Well, we had a horrid business afterwards. My God! what a nightmare the whole thing is!
You remember the great bristle of sharp canes down below where we found the skeleton of the American?
Well, that is just under ape-town, and that's the jumpin'-off place of their prisoners.
I expect there's heaps of skeletons there, if we looked for 'em.
They have a sort of clear parade-ground on the top, and they make a proper ceremony about it.
One by one the poor devils have to jump, and the game is to see whether they are merely dashed to pieces or whether they get skewered on the canes.
They took us out to see it, and the whole tribe lined up on the edge.
Four of the Indians jumped, and the canes went through 'em like knittin' needles through a pat of butter.
No wonder we found that poor Yankee's skeleton with the canes growin' between his ribs.
It was horrible—but it was doocedly interestin' too.
We were all fascinated to see them take the dive, even when we thought it would be our turn next on the spring-board.
"Well, it wasn't.
They kept six of the Indians up for to-day—that's how I understood it—but I fancy we were to be the star performers in the show.
Challenger might get off, but Summerlee and I were in the bill.
Their language is more than half signs, and it was not hard to follow them.
So I thought it was time we made a break for it.
I had been plottin' it out a bit, and had one or two things clear in my mind.
It was all on me, for Summerlee was useless and Challenger not much better.
The only time they got together they got slangin' because they couldn't agree upon the scientific classification of these red-headed devils that had got hold of us.
One said it was the dryopithecus of Java, the other said it was pithecanthropus.
Madness, I call it—Loonies, both.
But, as I say, I had thought out one or two points that were helpful.
One was that these brutes could not run as fast as a man in the open. They have short, bandy legs, you see, and heavy bodies.
Even Challenger could give a few yards in a hundred to the best of them, and you or I would be a perfect Shrubb.
Another point was that they knew nothin' about guns.
I don't believe they ever understood how the fellow I shot came by his hurt.
If we could get at our guns there was no sayin' what we could do.
"So I broke away early this mornin', gave my guard a kick in the tummy that laid him out, and sprinted for the camp.
There I got you and the guns, and here we are."
"But the professors!" I cried, in consternation.
"Well, we must just go back and fetch 'em.
I couldn't bring 'em with me. Challenger was up the tree, and Summerlee was not fit for the effort. The only chance was to get the guns and try a rescue.
Of course they may scupper them at once in revenge.
I don't think they would touch Challenger, but I wouldn't answer for Summerlee.
But they would have had him in any case.
Of that I am certain.
So I haven't made matters any worse by boltin'.
But we are honor bound to go back and have them out or see it through with them.
So you can make up your soul, young fellah my lad, for it will be one way or the other before evenin'."
I have tried to imitate here Lord Roxton's jerky talk, his short, strong sentences, the half-humorous, half-reckless tone that ran through it all.
But he was a born leader.
As danger thickened his jaunty manner would increase, his speech become more racy, his cold eyes glitter into ardent life, and his Don Quixote moustache bristle with joyous excitement.
His love of danger, his intense appreciation of the drama of an adventure—all the more intense for being held tightly in—his consistent view that every peril in life is a form of sport, a fierce game betwixt you and Fate, with Death as a forfeit, made him a wonderful companion at such hours.
If it were not for our fears as to the fate of our companions, it would have been a positive joy to throw myself with such a man into such an affair.
We were rising from our brushwood hiding-place when suddenly I felt his grip upon my arm.
"By George!" he whispered, "here they come!"
From where we lay we could look down a brown aisle, arched with green, formed by the trunks and branches.
Along this a party of the ape-men were passing.
They went in single file, with bent legs and rounded backs, their hands occasionally touching the ground, their heads turning to left and right as they trotted along.
Their crouching gait took away from their height, but I should put them at five feet or so, with long arms and enormous chests.