Adventure by Jack London


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Page 1

By stooping close, still on man-back, he managed to pass through the low
doorway. He took a small bottle from his follower, and sniffed strong
ammonia to clear his senses for the ordeal. Then he shouted, "Shut up!"
and the clamour stilled. A raised platform of forest slabs, six feet
wide, with a slight pitch, extended the full length of the shed.
Alongside of it was a yard-wide run-way. Stretched on the platform, side
by side and crowded close, lay a score of blacks. That they were low in
the order of human life was apparent at a glance. They were man-eaters.
Their faces were asymmetrical, bestial; their bodies were ugly and ape-
like. They wore nose-rings of clam-shell and turtle-shell, and from the
ends of their noses which were also pierced, projected horns of beads
strung on stiff wire. Their ears were pierced and distended to
accommodate wooden plugs and sticks, pipes, and all manner of barbaric
ornaments. Their faces and bodies were tattooed or scarred in hideous
designs. In their sickness they wore no clothing, not even loin-cloths,
though they retained their shell armlets, their bead necklaces, and their
leather belts, between which and the skin were thrust naked knives. The
bodies of many were covered with horrible sores. Swarms of flies rose
and settled, or flew back and forth in clouds.

The white man went down the line, dosing each man with medicine. To some
he gave chlorodyne. He was forced to concentrate with all his will in
order to remember which of them could stand ipecacuanha, and which of
them were constitutionally unable to retain that powerful drug. One who
lay dead he ordered to be carried out. He spoke in the sharp, peremptory
manner of a man who would take no nonsense, and the well men who obeyed
his orders scowled malignantly. One muttered deep in his chest as he
took the corpse by the feet. The white man exploded in speech and
action. It cost him a painful effort, but his arm shot out, landing a
back-hand blow on the black's mouth.

"What name you, Angara?" he shouted. "What for talk 'long you, eh? I
knock seven bells out of you, too much, quick!"

With the automatic swiftness of a wild animal the black gathered himself
to spring. The anger of a wild animal was in his eyes; but he saw the
white man's hand dropping to the pistol in his belt. The spring was
never made. The tensed body relaxed, and the black, stooping over the
corpse, helped carry it out. This time there was no muttering.

"Swine!" the white man gritted out through his teeth at the whole breed
of Solomon Islanders.

He was very sick, this white man, as sick as the black men who lay
helpless about him, and whom he attended. He never knew, each time he
entered the festering shambles, whether or not he would be able to
complete the round. But he did know in large degree of certainty that,
if he ever fainted there in the midst of the blacks, those who were able
would be at his throat like ravening wolves.

Part way down the line a man was dying. He gave orders for his removal
as soon as he had breathed his last. A black stuck his head inside the
shed door, saying,--

"Four fella sick too much."

Fresh cases, still able to walk, they clustered about the spokesman. The
white man singled out the weakest, and put him in the place just vacated
by the corpse. Also, he indicated the next weakest, telling him to wait
for a place until the next man died. Then, ordering one of the well men
to take a squad from the field-force and build a lean-to addition to the
hospital, he continued along the run-way, administering medicine and
cracking jokes in _beche-de-mer_ English to cheer the sufferers. Now and
again, from the far end, a weird wail was raised. When he arrived there
he found the noise was emitted by a boy who was not sick. The white
man's wrath was immediate.

"What name you sing out alla time?" he demanded.

"Him fella my brother belong me," was the answer. "Him fella die too
much."

"You sing out, him fella brother belong you die too much," the white man
went on in threatening tones. "I cross too much along you. What name
you sing out, eh? You fat-head make um brother belong you die dose up
too much. You fella finish sing out, savvee? You fella no finish sing
out I make finish damn quick."

He threatened the wailer with his fist, and the black cowered down,
glaring at him with sullen eyes.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Tue 23rd Jul 2024, 1:56