Part 1 out of 3
Transcribed from the 1919 Mills and Boon edition by David Price,
THE RED ONE
The Red One
Like Argus of the Ancient Times
STORY: THE RED ONE
There it was! The abrupt liberation of sound! As he timed it with
his watch, Bassett likened it to the trump of an archangel. Walls
of cities, he meditated, might well fall down before so vast and
compelling a summons. For the thousandth time vainly he tried to
analyse the tone-quality of that enormous peal that dominated the
land far into the strong-holds of the surrounding tribes. The
mountain gorge which was its source rang to the rising tide of it
until it brimmed over and flooded earth and sky and air. With the
wantonness of a sick man's fancy, he likened it to the mighty cry
of some Titan of the Elder World vexed with misery or wrath.
Higher and higher it arose, challenging and demanding in such
profounds of volume that it seemed intended for ears beyond the
narrow confines of the solar system. There was in it, too, the
clamour of protest in that there were no ears to hear and
comprehend its utterance.
- Such the sick man's fancy. Still he strove to analyse the sound.
Sonorous as thunder was it, mellow as a golden bell, thin and sweet
as a thrummed taut cord of silver--no; it was none of these, nor a
blend of these. There were no words nor semblances in his
vocabulary and experience with which to describe the totality of
Time passed. Minutes merged into quarters of hours, and quarters
of hours into half-hours, and still the sound persisted, ever
changing from its initial vocal impulse yet never receiving fresh
impulse--fading, dimming, dying as enormously as it had sprung into
being. It became a confusion of troubled mutterings and babblings
and colossal whisperings. Slowly it withdrew, sob by sob, into
whatever great bosom had birthed it, until it whimpered deadly
whispers of wrath and as equally seductive whispers of delight,
striving still to be heard, to convey some cosmic secret, some
understanding of infinite import and value. It dwindled to a ghost
of sound that had lost its menace and promise, and became a thing
that pulsed on in the sick man's consciousness for minutes after it
had ceased. When he could hear it no longer, Bassett glanced at
his watch. An hour had elapsed ere that archangel's trump had
subsided into tonal nothingness.
Was this, then, HIS dark tower?--Bassett pondered, remembering his
Browning and gazing at his skeleton-like and fever-wasted hands.
And the fancy made him smile--of Childe Roland bearing a slug-horn
to his lips with an arm as feeble as his was. Was it months, or
years, he asked himself, since he first heard that mysterious call
on the beach at Ringmanu? To save himself he could not tell. The
long sickness had been most long. In conscious count of time he
knew of months, many of them; but he had no way of estimating the
long intervals of delirium and stupor. And how fared Captain
Bateman of the blackbirder Nari? he wondered; and had Captain
Bateman's drunken mate died of delirium tremens yet?
From which vain speculations, Bassett turned idly to review all
that had occurred since that day on the beach of Ringmanu when he
first heard the sound and plunged into the jungle after it. Sagawa
had protested. He could see him yet, his queer little monkeyish
face eloquent with fear, his back burdened with specimen cases, in
his hands Bassett's butterfly net and naturalist's shot-gun, as he
quavered, in Beche-de-mer English: "Me fella too much fright along
bush. Bad fella boy, too much stop'm along bush."
Bassett smiled sadly at the recollection. The little New Hanover
boy had been frightened, but had proved faithful, following him
without hesitancy into the bush in the quest after the source of
the wonderful sound. No fire-hollowed tree-trunk, that, throbbing
war through the jungle depths, had been Bassett's conclusion.
Erroneous had been his next conclusion, namely, that the source or
cause could not be more distant than an hour's walk, and that he
would easily be back by mid-afternoon to be picked up by the Nari's
"That big fella noise no good, all the same devil-devil," Sagawa
had adjudged. And Sagawa had been right. Had he not had his head
hacked off within the day? Bassett shuddered. Without doubt
Sagawa had been eaten as well by the "bad fella boys too much" that
stopped along the bush. He could see him, as he had last seen him,
stripped of the shot-gun and all the naturalist's gear of his
master, lying on the narrow trail where he had been decapitated
barely the moment before. Yes, within a minute the thing had
happened. Within a minute, looking back, Bassett had seen him
trudging patiently along under his burdens. Then Bassett's own
trouble had come upon him. He looked at the cruelly healed stumps
of the first and second fingers of his left hand, then rubbed them
softly into the indentation in the back of his skull. Quick as had
been the flash of the long handled tomahawk, he had been quick
enough to duck away his head and partially to deflect the stroke
with his up-flung hand. Two fingers and a hasty scalp-wound had
been the price he paid for his life. With one barrel of his ten-
gauge shot-gun he had blown the life out of the bushman who had so
nearly got him; with the other barrel he had peppered the bushmen
bending over Sagawa, and had the pleasure of knowing that the major
portion of the charge had gone into the one who leaped away with
Sagawa's head. Everything had occurred in a flash. Only himself,
the slain bushman, and what remained of Sagawa, were in the narrow,
wild-pig run of a path. From the dark jungle on either side came
no rustle of movement or sound of life. And he had suffered
distinct and dreadful shock. For the first time in his life he had
killed a human being, and he knew nausea as he contemplated the
mess of his handiwork.
Then had begun the chase. He retreated up the pig-run before his
hunters, who were between him and the beach. How many there were,
he could not guess. There might have been one, or a hundred, for
aught he saw of them. That some of them took to the trees and
travelled along through the jungle roof he was certain; but at the
most he never glimpsed more than an occasional flitting of shadows.
No bow-strings twanged that he could hear; but every little while,
whence discharged he knew not, tiny arrows whispered past him or
struck tree-boles and fluttered to the ground beside him. They
were bone-tipped and feather shafted, and the feathers, torn from
the breasts of humming-birds, iridesced like jewels.
Once--and now, after the long lapse of time, he chuckled gleefully
at the recollection--he had detected a shadow above him that came
to instant rest as he turned his gaze upward. He could make out
nothing, but, deciding to chance it, had fired at it a heavy charge
of number five shot. Squalling like an infuriated cat, the shadow
crashed down through tree-ferns and orchids and thudded upon the
earth at his feet, and, still squalling its rage and pain, had sunk
its human teeth into the ankle of his stout tramping boot. He, on
the other hand, was not idle, and with his free foot had done what
reduced the squalling to silence. So inured to savagery has
Bassett since become, that he chuckled again with the glee of the
What a night had followed! Small wonder that he had accumulated
such a virulence and variety of fevers, he thought, as he recalled
that sleepless night of torment, when the throb of his wounds was
as nothing compared with the myriad stings of the mosquitoes.
