A SEABOLD FIGHTS
Exciting Adventure Serial
Revolution! Arrest! Escape! And General Easter does the unexpected
The story: In order to please his elderly cousin who heads The Seabold Fruit Company, young Joseph Seabold goes to the Republic of San Esteban, where the company grows a vast quantity of bananas.
He finds that Don Ricardo Rodriguez, President of the Republic, was placed in power by his cousin; that Robertson, the company manager, is too old to carry on vigorously; that Marigny of the Universal Fruit Company is an unscrupulous business rival; that General Jack Easter helped his cousin establish the present political regime; that his cousin, known here as the Admiral, is a national hero; that Mary Cosgrave is his enemy because she thinks that his cousin injured her other.
Ignorant of local customs, Joseph offends nearly everyone, pa rticularly General Jack Easter when he does not immediately accede to the latter’s request for $5,000. Later he tries to rectify this mistake, but the general will not now accept it; he states that in order to uphold his dignity he must become Joseph’s enemy.
A revolution headed by one General Hurtado breaks out up country, and President Rodriguez demands $600,000 from Joseph in order to fight it, offering in return a clear title to the extensive banana lands which the Seabold company holds. By way of proving to Joseph that real danger exists, the President arrests Marigny and Easter on a charge of aiding the rebels; and, although Joseph suspects trickery, he pays Rodriguez the amount demanded. His suspicion is proved to have been justified. The San Esteban Congress turns against him and favors the Universal Fruit Company. Marigny and Easter are released. Joseph learns that he is looked upon generally, and particularly by Mary Cosgrave, as a fool and a weakling.
Though tempted to quit such a treacherous country, Joseph decides to stay. He suggests to General Easter that both of them should join Hurtado’s revolution, and the general declines.
President Rodriguez tells Easter that Joseph must be removed in some diplomatic manner. He suggests that Easter make a prisoner of him, give him a chance to escape, then shoot him in the back. The doughty general is not shocked. He considers for a moment, then replies: "Well, I’ve shot rabbits before this.”
SEABOLD rode home under the dim tropical stars which faintly pricked their way through the continually rising land mist. He put up the mule in the stable, looked down the line of stalls at the lifted heads of the saddle animals, and went back into the big house. Robertson was there, writing busily in the library, with a stub-nosed automatic lying on the table before him. He made a move of the hand toward the gun when he was aware of Seabold. Afterward, he sat back in his chair to look the young man over carefully.
“So you’ve done it, have you?” asked little Robertson. “Done what?” asked Seabold.
“Whatever you were after.”
“Can you catch a train out of San Esteban City tonight?”
“There’s one leaving in half an hour,” answered Robertson. “But what were you—”
“Catch the train, will you?” asked Seabold. “You can do it if you hurry. On the way, drop a wire by code at the station. Wire to the head office in New York. Tell them to get money to Rio Negro on the jump. All the money they can get together. It ought to be a hundred thousand or so, even after the chunk that Don Ricardo jimmied out of me this morning. Then you pick up that money and come overland with it to Hurtado.”
“Hurtado?” cried Robertson.
“You’re going to tell me that Hurtado is the oldest enemy of the Seabolds. I don’t need to hear that again, because I’m joining him.”
“You’ll be late for that train. Will you start? Good-by and good luck !”
“Good-by!” called Seabold, and waved Carpenter Robertson out of the room.
HE RANGED through the rooms of the lower floor with a flashlight and an automatic to make sure that no soft-footed thief was already in the place; for the talk had been that the Seabold house would be looted by the mob, now that the face of the President of the Republic was turned against the company. He found the big chambers empty, with an air of waiting. He even went to some of the windows and flashed the cone from the electric torch
over the paths and among the trees of the garden. The rain had been dried from the leaves long before this, but the rankness of the growth varnished the foliage with a new brightness. Nothing lurked outside, so far as he could tell, yet constantly he kept with him the sense that the house was besieged; or that the darkness was a rising water.
When he reached the kitchen and pantries, he remembered suddenly that his departure might take the form of flight and that he might need food. With that he made up a pack into which he put the necessities. For food he wrapped up some rice, bacon, coffee. Other matters he got from the second floor of the house, such as a good quantity of mosquito netting, field glasses, a miniature camera (he grinned at himself as he added this), an emergency surgical kit not too big to drop into a pocket, a shaving kit and toothbrush. This entire pack was very smal and light. From the gunroom he got a 30-30 rifle, with ammunition for that gun and for the super-automatic pistol which he already was carrying. Afterward he made the pack snug in his room and got himself into waterproof clothes. Then he went down to the library, because he preferred sleeping out the rest of the night in that room to going up to the dankness of his bed with its ghostly breath of mosquito netting wavering above.
He pulled a book on Mexico from the shelves and settled into a chair with it. When he opened it, he found on the flyleaf; “From Porfirio Diaz to a great leader of brave men, Ronald Seabold, 1903.”
