel would have been a difficult thing to explai_n any civilized port in the world.
  • So zealous was he in his efforts to carry out his intentions that he insiste_pon the return of Clayton's revolvers to him by the sailors in whos_ossession they were.
  • Into the small boats were also loaded salt meats and biscuit, with a smal_upply of potatoes and beans, matches, and cooking vessels, a chest of tools, and the old sails which Black Michael had promised them.
  • As though himself fearing the very thing which Clayton had suspected, Blac_ichael accompanied them to shore, and was the last to leave them when th_mall boats, having filled the ship's casks with fresh water, were pushed ou_oward the waiting Fuwalda.
  • As the boats moved slowly over the smooth waters of the bay, Clayton and hi_ife stood silently watching their departure—in the breasts of both a feelin_f impending disaster and utter hopelessness.
  • And behind them, over the edge of a low ridge, other eyes watched—close set, wicked eyes, gleaming beneath shaggy brows.
  • As the Fuwalda passed through the narrow entrance to the harbor and out o_ight behind a projecting point, Lady Alice threw her arms about Clayton'_eck and burst into uncontrolled sobs.
  • Bravely had she faced the dangers of the mutiny; with heroic fortitude she ha_ooked into the terrible future; but now that the horror of absolute solitud_as upon them, her overwrought nerves gave way, and the reaction came.
  • He did not attempt to check her tears. It were better that nature have her wa_n relieving these long-pent emotions, and it was many minutes before th_irl—little more than a child she was—could again gain mastery of herself.
  • "Oh, John," she cried at last, "the horror of it. What are we to do? What ar_e to do?"
  • "There is but one thing to do, Alice," and he spoke as quietly as though the_ere sitting in their snug living room at home, "and that is work. Work mus_e our salvation. We must not give ourselves time to think, for in tha_irection lies madness.
  • "We must work and wait. I am sure that relief will come, and come quickly, when once it is apparent that the Fuwalda has been lost, even though Blac_ichael does not keep his word to us."
  • "But John, if it were only you and I," she sobbed, "we could endure it I know; but—"
  • "Yes, dear," he answered, gently, "I have been thinking of that, also; but w_ust face it, as we must face whatever comes, bravely and with the utmos_onfidence in our ability to cope with circumstances whatever they may be.
  • "Hundreds of thousands of years ago our ancestors of the dim and distant pas_aced the same problems which we must face, possibly in these same primeva_orests. That we are here today evidences their victory.
  • "What they did may we not do? And even better, for are we not armed with age_f superior knowledge, and have we not the means of protection, defense, an_ustenance which science has given us, but of which they were totall_gnorant? What they accomplished, Alice, with instruments and weapons of ston_nd bone, surely that may we accomplish also."
  • "Ah, John, I wish that I might be a man with a man's philosophy, but I am bu_ woman, seeing with my heart rather than my head, and all that I can see i_oo horrible, too unthinkable to put into words.
  • "I only hope you are right, John. I will do my best to be a brave primeva_oman, a fit mate for the primeval man."
  • Clayton's first thought was to arrange a sleeping shelter for the night; something which might serve to protect them from prowling beasts of prey.
  • He opened the box containing his rifles and ammunition, that they might bot_e armed against possible attack while at work, and then together they sough_ location for their first night's sleeping place.
  • A hundred yards from the beach was a little level spot, fairly free of trees; here they decided eventually to build a permanent house, but for the tim_eing they both thought it best to construct a little platform in the tree_ut of reach of the larger of the savage beasts in whose realm they were.
  • To this end Clayton selected four trees which formed a rectangle about eigh_eet square, and cutting long branches from other trees he constructed _ramework around them, about ten feet from the ground, fastening the ends o_he branches securely to the trees by means of rope, a quantity of which Blac_ichael had furnished him from the hold of the Fuwalda.
  • Across this framework Clayton placed other smaller branches quite clos_ogether. This platform he paved with the huge fronds of elephant's ear whic_rew in profusion about them, and over the fronds he laid a great sail folde_nto several thicknesses.
  • Seven feet higher he constructed a similar, though lighter platform to serv_s roof, and from the sides of this he suspended the balance of his sailclot_or walls.
  • When completed he had a rather snug little nest, to which he carried thei_lankets and some of the lighter luggage.
  • It was now late in the afternoon, and the balance of the daylight hours wer_evoted to the building of a rude ladder by means of which Lady Alice coul_ount to her new home.
  • All during the day the forest about them had been filled with excited birds o_rilliant plumage, and dancing, chattering monkeys, who watched these ne_rrivals and their wonderful nest building operations with every mark o_eenest interest and fascination.
  • Notwithstanding that both Clayton and his wife kept a sharp lookout they sa_othing of larger animals, though on two occasions they had seen their littl_imian neighbors come screaming and chattering from the near-by ridge, castin_rightened glances back over their little shoulders, and evincing as plainl_s though by speech that they were fleeing some terrible thing which la_oncealed there.
  • Just before dusk Clayton finished his ladder, and, filling a great basin wit_ater from the near-by stream, the two mounted to the comparative safety o_heir aerial chamber.
  • As it was quite warm, Clayton had left the side curtains thrown back over th_oof, and as they sat, like Turks, upon their blankets, Lady Alice, strainin_er eyes into the darkening shadows of the wood, suddenly reached out an_rasped Clayton's arms.
  • "John," she whispered, "look! What is it, a man?"
  • As Clayton turned his eyes in the direction she indicated, he saw silhouette_imly against the shadows beyond, a great figure standing upright upon th_idge.
  • For a moment it stood as though listening and then turned slowly, and melte_nto the shadows of the jungle.
  • "What is it, John?"
  • "I do not know, Alice," he answered gravely, "it is too dark to see so far, and it may have been but a shadow cast by the rising moon."
  • "No, John, if it was not a man it was some huge and grotesque mockery of man.
  • Oh, I am afraid."
  • He gathered her in his arms, whispering words of courage and love into he_ars.
  • Soon after, he lowered the curtain walls, tying them securely to the trees s_hat, except for a little opening toward the beach, they were entirel_nclosed.
  • As it was now pitch dark within their tiny aerie they lay down upon thei_lankets to try to gain, through sleep, a brief respite of forgetfulness.
  • Clayton lay facing the opening at the front, a rifle and a brace of revolver_t his hand.
  • Scarcely had they closed their eyes than the terrifying cry of a panther ran_ut from the jungle behind them. Closer and closer it came until they coul_ear the great beast directly beneath them. For an hour or more they heard i_niffing and clawing at the trees which supported their platform, but at las_t roamed away across the beach, where Clayton could see it clearly in th_rilliant moonlight—a great, handsome beast, the largest he had ever seen.
  • During the long hours of darkness they caught but fitful snatches of sleep, for the night noises of a great jungle teeming with myriad animal life kep_heir overwrought nerves on edge, so that a hundred times they were startle_o wakefulness by piercing screams, or the stealthy moving of great bodie_eneath them.