THE fight was short and sweet, and some of the Japs were helpful—they blew themselves up with their own grenades. Corrie had been left behind in the forest. But she hadn’t stayed there. Jerry had no more than reached the center of the kampong when he saw her fighting at his side.
Bubonovitch and Rosetti went berserk, and their bayonets were dripping Jap blood when the fight was over. They had learned to hate.
The natives cowered in their houses. They had collaborated with the Japs and they expected the worst, but they were not molested. They were, however, required to furnish food and prepare it.
Tarzan and Jerry questioned several of them, Corrie and Tak acting as interpreters. They learned that this had been an advance post of a much larger force that was stationed about twenty-five kilometers down in the direction of the southwest coast. It had expected to be relieved in a day or two.
They also learned that there was a group of guerrillas farther along in the mountains toward the southeast. But none of the natives knew just where or how far. They seemed terribly afraid of the guerrillas.
Amat tried to curry favor with the newcomers. He was a confirmed opportunist, a natural born politician. He was wondering if it would advantage him to hurry to the main camp of the Japs and report the presence of these men and the havoc they had wreaked. But he abandoned the idea, as he would have had to travel through bad tiger country. It was well for Amat that neither Bubonovitch nor Rosetti knew the part he had played leading up to their capture.
But perhaps the two sergeants would have been inclined toward leniency, for they were very happy. Their prayers had wrought a miracle and they had been saved by the little margin of a split second. That was something to be happy about. In addition to this, they had indulged in a very successful orgy of revenge. In the blood of their enemies they had washed away the blows and insults and humiliation that had been heaped upon them.
“Geeze! Bum, we sure had a close shave.”
“I couldn’t see; because I was looking at the ground,” said Bubonovitch, “but Corrie said that Jap looie was swinging his sword when Jerry nicked him. It was that close. But we sure evened things up, eh, Shrimp?”
“How many did you get?”
“I don’t know. Maybe three or four. I was just shooting at everything in sight. But you certainly hit the jack pot with those two grenades. Boy! was that something?”
“Say, did you see dat dame get right into the fightin’? She’s keen.”
“Migawd! Shrimp, are you falling for a skirt?”
“I ain’t fallin’ for no skoit, but she’s all to the good. I ain’t never see a dame like her before. I didn’t know they come like dat. I’ll go to bat for her any old time.”
“The last of the misogynists,” said Bubonovitch. “Jerry took the count a long while ago, and has he fallen hard!”
“But did you see her fall on dat Dutchman’s neck? You should have saw Jerry’s face. Dat’s de trouble wit dames—even dis one. Dey just can’t help causin’ wot dem Hawaiians back on De Rock calls pilikia. We was just one happy family until her old boy friend blew into the pitcher.”
“Maybe he is just an old friend,” suggested Bubonovitch. “I noticed that when the fight was on, she fought right at Jerry’s side.”
Rosetti shook his head. He had already made a great concession, but his prejudice was too deep rooted to permit him to go all out for the ladies. He was for Corrie, but with mental reservations. “Do you throw your arms around an old friend’s neck and yell, ‘Darling!’? I ask.”
“That all depends. You are an old friend of mine, Shrimp; but I can’t imagine throwing my arms around your neck and calling you darling.”
“You’d get a poke in de snoot.”
“But if you were Ginger Rogers!”
“Geeze! What gams! I never seen gams before until I see Lady in de Dark. Boy!”
Tarzan and Jerry were holding a consultation of war. Corrie and Tak were recounting to each other their adventures of the past two years.
“I’d like to do a little reconnoitering before we move on,” said Tarzan. “I’d like to do it alone, because I can move so much faster than the rest of you. But if you remain here, that Jap relief may show up before I come back. There will probably be about twenty of them, as there were in this detail. That’s pretty heavy odds against you.”
“I’ll chance it,” said Jerry, “if the others are willing. We’re five guns. We’ve got enough Jap ammunition to fight a war—lots of grenades. We know the trail they’ll come in on. All we have to do is keep a sentry far enough out on it to give us plenty of warning. Then we can plaster them with grenades from ambush. Let’s see what the others think.” He called them over and explained the situation.