That was thirty-three years before, with Diaz still entrenched in more power than any President of Mexico ever had held before or since; and that note from man to man meant a great deal more than the words conveyed.
He lowered the book into his lap and stared into the comers of the dim room, because he felt his blood rising, and something working in his throat which was happiness, or absurdly like happiness. There was strength in him also, and a certainty that he was capable of action that had not been in him before. It was from the moment when he had lost everything that he had felt that warm inward current begin to flow. A pack had been stripped from his back; and now perhaps he could lift his own weight and something in addition.
He passed into a dream of old Mexico, and the Admiral
received in state by the President of the Republic, with guns booming and flags in the wind, and music, and cheering. That essence of glory was still stirring his blood when something wakened him like a dash of ice water across his breast. Footfalls were coming toward the front of the house, then spreading out to either side of the door. Out on the patio he heard small jinglings of metal such as spurs would make; a door groaned open; people were coming down the halls, lightening their steps. A door slammed. The boom rolled through the house with many echoes, but Seabold remained quietly in his chair. He merely pulled it around a little so that a table was before him—a thing that would cover the automatic he held in his lap—because it was not proper that the heir of the Admiral should shout out challenges to people entering his house. It was better that he should be discovered in this manner, in the quiet dignity of the library.
The footfalls converged from two directions upon the door which opened upon the hallway. The electric light was not on there. The figures of the men were clothed with dingy shadow, with bits of metal sparkling out from crossed bandoleers, machete hilts, rifle barrels. Their hats were so big that it was wonderful that so many heads could pack together in such a small space.
Then a young officer stepped through the doorway, all bright and new. He unfurled himself like a flag, with the drawing of his big sword, but the thing that mattered was the automatic which was couched at his hip in the other hand.
“Señor Seabold !” he shouted. “I arrest you in the name of the Republic . . . Show me your empty hands, señor.”
“Here, my lad,” said the voice of General Easter from the background. “We don’t need all that sword-waving. Stand aside, friends!”
The heart of Seabold enlarged with relief as he listened. Jack Easter came through the doorway in battered old campaign clothes. The holster at his right hip was rubbed to the yellow of the leather.
He said: “Seabold, stand up and show us a pair of empty hands, will you?”
Seabold rose slowly, because he had to slip his gun onto the seat of the chair. He made a gesture with his hands and nodded at Easter. The general, nodding his head over his shoulder, said: “I’ll take care of this fellow; the house is yours, my lads. Fill your pockets!”
Then he kicked the door shut behind him and came across the room. A score of voices raised in the hallway a yell that spread like quicksilver through the entire mansion. The eyes of Seabold rolled to follow the noise.
“Stand out here,” said Easter, “where I can see you.”
SEABOLD obeyed, rounding the comer of the table. The pale, bright eyes of the general flickered slowly over him. “You’ve got something of the look,” stated Easter. “The same damned scrawniness, anyway; but he was tough as leather when they tried to pull him apart . . . How tough are you, Joseph?”
“I don’t know,” said Seabold.
“The orders are an arrest,” said the general, “and you’re shot down when you try to escape . . . Ever hear that story before?”
“I’ve heard it before,” nodded Seabold.
“There’s one other thing you can do. Come safely with me to Don Ricardo. Promise him to raise every dollar you can find in the world and pour the stuff into his pockets. I’ll see that he accepts the offer. You can buy yourself off, that way.”
Seabold licked the dryness of his lips. He looked back to the chair where the automatic lay.
He shook his head.
“Don’t be a damned fool,” said the general. “I’m not fooling you. I’m telling you about your only chance. Don Ricardo’s afraid that you might take your pocketbook to Hurtado.”
“You told him about my idea?” asked Seabold.
“No matter what put the idea into his head, it’s there. It’s your life that I’m talking to you about, my lad.”
“It’s no good,” said Seabold. “I won’t do it.”
“Don’t stand there braying at me like a jackass and saying that you won’t. They’ll shoot you dead and hang you up for the buzzards if you don’t. The buzzards begin at the eyes, Joseph. Do you come along with me?”
“I’ll see Don Ricardo in hell first,” said Seabold.
He kept looking from the pale, angry eyes of the general to the well-rubbed leather of the holster on his right hip.
“No brains at all. eh?” said the general. “Just a plain fool?”
“That’s all,” said Seabold.
Jack Easter sighed: “All right, then. I hoped you
wouldn’t be worth it; but that cur Marigny was right about his nervous men . . . How do we get out of here, the two of us? The Admiral used to have a canoe with a light outboard motor in it, down in the boathouse. Is it still there?”
“I don’t know. What are you talking about—the tw’o of us?”
Easter looked up toward the noise of dragging and wood-splintering that came from the room above them; other footfalls stamped and voices shouted through the
farther reaches of the house.
“What have you got in that tarpaulin?” asked Easter.
