BUILDING THE BOAT
Two days after the earthquake that had saved Nadara from Thurg and wiped out the people of the girl's tribe, a man moved feebly beneath the tumbled debris from the foot top of is clogged cavern. It was Thandar. The tons of rock that had topped from above and buried the entrance to this cave had passed him by unscathed, while the few pounds shaken from the ceiling had stunned him into a long enduring insensibility.
Slowly he regained consciousness, but it was a long time before he could marshal his faculties to even a slight appreciation of the catastrophe that had overwhelmed him. Then his first thought was of Nadara. He crawled to what had once been the entrance of his cave. He had not as yet linked the darkness to its read cause--he thought it night. It had been night when he closed his eyes. How could he guess that that had been three nights before, or all the cruel blows that fate had struck him since he slept?
At the opening from the cave he met his first surprise and setback--the way was blocked! What was the meaning of it? He tugged and pushed weakly upon the mass that barred him from escape. Who had imprisoned him? He recalled the vivid dream in which he had seen Nadara stolen away by Thurg. The recollection sent him frantically at the pile of shattered rock and loose debris which choked the doorway.
To his chagrin he found himself too weak to direct any long sustained effort against the obstacle. It occurred to him that he must have been injured. Whoever imprisoned him must first have beaten him. He felt of his head. Yes, there was a great gash, but his touch told him that it was not a new one. How long, then, had he been imprisoned? As he sat pondering this thing he became aware of the gnawing of hunger and the craving of thirst within his slowly awakening body. The sensations were almost painful. So much so that they forced him to a realization of the fact that he must have been without food or water for a considerable time.
Again he assailed the mass that held him prisoner, and as he burrowed slowly into it the truth dawned upon him. He recalled the rumblings of the Great Nagoola that had frightened Nadara the night of the council. A terrific quake had done this thing. Thandar shuddered as he thought of Nadara. Was she, too, imprisoned in her cave, or had the worst happened to her? Frantically now, he tore at the close-packed rubble. But he soon discovered that not in ill-directed haste lay his means of escape. Slowly and carefully, piece by piece, he must remove the broken rock until he had tunneled through to the outer world.
Reason told him that he was not deeply buried, for the fact that he lived and could breathe was sufficient proof that fresh air was finding its way through the debris, which it could not have done did the stiff lie before the cave in any considerable thickness.
Weak as he was he could work but slowly, so that it was several hours later before he caught the first glimpse of daylight beyond the obstacle. After that he progressed more rapidly, and presently he crawled through a small opening to view the wreckage of the shattered cliff.
A flock of vultures rose from their hideous feast as the sight of Thandar disturbed them. The man shuddered as he looked down upon the grisly things from which they had risen. Forgetting his hunger and his thirst he scrambled up over the tortured cliff face to where Nadara's cave had been. Its mouth was buried as his had been. Again he set to work, but this time is was easier. When at last he had opened a way withing he hesitated for fear of the blighting sorrow that awaited him
At last, nerving himself to the ordeal, he crawled within the cave that had been Nadara's. Groping about in the darkness, expecting each moment to feel the body of his loved one cold in death, he at last covered the entire floor--there was no body within.
Hastily he made his way to the face of the cliff again, and then commenced a horrible and pitiful search among the ghastly remnants of men and women that lay scattered about among the tumbled rocks. But even here his search was vain, for the ghoulish scavengers had torn from their prey every shred of their former likenesses.
Weak, exhausted, sorrow ridden and broken, Thandar dragged himself painfully to the little river. Here he quenched his thirst and bathed his body. After, he sought food, and then he crawled to a hole he knew of in the river bank, and curling up upon the dead grasses within, slept the sun around.
Refreshed and strengthened by his sleep and the food that he had taken Thandar emerged from his dark warren with renewed hope. Nadara could not be dead! It as impossible. She must have escaped and be wandering about the island. He would search for her until he found her. But as day followed day and still no sign of Nadara, or any other living human being he became painfully convinced that he alone of the inhabitants of the island had survived the cataclysm.
The thought of living on through a long life without her cast him into the blackest pit of despair. He reproached heaven for not having taken him as well, for without Nadara life was not worth living. With the passage of time his grief grew more rather than less acute. As it increased do too increased the horror of his loneliness. It island became a hated thing--life a mockery. The chances that a vessel would touch the shore again during his lifetime seemed remote indeed, unless his father sent out a relief party, but in his despair he did not even hope for such a contingency.
He would not take his own life, though the temptation was great, but he courted death in every form that the savage island owned. He slept out upon the ground at night. He sought Nagoola in his lair, and armed only with his light lance he leaped to close quarters with every one of the great cats he could find.
The wild boars, often as formidable as Nagoola himself, were hunted now as they never had been hunted before. Thandar lived high those days, and many were the panther pelts that lined his new-found cave in the cliff beside the sea--the same cliff in which Nadara had found shelter, and from whence she had gone away with the search part from the Priscilla.
