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   Chapter 17 THE TRIP THROUGH THE DENSE FOREST

The Wonder Island Boys: The Mysteries of the Caverns By Roger Thompson Finlay Characters: 16556

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


On the march up Cataract River, and out toward the forest, the same order was observed as on the previous trips. One must lead the way, and act as scout, while the others were to remain with the team. They did not anticipate much difficulty during the first two or three days from savages, but it was always well to have some one in the lead so as to point out the most desirable paths, as it must be remembered they had to make their own trails through a wilderness. Much of it had been traveled, it is true, but there was nothing approaching such a thing as a road, or even a path, by which they could be guided.

It was amusing to watch Angel, as he glided along from one tree to the next, where the forests were in their paths. At other times he would be in the wagon, or shamble along, and sometimes leap on the backs of the yaks and ride there. The patient animals were so used to him that no attention was paid to his antics, even though he occasionally sat on the yoke between the animals.

John was an interested observer of all the preparations, and was one of the first to take his place alongside of the wagon. When the Professor urged him to take a seat he looked up inquiringly, but did not comply. The Professor did not urge him, but after several hours of walking, he was again asked to mount, and he did so, thereby seeming to understand what was required of him.

When they camped at noon for the first meal, they were still on the banks of the Cataract, but here it took a decided turn to the west; and now the course for the afternoon must be to the southwest so the South River could be reached above the falls.

That river was reached early in the afternoon, and they recognized the trail formerly made on the first journey along its banks. The first encampment for the night was probably twenty miles from home, but the next morning, after they had struck into an entirely new section of the island, the journey grew more burdensome, as the land on both sides of the stream became rough, and in many places the small streams crossed offered such steep sides that frequent detours had to be made to enable the team to get across.

During the second day they did not, on account of this, cover more than ten miles, and near the close of the day a second falls was reached, showing that they were going up to a much higher altitude. Above the falls the river turned abruptly to the south, and within five miles of it the river forked, one branch going south and the other southwest.

They were on the branch going west, and that course was followed, but still the country was rough, and now became thickly wooded, which added to the discomfort of traveling with a team. Magnificent trees grew on every side, and in most places sprang up clear to the water's edge.

"You have here a good illustration," remarked the Professor, "as to the source of the debris which is found on the shores of the island. The streams carry down the logs, trees and leaves, which, after being washed out to sea, are finally left along the beaches."

Our voyagers had passed many nights in the forests before, but this was the first time they had come across such impenetrable jungles. The large trees were actually so close together at many places that the wagon had to be backed and worked around for long distances to enable them to make any forward movements.

Before noon of the third day it became so discouraging that they stopped to consider the situation. Possibly a route away from the river would be much better, and that course was decided on, so that the direction agreed on was west, with a slight trend to the north.

The reason why the course along the river would be the most direct was judged from the fact that the lights, which they saw from their boat, made the location of the savages fully fifty miles or over from the northernmost cape where they had been cast ashore a few weeks before.

The travel must, therefore, be to the southwest, and not to the west, but at the rate they were going, with every hour more difficult, it was hoped that the new course would in the end be quicker. All of that day the struggle was a strenuous one, and when night came all were exhausted, and were ready to retire as soon as the meal was over.

They were in the midst of the thickest forest, and up to this time all had retired, as they did on this occasion. The yaks were enclosed in a railing made of small trees, so as to protect them, and the two mattresses within the covered body made comfortable beds for all.

Strange sounds occasionally disturbed them, but caused no particular alarm, until Angel began to grow restless, about two in the morning. George tried to quiet him, but he persisted in giving the alarm. Suddenly a howl and a shriek awoke the occupants of the wagon and as each arose he instinctively grasped a weapon. The sounds came from two animals, one of which was close by; the other at a greater distance.

"The one near us seems to be a wildcat, or an animal which utters a characteristic shriek of that kind, but I am not sure as to the identity of the other animal," remarked the Professor, as he listened intently to the hideous howls and shrieks.

It was pitch dark, so that it was impossible to recognize anything in the wagon, and of course the dense forests only added to the gloom, although the sky could be faintly seen directly above them through the scraggly leaves. The Professor searched for one of the lanterns, when he heard the yaks becoming uneasy, and running back and forth in the little enclosure.

