There were a dozen of them, and as Waldo plunged from the forest they looke_ith startled apprehension at the strange apparition. A great, brown gian_hey saw, clad in a few ragged strings of white duck, for Waldo had kept hi_pparel as immaculately clean as hard rubbing in cold water would permit.
In one hand the strange creature carried a long, bloody spear, in the other _ight cudgel. Long, yellow hair streamed back over his broad shoulders.
Several of the men — those who were armed — leveled guns and revolvers at him; but when, as he drew closer, they saw a broad grin upon his face, and heard i_erfectly good English, “Don’t shoot; I’m a white man,” they lowered thei_eapons and awaited him.
He had scarcely reached them when they saw a swarm of naked men dash from th_orest in his wake. Waldo saw their eyes directed past him and knew that hi_ursuers had come into view.
“You’ll have to shoot at them, I imagine,” he said. “They’re not exactl_omesticated. Try firing over their heads at first; maybe you can scare the_way without hurting any of them.” He disliked the idea of seeing the poo_avages slaughtered.
It didn’t seem just like fair play to mow them down with bullets.
The sailors followed his suggestion. At the first reports the cave men halte_n surprise and consternation.
“Let’s rush ‘em,” suggested one of the men, and this was all that was neede_o send them scurrying back into the woods.
Waldo found that the ship was English, and that all the men spoke his mothe_ongue in more or less understandable fashion.
The second mate, who was in charge of the landing party, proved to hav_riginated in Boston. It was much like being at home again.
Waldo was so excited and wanted to ask so many questions all at once that h_ecame almost unintelligible. It seemed scarcely possible that a ship ha_eally come.
He realized now that he had never actually entertained any very definit_elief that a ship ever would come to this out-of-the-way corner of the world.
He had hoped and dreamed, but down in the bottom of his heart he must hav_elt that years might elapse before he would be rescued.
Even now it was difficult to believe that these were really civilized being_ike himself.
They were on their way to a civilized world; they would soon be surrounded b_heir families and friends, and he, Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones, was going wit_hem!
In a few months he would see his mother and his father and all his friends — he would be among his books once more.
Even as the last thought flashed through his mind it was succeeded by mil_onderment that this outlook failed to raise his temperature as he might hav_xpected that it would. His books had been his real life in the past — coul_t be that they had lost something of their glamour? Had his brief experienc_ith the realities of life dulled the edge of his appetite for second-han_opes, aspirations, deeds, and emotions?
Waldo yet craved his books, but they alone would no longer suffice. He wante_omething bigger, something more real and tangible — he wanted to read an_tudy, but even more he wanted to do. And back there in his own world ther_ould be plenty awaiting the doing.
His heart thrilled at the possibilities that lay before the new Waldo Emerson — possibilities of which he never would have dreamed but for the strang_hance which had snatched him bodily from one life to throw him into this ne_ne, which had forced upon him the development of attributes of self-reliance, courage, initiative, and resourcefulness that would have lain dormant withi_im always but for the necessity which had given birth to them.
Yes, Waldo realized that he owed a great deal to this experience — a grea_eal to — And then a sudden realization of the truth rushed in upon him — h_wed everything to Nadara.
“I was never shipwrecked on a desert island,” said the second mate, breakin_n upon Waldo’s reveries, “but I can imagine just about how good you feel a_he thought that you are at last rescued and that in an hour or so you wil_ee the shoreline of your prison growing smaller and smaller upon the souther_orizon.” “Yes,” acquiesced Waldo in a far away voice: “it’s awfully good o_ou, but I am not going with you.” Two hours later Waldo Emerson stood alon_pon the beach, watching the diminishing hull of a great ship as it droppe_ver the rim of the world far to the north.
A vague hint of tears dimmed his vision; then he threw back his shoulders, swallowed the thing that had risen into his throat, and with high held hea_urned back into the forest.
In one hand he carried a razor and a plug of tobacco — the sole mementos o_is recent brief contact with the world of civilization. The kindly sailor_ad urged him to reconsider his decision, but when he remained obdurate the_ad insisted that they be permitted to leave some of the comforts of life wit_im.
The only thing that he could think of that he wanted very badly was a razor — firearms he would not accept, for he had worked out a rather fine chivalry o_is own here in this savage world — a chivalry which would not permit him t_ake any advantage over the primeval inhabitants he had found here other tha_hat his own hands and head might give him.
At the last moment one of the seamen, prompted by a generous heart and a kee_ealization of what life must be without even bare necessities, had thrus_pon Waldo the plug of tobacco.
As he looked at it now the young man smiled.
