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Chapter Twenty Two. Across Country.
In undertaking the journey across Borneo, Captain Redwood knew there would be many difficulties to encounter, as well as dangers. There was first the great distance, which could not be much less than two hundred and fifty miles, even if they should succeed in making it in a straight line—as the crow flies. But, no doubt, obstructions would present themselves along the route to cause many a détour. Still this was an obstacle which time would overcome. At the rate of ten miles a day, it would be conquered in a month; and if two months should have to be spent, it would not be a very formidable hardship, considering that it was a journey overtaken to carry them through a savage wilderness, and restore them to civilisation—nay, almost to life.

That it was to be made on foot did not dismay them, they had quite recovered from the effects of their sea-suffering, as also from the poisonous breath of the upas, and felt strong enough to undertake any great feat of pedestrianism. And, as they were under no limits as to time, they could adopt such a rate of speed as the nature of the paths would permit. On this score there was neither apprehension nor uneasiness; there might have been about provisions, as the cured hams of the wild boar could not possibly last longer than a week; and what were they to eat after these were consumed?

Saloo set their minds at rest on this matter, by telling them that the interior forests of Borneo—which he did not know—if they at all resembled those of Sumatra—which he did know—would be found full of fruit-bearing trees; and, besides, numerous chances would arise for killing or capturing birds and other small game, even if a deer or a second wild boar did not present himself. In order to be prepared for any such that might come in his way, as well as to save their ammunition, of which they had but a limited supply, Saloo had spent the last few days of their sojourn upon the coast in the manufacture of a weapon well suited for such a purpose, even better than musket or rifle. It was the “Sumpitan,” or blow-gun. This the Malay had made, along with a complete set of “sumpits,” or arrows, and a quiver to contain them. The sumpitan itself—eight feet in length—he fashioned from a straight sapling of the beautiful casuarina tree, which grows throughout the islands of the Malayan Archipelago; while the little arrows, only eight inches long, he obtained from the medium of the leaflets of the nibong palms, many of which were found near the spot where they had encamped. The pith of the same palm served him for the swell of the arrow, which, being compressible like cork, fills up the tube of the sumpitan, and renders the shaft subject to propulsion from the quick puff of breath which the blow-gun marksman, from long practice, knows how to give it.

Saloo had been one of the best sumpitan shooters in all Sumatra, and could send an arrow with true aim a distance of a hundred and fifty yards. But to make its effect deadly at this distance, something more than the mere pricking of the tiny “sumpit” was needed. This something was a strong vegetable poison which he also knew how to prepare; and the upas-tree, that had so nearly proved fatal to all of them, was now called into requisition to effect a friendly service. Drawing upon its sap, and mixing it with that of another poisonous plant—the bina—Saloo gave the points of his sumpits a coating of the combined juices, so that they would carry death into the veins of any animal having the ill-fortune to be pierced by them.

Thus armed and equipped, he had little fear on the score of a scarcity of provisions during the journey. On the contrary, he declared himself confident of being able to keep the commissariat up to a point of supply sufficient for the whole party.

It may be thought strange that they did not speculate on the chances of arriving at some town or settlement of the natives. Indeed they did so, but only with the thought of avoiding them; for the minds of all—the Malay not excepted—were filled with apprehensions respecting the Dyak and other savage tribes, which report places in the interior of Borneo, and to whom long accredited, though perhaps only imaginative, stories have given a character alike terrible and mysterious. They could think of them only as savages—wild men of the woods—some of them covered with hair, and whose chief delight and glory are the cutting off men’s heads, and not unfrequently feasting on men’s flesh! No wonder that, with these facts, or fancies, acting upon their imagination, our travellers set forth upon their journey determined to give a wide berth to everything that bore the shape of a human being. It was a strange commentary on man’s superiority to the lower animals, and not very creditable to the former, that he himself was the thing they most feared to meet with in the wooded wilderness. And yet, humiliating as the reflection may appear, it depressed the minds of the castaways, as, looking their last upon the bright blue sea, they turned their faces toward the interior of the forest-covered land of Borneo.

For the first day they pursued a course leading along the bank of the stream at whose mouth they had been sojourning ever since their arrival on the island. They had more than one reason for keeping to the stream. It seemed to flow in a due easterly direction, and therefore to ascend it would lead them due west—the way they wanted to go. Besides, there was a path along its banks, not made by man, but evidently by large animals; whose tracks, seen here and there in soft places, showed them to be tapirs, wild-boars, and the larger but more rare rhinoceros.