There had been no escaping them, and he had not dared to light a
fire. They had literally pumped his body full of poison, so that,
with the coming of day, eyes swollen almost shut, he had stumbled
blindly on, not caring much when his head should be hacked off and
his carcass started on the way of Sagawa's to the cooking fire.
Twenty-four hours had made a wreck of him--of mind as well as body.
He had scarcely retained his wits at all, so maddened was he by the
tremendous inoculation of poison he had received. Several times he
fired his shot-gun with effect into the shadows that dogged him.
Stinging day insects and gnats added to his torment, while his
bloody wounds attracted hosts of loathsome flies that clung
sluggishly to his flesh and had to be brushed off and crushed off.
Once, in that day, he heard again the wonderful sound, seemingly
more distant, but rising imperiously above the nearer war-drums in
the bush. Right there was where he had made his mistake. Thinking
that he had passed beyond it and that, therefore, it was between
him and the beach of Ringmanu, he had worked back toward it when in
reality he was penetrating deeper and deeper into the mysterious
heart of the unexplored island. That night, crawling in among the
twisted roots of a banyan tree, he had slept from exhaustion while
the mosquitoes had had their will of him.
Followed days and nights that were vague as nightmares in his
memory. One clear vision he remembered was of suddenly finding
himself in the midst of a bush village and watching the old men and
children fleeing into the jungle. All had fled but one. From
close at hand and above him, a whimpering as of some animal in pain
and terror had startled him. And looking up he had seen her--a
girl, or young woman rather, suspended by one arm in the cooking
sun. Perhaps for days she had so hung. Her swollen, protruding
tongue spoke as much. Still alive, she gazed at him with eyes of
terror. Past help, he decided, as he noted the swellings of her
legs which advertised that the joints had been crushed and the
great bones broken. He resolved to shoot her, and there the vision
terminated. He could not remember whether he had or not, any more
than could he remember how he chanced to be in that village, or how
he succeeded in getting away from it.
Many pictures, unrelated, came and went in Bassett's mind as he
reviewed that period of his terrible wanderings. He remembered
invading another village of a dozen houses and driving all before
him with his shot-gun save, for one old man, too feeble to flee,
who spat at him and whined and snarled as he dug open a ground-oven
and from amid the hot stones dragged forth a roasted pig that
steamed its essence deliciously through its green-leaf wrappings.
It was at this place that a wantonness of savagery had seized upon
him. Having feasted, ready to depart with a hind-quarter of the
pig in his hand, he deliberately fired the grass thatch of a house
with his burning glass.
But seared deepest of all in Bassett's brain, was the dank and
noisome jungle. It actually stank with evil, and it was always
twilight. Rarely did a shaft of sunlight penetrate its matted roof
a hundred feet overhead. And beneath that roof was an aerial ooze
of vegetation, a monstrous, parasitic dripping of decadent life-
forms that rooted in death and lived on death. And through all
this he drifted, ever pursued by the flitting shadows of the
anthropophagi, themselves ghosts of evil that dared not face him in
battle but that knew that, soon or late, they would feed on him.
Bassett remembered that at the time, in lucid moments, he had
likened himself to a wounded bull pursued by plains' coyotes too
cowardly to battle with him for the meat of him, yet certain of the
inevitable end of him when they would be full gorged. As the
bull's horns and stamping hoofs kept off the coyotes, so his shot-
gun kept off these Solomon Islanders, these twilight shades of
bushmen of the island of Guadalcanal.
Came the day of the grass lands. Abruptly, as if cloven by the
sword of God in the hand of God, the jungle terminated. The edge
of it, perpendicular and as black as the infamy of it, was a
hundred feet up and down. And, beginning at the edge of it, grew
the grass--sweet, soft, tender, pasture grass that would have
delighted the eyes and beasts of any husbandman and that extended,
on and on, for leagues and leagues of velvet verdure, to the
backbone of the great island, the towering mountain range flung up
by some ancient earth-cataclysm, serrated and gullied but not yet
erased by the erosive tropic rains. But the grass! He had crawled
into it a dozen yards, buried his face in it, smelled it, and
broken down in a fit of involuntary weeping.
And, while he wept, the wonderful sound had pealed forth--if by
PEAL, he had often thought since, an adequate description could be
given of the enunciation of so vast a sound melting sweet. Sweet
it was, as no sound ever heard. Vast it was, of so mighty a
resonance that it might have proceeded from some brazen-throated
monster. And yet it called to him across that leagues-wide
savannah, and was like a benediction to his long-suffering, pain
He remembered how he lay there in the grass, wet-cheeked but no
longer sobbing, listening to the sound and wondering that he had
been able to hear it on the beach of Ringmanu. Some freak of air
pressures and air currents, he reflected, had made it possible for
the sound to carry so far. Such conditions might not happen again
in a thousand days or ten thousand days, but the one day it had
happened had been the day he landed from the Nari for several
hours' collecting. Especially had he been in quest of the famed
jungle butterfly, a foot across from wing-tip to wing-tip, as
velvet-dusky of lack of colour as was the gloom of the roof, of
such lofty arboreal habits that it resorted only to the jungle roof
and could be brought down only by a dose of shot. It was for this
purpose that Sagawa had carried the ten-gauge shot-gun.
Two days and nights he had spent crawling across that belt of grass
land. He had suffered much, but pursuit had ceased at the jungle-
edge. And he would have died of thirst had not a heavy
thunderstorm revived him on the second day.
And then had come Balatta. In the first shade, where the savannah
yielded to the dense mountain jungle, he had collapsed to die. At
first she had squealed with delight at sight of his helplessness,
and was for beating his brain out with a stout forest branch.
Perhaps it was his very utter helplessness that had appealed to
her, and perhaps it was her human curiosity that made her refrain.
At any rate, she had refrained, for he opened his eyes again under
the impending blow, and saw her studying him intently. What
especially struck her about him were his blue eyes and white skin.
Coolly she had squatted on her hams, spat on his arm, and with her
finger-tips scrubbed away the dirt of days and nights of muck and
jungle that sullied the pristine whiteness of his skin.