“Some food — some ammunition — medicine kit.”
“Then you have a drop of the Admiral in you,” cried Easter. “And one dash of his blood is worth more to me than all the banana farms of San Esteban distilled into Paris and diamonds. Come on with me, Joseph. . .These dogs of mine, they’ll be a while cracking the bone that I’ve thrown ’em before they’re sure of all the marrow . . . Hat, I’m ten years younger ! Through the window, amigo. It’s only a step to the ground.”
r-piIE UPROAR from
the house was far greater when they were outside than when they were enclosed by the turmoil. The yells, the crashings, the frantic bits of song rang from the attic to the cellar of the big house. The general paused to look back once toward the place, then he hurried down the patch toward the lake.
There were three sliding doors opening in front of three sets of ways that slid down into the water; each of the doors was heavily padlocked.
“The keys?’’ asked Easter.
“I’ve never seen them,” said Seabold.
“You’ll learn,’’ said Easter. “When you start a fight, pick out the high ground.”
After that bit of enigma, he smashed a padlock with a bullet from his automatic and they pushed the door open.
“Flashlight?’’ asked Easter.
“Here,” said Seabold, and snapped it on. The light wavered to the right over a number of motorboats, big and small; and there was one fifty-foot cruiser that loomed like a yacht. But what Easter went toward was the narrow grace of a canoe with an outboard motor clamped to one end.
“There’s a boat already down at the dock,” said Seabold. “1 was out in it this evening. A twentyfooter that will do fifteen knots or more.”
“How can we portage it
around the falls?” demanded Easter. “Take hold!”
They carried the canoe out to the edge of the water. When they sounded the gasoline tank, it was found empty. Seabold went back on the run, remembering the stacked yellow cans at the side of the boathouse. He was still within when he heard voices singing out from the house of the Admiral.
Easter said at the open door: “Quick, Joe! They’ve missed us! Paddle out. We’ll pour in the gas when we’re away. Are you a hand at paddling?”
“Never used one in my life,” answered Seabold.
“How were you raised?” asked the general calmly. “Take the place in the bow. Step to the middle when you get in. A canoe is like a silly girl. Pretty, but needs handling. Steady !”
Footfalls were running down the path from the house. Somewhere in the background, rifle shots rang like sledge hammers on anvils. They were shooting at shadows perhaps. Splintered rays and waverings of light played
through the trees from the pocket torches and skidded far out into the dimness of the lake. The canoe lurched forward with a long thrust, its nose dipping down under the weight of Seabold until Easter stepped in and righted it.
“Paddle softly; don’t even let the blade drip!” ordered Easter.
Seabold worked obediently. He felt from behind the powerful, silent impulses of Easter. He got the rhythm and held to it; the canoe sliding lightly but stalling as in black tar at the end of every stroke.
Voices came bawling across the water. Lights spread like shining oil on the lake, flicked away, came again, steadied on the canoe.
“Quien viva?” shouted a challenging chorus.
“Damn them, they’ve found us!” said the general. “Make for the reeds, Joe !”
“Quien viva?” yelled the voices out of the thin distance.
Something skipped over the water past Seabold ; the gun report, like a handclap, followed. Then humming insects
sang in the air. The tall reeds, looking black and solid as the shore, were immediately before them when the voice of Easter bellowed suddenly: “Hurtado! Hurtado viva! Viva Hurtado !”
Then the papery rustling of the reeds closed around them.
“I’m a fool,” explained Easter. “But why not tell them what they’re hunting? It’s a poor fox that won’t show its brush when the hounds take after it.”
Seabold was already working with hand and flashlight to draw the top plug from the gasoline tank; Easter held the opened tin and sent the stream gurgling into the tank. The little boat wavered in a steady rhythm from side to side, with the light from the torch sliding up and down the narrow fingers of the reeds.
They filled the small tank with a single can. Easter, taking the light, shone it ahead.
“We can push through to the open water,” he said. “If we start up the propeller here, it’ll foul in the reeds . . . Steady yourself, now; keep on your knees!”
THE REEDS gave holding to the paddle blades, so that the canoe moved rapidly ahead, and Seabold heard the general sing a snatch of a famous old Mexican song.
There the reeds parted, and with the same impulse they shot well out into the flat water. Something rattled out of the distance. That was the exhaust of a motorboat. Easter was spinning the starter with the cord, swearing a little, spinning it again. It coughed, exploded, began to roar; in a moment they were rushing through the black of the lake, putting out the faint stars with their bow wave. Easter called him back into the middle of the boat so that the prow might lift. The small waves spanked the bottom of the craft as the head of it raised, but.their speed was greater.
“Listen to the thing roar!” said Easter. “Here we are running like the devil and telling them which way we go! Do you see ’em, Joe?”