John was awake, and his eyes seemed to have a sort of glimmer as the light flared up. The rear end of the wagon led directly into the pen where the animals were, and no sooner had the light rays illuminated the enclosure than a heavy object sprang from an adjoining tree and landed on one of the yaks.

The latter was thrown across the pen with the impact of the force, and the Professor, who had the lamp, could not level his gun, but without a moment's hesitation John's gun was at his shoulder, and he fired before either of the boys could recover themselves in the excitement.

The firing of the gun seemed to raise pandemonium. The sudden appearance of the light, as the animal made the leap, disconcerted him, and the shot following immediately, caused him to utter a terrific growl. John grasped the Professor's gun and shot the second time, and the shot was at blank range. The animal gave a slight spring forward, and fell across a tree trunk which was at one side of the enclosure, and on which they had arranged the cooking utensils the night before.

This was exciting enough for one night's adventure, but as John and the boys were about to descend a crash in the trees to the right caused them to halt. The Professor held out his light, but the thick wood and the dense underbrush prevented any examination more than thirty or forty feet beyond.

The eagerness of the boys to return to the wagon caused the Professor to loose his grip on the lamp, and before he could recover the hold, it fell to the ground and was extinguished. The yaks appeared to be in a frenzy now, and the howling beyond increased in intensity. After a search the lamp was relit, and the two others also brought out and lighted, and the appearance of the light caused a hurried retreat of the howling beasts.

"It is a puma," were the Professor's first words, "the most enormous specimen I ever saw."

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Fig. 30 Puma

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"Well, these woods must be full of them, by the way they howled."

The yaks were calmed down after some effort, and it was found that the shoulder of Jack had been lacerated by the claws of the puma, but beyond that no damage was done. Both of John's shots had taken effect, and it delighted the Professor to point to the wound and then indicate, as best he could, how they owed him a debt for his skill.

The carcass was dragged out of the enclosure to keep the yaks quiet, and when this was done they seemed relieved.

"I would like to know what the other animal was?"

"It is my opinion that it was a companion to this one. They, like all animals, have a means for communicating their ideas to each other. Some English scientists have found that t

he hen utters twenty-three distinct notes, and that they convey different meanings. One single note, differing from another, may convey the meaning of an entire sentence uttered by man. The particular purring of a cat in one way means one thing, and when emitted in a slightly altered tone indicates something entirely different. Then, again, most animal sounds are accompanied by some distinctive movement, as, for instance, the striking squeal of a hen, accompanied by the crouching attitude, together indicate the appearance of a hawk as plainly as though it uttered the warning in words. It is obvious, therefore, that all the sounds made by animals, such as cackling, clucking, crooning, purring, crowing, growling, and roaring, as well as modifications of these sounds, impart some meaning which can be distinguished by their kind, and are frequently recognized by others."

This explanation appealed to George. "I know the moment Angel is pleased, or when he is excited, and now that I think of it, I am sure that he has several ways of expressing his meaning, and I am going to try and see whether I can tell the difference hereafter when he tries to talk."

There was little sleep that night, except on the part of John, who was soon asleep. When morning broke they had an opportunity to examine the dead animal. It had a uniform gray color, fading into a white in the under part of its body, and with a very long, supple tail.

"The animal is sometimes called the panther, or 'painter,' as it is familiarly known; and it is regarded by some authorities as the cougar. It inhabits the whole of America. Its home is among the branches of trees, and is a dangerous antagonist when wounded or cornered."

This incident made them desirous of quitting the forest by the nearest route, but this was difficult to determine, as there were no elevated hills in sight. In the forenoon of the third day, other animals were sighted, and George, who was in the lead during the first part of the trip, did not have the courage to go ahead very far, and soon after the start was made, John came up and accompanied him, an act entirely voluntary on his part, which increased the astonishment of them all.

It is impossible to account for these remarkable actions of the human mind while in such a state. Did he realize the danger to his friends? Who can answer the riddle?

But they must go on. The forest must be conquered. How far they had to go was a mystery to them. One thing was certain: they were going toward West River, but they were still less than half way. It would have been the part of prudence to have taken the route to the north, through a country which they had twice traversed, and which afforded far better traveling, but it could not be helped now.

