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   Chapter 16 DISCOVERY OF THE SAVAGES' HUTS

The Wonder Island Boys: Exploring the Island By Roger Thompson Finlay Characters: 16475

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


While it was true that up to this time they had indirect evidence only of the existence of human beings on the island, several events occurred, at this time, which not only pointed more clearly to such a condition, but they began to feel that leaving the Cataract would be a hazardous thing.

The first incident occurred during one of the hunting expeditions in which the boys engaged. It had been their custom to penetrate the forest below the South River, not very far, it is true, but the sport there was most exhilarating to them after each week's work.

The Professor had always encouraged this. "You have not taken your usual weekly outing," he remarked, "and I feel we ought to have some wild game. If you have time, on your next trip, make it a point to explore the region to the south and west of the falls."

"That section interests me also," answered George. "I have often wished we could go down near the mountain range."

"Couldn't you go with us?" interposed Harry, "and let us make a day of it?"

"I should like to do so," he replied. "But I have good reason for declining at this time, on account of some special work which is attracting my attention, particularly in preparing the instruments we shall need on our voyage."

"That is true," answered George. "But we shall certainly start early enough in the morning to enable us to visit that section, and go far enough to get some idea of what it looks like near the mountain."

"It would be a good idea," suggested Harry, "to take the team along, as far as the river, at any rate, and that will give us an opportunity to ride going and coming. In that way it will help us."

"Yes; and to carry the game," said George, with a laugh.

"If you bag as big game as you did on the last trip, you will need the wagon," replied the Professor.

They were on the way early in the morning, with the guns and plenty of ammunition, and before nine o'clock reached the river. Scarcity of rains had considerably lowered the stream, and they discussed the advisability of fording the team across.

"I am in favor of the idea, if the stream isn't too deep. It seems to be shallow enough."

"Suppose, George, we take out the raft, and try the depth. If we find the animals will have to swim, we had better leave them on this side."

The raft was launched, and it was pushed out with the poles, but before going very far it was seen that the idea was impracticable, and it might be a hazardous operation.

"This won't do. Besides, we may not be able to go into the woods very far, in any event."

"Then," said Harry, "we must select a good place for the team, where they will be in reach of water, and cut plenty of feed for the yaks, as I can see a good half day's sport before us."

"I hope, Harry, we shall not make the mistake of getting lost this time. Let us keep the sun in mind, and watch our bearings at all times."

"The mountains to the south will always be a guide for us. Don't forget that. Then, we shall also know the river is to the north, or in the opposite direction from the mountains."

"So that we may know just where the team is, we must take a note of its location. See the four large trees near the other bank. I think we can remember them, and can see them for some distance."

The raft was pushed across the river, and when it had been properly secured, they began the march directly to the southwest, and within a half hour reached the border line of the great forest.

"Six months ago I would have dreaded to enter such a dense wood as this," said George.

"I was thinking of that, too," replied Harry. "Isn't it singular how we become used to dangers? This is fun now. I can never forget the first long trip we made through the forest to the west of the Cataract. I was frightened at every step, and started at the least noise."

As they entered, the underbrush grew thinner, but the trees were more massive and thicker, and they were so close together, in many places, that little sunlight found its way through the foliage.

"I would like to know, Harry, how we can tell where the mountains are? The trees do not give us an opportunity."

"I suppose we shall have to depend on the sun altogether."

"Yes; it is now forenoon, and we must not forget that the shadow will point in a different direction in six hours from now."

"I have taken note of that," replied Harry. "We are now following our shadow, see? In six hours, which will be about four o'clock, which direction must we go to reach the wagon, judging by the shadow?"

"Let me see; the shadow is to the southwest now. At four this afternoon, it will be about southeast, so, I suppose, we shall have to take a course with the shadow at our right hand."

"Correct! I haven't forgotten that point about the shadows. It's really simple if you stop to reason it out."

Although numerous small animals appeared at frequent intervals, neither had an opportunity to try his skill, because up to that time the boys had been too intent on noting the direction of their route. The course was kept up due southwest, as planned.

"Did you ever see such a gloomy place?" remarked George. "If it wasn't for the chirping of the birds and the chatter of the little animals it would make me feel mighty lonely."

"Ah! there is something!" quietly whispered Harry, as he held out his arm, as though to restrain George. "See that animal slinking away?"

