THE ENGLISHMAN knotted several lengths of chute shrouds together until he had a rope that would reach the ground. He handed the end of the rope to Bubonovitch. “Haul in when I give you the word, Sergeant,” he said. Then he dropped quickly to the ground.
“Smelled ’em!” said S/Sgt. Rosetti, exuding skepticism.
Clayton gathered a great bundle of giant elephant ears, made the end of the rope fast to it, and told Bubonovitch to haul away. Three such bundles he sent up before he returned to the platform. With the help of the others, he spread some on the floor of the platform and with the remainder built an overhead shelter.
“We’ll get meat tomorrow,” said Clayton. “I’m not familiar with the fruits and vegetables here except a few. We’ll have to watch what the monkeys eat.”
There were plenty of monkeys around them. There had been all afternoon—chattering, scolding, criticizing the newcomers.
“I recognize one edible fruit,” said Bubonovitch. “See? In that next tree, Durio zibethinus, called durian. That siamang is eating one now—Symphalangus syndactylus—the black gibbon of Sumatra, largest of the gibbons.”
“He’s off again,” said Shrimp. “He can’t even call a ant a ant.”
Lucas and Clayton smiled. “I’ll get some of the fruit of the Durio zibeth-whatever-you-call-it,” said the latter. He swung agilely into the adjoining tree and gathered four of the large, prickly skinned durians, tossing them one by one to his companions. Then he swung back.
Rosetti was the first to cut his open. “It stinks,” he said. “I ain’t that hungry.” He started to toss it away. “It’s spoiled.”
“Wait,” cautioned Bubonovitch. “I’ve read about the durian. It does stink, but it tastes good. The natives roast the seeds like chestnuts.”
Clayton had listened to Bubonovitch attentively. As they ate the fruit, he thought; What a country! What an army!
A sergeant who talks like a college professor—and comes from Brooklyn at that! He thought, too, how little the rest of the world really knew America—the Nazis least of all. Jitterbugs, playboys, a decadent race! He thought of how gallantly these boys had fought their guns, of how Lucas had made sure that his crew and his passenger were out before he jumped. Of how the boy had fought hopelessly to save his ship.
Night had fallen. The jungle sounds and the jungle voices were different now. There was movement everywhere around them—unseen, stealthy. A hollow, grunting cough rose from the foot of their tree.
“Wot was dat?” asked Shrimp.
“Stripes,” said Clayton.
Shrimp wanted to ask what stripes was, but so far he had addressed no word to the Britisher. However, curiosity at last got the best of pride. “Stripes?” he asked.
“Geeze! You mean they’s a tiger loose down there?”
“Yes. Two of them.”
“Geeze! I seen ’em oncet at the zoo in Chicago. I guess it wouldn’t be so healthy down there. I heard they ate people.”
“We’ve got to thank you, Colonel, that we’re not down there,” said Jerry Lucas.
“I guess we’d be a lot of babes in the woods without him,” said Bubonovitch.
“I learned a hell of a lot in Colonel Saffarrans’ jungle training outfit,” said Shrimp, “but nothin’ about wot to do about tigers.”
“They hunt mostly at night,” Clayton explained. “That’s when you have to be on your guard.” After a while he said to Bubonovitch, “From what little I have read about Brooklyn I was lead to believe that Brooklynites had a special pronunciation of English all their own. You talk like any one else.”
“So do you,” said Bubonovitch. Clayton laughed. “I was not educated at Oxford.”
“Bum had a higher Brooklyn education,” explained Lucas. “He went through sixth grade.”
Bubonovitch and Rosetti dropped off to sleep. Clayton and Lucas sat at the edge of the platform, their legs dangling, planning for the future. They agreed that their best chance lay in getting a boat from friendly natives (if they could find any) on the southwest coast of the island and then trying to make Australia. They spoke of this and many other things. Lucas talked about his crew. He spoke of them with pride. Those who were unaccounted for, he worried about. Those who were dead were dead. There was nothing to be done about that now. But Clayton could tell by the tenseness in his voice when he spoke of them how he felt about them.
He spoke of Rosetti. “He’s really a good kid,” he said, “and a top ball turret gunner. Nature molded him for the job. There isn’t much room in a ball turret. Bum says the War Department should breed ’em, crossing midgets with pygmies. Shrimp has the DFC and Air Medal with three clusters. He’s a good kid all right.”
“He certainly hasn’t much use for Britishers,” laughed Clayton.
“What with all the Irish and Italians in Chicago, it’s not surprising. And then Shrimp never had much of a chance to learn anything. His father was killed in Cicero in a gang war when he was a kid, and I guess his mother was just a gangland moll. She never had any use for Shrimp, nor he for her. But with a background like that, you’ve got to hand it to the kid. He didn’t get much schooling, but he kept straight.”
“Bubonovitch interests me,” said the Englishman. “He’s an unusually intelligent man.”
“Yes. He’s not only intelligent, but he’s extremely well educated. The former is not necessarily a corollary of the latter. Bubonovitch is a graduate of Columbia. His father, a school teacher, saw to that. Bum got interested in the exhibits in The American Museum of Natural History in New York when he was in high school. So he specialized in zoology, botany, anthropology, and all the other ologies that a fellow has to know to be valuable to the museum. And when he graduated, he landed a job there. He likes to pull scientific names of things on Shrimp just to annoy him.”