“Geeze!” said Shrimp. “On’y four to one? It’s a cinch. We done it before. We can do it again!”
“Atta boy!” said Jerry.
“The main camp is fifteen or sixteen miles from here,” said Bubonovitch. “They’ll probably take most of the day to make the march, for they won’t be in any hurry. But we’d better start being on the lookout for them this afternoon. They might come today.”
“You’re right,” said Jerry. “Suppose you go on out along the trail for about a mile. You’ll hear them coming before they get in sight of you; then you can beat it back here, and we’ll be ready for them.”
“Here’s an idea,” said Corrie. “Suppose we load up with hand grenades and all go out and take positions in trees along both sides of the trail. If we’re spread out enough, we can get the whole detachment in range before we open up. We should be able to get them all that way.”
“Great!” said Jerry.
“What a bloodthirsty person you’ve become, Corrie!” exclaimed Tak, grinning.
“You don’t know the half of it,” said Jerry.
“It’s a good idea,” said Tarzan. “We know the enemy is coming. We don’t know just when; so we should always be prepared for him. You can come in as soon as it is dark, as I’m sure they won’t march at night. There is no reason why they should. But I think you should post a guard all night.”
“Definitely,” agreed Jerry.
Tarzan, the matter settled, walked away and disappeared into the forest.
Hooft awoke bleary eyed and with a terrific headache. His mouth tasted like the bottom of a mouse cage. He was never in a very good humor at best. Now his disposition was vile to murderous. He bellowed to awaken the others, and soon the camp was astir. The slovenly, slatternly women began to prepare breakfast for the men.
Hooft stood up and stretched. Then he looked over the camp. “Where’s the prisoner?” he shouted.
Everyone else looked around. There was no prisoner. “The other one’s gone, too,” said a man.
Hooft roared out lurid profanities and horrid obscenities. “Who’s on guard?” he demanded.
“Hugo was to wake me up at midnight to relieve him,” said another. “He didn’t.”
“Go out and see what’s become of him,” ordered Hooft. “I’ll skin him alive for this. I’ll cut his heart out—falling asleep and letting both those men escape!”
The man was gone but a few minutes. When he returned, he was grinning. “Somebody beat you to it, Chief,” he said to Hooft. “Hugo’s a mess. His throat’s been cut from ear to ear.”
“It must have been that wild man,” said Sarina.
“Van der Bos must have cut his bonds,” said Hooft. “Wait ’til I get hold of him.”
“If you ever do,” said Sarina. “He’ll go right to the nearest guerrillas, and pretty soon we’ll have them down on us.”
One of the men had walked over to the spot where Tarzan had lain. He returned with the bonds and handed them to Hooft. “These weren’t cut,” he said. “They were broken.”
“No man could have broken them,” said Hooft.
“The wild man did,” said Sarina.
“I’ll wild man him,” growled Hooft. “Let’s eat and get going. We’re going after them. You women stay here.” No one demurred. No one ever argued with Hooft when he was in a bad humor, with the exception of Sarina. She was the only one of the murderous crew whom Hooft feared, but Sarina did not argue now. She had no desire to go tramping through the forest.
The outlaws were good trackers, and Tarzan and van der Bos had made no effort to obliterate their spoor. It was plain going for Hooft and his gang of cutthroats.
Jerry and his little company gathered all the grenades they could carry and went out into the forest in the direction from which the Jap relief would have to come. Through van der Bos, Jerry warned the natives not to remove any of the rifles and ammunition which they left behind. “Tell ’em we’ll burn the village if we find anything gone when we return.”
Van der Bos embellished this threat by assuring the chief that in addition to burning the village they would cut off the heads of all the villagers. The chief was impressed.
So was Amat. He had intended following the strangers out into the forest to spy on them. When he discovered how bloodthirsty they were, he changed his mind. They might catch him at his spying. Instead, he went out on another trail to gather durian fruit.
And so it was that while he was thus engaged among the branches of a durian tree, and negligent, Hooft discovered him. Hooft ordered him down. Amat was terrified. Hooft and his party were as villainous looking a gang as ever Amat had laid eyes on.