And everything about her had struck him especially, although there
was nothing conventional about her at all. He laughed weakly at
the recollection, for she had been as innocent of garb as Eve
before the fig-leaf adventure. Squat and lean at the same time,
asymmetrically limbed, string-muscled as if with lengths of
cordage, dirt-caked from infancy save for casual showers, she was
as unbeautiful a prototype of woman as he, with a scientist's eye,
had ever gazed upon. Her breasts advertised at the one time her
maturity and youth; and, if by nothing else, her sex was advertised
by the one article of finery with which she was adorned, namely a
pig's tail, thrust though a hole in her left ear-lobe. So lately
had the tail been severed, that its raw end still oozed blood that
dried upon her shoulder like so much candle-droppings. And her
face! A twisted and wizened complex of apish features, perforated
by upturned, sky-open, Mongolian nostrils, by a mouth that sagged
from a huge upper-lip and faded precipitately into a retreating
chin, by peering querulous eyes that blinked as blink the eyes of
denizens of monkey-cages.
Not even the water she brought him in a forest-leaf, and the
ancient and half-putrid chunk of roast pig, could redeem in the
slightest the grotesque hideousness of her. When he had eaten
weakly for a space, he closed his eyes in order not to see her,
although again and again she poked them open to peer at the blue of
them. Then had come the sound. Nearer, much nearer, he knew it to
be; and he knew equally well, despite the weary way he had come,
that it was still many hours distant. The effect of it on her had
been startling. She cringed under it, with averted face, moaning
and chattering with fear. But after it had lived its full life of
an hour, he closed his eyes and fell asleep with Balatta brushing
the flies from him.
When he awoke it was night, and she was gone. But he was aware of
renewed strength, and, by then too thoroughly inoculated by the
mosquito poison to suffer further inflammation, he closed his eyes
and slept an unbroken stretch till sun-up. A little later Balatta
had returned, bringing with her a half-dozen women who, unbeautiful
as they were, were patently not so unbeautiful as she. She
evidenced by her conduct that she considered him her find, her
property, and the pride she took in showing him off would have been
ludicrous had his situation not been so desperate.
Later, after what had been to him a terrible journey of miles, when
he collapsed in front of the devil-devil house in the shadow of the
breadfruit tree, she had shown very lively ideas on the matter of
retaining possession of him. Ngurn, whom Bassett was to know
afterward as the devil-devil doctor, priest, or medicine man of the
village, had wanted his head. Others of the grinning and
chattering monkey-men, all as stark of clothes and bestial of
appearance as Balatta, had wanted his body for the roasting oven.
At that time he had not understood their language, if by LANGUAGE
might be dignified the uncouth sounds they made to represent ideas.
But Bassett had thoroughly understood the matter of debate,
especially when the men pressed and prodded and felt of the flesh
of him as if he were so much commodity in a butcher's stall.
Balatta had been losing the debate rapidly, when the accident
happened. One of the men, curiously examining Bassett's shot-gun,
managed to cock and pull a trigger. The recoil of the butt into
the pit of the man's stomach had not been the most sanguinary
result, for the charge of shot, at a distance of a yard, had blown
the head of one of the debaters into nothingness.
Even Balatta joined the others in flight, and, ere they returned,
his senses already reeling from the oncoming fever-attack, Bassett
had regained possession of the gun. Whereupon, although his teeth
chattered with the ague and his swimming eyes could scarcely see,
he held on to his fading consciousness until he could intimidate
the bushmen with the simple magics of compass, watch, burning
glass, and matches. At the last, with due emphasis, of solemnity
and awfulness, he had killed a young pig with his shot-gun and
Bassett flexed his arm-muscles in quest of what possible strength
might reside in such weakness, and dragged himself slowly and
totteringly to his feet. He was shockingly emaciated; yet, during
the various convalescences of the many months of his long sickness,
he had never regained quite the same degree of strength as this
time. What he feared was another relapse such as he had already
frequently experienced. Without drugs, without even quinine, he
had managed so far to live through a combination of the most
pernicious and most malignant of malarial and black-water fevers.
But could he continue to endure? Such was his everlasting query.
For, like the genuine scientist he was, he would not be content to
die until he had solved the secret of the sound.
Supported by a staff, he staggered the few steps to the devil-devil
house where death and Ngurn reigned in gloom. Almost as infamously
dark and evil-stinking as the jungle was the devil-devil house--in
Bassett's opinion. Yet therein was usually to be found his
favourite crony and gossip, Ngurn, always willing for a yarn or a
discussion, the while he sat in the ashes of death and in a slow
smoke shrewdly revolved curing human heads suspended from the
rafters. For, through the months' interval of consciousness of his
long sickness, Bassett had mastered the psychological simplicities
and lingual difficulties of the language of the tribe of Ngurn and
Balatta and Vngngn--the latter the addle-headed young chief who was
ruled by Ngurn, and who, whispered intrigue had it, was the son of
"Will the Red One speak to-day?" Bassett asked, by this time so
accustomed to the old man's gruesome occupation as to take even an
interest in the progress of the smoke-curing.
With the eye of an expert Ngurn examined the particular head he was
at work upon.
"It will be ten days before I can say 'finish,'" he said. "Never
has any man fixed heads like these."
Bassett smiled inwardly at the old fellow's reluctance to talk with
him of the Red One. It had always been so. Never, by any chance,
had Ngurn or any other member of the weird tribe divulged the
slightest hint of any physical characteristic of the Red One.
Physical the Red One must be, to emit the wonderful sound, and
though it was called the Red One, Bassett could not be sure that
red represented the colour of it. Red enough were the deeds and
powers of it, from what abstract clues he had gleaned. Not alone,
had Ngurn informed him, was the Red One more bestial powerful than
the neighbour tribal gods, ever athirst for the red blood of living
human sacrifices, but the neighbour gods themselves were sacrificed
and tormented before him. He was the god of a dozen allied
villages similar to this one, which was the central and commanding
village of the federation. By virtue of the Red One many alien
villages had been devastated and even wiped out, the prisoners
sacrificed to the Red One. This was true to-day, and it extended
back into old history carried down by word of mouth through the
generations. When he, Ngurn, had been a young man, the tribes
beyond the grass lands had made a war raid. In the counter raid,
Ngurn and his fighting folk had made many prisoners. Of children
alone over five score living had been bled white before the Red
One, and many, many more men and women.
The Thunderer was another of Ngurn's names for the mysterious
deity. Also at times was he called The Loud Shouter, The God-
Voiced, The Bird-Throated, The One with the Throat Sweet as the
Throat of the Honey-Bird, The Sun Singer, and The Star-Born.
