In the crotch of a mighty jungle giant, two boys, chilled, miserable, awoke from a fitful slumber. All night they had huddled close together for such warmth as they might lend each other; but they had been very cold. They had slept little. The mysterious voices of the jungle night, the consciousness of the nearby presence of creatures they could not see had driven sleep from their eyes until, finally, overcome by utter exhaustion, they had sunk into all unconsciousness that could scarcely be called sleep, and even from this, the cold and discomfort aroused them, shortly after daybreak.
“Golly,” said Dick, “I sure am cold!”
“You haven’t got anything on me,” replied Doc.
“It must be great in the jungle at night,” said Dick, with a sickly grin.
“It wasn’t so bad,” insisted Doc, bravely.
“So bad as what?” asked Dick.
“I’ll bet you none of the other boys ever stayed out in a tree all night, with lions and panthers and tigers prowling all around in the jungle below. Just wait till we get home and tell them. Gee, I’ll bet they’ll be sore to think they weren’t along.”
“There aren’t any tigers in Africa,” corrected Dick, “and anyone who wants to stay out in the jungle all night can have my place. I wish I were home in my own bed—that’s what I wish.”
“I am not. I just have some sense, that’s all. It’s cold here and I’m hungry.”
“So am I,” admitted Doc. “Let’s build a fire and get warm and cook breakfast.”
“How you going to build a fire and what you going to cook for breakfast? You going to say ‘Abacadabra, allo presto, change cars!’ and then pick a gas range out of my ear? And if you could, what would you cook on it? Ham and eggs and waffles? That wouldn’t do, because we haven’t any of the maple syrup you are always talking about and cook forgot the marmalade.”
“You think you’re funny!” snapped Doc. “But I’ll show you—I’ll build a fire all right.”
“Where are your matches?”
“I don’t need any matches.”
“How you going to build a fire without matches?”
“That’s easy. All you got to do is rub two sticks together.”
Dick was interested. “That’s right,” he said. “Come on, let’s go down and get a fire started. Golly, but wouldn’t it be great to be warm again?”
“I wouldn’t care if I got on fire,” said Doc, “only I’m so cold I don’t think I’d burn.”
“We could melt—that’s better than staying frozen.”
“Do you suppose it’s safe to go down?” inquired Doc. “Do you suppose that old lion has gone home?”
“We could stay close to a tree and one of us could watch all the time,” suggested Dick.
“All right, here goes! Gee, but I’m stiff. Whew! My joints need oiling.”
Once at the bottom of the tree Doc collected a little pile of twigs and taking two of the larger ones he commenced rubbing them together vigorously, while Dick watched and listened, ready to sound the alarm at the first sign of danger. Doc rubbed and rubbed and rubbed.
“What’s the matter with your old fire?” demanded Dick.
“I don’t know,” said Doc. “All the books I’ve ever read about savages and desert islands and people like that, tell how they build their fires by rubbing two sticks together.”
“Maybe you aren’t rubbing fast enough,” suggested Dick.
“I’m rubbing as fast as I can. Maybe you think this is fun. Well, it isn’t. It’s hard work.” He kept on rubbing and rubbing for several minutes. Finally he stopped, exhausted.
“What you stopping for?” demanded Dick.
“The old sticks won’t burn,” replied Doc, disgustedly, “and anyway I’ve rubbed so fast that I’ve got warm.”
Satisfied that there was something wrong with their fire-making, they decided to warm themselves by exercise, knowing that a good, brisk run would set the blood to tingling in their veins; but then the question arose as to the direction in which they should run, as well as a place where they might find room in which to run. The tangled undergrowth grew close around them. Nothing could run in that. They had no idea where the trail was. There was nothing left, therefore, but the trees, and so they clambered back to the lower branches and with stiff fingers and numb joints started once more in the direction they thought would lead them to the railway.
As they moved forward, they commenced to feel the reviving influence of renewed warmth and life. But as they forgot the cold, they became more conscious of their hunger and now thirst was adding to their discomfort. They heard the sounds of the smaller life of the jungle, and occasionally caught fleeting glimpses of beautifully colored birds. A small monkey came and ran along above their heads and his chattering attracted others, until soon there were many monkeys around them. They did not seem very much afraid of the boys, nor were they unfriendly. They were merely curious. And they were always eating; a fact which drove the boys nearly crazy with hunger.
They watched carefully to discover what the monkeys ate, for they knew that what the monkeys ate with safety, they might eat; but when they discovered that the bill-of-fare appeared to consist quite largely of caterpillars they changed their minds. After a while they saw one of the monkeys gather fruit from a tree and eat it with great relish and they lost no time in clambering up into the branches of that same tree and searching for more of the fruit. It did not taste very good, but it was food and stopped the gnawing pangs of hunger, and its juices helped to satisfy their thirst.
When they had eaten they continued their search for the railway and found it easier to travel through the trees though they were, as yet, far from perfect at it. The food had given them renewed hope and they were quite sure now that they would soon reach the twin bands of steel that would mean rescue, for even if their train had left, there would be other trains along, which would surely stop at sight of two white boys. They might not have felt so much confidence had they dreamed that they were travelling deeper and deeper into the forest, directly away from the railway. Dick, who was in the lead, suddenly voiced an exclamation of satisfaction and relief.
“Here’s the old trail!” he cried. “Now we can make some time.”
“Gee, but it’s good to get your old feet on the ground again,” said Doc as the two boys stood again on solid footing. “Come on! Now let’s beat it.”
With brisk steps they set off along the game trail that ran in the same general direction they had been travelling, positive now that they were on the right road. Doc, his spirits rising to the occasion, broke into a gay whistle.
Ahead of them Zopinga came to an abrupt halt. For an instant he stood, listening intently, then he dropped to his hands and knees and placed his ear against the ground and remained there for a moment, motionless. When he arose, he still remained in a listening attitude, straining every faculty to interpret the sounds that were approaching him along the trail. Just before the boys came into sight the savage warrior stepped into the green wall of the jungle trail. The leaves and branches dropped back, forming an impenetrable screen behind which Zopinga waited.
The boys came confidently on, while Zopinga adjusted his shield upon his left forearm and took a new grip upon his light hunting spear.
The warrior did not see the boys until they were almost opposite him but when he did, the grasp of his spear hand released and a look of relief and satisfaction overspread his black and evil countenance, for he saw that he had nothing to fear from two unarmed white boys. He waited until a turn in the trail took them from his view, then he stepped out into the trail and followed them.
Zopinga was greatly elated. What matter now that his snares had failed to entrap a single victim? Had they all been filled, the reward would not have equalled this windfall that had come to him without the slightest effort upon his part. The victims of his snares he would have had to carry home; but this new quarry walked upon their own legs and, most accommodatingly, were headed directly for the village of the Bagalla.