They could not be seen; they could not even be heard on account of the uproar of the outboard motor. Something low and black snaked up at them from the right. They went by a little island, still gathering speed, and rounded the nose of it into a wind. Easter sang out to Seabold to get forward into the bow again to keep the nose of the boat down to lessen the resistance to the w'ind. They seemed to be going much more swiftly, with the craft on an even keel.
“Which w'ay?” called back Seabold.
“For the cataract and portage it,” yelled the general. “That’s more than they can do with their lumberwagon ...”
Seabold could hear the water already, at the lower end of the lake. It had a sound of w'ind through trees.
“Ah hai!” called the general. “They’re coming, Joe!”
A small shadow detached itself from the blackness of the island which they had just left behind. Then the arching brightness of the bow' waves was just visible as the motorboat headed straight for them.
“Are you anything with a rifle?” called Easter.
“Hand it back to me. I may be able to give them a leak in the bows.”
He kneeled in the sharp stem with the tiller between his legs. Sitting back on his heels he fired, snapped out the shell, fired again. Little lights winked on the motorboat; the brief, sharp wasp-sounds darted near the head of Seabold and he ducked to every one of them. When he glanced ahead, he saw the smooth lip of the water as it curled over into the first cataract. “The falls, Easter!” he shouted.
“Lie down on your back,” yelled Easter. “We’ve got to jump ’em!”
For the big motorboat sw'ept up on them with a speed that tethered them in place, and iLthey landed, clearly they would have a storm of shot about them on the shore. Seabold lay down on his back, his elbow's
braced against the ribs of the canoe. The stars were steady over him. Then trees rushed past his face, the boat pitched its nose down into the sliding oil of a flume, and that windy roaring swallowed his senses.
The boat struck with a force that jounced the wind from his lungs. It leaped again, staggering, through a thousand small fountains. Even the stars were whirling back across the sky—and then out they raced on a rocking current that kept elbowing them, tossing them from beneath.
“Up!” shouted Easter. “Mind the rocks!”
Seabold had no chance to look behind, but his mind held a picture of a living monster behind them towering into the middle of the sky. His business lay before him, right and left, where little fringes of white told of the rocks; and sometimes by the starlight he could see the flat sleek of their backs. He had to reach for those teeth out of water, thrust against them, glance to the other side for the next danger —and all in a moment the canoe was slipping down a comparatively smooth waterway with thick, leaning masses of trees on each side.
The general was bellowing out a bit of an old Spanish song:
“Your toe at my heel.
Your hand at my shoulder ...”
And then the roar of the cataract pinched away almost to nothing as they rounded a quick bend.
Easter shut off the motor and started paddling. Seabold followed suit, the water dripping from him.
“They go back,” said Easter, half chanting the words. “They give the alarm. The good word is telegraphed to Rio Negro and all down the railroad. They send out their parties to cut us off . . . But there’s as good a chance as a single number at roulette. What do you say to me, Joe? A man’s a rat who won’t play a single number now and then. And we’ve got a lucky boat under us. Did you feel her leap like a good horse at a fence? Joe, I’m a boy again; the world’s our oyster and we’ll eat it raw !”
rT'IIEY WENT down the river at half speed because the stream took unpredictable turns and twists; then the bellowing of a waterfall reached them over the crackling of the exhaust and they made a portage around it.
The portage meant shutting off the motor, wedging in through the snaky green arms of the jungle to the bank, and then hewing a way through the hothouse dampness and heat of the greenery to the bottom of the falls. That took an hour and a half, with Seabold bitten to a stinging rash by the mosquitoes before he was through. The only spoken words were terse orders from the general which he obeyed in silence. Up the slippery path which they had cut, they had to stumble back to the boat. At the first load they took the outboard motor and the kit. In the second load they carried the canoe itself. The reloading, the refixing of the motor occupied another hour, together with the portage itself.
Easter said, as he got into the canoe: “That cancels out our head start. Anywhere ahead of us, now, there may be head-hunters sent out from the railroad line on the other side of the river. Imagine whatever you please; it’s likely to happen.”
Seabold answered: “I’m a dead weight on you. I know that. I know what you’ve given up for the sake of getting me down the river, too.”
“Whatever you know, don’t be a damn fool about it,” said Easter, and they were silent again as the motor shot them downstream.
Once Seabold said: “What of Mary
Cosgrave? What share has she had?”
“She helped Marigny do his thinking,” said the general. “That’s a dangerous thing to do, but she did it.”
Continued on page 28
Continued from page 22
22—Starts on page 20
"Does she belong to Marigny?” asked Seabold. “Is she his woman?”
“Ha !” cried the general. “I don’t know. What do you think? If I had thought of that I wouldn’t have . . . Why, Joe, could a girl like that sell herself to such a devil?”
“I don’t know,” said Seabold. “San Esteban—it does queer things to people.”
“But she—well—I wish you hadn’t put the thought in my mind ! Let’s never speak of her again. I thought she was something up there up in the blue ...”