Why The Star-Born? In vain Bassett interrogated Ngurn. According
to that old devil-devil doctor, the Red One had always been, just
where he was at present, for ever singing and thundering his will
over men. But Ngurn's father, wrapped in decaying grass-matting
and hanging even then over their heads among the smoky rafters of
the devil-devil house, had held otherwise. That departed wise one
had believed that the Red One came from out of the starry night,
else why--so his argument had run--had the old and forgotten ones
passed his name down as the Star-Born? Bassett could not but
recognize something cogent in such argument. But Ngurn affirmed
the long years of his long life, wherein he had gazed upon many
starry nights, yet never had he found a star on grass land or in
jungle depth--and he had looked for them. True, he had beheld
shooting stars (this in reply to Bassett's contention); but
likewise had he beheld the phosphorescence of fungoid growths and
rotten meat and fireflies on dark nights, and the flames of wood-
fires and of blazing candle-nuts; yet what were flame and blaze and
glow when they had flamed and blazed and glowed? Answer:
memories, memories only, of things which had ceased to be, like
memories of matings accomplished, of feasts forgotten, of desires
that were the ghosts of desires, flaring, flaming, burning, yet
unrealized in achievement of easement and satisfaction. Where was
the appetite of yesterday? the roasted flesh of the wild pig the
hunter's arrow failed to slay? the maid, unwed and dead ere the
young man knew her?
A memory was not a star, was Ngurn's contention. How could a
memory be a star? Further, after all his long life he still
observed the starry night-sky unaltered. Never had he noted the
absence of a single star from its accustomed place. Besides, stars
were fire, and the Red One was not fire--which last involuntary
betrayal told Bassett nothing.
"Will the Red One speak to-morrow?" he queried.
Ngurn shrugged his shoulders as who should say.
"And the day after?--and the day after that?" Bassett persisted.
"I would like to have the curing of your head," Ngurn changed the
subject. "It is different from any other head. No devil-devil has
a head like it. Besides, I would cure it well. I would take
months and months. The moons would come and the moons would go,
and the smoke would be very slow, and I should myself gather the
materials for the curing smoke. The skin would not wrinkle. It
would be as smooth as your skin now."
He stood up, and from the dim rafters, grimed with the smoking of
countless heads, where day was no more than a gloom, took down a
matting-wrapped parcel and began to open it.
"It is a head like yours," he said, "but it is poorly cured."
Bassett had pricked up his ears at the suggestion that it was a
white man's head; for he had long since come to accept that these
jungle-dwellers, in the midmost centre of the great island, had
never had intercourse with white men. Certainly he had found them
without the almost universal beche-de-mer English of the west South
Pacific. Nor had they knowledge of tobacco, nor of gunpowder.
Their few precious knives, made from lengths of hoop-iron, and
their few and more precious tomahawks from cheap trade hatchets, he
had surmised they had captured in war from the bushmen of the
jungle beyond the grass lands, and that they, in turn, had
similarly gained them from the salt-water men who fringed the coral
beaches of the shore and had contact with the occasional white men.
"The folk in the out beyond do not know how to cure heads," old
Ngurn explained, as he drew forth from the filthy matting and
placed in Bassett's hands an indubitable white man's head.
Ancient it was beyond question; white it was as the blond hair
attested. He could have sworn it once belonged to an Englishman,
and to an Englishman of long before by token of the heavy gold
circlets still threaded in the withered ear-lobes.
"Now your head . . . " the devil-devil doctor began on his
"I'll tell you what," Bassett interrupted, struck by a new idea.
"When I die I'll let you have my head to cure, if, first, you take
me to look upon the Red One."
"I will have your head anyway when you are dead," Ngurn rejected
the proposition. He added, with the brutal frankness of the
savage: "Besides, you have not long to live. You are almost a
dead man now. You will grow less strong. In not many months I
shall have you here turning and turning in the smoke. It is
pleasant, through the long afternoons, to turn the head of one you
have known as well as I know you. And I shall talk to you and tell
you the many secrets you want to know. Which will not matter, for
you will be dead."
"Ngurn," Bassett threatened in sudden anger. "You know the Baby
Thunder in the Iron that is mine." (This was in reference to his
all-potent and all-awful shotgun.) "I can kill you any time, and
then you will not get my head."
"Just the same, will Vngngn, or some one else of my folk get it,"
Ngurn complacently assured him. "And just the same will it turn
here in the and turn devil-devil house in the smoke. The quicker
you slay me with your Baby Thunder, the quicker will your head turn
in the smoke."
And Bassett knew he was beaten in the discussion.
What was the Red One?--Bassett asked himself a thousand times in
the succeeding week, while he seemed to grow stronger. What was
the source of the wonderful sound? What was this Sun Singer, this
Star-Born One, this mysterious deity, as bestial-conducted as the
black and kinky-headed and monkey-like human beasts who worshipped
it, and whose silver-sweet, bull-mouthed singing and commanding he
had heard at the taboo distance for so long?
Ngurn had he failed to bribe with the inevitable curing of his head
when he was dead. Vngngn, imbecile and chief that he was, was too
imbecilic, too much under the sway of Ngurn, to be considered.
Remained Balatta, who, from the time she found him and poked his
blue eyes open to recrudescence of her grotesque female
hideousness, had continued his adorer. Woman she was, and he had
long known that the only way to win from her treason of her tribe
was through the woman's heart of her.
Bassett was a fastidious man. He had never recovered from the
initial horror caused by Balatta's female awfulness. Back in
England, even at best the charm of woman, to him, had never been
robust. Yet now, resolutely, as only a man can do who is capable
of martyring himself for the cause of science, he proceeded to
violate all the fineness and delicacy of his nature by making love
to the unthinkably disgusting bushwoman.
He shuddered, but with averted face hid his grimaces and swallowed
his gorge as he put his arm around her dirt-crusted shoulders and
felt the contact of her rancidoily and kinky hair with his neck and
chin. But he nearly screamed when she succumbed to that caress so
at the very first of the courtship and mowed and gibbered and
squealed little, queer, pig-like gurgly noises of delight. It was
too much. And the next he did in the singular courtship was to
take her down to the stream and give her a vigorous scrubbing.
From then on he devoted himself to her like a true swain as
frequently and for as long at a time as his will could override his
repugnance. But marriage, which she ardently suggested, with due
observance of tribal custom, he balked at. Fortunately, taboo rule
was strong in the tribe. Thus, Ngurn could never touch bone, or
flesh, or hide of crocodile. This had been ordained at his birth.
Vngngn was denied ever the touch of woman. Such pollution, did it
chance to occur, could be purged only by the death of the offending
female. It had happened once, since Bassett's arrival, when a girl
of nine, running in play, stumbled and fell against the sacred
chief. And the girl-child was seen no more. In whispers, Balatta
told Bassett that she had been three days and nights in dying
before the Red One. As for Balatta, the breadfruit was taboo to
her. For which Bassett was thankful. The taboo might have been
For himself, he fabricated a special taboo. Only could he marry,
he explained, when the Southern Cross rode highest in the sky.