One day as Thandar was returning from the beach where he often when to scan the horizon for a sail, he saw something moving at the foot of his cliff. Thandar dropped behind a bush, watching. A moment later the thing moved again, and Thandar saw that it was a man. Instantly he sprang to his feet and ran forward. The days that he had been without human companionship had seemed to drag themselves into as many weary months. Now he had reached the pinnacle of loneliness from which he would gladly have embraced the devil had he come in human guise.
Thandar ran noiselessly. He was almost upon the man, a great, hairy brute, before the fellow was aware of his presence. At first the fellow turned to run, but when he saw that Thandar was alone he remained to fight.
"I am Roof," he cried, "and I can kill you!"
The familiar primitive greeting no longer raised Thandar's temperature or filled him with the fire of battle. He wanted companionship now, not a quarrel.
"I am Thandar," he replied.
The slow-witted hulking brute recognized him, and stepped back a pace. He was not so keen to fight now that he had learned the identity of the man who faced him. He had seen Thandar in battle. He had witnessed Thurg's defeat at the hands of this smooth-skinned stranger.
"Let us not fight," continued Thandar. "We are alone upon the island. I have seen no other than you since the Great Nagoola came forth and destroyed the people. Let us be friends, hunting together in peace. Otherwise one of us must kill the other and thereafter live always alone until death releases him from his terrible solitude."
Roof peered over Thandar's shoulder toward the wood behind him.
"Are you alone?" he asked.
"Yes, have I not told you that all were killed but you and I?"
"All were not killed," replied Roof. "But I will be friends with Thandar. We will hunt together and cave together. Roof and Thandar are brothers."
He stooped, and gathering a handful of grass advanced toward the American. Thandar did likewise and when each had taken the peace offering of the other and rubbed it upon his forehead the ceremony of friendship was complete--simple but none the less effectual, for each knew that the other would rather die than disregard the primitive pact.
"You said all were not killed, Roof," said Thandar, the ceremony over. "What do you mean?"
"All were not killed by the Great Nagoola," replied the bad man. "Thurg was not killed, nor was she who was Thandar's mate--she whom Thurg would have stolen."
"What?" Thandar almost screamed the question. "Nadara is not dead?"
"Look," said Roof, and he led the way to the foot of the cliff. "See!"
"Yes," replied Thandar, "I had noticed that body, but what of it?"
"It was Thurg," explained Roof. "He sought to reach your mate, who had taken refuge in that cave far above us. Then came some strange men who made a great noise with sticks and Thurg fell dead--the loud noise had killed him from a great distance. Then came the strange men and she whom you call Nadara went away with them."
"In which direction?" cried Thandar. "Where did they take her?"
"They took her to the strange cliff in which they dwelt--the one in which they came. Never saw man such a thing as this cliff. It floated upon the face of the water. About its face were many tiny caves, but the people did not come out of these they came from the top of the cliff, and clambering down the sides floated ashore in hollow things of wood. On top of the cliff were two trees without leaves, and only very short upright branches. When the cliff went away black smoke came out of it from a short black stump of a tree between the two trees. It was a very wonderful thing to see; but the most wonderful of all were the noise-sticks that killed Thurg and Nagoola a long way off."
Not half of Roof's narrative did Thandar hear. Through his brain roared and thundered a single mighty thought: Nadara lives! Nadara lives! Life took on a new meaning to him now. He trembled at the thought of the chances he had been taking. Now, indeed, must he live. He leaped up and down, laughing and shouting. He threw his arms about the astonished Roof, whirling the troglodyte about in a mad waltz. Nadara lives! Nadara lives!
Once again the sun shone, the birds sag, nature was her old, happy, carefree shelf. Nadara was alive and among civilized men. But then came a doubt.
"Did Nadara go willingly with these strangers," he asked Roof, "or did they take her by force?"
"They did not take her by force," replied Roof. "They talked with her for a time, and then she took the hand of one of the men in hers, stroking it, and he placed his arm about her. Afterward they walked slowly to the edge of the great water where they got into the strange things that had brought them to the land, and returned to their floating cliff. Presently the smoke came out, as I have told you, and the cliff went away toward the edge of the world. But they are all dead now."
"What?" yelled Thandar.
"Yes, I saw the cliff since, very slowly when it was a long way off, until on the smoke was coming out of the water."
Thandar breathed a sigh of relief.
"Point," he said, "to the place where the cliff sank beneath the water."
Roof pointed almost due north.
"There," he said.
For days Thandar puzzled over the possible identity of the ship and the men with whom Nadara had gone so willingly. Doubtless some kindly mariner, hearing her story, had taken her home, away from the terrors and loneliness of this unhappy island. And now the man chafed to be after her, that he might search the world for his lost love.
To wait for a ship appeared quite impossible to the impatient Thandar, for he knew that a ship might never come. There was but one alternative, and had Waldo Emerson been a less impractical man in the world to which he had been born he would have cast aside that single alternative as entirely beyond the pale of possibility. But Waldo was only practical and wise in the savage ways of the primitive life to which circumstance had forced him to revert. And so he decided upon as fool-hardy and hair-brained a venture as the mind of man might conceive. It was no less a thing than to build a boat and set out upon the broad Pacific in search of a civilized port or a vessel that might bear him to such.
