The Poonga-Poonga men’s laughter died down, and they regarded the spectacle with glittering eyes and gluttonous expressions. The Tahitians, on the other hand, were shocked, and Adamu Adam was shaking his head slowly and grunting forth his disgust. Joan was angry. Her face was white, but in each cheek was a vivid spray of red. Disgust had been displaced by wrath, and her mood was clearly vengeful.
“It’s nothing to be angry over,” he said. “You mustn’t forget that he hacked off Kwaque’s head, and that he ate one of his own comrades that ran away with him. Besides, he was born to it. He has but been eaten out of the same trough from which he himself has eaten.”
Joan looked at him with lips that trembled on the verge of speech.
“And don’t forget,” Sheldon added, “that he is the son of a chief, and that as sure as fate his Port Adams tribesmen will take a white man’s head in payment.”
“It is all so ghastly ridiculous,” Joan finally said.
“And—er—romantic,” he suggested slyly.
She did not answer, and turned away; but Sheldon knew that the shaft had gone home.
“That fella boy he sick, belly belong him walk about,” Binu Charley said, pointing to the Poonga-Poonga man whose shoulder had been scratched by the arrow an hour before.
The boy was sitting down and groaning, his arms clasping his bent knees, his head drooped forward and rolling painfully back and forth. For fear of poison, Sheldon had immediately scarified the wound and injected permanganate of potash; but in spite of the precaution the shoulder was swelling rapidly.
“We’ll take him on to where Tudor is lying,” Joan said. “The walking will help to keep up his circulation and scatter the poison. Adamu Adam, you take hold that boy. Maybe he will want to sleep. Shake him up. If he sleep he die.”
The advance was more rapid now, for Binu Charley placed the captive bushman in front of him and made him clear the run-way of traps. Once, at a sharp turn where a man’s shoulder would unavoidably brush against a screen of leaves, the bushman displayed great caution as he spread the leaves aside and exposed the head of a sharp-pointed spear, so set that the casual passer-by would receive at the least a nasty scratch.
“My word,” said Binu Charley, “that fella spear allee same devil-devil.”
He took the spear and was examining it when suddenly he made as if to stick it into the bushman. It was a bit of simulated playfulness, but the bushman sprang back in evident fright. Poisoned the weapon was beyond any doubt, and thereafter Binu Charley carried it threateningly at the prisoner’s back.
The sun, sinking behind a lofty western peak, brought on an early but lingering twilight, and the expedition plodded on through the evil forest—the place of mystery and fear, of death swift and silent and horrible, of brutish appetite and degraded instinct, of human life that still wallowed in the primeval slime, of savagery degenerate and abysmal. No slightest breezes blew in the gloomy silence, and the air was stale and humid and suffocating. The sweat poured unceasingly from their bodies, and in their nostrils was the heavy smell of rotting vegetation and of black earth that was a-crawl with fecund life.