“Maybe she is,” said Seabold.
But Easter made no rejoinder.
The current was quenched in the stillness of a lake. Two or three lights sketched for them the black silhouette of a village on the left bank. They turned off the putter of the motor and paddled. All before them the dark of the lake was jewelled with shining rubies when Easter flashed the pocket light for a moment ahead, to judge the passage; those were the eyes of alligators, red as blood. And a man was singing on the shore near the village, hiccoughing with drunkenness from time to time.
As the paddles dipped and the canoe slid, Seabold asked: “What’s the man
“It’s as old as the Mayans, almost,” said Easter. “It goes like this:
‘How many eyes in the forest?
How many feet in the jungle?
I low many hands in the night?
How many voices, how many voices !
Stand close to my shoulder, brother.
-In the jungle one man is nothing,
But two are better than a thousand.’
It’s a forest song, but the rivermen use it a good deal, also.”
Quietly, Seabold rehearsed the words for they had a special meaning to him. Then the current took them once more into the winding anxieties of the river course. The motor drowned the noise of the mosquitoes. Only the burning of his skin and the shudder of his flesh told Seabold how he was being poisoned by the soft-winged millions of them.
THE DAWN came to show them for the first time, clearly, the brown streaming and boiling of the current and the green of the jungle showering down into it, with the lower ends of branches naked whereithe water had rotted away the leaves, 'ftiey had left their clear sky. Now it was a grey ceiling with black thunderheads lifting above and through the luminous mist. After the green instant of dawn the full day was on them in a moment. The earth, the river, began to steam with the force of the invisible sun. Seabold looked down at his wrinkled clothes, stained with water and with sweat. When he glanced back at Easter he was amazed to see that veteran looking as bright as youth. He was busily unclamping the outboard motor, which he now threw into the river. For, as he explained, it was bad enough to be exposed to the eyes of watchers along the banks without carrying with them a drum that beat all to attention. The paddling would be much slower, but the silence of it was priceless.
“But there’s never a soul on the banks,” said Seabold, “unless we get to a village, and the barking of the dogs tells us a long time before we’re close to them.”
“You can’t tell what this river will turn up for us,” answered Easter. “You can’t—”
“Quien viva? Quien viva?” yelled a voice. Seabold snatched out his automatic and looked earnestly about him.
“Up higher,” said Easter. “Look up there into the top branches, and you’ll see him.”
The parrot was up there twisting his head from side to side as though unable to believe one eye unless the other would confirm what it saw.
“Bad luck! Damn bad luck!” said Easter. He stood up, the canoe trembling with his unbalanced weight. “Ah hai,
amigo! Have you forgotten me? I am your young nephew, Jack Easter. Give me the good word, old boy.”
“Quien viva? Quien viva?” insisted the parrot.
“I’ve got a mind to slap him down with a bullet!” growled Easter. But he yelled aloud: “Come on, old fellow. Give us a cheer. Go ahead and be the life of the party. Give us a ‘viva’ for somebody, and stop that challenging.”
The parrot slid off its branch and flapped up the river with its harsh voice yelling, ‘‘Quien viva! Quien viva! Quien viva!” until it was out of sight around the bend. And Seabold remained standing and staring after it as the canoe turned and drifted broadside.
“Bad luck! Rotten bad luck! Rotten bad !” Easter kept murmuring. “The little beast wouldn’t show us the way downstream. Notice that? Gone off to tell Don Ricardo exactly where the bloodhounds can find us . . . Well, what the devil luck have I ever had since the Admiral left the ...”
Here he broke off and sat down to paddle. Seabold, falling to work with his sore hands, began to get sharp advice from the rear.
“Don’t swing the whole weight of your body. The lower hand is only an oarlock. You lean against it with the upper arm and shoulder. It’s the rhythm that takes the trick. Easy, easy does it !”
The sun broke through the mist above and turned the thunderheads into mountains of fire and dark smoke. The whole burden of heavy rain was concentrated in the black bellies of those clouds. Sunshine on the brown river turned it to gold, with cloud shadows following after. New cheer came to Seabold. as the river world stirred to life around him. They were rousing birds continually, great black ducks or little butterballs, or tall waders such as herons, cranes, egrets; and even a few hypocritically smiling flamingoes got clumsily into the air when the boat neared. Whole clouds of hummingbirds jewelled the air around a blossoming tree, and far up in the sky' the sailing specks were buzzards, waiting.
Seabold* lighted a cigarette. It was so damp that the paper kept burning back from the tobacco; a hot, slow smoke.
“What about your hands?” asked Easter. “Can they stand it?”
“They’re all right,” said Seabold.
“I can see the blood on the paddle handle,” answered Easter. “A hero today is a dead weight tomorrow. Take it easy. You can keep on paddling, but don’t try to lift the whole weight of the canoe by yourself. Easy does it, Joe !”