Knowing his astronomy, he thus gained a reprieve of nearly nine
months; and he was confident that within that time he would either
be dead or escaped to the coast with full knowledge of the Red One
and of the source of the Red One's wonderful voice. At first he
had fancied the Red One to be some colossal statue, like Memnon,
rendered vocal under certain temperature conditions of sunlight.
But when, after a war raid, a batch of prisoners was brought in and
the sacrifice made at night, in the midst of rain, when the sun
could play no part, the Red One had been more vocal than usual,
Bassett discarded that hypothesis.
In company with Balatta, sometimes with men and parties of women,
the freedom of the jungle was his for three quadrants of the
compass. But the fourth quadrant, which contained the Red One's
abiding place, was taboo. He made more thorough love to Balatta--
also saw to it that she scrubbed herself more frequently. Eternal
female she was, capable of any treason for the sake of love. And,
though the sight of her was provocative of nausea and the contact
of her provocative of despair, although he could not escape her
awfulness in his dream-haunted nightmares of her, he nevertheless
was aware of the cosmic verity of sex that animated her and that
made her own life of less value than the happiness of her lover
with whom she hoped to mate. Juliet or Balatta? Where was the
intrinsic difference? The soft and tender product of ultra-
civilization, or her bestial prototype of a hundred thousand years
before her?--there was no difference.
Bassett was a scientist first, a humanist afterward. In the
jungle-heart of Guadalcanal he put the affair to the test, as in
the laboratory he would have put to the test any chemical reaction.
He increased his feigned ardour for the bushwoman, at the same time
increasing the imperiousness of his will of desire over her to be
led to look upon the Red One face to face. It was the old story,
he recognized, that the woman must pay, and it occurred when the
two of them, one day, were catching the unclassified and unnamed
little black fish, an inch long, half-eel and half-scaled, rotund
with salmon-golden roe, that frequented the fresh water, and that
were esteemed, raw and whole, fresh or putrid, a perfect delicacy.
Prone in the muck of the decaying jungle-floor, Balatta threw
herself, clutching his ankles with her hands kissing his feet and
making slubbery noises that chilled his backbone up and down again.
She begged him to kill her rather than exact this ultimate love-
payment. She told him of the penalty of breaking the taboo of the
Red One--a week of torture, living, the details of which she
yammered out from her face in the mire until he realized that he
was yet a tyro in knowledge of the frightfulness the human was
capable of wreaking on the human.
Yet did Bassett insist on having his man's will satisfied, at the
woman's risk, that he might solve the mystery of the Red One's
singing, though she should die long and horribly and screaming.
And Balatta, being mere woman, yielded. She led him into the
forbidden quadrant. An abrupt mountain, shouldering in from the
north to meet a similar intrusion from the south, tormented the
stream in which they had fished into a deep and gloomy gorge.
After a mile along the gorge, the way plunged sharply upward until
they crossed a saddle of raw limestone which attracted his
geologist's eye. Still climbing, although he paused often from
sheer physical weakness, they scaled forest-clad heights until they
emerged on a naked mesa or tableland. Bassett recognized the stuff
of its composition as black volcanic sand, and knew that a pocket
magnet could have captured a full load of the sharply angular
grains he trod upon.
And then holding Balatta by the hand and leading her onward, he
came to it--a tremendous pit, obviously artificial, in the heart of
the plateau. Old history, the South Seas Sailing Directions,
scores of remembered data and connotations swift and furious,
surged through his brain. It was Mendana who had discovered the
islands and named them Solomon's, believing that he had found that
monarch's fabled mines. They had laughed at the old navigator's
child-like credulity; and yet here stood himself, Bassett, on the
rim of an excavation for all the world like the diamond pits of
But no diamond this that he gazed down upon. Rather was it a
pearl, with the depth of iridescence of a pearl; but of a size all
pearls of earth and time, welded into one, could not have totalled;
and of a colour undreamed of in any pearl, or of anything else, for
that matter, for it was the colour of the Red One. And the Red One
himself Bassett knew it to be on the instant. A perfect sphere,
full two hundred feet in diameter, the top of it was a hundred feet
below the level of the rim. He likened the colour quality of it to
lacquer. Indeed, he took it to be some sort of lacquer, applied by
man, but a lacquer too marvellously clever to have been
manufactured by the bush-folk. Brighter than bright cherry-red,
its richness of colour was as if it were red builded upon red. It
glowed and iridesced in the sunlight as if gleaming up from
underlay under underlay of red.
In vain Balatta strove to dissuade him from descending. She threw
herself in the dirt; but, when he continued down the trail that
spiralled the pit-wall, she followed, cringing and whimpering her
terror. That the red sphere had been dug out as a precious thing,
was patent. Considering the paucity of members of the federated
twelve villages and their primitive tools and methods, Bassett knew
that the toil of a myriad generations could scarcely have made that
He found the pit bottom carpeted with human bones, among which,
battered and defaced, lay village gods of wood and stone. Some,
covered with obscene totemic figures and designs, were carved from
solid tree trunks forty or fifty feet in length. He noted the
absence of the shark and turtle gods, so common among the shore
villages, and was amazed at the constant recurrence of the helmet
motive. What did these jungle savages of the dark heart of
Guadalcanal know of helmets? Had Mendana's men-at-arms worn
helmets and penetrated here centuries before? And if not, then
whence had the bush-folk caught the motive?
Advancing over the litter of gods and bones, Balatta whimpering at
his heels, Bassett entered the shadow of the Red One and passed on
under its gigantic overhang until he touched it with his finger-
tips. No lacquer that. Nor was the surface smooth as it should
have been in the case of lacquer. On the contrary, it was
corrugated and pitted, with here and there patches that showed
signs of heat and fusing. Also, the substance of it was metal,
though unlike any metal, or combination of metals, he had ever
known. As for the colour itself, he decided it to be no
application. It was the intrinsic colour of the metal itself.
He moved his finger-tips, which up to that had merely rested, along
the surface, and felt the whole gigantic sphere quicken and live
and respond. It was incredible! So light a touch on so vast a
mass! Yet did it quiver under the finger-tip caress in rhythmic
vibrations that became whisperings and rustlings and mutterings of
sound--but of sound so different; so elusively thin that it was
shimmeringly sibilant; so mellow that it was maddening sweet,
piping like an elfin horn, which last was just what Bassett decided
would be like a peal from some bell of the gods reaching earthward
from across space.
