A Sailor Boy with Dewey/Chapter 9

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"This is slow, lad."

"It is trying, Dawson. I wonder how long they expect to keep us here?"

"I'm sure I can't guess, lad,—perhaps until we die of old age."

"And what do you suppose they have done with the others?"

"Can't say as to that either—maybe killed 'em all off and stewed 'em in the pot," and with a voluminous sigh the first mate of the Dart turned over and fell into a light doze.

Dawson and I had been confined in one of the bamboo huts. We were tied fast to a thin palm tree, the top of which waved far above the hut roof. The place was about twelve feet square and was open at two sides. The floor was covered with broken palm leaves and refuse of all sorts, and the whole place was vile-smelling and alive with vermin.

We had been prisoners in the village for three days, and the time seemed like so many years. Twice a day an ugly old negro woman came in to give us meals of rice cakes, fish, and native fruits, and to leave us an earthen jug full of brackish water.

"This is a good place to catch a fever," I had said to Dawson, the day before, and since that time he had declared that the fever was slowly but surely getting into his system.

I had tried to talk to the old woman and to several of the natives that had dropped in upon us out of curiosity, but nobody understood me and none were able or willing to give us aid.

The night to follow brought on a heavy storm, almost as severe as that which had caused us to abandon our ship. About half the men of Bumwoga were away and the remainder, with the women and children, huddled in the huts to escape the fury of the elements. The rain came down "by the bucketful," and soon the single street of the village was six inches deep with water, which flowed around the spot where Tom Dawson and I were held close prisoners.

"If this keeps on, we'll be drowned," I remarked dismally. "One thing is certain, if we want to catch any sleep to-night we'll have to do it standing up."

"Who could sleep with such a racket!" growled Dawson. "Why, just listen to that!"

"That" was a fearful crack of thunder, which rolled and roared among the hills and mountains to the east and north of the village. The thunder was followed by another downpour, and outside all remained pitch-black.

"I'll tell you what, Dawson!" I cried, after a pause, for the crash had taken away my breath. "If we want to get away, to-night is the time to do it!"

"That's true, Oliver. But how are we to manage the trick? I've turned and twisted until my wrists are so sore they are ready to run blood. This vine-rope is as tough as a steel cable."

"I think I see a way," I answered. "I was afraid somebody would spot us if I mentioned it before. When the old woman brought us in that shell-fish this afternoon, I managed to save a bit of shell and hide it in my pocket. The edge is sharp, and by sawing on the vines I think I can cut them. The question is, can we escape even after the vines are cut? I rather think we'll run the risk of our lives."

"Let us try it anyway, lad; anything is better than staying here," said Dawson.

I immediately produced the bit of shell and set to work. I could not reach my own bonds very well, but I could reach those of my companion, and after fifteen minutes of hard labor, the first mate was liberated. Then he took the shell and began upon my wrists.

The storm kept up, and of a sudden came a blinding flash of lightning and an electrical shock that pitched Dawson headlong. The top of the palm tree had been hit and knocked off, leaving the stump above the hut burning like a gigantic torch.

I was too dazed for several minutes to speak or move, and my companion was scarcely less affected. Then, however, Dawson leaped up to finish his work.

"Free!" I cried, as the vines snapped asunder, and hand in hand we ran for one of the hut openings. A dozen feet away lay the top of the palm tree, blazing furiously and spluttering in the never-ending downpour. By this uncertain light we saw that the village street was deserted.

Where to go? was now the burning question. I looked at the first mate and he looked at me. Both of us realized only too well what a false move might mean.

"That's south—the way we want to go," he said, throwing out his hand. "Come on," and off we set, among the huts and across a patch of low brush. We were less than a hundred yards off when a savage yell told us that our escape had been discovered.

"We've got to leg it now, my boy!" ejaculated Tom Dawson. "Oh, if only I had that pistol of mine!"

"And if I only had mine too," I added. All of our belongings, excepting our clothing, had been confiscated.

At the further side of the brush we came to a small stream, which we plunged into ere we had time to draw back.

"Look out, it may be over your head!" shouted Dawson; but the warning was not needed, as the watercourse proved to be less than a yard deep at any point. The bottom was of sand and small stones, and both sides were overhung with brush, moss, and the ever-present vines.

"Hold on," whispered my companion, as I was about to step out of the stream. "It may be safer here than anywhere, for water leaves no trail. Let us keep to the middle of the stream and see where it brings us."

I thought this was good advice, and we hurried on in silence, but both on guard for fear of plunging into some deep hole. A hundred feet were covered and we heard the shout again, but this time closer, showing that the Tagals were indeed on the trail.

"If it comes to the worst we can sit down in the water and only keep our mouths and noses out," remarked Dawson. "I'm not going to be captured again if I can prevent it—no, sirree!"

We moved along with added caution, for we could now hear the natives shouting one to another from several different points. The storm still continued, and both of us were wet to the skin, so a slip to the bottom of the shallow river would have proved no hardship.

"Stop!" The command came in a soft whisper, and instantly I halted. Both of us listened intently, and I heard what had caused Dawson to stop me—a splashing of water ahead.

"Somebody is moving around ahead of us!" he whispered into my ear. "Those Tagals are regular imps for following a fellow!"

"Their one study is bush and forest life," I answered. "But what shall we do—leave the stream?"

"Let us wait a moment and listen."

We did so, and the splashing came nearer. But now it did not sound altogether like footsteps, and I told the first mate so.

"I agree with you," he said. "But it's something, that's certain, a wild beast, or—Great Scott! lad, make for the bank—quick!"

Tom Dawson caught me by the arm and made a furious leap, and I followed. Both of us floundered down, but were up in a trice, and none too soon, for even in the gloom we presently beheld the ugly head of a cayman stuck up close to the river bank.

"An alligator!" I screamed, and ran still further away. Dawson did not hesitate to follow me, and at the same time screamed as loudly as I did. Then of a sudden he paused, screamed again and gave a sudden loud moan and shriek as if in mortal agony.

"Now, don't make a sound," he whispered, as the shriek came to an end. "Ten to one those natives will think the alligators have eaten us."

"I hope they do," I answered, understanding his ruse and delighted with it. "But which way now?"

"We seem to be moving up a hill. Let us keep on until the top is gained. I am sure that will take us away from the village, and that is what we want."

On and on we went, the wet brush slashing in our faces. Often we sank into muddy holes up to our knees, but each time one would help the other out. Whenever a flash of lightning lit up the firmament we tried to look about us, but the forest cut off the view.

"I can't go much further," I gasped, at last, when Dawson announced a big cliff ahead. "We ought to find some sort of shelter there," he said, and he was not mistaken. Under a portion of the cliff was a cave-like opening several yards in depth, and into this we crowded, out of the fury of the storm. We listened intently, but for the balance of that night saw or heard no more of the Tagals.