The fourth day did not improve their condition in the least. The dense wood was on every side. The inclination of the ground was so slight as to give no indication whether they had reached the summit of the tableland, or were still ascending to a higher level.

In estimating the distance traveled in the four days it could not be possible that they were over fifty miles from the Cataract. To add to their perplexities, Jack began to walk with a perceptible limp. The wound in the shoulder was inflamed, and a rest was necessary.

In this emergency a council was called, and the Professor suggested that some of the party should conduct an exploring expedition on foot to the west, going not to exceed five miles, and then return. But as it was too near night to make the attempt at once, it was agreed that an early start should be made in the morning.

The question now arose, who should go. Neither made a suggestion until Harry ventured this opinion: "I am perfectly willing to take John with me. I am sure he can be trusted. It will be imposing too much of a burden on you," said he, looking at the Professor, "and I am active and strong enough to stand the trip."

This suggestion was acted on, and early in the morning Harry took a quantity of ammunition, and the Professor gave John a similar supply and a couple of the guns, one of which was strapped to his back, similar to the manner in which Harry was equipped. The attention of John was then directed to the forest in the west, and as Harry moved away he followed with a comprehensive glance that gave all of them the greatest relief. Prior to their departure, the yak's wound was examined, and John saw this as well, so that from all indications they would have no reason to have fears on his account.

As usual, their bolos were taken along, and at intervals the trees were blazed on both sides, this action being performed by John with a regularity and precision that astonished Harry.

Traveling under those conditions was not conducive to speed, but they were now trying to find what lay beyond them, and to learn, if possible, how much farther the dense growth existed beyond them. They went on for three hours or more, and still no change, and they stopped to rest.

Imagine yourself surrounded by these conditions. A companion who could not talk, and who was, in all probability, demented, the eternal silence, except as it would be occasionally startled into life by some living thing; unable to even indicate his thoughts, or to consult with him, as to direction, or to talk about the probabilities beyond them, and you will feel that it took a brave heart to continue the journey. But Harry possessed determination. He made up his mind to go on, until he could find some news to take back, and so the quest continued for two hours more.

But Harry had forgotten that they started without food, and that it would take them as long to get back as they had already journeyed, and it was now fully noon.

It seemed as though a hundred feet away it appeared clearer, but this delusion had been repeated so often that he tired of it, and when, after a rest, another start was made, he mentally made up his mind that if he could not find a clearing within the next half hour they must return.

The clearing beyond did not deceive him this time. He clearly saw an elevation beyond, and he almost shouted, but he did not stop and laugh in his joy at the sight. John saw it and instinctively knew its meaning. Then, motioning to him, he pointed back in the direction of the wagon, and started to retrace his steps.

It was past noon, and Harry was hungry. John turned and followed and, glancing at the sun, drew a small package from his coat, and handed Harry several slices of barley bread. It affected him so much that he could scarcely contain himself, and he could not help putting his arm about him and indicate that his forethought and kind act was appreciated, and John looked at Harry inquiringly, and proceeded to eat his luncheon.

Judging the time which had elapsed since the start in the morning, it would take them fully five hours to retrace their steps, as the glazed trees showed them the way readily, and they could, therefore, make the trip in less than six hours consumed up to this time, so that they would be back before six in the evening, but they had found the outlet, and determination had won.

The passage back through the forest was made with a happy heart, and after they had gone two hours, John suddenly stopped, and grasped Harry by the arm as he peered forward. Harry heard something before them. Crackling leaves, and finally voices, were distinguished. They thought the team must be miles away. John moved forward fully fifty feet, and Harry followed. Soon the wagon top came in sight, and Harry bounded along the blazed trail, with a cry, of relief.

Jack's lacerated shoulder was not as bad as had been anticipated, and toward noon the lameness was not so perceptible, so that, in order to save time, it was concluded to follow the blazed path, which could be made out easily, thus bringing them together fully three hours earlier than Harry had anticipated.

Harry explained what had been seen to the west, and that three or four hours more of hard travel would bring them to an open country which, in all probability, led to the West River.

All was eagerness now, and they pressed forward, hoping to be able to reach the open country before night set in.

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