He looked at Balatta with swift questioning; but the voice of the
Red One he had evoked had flung her face downward and moaning among
the bones. He returned to contemplation of the prodigy. Hollow it
was, and of no metal known on earth, was his conclusion. It was
right-named by the ones of old-time as the Star-Born. Only from
the stars could it have come, and no thing of chance was it. It
was a creation of artifice and mind. Such perfection of form, such
hollowness that it certainly possessed, could not be the result of
mere fortuitousness. A child of intelligences, remote and
unguessable, working corporally in metals, it indubitably was. He
stared at it in amaze, his brain a racing wild-fire of hypotheses
to account for this far-journeyer who had adventured the night of
space, threaded the stars, and now rose before him and above him,
exhumed by patient anthropophagi, pitted and lacquered by its fiery
bath in two atmospheres.
But was the colour a lacquer of heat upon some familiar metal? Or
was it an intrinsic quality of the metal itself? He thrust in the
blue-point of his pocket-knife to test the constitution of the
stuff. Instantly the entire sphere burst into a mighty whispering,
sharp with protest, almost twanging goldenly, if a whisper could
possibly be considered to twang, rising higher, sinking deeper, the
two extremes of the registry of sound threatening to complete the
circle and coalesce into the bull-mouthed thundering he had so
often heard beyond the taboo distance.
Forgetful of safety, of his own life itself, entranced by the
wonder of the unthinkable and unguessable thing, he raised his
knife to strike heavily from a long stroke, but was prevented by
Balatta. She upreared on her own knees in an agony of terror,
clasping his knees and supplicating him to desist. In the
intensity of her desire to impress him, she put her forearm between
her teeth and sank them to the bone.
He scarcely observed her act, although he yielded automatically to
his gentler instincts and withheld the knife-hack. To him, human
life had dwarfed to microscopic proportions before this colossal
portent of higher life from within the distances of the sidereal
universe. As had she been a dog, he kicked the ugly little
bushwoman to her feet and compelled her to start with him on an
encirclement of the base. Part way around, he encountered horrors.
Even, among the others, did he recognize the sun-shrivelled remnant
of the nine-years girl who had accidentally broken Chief Vngngn's
personality taboo. And, among what was left of these that had
passed, he encountered what was left of one who had not yet passed.
Truly had the bush-folk named themselves into the name of the Red
One, seeing in him their own image which they strove to placate and
please with such red offerings.
Farther around, always treading the bones and images of humans and
gods that constituted the floor of this ancient charnel-house of
sacrifice, he came upon the device by which the Red One was made to
send his call singing thunderingly across the jungle-belts and
grass-lands to the far beach of Ringmanu. Simple and primitive was
it as was the Red One's consummate artifice. A great king-post,
half a hundred feet in length, seasoned by centuries of
superstitious care, carven into dynasties of gods, each
superimposed, each helmeted, each seated in the open mouth of a
crocodile, was slung by ropes, twisted of climbing vegetable
parasites, from the apex of a tripod of three great forest trunks,
themselves carved into grinning and grotesque adumbrations of man's
modern concepts of art and god. From the striker king-post, were
suspended ropes of climbers to which men could apply their strength
and direction. Like a battering ram, this king-post could be
driven end-onward against the mighty red-iridescent sphere.
Here was where Ngurn officiated and functioned religiously for
himself and the twelve tribes under him. Bassett laughed aloud,
almost with madness, at the thought of this wonderful messenger,
winged with intelligence across space, to fall into a bushman
stronghold and be worshipped by ape-like, man-eating and head-
hunting savages. It was as if God's World had fallen into the muck
mire of the abyss underlying the bottom of hell; as if Jehovah's
Commandments had been presented on carved stone to the monkeys of
the monkey cage at the Zoo; as if the Sermon on the Mount had been
preached in a roaring bedlam of lunatics.
The slow weeks passed. The nights, by election, Bassett spent on
the ashen floor of the devil-devil house, beneath the ever-
swinging, slow-curing heads. His reason for this was that it was
taboo to the lesser sex of woman, and therefore, a refuge for him
from Balatta, who grew more persecutingly and perilously loverly as
the Southern Cross rode higher in the sky and marked the imminence
of her nuptials. His days Bassett spent in a hammock swung under
the shade of the great breadfruit tree before the devil-devil
house. There were breaks in this programme, when, in the comas of
his devastating fever-attacks, he lay for days and nights in the
house of heads. Ever he struggled to combat the fever, to live, to
continue to live, to grow strong and stronger against the day when
he would be strong enough to dare the grass-lands and the belted
jungle beyond, and win to the beach, and to some labour-recruiting,
black-birding ketch or schooner, and on to civilization and the men
of civilization, to whom he could give news of the message from
other worlds that lay, darkly worshipped by beastmen, in the black
heart of Guadalcanal's midmost centre.
On the other nights, lying late under the breadfruit tree, Bassett
spent long hours watching the slow setting of the western stars
beyond the black wall of jungle where it had been thrust back by
the clearing for the village. Possessed of more than a cursory
knowledge of astronomy, he took a sick man's pleasure in
speculating as to the dwellers on the unseen worlds of those
incredibly remote suns, to haunt whose houses of light, life came
forth, a shy visitant, from the rayless crypts of matter. He could
no more apprehend limits to time than bounds to space. No
subversive radium speculations had shaken his steady scientific
faith in the conservation of energy and the indestructibility of
matter. Always and forever must there have been stars. And
surely, in that cosmic ferment, all must be comparatively alike,
comparatively of the same substance, or substances, save for the
freaks of the ferment. All must obey, or compose, the same laws
that ran without infraction through the entire experience of man.
Therefore, he argued and agreed, must worlds and life be appanages
to all the suns as they were appanages to the particular of his own
Even as he lay here, under the breadfruit tree, an intelligence
that stared across the starry gulfs, so must all the universe be
exposed to the ceaseless scrutiny of innumerable eyes, like his,
though grantedly different, with behind them, by the same token,
intelligences that questioned and sought the meaning and the
construction of the whole. So reasoning, he felt his soul go forth
in kinship with that august company, that multitude whose gaze was
forever upon the arras of infinity.
Who were they, what were they, those far distant and superior ones
who had bridged the sky with their gigantic, red-iridescent,
heaven-singing message? Surely, and long since, had they, too,
trod the path on which man had so recently, by the calendar of the
cosmos, set his feet. And to be able to send a message across the
pit of space, surely they had reached those heights to which man,
in tears and travail and bloody sweat, in darkness and confusion of
many counsels, was so slowly struggling. And what were they on
their heights? Had they won Brotherhood? Or had they learned that
the law of love imposed the penalty of weakness and decay? Was
strife, life? Was the rule of all the universe the pitiless rule
of natural selection? And, and most immediately and poignantly,
were their far conclusions, their long-won wisdoms, shut even then
in the huge, metallic heart of the Red One, waiting for the first
earth-man to read? Of one thing he was certain: No drop of red
dew shaken from the lion-mane of some sun in torment, was the
sounding sphere. It was of design, not chance, and it contained
the speech and wisdom of the stars.