TOWARD the midday, a waterfall, roaring, walked up on them. They found a rocky bank and climbed it with the canoe before the bole of a flood-water came around the bend. Somewhere in the hills a cloudburst must have fed the tributaries of the Rio Negro River; now the precursor of the main flood came down on them. Instead of a single central current, the river boiled and whirled from bank to bank. Logs, broken trees, drowning tangles of vines, swept with the stream; and sometimes a huge dark trunk came alive and lunged halfway from the water. Then the main head of the flood struck the long, bend just above, and the trees that fringed the river went down in a long prodigyof noise. The force of the river redoubled beneath the bank. A large tree went by, rolling its branches under like a grotesque Ferris wheel, and at the top a big black ape sprang desperately from limb to limb on the treadmill. When it caught sight of the people on the bank, the poor brute stopped struggling for a moment and turned its head to stare at that island of safety.
It remained motionless on its branch as the tree turned and thrust it under the water. The poor beast did not rise to the surface again.
The bole of the flood now stormed around the upper bend.
It was not a sheer wall of water but a sloping mass all creamed over with foam, and carrying in its breast like a tumult of charging spears the naked tree trunk.
The noise of it was worse than the sight. It seemed to Seabold, as he looked up in the sky, that the clouds following the course of the stream were drawn by an enormous suction.
The river widened below the next bend, and the force of the flood was expended there with a wide roaring that regatiered in the narrower stream beyond. The currents, more black than brown, rapidly sank toward normalcy. ¡
Easter said: “Parrots aj-e wise birds.
Damn wise . . . We’ll eat noW, Joe.”
So they cooked rice and coffee and had a siesta under the mosquito netting.
The hand of Easter shook Seabold awake much later. Voices were chanting on the river. Through the shrubbery along the bank, Seabold looked down on a big dugout which had been hand-shaped out of a mahogany log, now speeding down the stream with a dozen half-naked Indians handling the twenty-foot poles that propelled her. In the centre of the boat five uniformed soldiers with rifles were watching the shores. The boat song and the boat slipped away from ken in a moment.
“For us,” said Easter. “What sort of a price has he tacked on our heads? Marigny would pay half a million, I think—and for ten pesos half of these fellows would cut a throat by night.”
“Shall we try to make it overland?” asked Seabold.
“Let me have a look at your hands,” said Easter.
“They’re all right,” said Seabold.
“Let me see ’em . . . Nice and raw, eh? If we can get down the river ten miles, we’ll strike overland. But nearly every step of the way will be machete work, unless we have some luck and hit on game trails . . . Here comes another outfit looking for Uncle Jack Easter.”
Half a dozen natives poling the dugout this time, and a similar squad of five soldiers in the centre of the craft, carefully on the lookout.
“Patient as cats, aren’t they?” murmured Easter. “They have their virtues, these people . . .You know a jaguar will wait for a whole day on a branch over a game trail, hoping for dinner. And there are a hundred thousand pretty fair marksmen thinking about us with their mouths watering . . . We’ll wait till twilight and then feel our way along in the dark.”
THEY DID not, in fact, wait for the night, but when the sun had dropped into the west and stuck on the black spike of a mountaintop, they walked the canoe down to the river’s edge and got in with their kit. With the first paddle stroke the raw blisters that covered the hands of Seabold cracked open to the red, and the cloud of his mosquitoes blew back like a veil behind his head, but the fear that lay before him was an anaesthetic against all pain. He and Easter peered around the first bend, found open water, and shot the canoe forward. The sun dropped; the twilight brushed across their eyes like a hand; the night came and the night noises. Birds of darkness had begun their chirping insistently, night monkeys were squeaking, the lizards kept up an undersong with their constant yep-yep-yepping, and then the booming call of a swamp bird made everything else small by the comparison.
They went down the river with the walking thrust of the paddles, the light run
of the canoe in between. Sometimes only the eye or the instinct of Easter found the way; sometimes the clouds gave back and the starlight touched the river from shore to shore. They passed a shelving bank. A vast thing slid from it, the water gurgling as it sank, and Seabold remembered with disgust the ruby eyes of the alligators in the lake.
There was no talking, and now he was alone with the pain of his hands, the tropical heat that made breathing difficult, the long and rhythmical swaying of his body. He could not guess at the miles which had flowed out behind him when a light flickered from the deep, inset mouth of a tributary, then poured full and strong upon them. A machine gun ripped the night open like tearing sailcloth. The water dashed about them, bullets thumped rapidly against the high bank beside them.
“Shore!” cried Easter. A sweep of the paddles brought them to it.
Another light joined the first. Seabold saw Easter jump like a long-legged kangaroo up the bank. Bullets mowed down the tall, green herbage behind his feet. The gun ceased, and in the cessation Seabold himself jumped ashore with the rifle. The kit already had been taken by the general, and Seabold was light for his dash into shelter. The machine gun followed him. The air was alive with it; the. bullets were flying fists against the thick tree trunks as he dived toward the voice of Easter into the protection of jutting rocks at the rim of the bank.