"Where?"

"Almost directly in front. Come closer. See that broken tree?"

"That's an ocelot," exclaimed George.

"Are you sure?"

"Just like the ones we got."

"Oh, this one's much larger."

"Shall we make a try for him?"

"Certainly; if we can get close enough," answered Harry.

The boys moved forward stealthily, using the most convenient trees to hide their movements. The animal was very wary, and the boys knew that the distance was too great to attempt a shot.

"Let us keep on after him. We may get a chance sooner or later," remarked Harry, eagerly.

But the animal kept beyond their reach, and after a half hour it finally forged ahead with such speed that it was soon lost to view, to the great disappointment of the hunters.

"Now, if we can get a glimpse of the sun we shall know what our direction is. This is the most wonderful forest I have ever seen."

"It seems to me we have gone considerably to the right. How far are we from the river, according to your calculations?"

"Well, Harry, I am not good at guessing, but I suppose we have traveled at a pretty lively rate while going after the ocelot. We certainly made two miles trailing him; and it was as much more from the river to the forest. I should say we are fully six miles from it."

"I wish we could get a glimpse of the mountains," answered Harry. "I wonder why the Professor has always been so anxious to investigate this part of the island?"

"That is a mystery to me. It may be merely a natural curiosity."

The boys noted the gradual ascent they were making now, and it was also obvious that the trees were not so thick nor so tall, in comparison with those farther north.

"Do you suppose we are near the base of the mountain?" asked Harry.

"It must be we are near it, or we should not be going up so gradually, as we have done for the last hour."

When several more miles had been added, the woods thinned out perceptibly, and when the clearing was sufficient to enable them to get the first glimpse to the south, Harry remarked:

"Well, there are the mountains, and they seem as far away as when we left the river. Suppose we follow this ridge to the west. You see, there is another forest between us and the mountains."

As they advanced the trees were smaller, and there was every evidence that this was a young forest. There was an abundance of the finest grass, and here they found immense flocks of beautiful pheasants and numerous other birds that were unknown to the boys, and it was not long until they had more than a dozen of different varieties.

"This is getting to be a pretty heavy load," remarked Harry. "I think it would be a good plan to find a place for the game, and then come back and take it as we return."

"Yes; we ought to do that. What time do

you suppose it is?"

"It must be past noon, and I am pretty hungry. Why not take our luncheon now?"

"Good idea. Look over to the right. It seems pretty clear there, and the two large trees there will make a good point to aim for on our way back. We can use the log there to rest and spread out our luncheon on," remarked George, as he pointed to the direction of the trees.

He kept looking in that direction intently, as Harry watched him. "What do you see?" Harry asked.

"That looks like a hut."

"So it does," replied Harry, excitedly. "It may be only a large rock, however," he continued.

"No; it doesn't look like a rock to me. Let us move up closer."

The object was fully a thousand feet away, and on a slight crest with few trees about. It was round-topped, very uneven in its outline, which gave it the appearance of a large boulder.

The boys approached cautiously, and as they came nearer, another but smaller object of the same character was noticed to the left.

"That is surely a hut of some kind. See the door at the side of the one to the left?"

"You may be right, Harry, but this seems to be an out-of-the-way place for a village or habitation. You know the Professor stated on one occasion, that even savages were smart enough to plan their homes near running water, and why they should select this place, when they could easily find plenty of water not far away, is something I can't understand."

"Dead sure there is nobody here now. Look at the vines growing across the door opening. Isn't this a find? I wish the Professor could see this."

"Better wait wishing until we see it. We might find something that will surprise us."

"All right, George; let us get up, closer; I am anxious to see the door of the big hut. Let us go around to the other side."

Without approaching the clearing which extended out a considerable distance from the huts, the boys made a circle, until the open door of the large one was in sight, and they were, therefore, directly behind the smaller hut.

"Now let us go up behind this one. If there is anybody in the large one we can easily see him," quietly remarked Harry.

The weeds all about indicated that no one was living there at the time, but they were still too far from the main structure to be able to judge positively.

"What's this?" asked George, kicking at some broad-leaved specimens of vegetables. "See, they are in rows. Some one has had a garden here; that is sure."

"This is certainly getting to be interesting. No; I don't believe there is any one about. Still I don't like the idea of going up to that big hut with the open door."