What engines and elements and mastered forces, what lore and
mysteries and destiny-controls, might be there! Undoubtedly, since
so much could be enclosed in so little a thing as the foundation
stone of a public building, this enormous sphere should contain
vast histories, profounds of research achieved beyond man's wildest
guesses, laws and formulae that, easily mastered, would make man's
life on earth, individual and collective, spring up from its
present mire to inconceivable heights of purity and power. It was
Time's greatest gift to blindfold, insatiable, and sky-aspiring
man. And to him, Bassett, had been vouchsafed the lordly fortune
to be the first to receive this message from man's interstellar
No white man, much less no outland man of the other bush-tribes,
had gazed upon the Red One and lived. Such the law expounded by
Ngurn to Bassett. There was such a thing as blood brotherhood.
Bassett, in return, had often argued in the past. But Ngurn had
stated solemnly no. Even the blood brotherhood was outside the
favour of the Red One. Only a man born within the tribe could look
upon the Red One and live. But now, his guilty secret known only
to Balatta, whose fear of immolation before the Red One fast-sealed
her lips, the situation was different. What he had to do was to
recover from the abominable fevers that weakened him, and gain to
civilization. Then would he lead an expedition back, and, although
the entire population of Guadalcanal he destroyed, extract from the
heart of the Red One the message of the world from other worlds.
But Bassett's relapses grew more frequent, his brief convalescences
less and less vigorous, his periods of coma longer, until he came
to know, beyond the last promptings of the optimism inherent in so
tremendous a constitution as his own, that he would never live to
cross the grass lands, perforate the perilous coast jungle, and
reach the sea. He faded as the Southern Cross rose higher in the
sky, till even Balatta knew that he would be dead ere the nuptial
date determined by his taboo. Ngurn made pilgrimage personally and
gathered the smoke materials for the curing of Bassett's head, and
to him made proud announcement and exhibition of the artistic
perfectness of his intention when Bassett should be dead. As for
himself, Bassett was not shocked. Too long and too deeply had life
ebbed down in him to bite him with fear of its impending
extinction. He continued to persist, alternating periods of
unconsciousness with periods of semi-consciousness, dreamy and
unreal, in which he idly wondered whether he had ever truly beheld
the Red One or whether it was a nightmare fancy of delirium.
Came the day when all mists and cob-webs dissolved, when he found
his brain clear as a bell, and took just appraisement of his body's
weakness. Neither hand nor foot could he lift. So little control
of his body did he have, that he was scarcely aware of possessing
one. Lightly indeed his flesh sat upon his soul, and his soul, in
its briefness of clarity, knew by its very clarity that the black
of cessation was near. He knew the end was close; knew that in all
truth he had with his eyes beheld the Red One, the messenger
between the worlds; knew that he would never live to carry that
message to the world--that message, for aught to the contrary,
which might already have waited man's hearing in the heart of
Guadalcanal for ten thousand years. And Bassett stirred with
resolve, calling Ngurn to him, out under the shade of the
breadfruit tree, and with the old devil-devil doctor discussing the
terms and arrangements of his last life effort, his final adventure
in the quick of the flesh.
"I know the law, O Ngurn," he concluded the matter. "Whoso is not
of the folk may not look upon the Red One and live. I shall not
live anyway. Your young men shall carry me before the face of the
Red One, and I shall look upon him, and hear his voice, and
thereupon die, under your hand, O Ngurn. Thus will the three
things be satisfied: the law, my desire, and your quicker
possession of my head for which all your preparations wait."
To which Ngurn consented, adding:
"It is better so. A sick man who cannot get well is foolish to
live on for so little a while. Also is it better for the living
that he should go. You have been much in the way of late. Not but
what it was good for me to talk to such a wise one. But for moons
of days we have held little talk. Instead, you have taken up room
in the house of heads, making noises like a dying pig, or talking
much and loudly in your own language which I do not understand.
This has been a confusion to me, for I like to think on the great
things of the light and dark as I turn the heads in the smoke.
Your much noise has thus been a disturbance to the long-learning
and hatching of the final wisdom that will be mine before I die.
As for you, upon whom the dark has already brooded, it is well that
you die now. And I promise you, in the long days to come when I
turn your head in the smoke, no man of the tribe shall come in to
disturb us. And I will tell you many secrets, for I am an old man
and very wise, and I shall be adding wisdom to wisdom as I turn
your head in the smoke."
So a litter was made, and, borne on the shoulders of half a dozen
of the men, Bassett departed on the last little adventure that was
to cap the total adventure, for him, of living. With a body of
which he was scarcely aware, for even the pain had been exhausted
out of it, and with a bright clear brain that accommodated him to a
quiet ecstasy of sheer lucidness of thought, he lay back on the
lurching litter and watched the fading of the passing world,
beholding for the last time the breadfruit tree before the devil-
devil house, the dim day beneath the matted jungle roof, the gloomy
gorge between the shouldering mountains, the saddle of raw
limestone, and the mesa of black volcanic sand.
Down the spiral path of the pit they bore him, encircling the
sheening, glowing Red One that seemed ever imminent to iridesce
from colour and light into sweet singing and thunder. And over
bones and logs of immolated men and gods they bore him, past the
horrors of other immolated ones that yet lived, to the three-king-
post tripod and the huge king-post striker.
Here Bassett, helped by Ngurn and Balatta, weakly sat up, swaying
weakly from the hips, and with clear, unfaltering, all-seeing eyes
gazed upon the Red One.
"Once, O Ngurn," he said, not taking his eyes from the sheening,
vibrating surface whereon and wherein all the shades of cherry-red
played unceasingly, ever a-quiver to change into sound, to become
silken rustlings, silvery whisperings, golden thrummings of cords,
velvet pipings of elfland, mellow distances of thunderings.
"I wait," Ngurn prompted after a long pause, the long-handled
tomahawk unassumingly ready in his hand.
"Once, O Ngurn," Bassett repeated, "let the Red One speak so that I
may see it speak as well as hear it. Then strike, thus, when I
raise my hand; for, when I raise my hand, I shall drop my head
forward and make place for the stroke at the base of my neck. But,
O Ngurn, I, who am about to pass out of the light of day for ever,
would like to pass with the wonder-voice of the Red One singing
greatly in my ears."