He could see the launch coming across the river now, big and black behind its headlights.
“Now if we can give them a taste ...” said the general picking up the rifle.
He lay flat on his stomach.
“Eeny, meeny, minie, moe; catch a nigger by the toe . . .” said the general, and fired. A second shot and a third followed. The launch swerved away. Without haste, Jack Easter continued to fire into her. The machine gun was still, rattled, was still again. She was in full flight with the headlights gone, and one endlessly screaming voice of agony trailing behind her.
The general stopped shooting.
“Through the belly, I guess,” he observed. “Sometimes they yell like that when they get it through the belly.”
“Do we try to get down the river bank? The canoe’s gone,” said Seabold. “And that was good shooting, general !”
“There’s no use getting down this side of the river. It’s the other side that we want to reach,” said Easter. “Yes, I seem to have touched them up a little. I kept trying just for that point under the lights just under the lights.”
He laughed, exultant.
“The canoe’s gone. Do you think we can find somebody to ferry us across?” asked Seabold.
“Ferry? Ferry us to hell! We’ll see about that. Now’s the time to sleep.”
“They’ll come back to hunt for us,” suggested Seabold.
“Not they,” answered the general. “Not till they have daylight; and even then they’ll feel their way as if it were dark . . . See ’em scoot down the river to pick up the canoe? That’s enough for ’em. That’s a scalp to boast about !”
He snarled beneath his breath.
“I can eat some raw bacon. Then we’ll turn in,” he said.
THEY DID as he directed. To the hunger of Seabold the raw bacon was not disgusting; and then they slept under the mosquito netting until Seabold wakened with one side of his body on fire.
The‘4general already was on his feet, snapping: “Ants! The army ants, Joe!” He floundered into a bit of standing water behind their camping ground.
“Get your clothes off and wash ’em away !” called Easter.
It was already the small beginning of
the dawn as Seabold reached for his rifle vith one hand and for his boots with the other. The leather was greasy with overnight mold. When he stepped on the ground, it was alive with little hurrying objects that bit the sole of his foot, that swarmed up over his toes, still biting; as ihough he had stepped into a powerful acid.
The dawn light was sluicing down :hrough the ravines of mountainous zlouds, as he ran with prancing steps into che pool of water to join the general. He sank to the knees in the wet and slime of the pond. Easter already was pulling off the clothes into which the ants had worked. Seabold followed suit and started brushing off the specks of fire.
All about them the night noises had hushed. There was only the sweep of the river with its continual sucking and bubbling sounds along the bank. In addition, from the ground, from the trees, came a distinct rustling and grinding as hundreds of millions of mandibles worked.
A toad leaped over the ground with shorter and shorter jumps. It paused, staggered, and turned into a furred ball. The fur had a wriggling life of its own. A snake came out of a hole racing, but slowed as though it were trying to worm forward through mud. It coiled, thrashing, and then gradually stretched out.
One big tree stood near the pool, advanced a few clear paces from the rest of the jungle. Out of its branches small, living things commenced to fall, struggled a few moments on the ground, and were still. Those were the lizards. Other small creatures ran to the lip of the water, shrank from the touch of it, and were covered by the swarming ants. Great spiders covered with fur, spiders with a leg stretch as large as the extended hand of a man, got to the rim of the pond and then stood up on their long legs and turned to fight. But it was as though the surface of the ground had grown alive. The myriads swarmed up over the great bloodsuckers and they collapsed, struggled a moment, and then melted away to delicate skeletons, mere glinting traceries of white in the moonshine.
Then something floundered in the upper branches of the tree. A horrible, human screaming began, and ended when a big thirty-pound monkey plunged through the boughs and struck the ground heavily. It lay stunned for a moment, but it roused with the frightful yelling again, stood up on its hind legs uncertainly, and worked with both hands desperately at its face. It began to hop away, yet had to stop and fight to clean its head again, always with that human yelling.
“Why doesn’t it take to the water?” shouted Seabold, in a sweat of horror.
“They’ve eaten out its eyes—you see how it runs in a circle?” said the calm voice of Easter. “Give me that gun, Joe.”
He took an automatic from Seabold, lifted it carelessly, and fired. The monkey collapsed.
“The screeching was a little annoying,” explained the general, giving back the gun.
But Seabold stared with aching eyes at the big mound on the earth which was diminishing, melting gradually away. When he glanced forward toward the camp where the snake had lain, there appeared now only a single dotted line of white, the vertebrae.
“They tell a pretty story in Tegucigalpa,” said the general. “Did you hear it, Joe? I mean about the man who’d broken both legs in a fall? They stretched him out in a hammock one morning and went off hunting. When they came back at noon they found the splints, the bandages, the clothes, and the bones; but the rest of the man was gone. The ants had been there in the meantime.”