“That would indeed be the last step, according to mother’s ideas,” h_oliloquized. “No lower could I sink.” The ship that bore away Waldo’s chanc_f escape carried also a long letter to Waldo’s mother. In portions it wa_ather vague and rambling. It mentioned, among other things, that he had a_bligation to fulfil before he could leave his present habitat; but that th_oment he was free he should “take the first steamer for Boston.” The skippe_f the ship which had just sailed away had told Waldo that in so far as h_new there might never be another ship touch his island, which was so far ou_f the beaten course that only the shore-line of it had ever been explored, and scarce a score of vessels had reported it since Captain Cook discovered i_n 1773.
Yet it was in the face of this that Waldo had refused to leave. As he walke_lowly through the wood on his way back toward his cave he tried to convinc_imself that he had acted purely from motives of gratitude and fairness — tha_s a gentleman he could do no less than see Nadara and thank her for th_riendly services she had rendered him; but for some reason this seemed a ver_utile and childish excuse for relinquishing what might easily be his onl_pportunity to return to civilization.
His final decision was that he had acted the part of a fool; yet as he walke_e hummed a joyous tune, and his heart was full of happiness and pleasan_xpectations of what he could not have told.
To one thing he had made up his mind, and that was that the next sun would se_im on his way to the village of Nadara.
His experience with the savages that day had convinced him that he might wit_easonable safety face Flatfoot and Korth.
The more he dwelt upon this idea the more lighthearted he became — he coul_ot understand it. He should be plunged into the blackest despair, for had h_ot but just relinquished a chance to return home, and was he not within a da_r two to enter the village of the ferocious Flatfoot and the mighty Korth?
Even so, his heart sang.
Waldo saw nothing of his enemies of the earlier part of the day as he move_autiously through the forest or crossed the little plains and meadows whic_ay along the route between the ocean and his lair; but his thoughts ofte_everted to them and to his adventures of the morning, and the result was tha_e became aware of a deficiency in his equipment — a deficiency which hi_ecent battle made glaringly apparent.
In fact, there were two points that might be easily remedied.
One was the lack of a shield. Had he had protection of this nature he woul_ave been in comparatively little danger from the shower of missiles that th_avages had flung at him.
The other was a sword. With a sword and shield he could have let his enemie_ome to very close quarters with perfect impunity to himself and then have ru_hem through with infinite ease.
This new idea would necessitate a delay in his plans; he must finish bot_hield and sword before he departed for the village of Flatfoot. What with hi_editation and his planning, Waldo had made poor time on the return journe_rom the coast, so that it was after sunset when he entered the last dee_avine beyond the farther summit of which lay his rocky home. In the depths o_he ravine it was already quite dark, though a dim twilight still hung upo_he surrounding hill-tops.
He had about completed the arduous ascent of the last steep trail, at th_rest of which was his journey’s end, when above him, silhouetted against th_arkening sky, loomed a great black, crouching mass, from the center of whic_lazed two balls of fire.
It was Nagoola, and he occupied the center of the only trail that led over th_dge of the ridge from the ravine below.
“I had almost forgotten you, Nagoola,” murmured Waldo Emerson. “I could neve_ave gone upon my journey without first interviewing you, but I could hav_ished a different time and place than this. Let us postpone the matter for _ay or so,” he concluded aloud; but the only response from Nagoola was a_minous growl. Waldo felt rather uncomfortable.
He could not have come upon the great, black panther at a more inopportun_ime or place. It was too dark for Waldo’s human eyes, and the cat was abov_im and Waldo upon a steep hillside that under the best of conditions offere_ut a precarious foothold. He tried to shoo the formidable beast away b_houts and menacing gesticulations, but Nagoola would not shoo. Instead h_rept slowly forward, edging his sinuous body inch by inch along the rock_rail until it hung poised above the waiting man a dozen feet below him.
Six months before Waldo would long since have been shrieking in meteorlik_light down the bed of the ravine behind him. That a wonderful transformatio_ad been wrought within him was evident from the fact that no cry of frigh_scaped him, and that, far from fleeing, he edged inch by inch upward towar_he menacing creature hanging there above him. He carried his spear with th_oint leveled a trifle below those baleful eyes.
He had advanced but a foot or two, however, when, with an awful shriek, th_errible beast launched itself full upon him.
As the heavy body struck him Waldo went over backward down the cliff, and wit_im went Nagoola.
Clawing, tearing, and scratching, the two rolled and bounded down the rock_illside until, near the bottom, they came to a sudden stop against a larg_ree.
The growling and screeching ceased, the clawing paws and hands were still.
Presently the tropic moon rose over the hill-top to look down upon a littl_angled mound of man and beast that lay very quiet against the bole of a grea_ree near the bottom of a dark ravine.