They saw none of these animals during their day’s journey, though many of the traces were fresh. Generally nocturnal in their habits, the huge pachydermatous creatures that had made them were, during daylight, probably lying asleep in their lairs, amid the thick underwood of the adjacent jungles.

The travellers might have brought the pinnace up the river—so far it was deep enough to be navigated by a row-boat; and they had at first thought of doing so. But for several reasons they had changed their minds, and abandoned their boat. It was too heavy to be easily propelled by oars, especially against the current of a stream which in many places was very rapid. Besides, if there should be a settlement of savages on the bank, to approach in a boat would just be the way to expose themselves to being seen, without first seeing.

But to Captain Redwood the chief objection was, that a mountain-range rose only a short distance off, and the stream appeared to issue from its steep sloping side; in which case it would soon assume the character of a headlong torrent utterly unfit for navigation. Even had water travel been easier, it could not have been long continued—perhaps not beyond a single day; and it was not deemed worth while to bring the pinnace with them. So thought the captain, and the others agreeing, the boat was left where they had long since concealed her—under the banyan-tree.

The captain’s conjectures proved correct. The evening of the first day’s march brought them to the base of the mountain-ridge, down whose rocky flank the stream poured with the strength and velocity of a torrent. No boat could have further ascended it.

As the path leading along its edge, and hitherto comparatively level and smooth, now changed to a difficult ascent up a rough rock-strewn ravine, they encamped at the mountain-foot for the first night of their journey.

Next day was spent in ascending the mountain; following the ravine up to its head, where were found the sources of the stream. Staying only for a short noon-tide rest, they kept upward, and reached the highest point of the ridge just as the sun was again sinking into the depths of the forest before them.

At their camping-place on the second night no water was near; and they might have suffered from the want of it, had they not taken the precaution to provide against such a deficiency. Their experience as castaways, especially the memory of their sufferings from thirst, had rendered them wary of being again subjected to so terrible a torture. Each of the three men carried a “canteen” strung to his waist—the joint of a large bamboo that held at least half a gallon; while the boy and girl also had their cane canteens, proportioned to their size and strength. All had been filled with cool clear water before leaving the last source of the stream, a supply sufficient to serve during their transit of the dry mountain-ridge.

The remainder of that night was spent upon its summit; but as this proved of considerable breadth, and was covered with a thick growth of jungle-trees, it was near sunset the next day before they arrived at the edge of its eastern declivity, and obtained a view of the country beyond.

The sun was descending behind the crest of another mountain-ridge, apparently parallel with that upon which they were, and not less than twenty miles distant from it. Between the two extended a valley, or rather a level plain, thickly covered with forest, except where a sheet of water gleamed in the setting sun like a disc of liquid gold.

Nor was the plain all level. Here and there, above the wooded surface, rose isolated hills, of rounded mound-like shape, also clothed with timber, but with trees whose foliage, of lighter sheen, showed them to be of species different from those on the plain below.

Through a break among the branches of those now shadowing them on the mountain brow, the travellers for some time contemplated the country before them, and across which, upon the morrow, they would have to make their way.

At this moment Saloo muttered some words, which, coupled with the expression upon his countenance as he gave utterance to them, alarmed his companions. The words were,—

“It lookee like countly of mias lombi. Cappen Ledwad, if dat wild debbel lib in dem wood below, bettel we go all lound. We tly closs it, may be we get eat up. Singapo tiga not so dang’lous as mias—he not common kind, but gleat mias lombi—what Poltugee people callee ‘led golilla.’”

“The red gorilla!” ejaculated Captain Redwood. “Is it the ourang-outang you mean?”

“Same ting, Sahib cappen. Some call him oolang-ootang, some say led golilla. One kind belly big—belly bad—he call mias lombi. He cally away women, childen; take ’em up into top ob de highest tallee tlee. Nobody know what he do then. Eat ’em up may be. What fol else he want ’em? Ah! Cappen Ledwad, we dlead de oolang-Dyak. He no half dang’lous like oolang-ootang led golilla.”

Notwithstanding the patois of his speech, what Saloo said was well enough understood by his companions, for in the led golilla or oolang-ootang of his peculiar pronunciation, they recognised the long known and world-renowned ape of Borneo, which, although safe enough when seen inside the cage of the showman, is a creature to be dreaded—at least the species spoken of—when encountered in its native haunts, the forests of Sumatra and Borneo.


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