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Chapter 6 A Choice

  • SEAMEN upon the beach were filling water-casks.
  • 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?
  • It had.
  • 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.