“Alas! oh, wise-one,” I answered. “How much better to have brought the ship also! On board of her, it is true, we possess weapons against which even such a monster as you tell me of could not prevail. But these weapons I have not with me. How then can I, single-handed, hope to overcome so terrible a creature as you describe? Rather send me back to my ship, when I promise to bring her here, so that a party of us, well armed, may attack the demon, when no doubt we shall be able to destroy it.” But at this the wise-one shook his head.
“To bring the ship here,” said he, “would be easy. But how do we know we could be rid of her without injury to our people?”
“I would pass you my word as to that,” I answered.
“So you say now,” replied the wise-one. “But how shall we know that you would keep your word?”
An angry retort sprang to my lips, but I restrained myself on receiving a warning glance from Sylvia, which reminded me that I stood at the mercy of these monkey men.
“Give me three days, then,” I answered, “to devise some means for destroying the monster. If I succeed, I demand to be sent back to my ship. Without this promise I will do nothing for you, let the consequences to me be what they may.”
The wise-one seemed to ponder my words carefully.
“Be it so, then,” he answered. “If in three days you rid us of this demon I will see that you are restored to your friends. But if you should fail, and survive, you must nevertheless be put to death. We have no room on the Islands of Engano for strangers.”
THE SLAYING OF THE GREAT CROCODILE
I now bethought me of how I might best set about the task of vanquishing the monster which held the Female Island in terror, and which, from the description given me by the wise-ones, I judged to be a crocodile. Nor in this was I mistaken, for, being taken by Sylvia to a place of safety from which I could see the demon, I was confirmed in the opinion I had formed by what I saw, although I had never seen a crocodile of such amazing proportions before. It lived in a cave close to a fertile plain, where goats belonging to the islanders were pastured. Not far off was a stream at which it went to drink, and a deep furrow in the sand marked the road it made to the water. During the day it remained in its cave, but toward evening it would issue forth and attack the goats, three or four of which it would kill, and carry off to its lair. Those in charge of the goats dared not interfere, lest the monster, deprived of its accustomed food, might seek its dinner among the ruined stone houses in which the islanders lived.
Now I noticed that the road along which the crocodile travelled to the water was very deeply furrowed, thus proving how the great lizard had repeatedly dragged its heavy bulk over the same spot on its way to drink at the stream, and I bethought me of a plan to deal with the reptile. The only weapon I had upon me when kidnapped from my ship was a short sabre or manchette, which I wore as a sidearm. But this I hoped would prove a formidable weapon when put to the use for which I now intended it.