Hooft questioned him, asking if he had seen the two fugitives and describing them. Amat was relieved. He could give these men a great deal of information and thus win safety. They would reward him at least with his life.
“I have seen them,” he said. “They came to our village with two others this morning. One was a woman. They rescued two men that the Japanese had taken prisoners; then the six killed all the Japanese.”
“Where are they now?”
“They went out into the forest on another trail. I do not know why. But they are returning this evening. They said so. Now may I go?”
“And warn those people? I’ll say not.”
“Better kill him,” said one of the men. He spoke Amat’s dialect, and Amat trembled so that he nearly fell down. He did drop to his knees and beg for his life.
“You do what we say, and we won’t kill you,” said Hooft.
“Amat will do anything you want,” said the frightened man. “I can tell you something more. The Japanese would pay well for the girl that was in our village today. The Japanese who were stationed there talked about her. The Japanese have been hunting for her for two years. Maybe I can help you get her. I will do anything for you.”
Amat did not know how he could help them get Corrie, but he was willing to promise anything. If he couldn’t get her, maybe he could run off into the forest until these terrible men had gone away. They were more terrifying even than the Japanese who had cuffed and kicked him.
Further discussion was interrupted by the sound of explosions beyond the village, somewhere off in the forest; but not far. “Hand grenades,” said one of the men.
“Sounds like a regular battle,” said Hooft.
The louder detonations were punctuated by the ping of rifle shots. “Those are Jap .25’s,” said Grotius.
Rising above the detonations were the piercing screams of men in agony. The whole thing lasted but a few minutes. There were a few scattered rifle shots at the end; then silence. One could almost reconstruct the scene from the sounds. There had been a sharp engagement. Between whom? wondered the outlaws. One side had been annihilated. Which one? The final rifle shots had liquidated the wounded.
The victors would certainly come to the village. Hooft and his followers approached the edge of the forest and lay in concealment. The little valley and the kampong were in plain sight below them.
They had not long to wait. Four white men and a white girl emerged from the forest trail. They were heavily laden with all the weapons and ammunition they could carry. They were talking excitedly. The men went to one of the native houses, the girl to another.
Hooft thought quickly. He must find a way to get the girl without risking a brush with her companions. Hooft, like all bullies, was yellow. He could stab or shoot a man in the back, but he couldn’t face an armed opponent. He preferred to accomplish his ends by intrigue and cunning.
He turned to Amat. “Take this message to the girl. Tell her an old friend of hers is waiting at the edge of the forest. He doesn’t want to come into the village until he is sure her companions are loyal to the Dutch. Tell her to come alone to the edge of the forest and talk with him. He is an old friend of her father. And, Amat, don’t tell anyone else we are here. If anyone but the girl comes, we won’t be here; but we’ll come back some day and kill you. You can tell the girl, too, that if she does not come alone, I won’t be here. Repeat the message to me.”
Amat repeated it, and Hooft motioned him on his way. Amat felt like a condemned man who has just received a pardon, or at least a reprieve. He slipped quietly into the village, and went to the foot of the ladder leading to the door of the house where Corrie was quartered. He called to her, and a native girl came to the doorway. When she saw Amat, her lip curled in contempt. “Go away pig!” she said.
“I have a message for the white woman,” said Amat.
Corrie overheard and came to the doorway. “What message have you for me?” she asked.
“It is a very private message,” said Amat. “I cannot shout it.”
“Come up here, then.”
Lara, the native girl, turned up her nose as Amat passed into the house. She knew him for a liar and a sneak, but she did not warn Corrie. What business was it of hers?
Amat delivered his message. Corrie pondered. “What was the man like?” she asked.
“He is a white man with a beard,” said Amat. “That is all I know.”
“Is he alone?”
Amat thought quickly, if she knows there are twenty of them, she will not go; then some day the man will come and kill me. “He is alone,” said Amat.
Corrie picked up her rifle and descended the ladder to the ground. The men of her party were still in the house they had taken over. They were cleaning and oiling the rifles they had acquired. There were no natives about. Only Amat and Lara saw the white girl leave the kampong and enter the forest.