“Then it’s probably a good thing for Sgt. Rosetti’s blood pressure that I haven’t an Oxford accent,” said Clayton.
As Corrie van der Meer trudged along with her captors her mind was occupied with but two problems: How to escape and how to destroy herself if she could not escape. Alam, walking beside her, spoke to her in his own language, which she understood but which the Japs did not.
“Forgive me,” he begged, “for leading them to you. They tortured Tiang Umar, but he would not tell. Then his old wife could stand it no longer, and she told them that I knew where you were hiding. They said that they would kill everyone in the village if I did not lead them to your hiding place. What could I do?”
“You did right, Alam. Sing Tai and I were only two. It is better that two die than all the people of a village.”
“I do not want you to die,” said Alam. “I would rather die myself.”
The girl shook her head. “What I fear,” she said, “is that I may not find the means to die—in time.”
Lieut. Sokabe spent the night in the kampong of Tiang Umar. The villagers were sullen and glowering; so Sokabe posted two sentries before the door of the house where he and his captive slept. To further preclude the possibility that she might escape, he bound her wrists and her ankles. Otherwise, he did not molest her. He had a healthy fear of Capt. Tokujo Matsuo, whose temper was notoriously vile; and he had a plan.
When he set out the next morning, he took Alam along to act as interpreter should he require one. Corrie was glad of the company of this friendly youth. They talked together as they had the previous day. Corrie asked Alam if he had seen any of the guerrilla bands that she had heard rumors of from time to time, bands made up of Dutchmen who had escaped to the hills—planters, clerks, soldiers.
“No, I have not seen them; but I have heard of them. I have heard that they have killed many Japanese. They are desperate men. The Japanese are always searching for them. They offer the native people rich rewards for pointing out their hiding places; so these men are suspicious of all natives they do not know, thinking they may be spies. It is said that a native who falls into their hands never returns to his village unless they know that they can trust him. And who can blame them? I have also heard that many natives have joined them. Now that we have learned that Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity is for the Japanese alone, we hate them.” They passed the spot where the village of Taku Muda had stood. There was no evidence that man had ever set foot there, so completely had the jungle reclaimed it.
“This is the prosperity that the Japanese bring us,” said Alam.
The morning wore on. They marched beneath sullen clouds in a tropical downpour. The gloomy forest stunk of rotting vegetation. It exhaled the vapors of death. Death! The girl knew that every step she took was bringing her closer to it. Unless—hope does not die easily in the breast of youth. But unless what?
She heard the roar of motors overhead. But she was used to that sound. The Japs were always flying over the island. Then, from a distance, there came to her ears a crashing and rending followed by a dull explosion. She did not hear the motors again. She thought, of course, that it was an enemy plane; and it filled her with satisfaction. The Japs jabbered about it excitedly. Lt. Sokabe considered investigating. He talked with a sergeant. At last they decided that they could never find the plane in this tangle of jungle and forest. It was too far away.
It was almost dark when they reached the kampong that Capt. Tokujo Matsuo had commandeered for the use of his detachment. Standing in the doorway of the house that the two officers had taken for their quarters, Matsuo watched the party approach.
He called to Sokabe. “Where are the prisoners?”
The lieutenant seized Corrie roughly by the arm and pulled her out of line and toward the captain. “Here,” he said.
“I sent you for a Chinaman and a yellow haired Dutch girl, and you bring back a black haired native boy. Explain.”
“We killed the Chinaman,” said Sokabe. “This is the Dutch girl.”
“I do not feel like joking, you fool,” snarled Matsuo.
Sokabe prodded the girl up the ladder that led to the doorway. “I do not joke,” he said. “This is the girl. She has disguised herself by dyeing her hair black and wearing the clothing of a native boy. Look!” Roughly he parted Corrie’s hair with his dirty fingers, revealing the blonde color close to the scalp.
Matsuo scrutinized the girl’s features closely. Then he nodded. “She suits me,” he said. “I shall keep her.”
“She belongs to me,” said Sokabe. “I found her and brought her here. She is mine.”
Matsuo spat. His face turned red. But he managed to restrain himself. “You forget yourself, Lieutenant Sokabe,” he said. “And take your orders from me. I am commanding officer here. You will find yourself other quarters at once and leave the girl here.”
“You may be a captain,” said Sokabe; “but now, because of the great size of the imperial army and the many casualties, many officers are low born. My honorable ancestors were samurai. My honorable uncle is General Hideki Tojo. Your father and all your uncles are peasants. If I write a letter to my honorable uncle, you will not be a captain any more. Do I get the girl?”
There was murder in Matsuo’s heart. But he chose to dissemble his wrath until such time as Sokabe might meet an accidental death. “I thought you were my friend,” he said, “and now you turn against me. Let us do nothing rash. The girl is nothing. Descendants of the gods should not quarrel over such a low born creature. Let us leave the matter to the decision of our colonel. He will be here to inspect us soon.” And before he gets here, thought Matsuo, an accident will befall you.
“That is fair enough,” agreed Sokabe. It will be most unfortunate, he thought, should my captain die before the colonel arrives.
The girl understood nothing that they said. She did not know that for the time being she was safe.
Early the next morning Alam left the kampong to return to his village.