Chapter LXVIII.
 

A tremendous snow-storm fell upon the mine and drove Jem into his tent, where he was soon after joined by Jacky, a circumstance in itself sufficient to prove the violence of the storm, for Jacky loathed indoors, it choked him a good deal.

The more was Jem surprised when he heard a lamentable howl coming nearer and nearer, and a woman burst into his tent, a mere pillar of snow, for she was covered with a thousand flakes each as big as a lady's hand.

"Ochone! ochone! ochone!" cried Mary McDogherty, and, on being asked what was the matter, she sat down and rocked herself and moaned and cried, "Ochone--och, captain, avick, what will I do for you? an' who will I find to save you? an' oh, it is the warm heart and the kind heart ye had to poor Molly McDogherty that ud give her life to save yours this day."

"The captain," cried Jem, in great alarm. "What is wrong with the captain?"

"He is lying could and stiff in the dark, bloody wood. Och, the murthering villains! och, what will I do at all! och, captain, avick, warm was your heart to the poor Irish boys, but it is could now. Ochone! ochone!"

"Woman," cried Jem, in great agitation, "leave off blubbering and tell me what is the matter."

Thus blandly interrogated, Mary told him a story (often interrupted with tears and sighs) of what had been heard and seen yester eve by one of the Irish boys--a story that turned him cold, for it left on him the same impression it had left on the warmhearted Irishwoman, that at this moment his good friend was lying dead in the bush hard by.

He rose and loaded Robinson's double-barreled gun; he loaded it with bullets, and, as he rammed them fiercely down, he said angrily: "Leave off crying and wringing your hands; what on earth is the use of that? here goes to save him or to revenge him."

"An' och, James, take the wild Ingine wid ye; they know them bloody, murthering woods better than our boys, glory be to God for taching them that same."

"Of course I shall take him. You hear, Jacky, will you show me how to find the poor dear captain and his mate if they are in life?"

"If they are alive, Jacky will find them a good deal soon--if they are dead, still Jacky will find them."

The Irishwoman's sorrow burst out afresh at these words. The savage then admitted the probability of that she dreaded.

"And their enemies--the cowardly villains--what will you do to them?" asked Jem, black with rage.

Jacky's answer made Mary scream with affright, and startled even Jem's iron nerves for a moment. At the very first word of the Irishwoman's story, the savage had seated himself on the ground with his back turned to the others, and, unnoticed by them, had rapidly painted his face with the war-paint of his tribe. Words cannot describe the ghastly terrors, the fiendish ferocity these traditional lines and colors gave his countenance. This creature, that looked so like a fiend, came erect into the middle of the tent with a single bound, as if that moment vomited forth by hell, and yet with a grander carriage and princelier presence than he had worn in time of peace; and even as he bounded he crossed his tomahawk and narrow wooden shield, to signify that his answer was no vulgar asseveration, but a vow of sacred war.

"KALINGALUNGA WILL KILL THEM, AND DRINK THEIR BLOOD."

Kalingalunga glided from the tent. Jem followed him. The snow fell in flakes as large as a lady's hand, and the air was dark; Jem could not see where the hunter was taking him, but he strode after him and trusted to his sagacity.

Five hours' hard walking, and then the snow left off. The air became clear, and to Jem's surprise the bush, instead of being on his right hand, was now on his left; and there on its skirts, about a mile off, was the native camp. They had hardly come in sight of it when it was seen to break from quietude into extraordinary bustle.

"What is up?" asked Jem.

The hunter smiled, and pointed to his own face:

"Kalingalunga painted war."

"What eyes the beggars must have," said Jem.

The next minute a score of black figures came tearing up in such excitement that their long rows of white teeth and the whites of their eyes flashed like Budelights in their black heads.

Kalingalunga soon calmed them down by letting them know that he was painted for a private, not a national feud. He gave them no further information. I suspect he was too keen a sportsman to put others on the scent of his game. He went all through the camp, and ascertained from the stragglers that no men answering the description of George and Robinson had passed out of the wood.

"They are in the wood," said he

He then ordered a great fire--bade Jem dry his clothes and eat; he collected two of his wives and committed Jem to their care, and glided like a panther into the wood.

What with the great heat succeeding to the great cold, and the great supper the gins gave him, Jem fell fast asleep. It was near daylight when a hand was laid on his shoulder, and there was Kalingalunga.

"Not a track on the snow."

"No? then let us hope they are not in the wood."

The hunter hung his head.

"Me tink they are in the wood," said he, gravely.

Jem groaned, "Then they are lying under the soil of it or in some dark pit."

Kalingalunga reflected. He replied to this effect:

"That there were no more traces of an assassin than of victims, consequently that it was impossible to know anything, and that it was a good deal too stupid to speak a good deal knowing nothing."

All this time Jem's fear and rage and impatience contrasted greatly with the philosophic phlegm of the Pict, who looked so fierce and took it all so cool, ending with an announcement that now Kalingalunga would sleep a good deal.

The chief was soon asleep, but not till he had ordered his gins to wake him the moment the snow should be melted. This occurred at noon, and, after snatching a hasty meal, he put a tomahawk into Jem's hands and darted into the bush.

All the savage's coldness disappeared now he was at work. He took Jem right across the wood from southeast to northwest. Nothing stopped him. When the scrub was thick above but hollow below he threw himself on his belly and wriggled along like a snake. When it was all thick, he hacked into it with fury and forced a path. When it was impenetrable he went round it, and by some wonderful instinct got into the same line again. Thus they cut clean across the wood but found no tracks.

Then the savage, being out in the open, trotted easily down the woodside to the southwest point; here he entered and took a line straight as an arrow to the northeast.

It was about five in the afternoon. Kalingalunga was bleeding all over with scratches, and Jem was torn to pieces and done up. He was just about to tell the other that he must give in, when Kalingalunga suddenly stopped, and pointed to the ground:

"Track!"

"What of?"

"A white man's shoe."

"How many are there?"

"One."

Jem sighed.

"I doubt it is a bad job, Jacky," said he.

"Follow--not too close," was the low reply.

And the panther became a serpent, so smooth and undulating were the motions with which he glided upon the track he had now discovered.

Jem, well aware that he could not move noiselessly like the savage, obeyed him and crept after at some distance.

The savage had followed the man's footsteps about half a mile, and the white man the savage, when suddenly both were diverted from their purpose. Kalingalunga stood still and beckoned Jem. Jem ran to him, and found him standing snuffing the air with his great broad nostrils, like a stag.

"What is it?"

"White fellow burn wambiloa wood."

"How d'ye know? how d'ye know?"

"Wambiloa wood smell a good way off when him burn."

"And how do you know it is a white man?"

"Black fellow never burn wambiloa wood; not good to burn that. Keep it for milmeridien."

The chief now cut off a few of his long hairs and held them up to ascertain the exact direction of the wind. This done, he barked a tree to mark the spot to which he had followed the trail, and striking out into quite a different direction he hunted by scent.

Jem expected to come on the burning wambiloa very soon, but he underrated either the savage's keen scent or the acrid odor of the sacred wood--perhaps both. They had gone half a mile at least before his companion thought it necessary to show any caution. At last he stopped short, and then Jem smelled a smell as if "cinnamon and ginger, nutmegs and cloves," were all blazing in one bonfire. With some difficulty he was prevailed on to stand still and let the subtle native creep on, nor would he consent to be inactive until the other solemnly vowed to come back for him and give him his full share of the fighting. Then Kalingalunga went gliding like a shadow and flitted from tree to tree.

Woe be to the enemy the subtle, noiseless, pitiless, remorseless savage surprises; he has not put on his war-paint in sport or for barren show.