To Waldo it seemed quite practical. He realized of course that the venture would be fraught with peril, but would it not be better to die in an attempt to find his Nadara than to live on forever in the hopelessness of this forgotten island?
And so he set to work to build a boat. He had not tools but his crude knife and the razor the sailor of the Sally Corwith had given him, so it was quite impossible for him to construct a dugout. The possibilities that lie in fire did not occur to him. Finally he hit upon what seemed the only feasible form of construction.
With his knife he cut long, pliant saplings, and lesser branches. These he fashioned into a framework of a boat. Roof helped him, keenly interested in this new work. The ribs were fastened to the keel and gunwale by thongs of panther skin, and when the framework was completed panther skins were stretched over it. The edges of the skin were sewn together with threads of gut, as tightly as Thandar and Roof could pull them.
A mast was rigged well forward, and another panther skin from which the fur had been scrapped was fitted as a sail, square rigged. For rudder Thandar fashioned a long slender sapling, looped at one end, and the loop covered with skin laced tightly on. This, he figured would serve as both rudder and paddle, as necessity demanded.
At last all was done. Together Thandar and Roof carried the light, crude skiff to the ocean. They waded out beyond the surf, and upon the crest of a receding swell they launched the thing. Thandar leaping in as it floated upon the water.
The sail was not taken along for this trial. Thandar merely wished to know that this craft would float, and right side up. For a moment it did so, until the sea rushing in at the loose seams filled it with water.
Thandar and Roof had great difficulty in dragging it out again upon the beach. Roof now would have given up, but not so Thandar. It is true that he was slightly disheartened, for he had set great store upon the success of his little vessel.
After they had carried the frail thing beyond high tide Thandar sat down upon the ground and for an hour he did naught but stare at the leaky craft. Then he arose and calling to Roof led him into the forest. For a mile they walked, and then Thandar halted before a tree from the side of which a thick and stick stream was slowly oozing. Thandar had brought along a gourd, and now with a small branch he commenced transferring the mass from the side of the tree to the gourd. Roof helped him. In an hour the gourd was filled. Then they returned to the skiff.
Leaving the gourd there Thandar and Roof walked to a clump of heavy jungle grasses not far from the cliff where their cave lay. Here Thandar gathered a great armful of the yellow, ripened grass, telling Roof to do likewise. This they took back to the skiff, where, by rolling it assiduously between their hands and pounding it with stones they reduced it to a mass of soft, tough fiber.
Now Thandar showed Roof how to twist this fiber into a loose, fluffy rope, and when he had him well started he daubed the rope with the rubbery fluid he had filched from the tree, and with a sharp stick tucked it into every seam and crevice of the skiff.
It took the better part of two days to accomplish this, and when it was done and the gourd empty, the two men returned to the tree and refilled it. This time they built a fire upon their return to the skiff, Roof spinning a hard wood splinter rapidly between toes and fingers in a little mass of tinder that lay in a hollowed piece of wood. Presently a thin spiral of smoke arose from the tinder, growing denser for a moment until of a sudden it broke into flame.
The men piled twigs and branches upon the blaze until the fire was well started. Then Thandar taking a ball of the viscous matter from the gourd heated it in the flames, immediately daubing the melting mass upon the outside of the skiff. In this way, slowly and with infinite patience, the two at last succeeded in coating the entire outer surface of the canoe with a waterproof substance that might defy the action of water almost indefinitely.
For three days Thandar let the coating dry, and then the craft was given another trial. The man's heart was in his throat as the canoe floated upon the crest of a great wave and he leaped into it.
But a moment later he shouted in relief and delight--the thing floated like a cork, nor was there the slightest leak discernible. For half an hour Thandar paddled about the harbor, and then he returned for the sail. This too, though rather heavy and awkward, worked admirably, and the balance of the day he spent in sailing, even venturing out into the ocean.
Much of the time he paddled, for Waldo Emerson knew more of the galleys of ancient Greece than he did of sails or sailing, so that for the most part he sailed with the wind, paddling when he wished to travel in another direction. But, withal, his attempt filled him with delight, and he could scarce wait to be off toward civilization and Nadara.
The next two days were spent in collecting food and water, which Thandar packed in numerous gourds, sealing the mouths with the rubbery substance such as he had used to waterproof his craft. The flesh of the wild hog, and deer, and bird he cut in narrow strips and dried over a slow fire, in this work Roof assisted him, and at last all was in readiness for the venture.
The day of his departure dawned bright and clear. A gentle south wind gave promise of great speed toward the north. Thandar was wild with hope and excitement. Roof was to accompany him, but at the last moment the nerve of the troglodyte failed him, and he ran away and hid in the forest.
It was just as well, thought Thandar, for now his provisions would last twice as long. And so he set out upon his perilous adventure, braving the mighty Pacific in a frail and unseaworthy cockleshell with all the assurance and confidence that is ever born in ignorance.