The boys looked at each other inquiringly. The question was, what to do and how to do it.

"Suppose we fire a shot; that ought to arouse them."

"That would be a good idea, Harry, but I hate to waste the shot. We might call, and see if we can get an answer."

The plan was adopted and after each "Hello!" a slight answering echo came back. There was no response, and they boldly marched up to the open doorway.

There was no light within, other than that through the door, except a little streak from an opening, due to the partially decayed coating of the hut. There was sufficient light, however, to show that this had been occupied by people who were very primitive, as in the interior, at one side, was a pile of bones, scattered about, and a few broken clay vessels, as well as several clam shells, which had been ground to a cutting edge, the examination of which caused the boys to smile.

"Well, what do you think of this? Nothing but bones and dirt everywhere. I suppose it must have been occupied by the savages."

The large hut was circular in form, not exceeding twelve or fifteen feet in diameter, and its extreme height was probably eight feet. It was built of a framework of saplings, the thickest of them not exceeding two inches in diameter, which had been planted in the earth, and then had the tops bent over and bound together.

Smaller branches, or withes, were then run around and interlaced, so as to make the web fairly close, and over this was plastered a species of blue clay, which, when dried and baked by the sun, formed an impervious coating that kept out the rain.

The boys marveled at the construction, because this was the first example of savage architecture they had seen. The smaller hut was distant about fifty feet, similarly made, but smaller in diameter.

"Let us examine the other place. Possibly that will give us some clue," and Harry started across the intervening space, while George was still rummaging about, uncovering the odds and ends and raking them toward the door.

Before Harry reached the hut, George cried out: "Come here, Harry; I have found something." And he held up a scrap of paper. "If the savages have been here they have left something that looks like writing."

Harry was back in an instant, and leaned over George's shoulder as he tried to make out the scrawls on the piece of blackened and crumpled sheet which he was smoothing out. The paper was about four by six inches in size, and evidently a good quality of wrapping paper, known as manilla.

"There are words here, sure enough. Look at this-it must be a name. Yes; can you read it? 'Rogers.' But who has signed it? Can you make that out?"

"Well, if there is one scrap, the chances are there must be some more. Let us get this stuff out of here."

"But be careful, Harry. I found this by the merest accident, and as it is, you will see I have torn it."

A more careful search was now begun, and every scrap was raked out and examined. A brass button was among the things; a buckle; the broken blade of a knife; a little metal disk, which might have been part of a locket case; a steel ring, all rusted and about two inches in diameter.

As these things were successively brought to light, it dawned on the boys that this might well have been the homes of savages, and the articles mentioned were likely taken from captives. The message on the paper, if it could be deciphered, might be the most valuable clue, but they were reserving that for examination later on, when they could have the assistance of the Professor.

The important thing now was to go over every bit of material in both places, and then make a survey of the surrounding country. It set at doubt all questions in their minds about the inhabitants of the country.

The small hut was visited, and here the litter was still more profuse, but after every scrap had been gone over, there was nothing to add to the small accumulation which they had taken from the other hut.

"Shall we go any farther?" asked George.

"It seems to me that this is enough for one day. Before going back, however, let us look all around this place. You know the Professor will be sure to want to know everything about it."

Directly west of the knoll, on which the huts were situated, was a slight declivity. "Let us go down the hill for several hundred feet," said George, as he led the way through the tangled brush.

Within a hundred feet of the hut was a little brook, with the clearest cold water. "I can see why the huts were placed there. Look at that spring."

Within fifty feet of their position was a slightly shelving rock, and below it a bubbling spring flowing upwardly into a semicircular basin formed in the rock.

George ran forward and made a quick survey. "Here is a metal drinking cup, just as they left it. My, but it's heavy!"

"I wonder what it is made of? Here, rub it."

Only a few passes were made over it, when he held it up in astonishment. "Why, it looks like silver."

"So it does," broke in Harry. "But what is this on the side? See those initials: 'A.W.'"

"I must have a drink before I leave this," and Harry removed the little copper cup which he always carried. "What a peculiar water this is! It must be a kind of mineral water."

"Yes," responded George; "that is sulphur water, or it has considerable sulphur in it."

"I wonder if this was a health resort for the savages?" asked Harry, as he laughed.

"Let's start for home at once," remarked George, without noticing Harry's sarcastic fling at the poor inhabitants.

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