Seabold groaned faintly.
That half-human screeching began again from a tree on the lower side of the clearing; it was followed by the swishing of branches that diminished into the distance. The howling died down.
“That monkey got away,” said Easter. “The other one’s been turned into rations for a couple of gallons of ants ...”
Something slithered out of the brush into the open, a little lithe ribbon of a snake that whipped itself along as fast as a running dog. Even that speed slowed, clogged; presently the tormented tiling was a twisting, clotted lump that finally straightened.
“That’s about the last bugle call,” suggested the general. “Those busy boys ought to be starting home now.”
A moment later they splashed from the pool and kicked the mud from their feet.
“No ticks, no spiders, no snakes, no scorpions, no fleas . . . it’s like walking on sacred ground, almost, isn’t it, Joe?” asked the general.
Seabold, turning from him, looked back at the little white skeleton of the monkey beneath the big tree.
“Pretty loathsome, eh?” asked Easter.
Seabold looked at Easter curiously and said nothing, for the general’s smiling was so genuine that he could swear that he had enjoyed this grisly little episode of the night.
“You see,” said Easter, “that’s what happens down here where the sun’s too hot, and the rain’s too heavy; the earth comes to life and eats you.”
“Down here in San Esteban,” said Seabold, “I don’t suppose you could ever be wrong?”
Clouds already were gathering across the forehead of the morning. They could hear the rush and stamping of the approaching rain before the shadow of it reached them.
After one hearty downpouring, the rain became a steady drizzle.
“Watch the river,” said the general, and went back into the jungle with his machete. “This rain will be sand in their eyes, anyway,” he called to Seabold.
THERE WERE only the birds to watch, getting home to covert among the upper branches, and the long-legged waders by the shore regardless of rain, standing with their heads cocked back on their long necks like javelins on slingropes. They stood minutes long, then struck; and even when Seabold was watching one of the gaunt birds fixedly, the speed of that whip snap always took him by surprise. Sometimes they caught goodsized game and tossed back their heads, and held their bills laughing open as they got the morsel down. Once in a while it was big enough to make them give a drum beat with their wings, afterward, to help the swallow down their throats. But it was good fishing for them all. The heart of Seabold hungered with envy as he watched them.
A motorboat went up the stream towing a pair of dugouts filled with riflemen who stared closely at the bank where Seabold and Easter had landed. The motorboat pulled so close in shore the I: for a moment Seabold gripped his rifle in anxious hands. But they sheered off again and went upstream, still very near to the bank.
The voice of Easter called to him a moment after that. The general was rolling down the sleeve of his right arm, panting, red with exercise.
“Forty men!” said Seabold. “They came up in a motorboat and two dugouts behind.”
“I didn’t hear your rifle,” said Easter. “Show ourselves to a mob like that?” asked Seabold.
“Oh, they know we landed here . . . Don’t miss the good chances to practice, Joe. Ever kill a man?”
“Well, it’s worth a try,” answered Easter. “That crew will take no chances. They’ll try to work their way down on us through the woods. But not even a monkey, Joe, can get through these woods without making a noise. So we’ll have plenty of warning.”
“What good will warning do us if forty men come on the run?” asked Seabold. Easter ran thumb and forefinger down
the blade of the machete and shrugged his shoulders.
“Give us a chance to thin out the weeds, that’s all,” he said. “Come back here and have a look. I’m making a boat.”
On the ground back in the woods a big rubbery sheet was spread out. Seabold picked up the fifteen-foot mass and found it light.
“The rubber tree,” said Easter, pointing, “and the bejuca loca if one mixes the two juices, the sap curdleS into good rubber almost at once. Strong, too. Try to tear it. Now if we make a frame with branches, we have a canoe.”
The hands of Seabold heljied Easter make the frame of branches and hind the branches with lengths of tough bark fibres, but the mind of Seabold all the while was harking back into the woods to detect the approach of man. Sometimes he heard crashing noises; but these were mere outbursts of rain that beat on the broad leaves as on drums. Easter shajied paddles out of palm stalks. Then they carried the rubber boat down to the shore. It looked
like a canoe that had been broken in three places.
“Can you swim?” asked the general.
“ I hen forget that you can. If they come at us, keep on paddling for the far shore and let me try to hold them off with my rifle. We can’t spend the rest of our lives playing tag with this damned river. We’ve got to get across.”
They got across.
They saw only a single fisherman in a wretched dugout, patient of the rain, with his line dragged aslant by the current, and he gave them no more heed than if they had been a cloud in the sky. They had beached their rubber canoe before thin voices shouted from the other side of the river, and when they looked back they saw riflemen on the high bank which they had just left. Some of them were brandishing their guns in a yelling rage. Others of a more practical mind were kneeling to take aim; but Seabold and Easter got into the jungle unharmed.
Tu be Continued