From every side I heard it—closer, closer—until finally I felt the hot, fetid breath in my very face. My nerves quivered in disgust, not far from terror.
I sprang to my feet with a desperate cry to Harry and swung toward him.
There was no answering sound, no rush of feet, nothing; but I felt my throat gripped in monstrous, hairy fingers.
I tried to struggle, and immediately was crushed to the ground by the overpowering weight of a score of soft, ill-smelling bodies.
The grasp on my throat tightened; my arms relaxed, my brain reeled, and I knew no more.
The fight in the dark.
I returned to consciousness with a sickening sensation of nausea and unreality. Only my brain was alive; my entire body was numb and as though paralyzed. Still darkness and silence, for all my senses told me I might have been still in the spot where I had fallen.
Then I tried to move my arms, and found that my hands and feet were firmly bound. I strained at the thongs, making some slight sound; and immediately I heard a whisper but a few feet away:
“Are you awake, Paul?”
I was still half dazed, but I recognized Harry’s voice, and I answered simply: “Yes. Where are we?”
“The Lord knows! They carried us. You have been unconscious for hours.”
“They carried us?”
“Yes. A thousand miles, I think, on their backs. What—what are they, Paul?”
“I don’t know. Did you see them?”
“No. Too dark. They are strong as gorillas and covered with hair; I felt that much. They didn’t make a sound all the time. No more than half as big as me, and yet one of them carried me as if I were a baby—and I weigh one hundred and seventy pounds.”
“What are we bound with?”
“Don’t know; it feels like leather; tough as rats. I’ve been working at it for two hours, but it won’t give.”
“Well, you know what that means. Dumb brutes don’t tie a man up.”
“But it’s impossible.”
“Nothing is impossible. But listen!”
There was a sound—the swift patter of feet; they were approaching. Then suddenly a form bent over me close; I could see nothing, but I felt a pressure against my body and an ill-smelling odor, indescribable, entered my nostrils. I felt a sawing movement at my wrists; the thongs pulled back and forth, and soon my hands were free. The form straightened away from me, there was a clatter on the ground near my head, and then silence.
There came an oath from Harry:
“Hang the brute! He’s cut my wrist. Are your hands free, Paul?”
“Then bind this up; it’s bleeding badly. What was that for?”
“I have an idea,” I answered as I tore a strip from my shirt and bandaged the wound, which proved to be slight. Then I searched on the ground beside me, and found my surmise correct.