"And I promise you that never will a head be so well cured as
yours," Ngurn assured him, at the same time signalling the
tribesmen to man the propelling ropes suspended from the king-post
striker. "Your head shall be my greatest piece of work in the
curing of heads."
Bassett smiled quietly to the old one's conceit, as the great
carved log, drawn back through two-score feet of space, was
released. The next moment he was lost in ecstasy at the abrupt and
thunderous liberation of sound. But such thunder! Mellow it was
with preciousness of all sounding metals. Archangels spoke in it;
it was magnificently beautiful before all other sounds; it was
invested with the intelligence of supermen of planets of other
suns; it was the voice of God, seducing and commanding to be heard.
And--the everlasting miracle of that interstellar metal! Bassett,
with his own eyes, saw colour and colours transform into sound till
the whole visible surface of the vast sphere was a-crawl and
titillant and vaporous with what he could not tell was colour or
was sound. In that moment the interstices of matter were his, and
the interfusings and intermating transfusings of matter and force.
Time passed. At the last Bassett was brought back from his ecstasy
by an impatient movement of Ngurn. He had quite forgotten the old
devil-devil one. A quick flash of fancy brought a husky chuckle
into Bassett's throat. His shot-gun lay beside him in the litter.
All he had to do, muzzle to head, was to press the trigger and blow
his head into nothingness.
But why cheat him? was Bassett's next thought. Head-hunting,
cannibal beast of a human that was as much ape as human,
nevertheless Old Ngurn had, according to his lights, played squarer
than square. Ngurn was in himself a forerunner of ethics and
contract, of consideration, and gentleness in man. No, Bassett
decided; it would be a ghastly pity and an act of dishonour to
cheat the old fellow at the last. His head was Ngurn's, and
Ngurn's head to cure it would be.
And Bassett, raising his hand in signal, bending forward his head
as agreed so as to expose cleanly the articulation to his taut
spinal cord, forgot Balatta, who was merely a woman, a woman merely
and only and undesired. He knew, without seeing, when the razor-
edged hatchet rose in the air behind him. And for that instant,
ere the end, there fell upon Bassett the shadows of the Unknown, a
sense of impending marvel of the rending of walls before the
imaginable. Almost, when he knew the blow had started and just ere
the edge of steel bit the flesh and nerves it seemed that he gazed
upon the serene face of the Medusa, Truth--And, simultaneous with
the bite of the steel on the onrush of the dark, in a flashing
instant of fancy, he saw the vision of his head turning slowly,
always turning, in the devil-devil house beside the breadfruit
May 22, 1916.
STORY: THE HUSSY
There are some stories that have to be true--the sort that cannot
be fabricated by a ready fiction-reckoner. And by the same token
there are some men with stories to tell who cannot be doubted.
Such a man was Julian Jones. Although I doubt if the average
reader of this will believe the story Julian Jones told me.
Nevertheless I believe it. So thoroughly am I convinced of its
verity that I am willing, nay, eager, to invest capital in the
enterprise and embark personally on the adventure to a far land.
It was in the Australian Building at the Panama Pacific Exposition
that I met him. I was standing before an exhibit of facsimiles of
the record nuggets which had been discovered in the goldfields of
the Antipodes. Knobbed, misshapen and massive, it was as difficult
to believe that they were not real gold as it was to believe the
accompanying statistics of their weights and values.
"That's what those kangaroo-hunters call a nugget," boomed over my
shoulder directly at the largest of the specimens.
I turned and looked up into the dim blue eyes of Julian Jones. I
looked up, for he stood something like six feet four inches in
height. His hair, a wispy, sandy yellow, seemed as dimmed and
faded as his eyes. It may have been the sun which had washed out
his colouring; at least his face bore the evidence of a prodigious
and ardent sun-burn which had long since faded to yellow. As his
eyes turned from the exhibit and focussed on mine I noted a queer
look in them as of one who vainly tries to recall some fact of
"What's the matter with it as a nugget?" I demanded.
The remote, indwelling expression went out of his eyes as he boomed
"Why, its size."
"It does seem large," I admitted. "But there's no doubt it's
authentic. The Australian Government would scarcely dare--"
"Large!" he interrupted, with a sniff and a sneer.
"Largest ever discovered--" I started on.
"Ever discovered!" His dim eyes smouldered hotly as he proceeded.
"Do you think that every lump of gold ever discovered has got into
the newspapers and encyclopedias?"
"Well," I replied judicially, "if there's one that hasn't, I don't
see how we're to know about it. If a really big nugget, or nugget-
finder, elects to blush unseen--"
"But it didn't," he broke in quickly. "I saw it with my own eyes,
and, besides, I'm too tanned to blush anyway. I'm a railroad man
and I've been in the tropics a lot. Why, I used to be the colour
of mahogany--real old mahogany, and have been taken for a blue-eyed
Spaniard more than once--"
It was my turn to interrupt, and I did.
"Was that nugget bigger than those in there, Mr.--er--?"
"Jones, Julian Jones is my name."
He dug into an inner pocket and produced an envelope addressed to
such a person, care of General Delivery, San Francisco; and I, in
turn, presented him with my card.
"Pleased to know you, sir," he said, extending his hand, his voice
booming as if accustomed to loud noises or wide spaces. "Of course
I've heard of you, seen your picture in the papers, and all that,
and, though I say it that shouldn't, I want to say that I didn't
care a rap about those articles you wrote on Mexico. You're wrong,
all wrong. You make the mistake of all Gringos in thinking a
Mexican is a white man. He ain't. None of them ain't--Greasers,
Spiggoties, Latin-Americans and all the rest of the cattle. Why,
sir, they don't think like we think, or reason, or act. Even their
multiplication table is different. You think seven times seven is
forty-nine; but not them. They work it out different. And white
isn't white to them, either. Let me give you an example. Buying
coffee retail for house-keeping in one-pound or ten-pound lots--"
"How big was that nugget you referred to?" I queried firmly. "As
big as the biggest of those?"
"Bigger," he said quietly. "Bigger than the whole blamed exhibit
of them put together, and then some." He paused and regarded me
with a steadfast gaze. "I don't see no reason why I shouldn't go
into the matter with you. You've got a reputation a man ought to
be able to trust, and I've read you've done some tall skylarking
yourself in out-of-the-way places. I've been browsing around with
an eye open for some one to go in with me on the proposition."
"You can trust me," I said.
And here I am, blazing out into print with the whole story just as
he told it to me as we sat on a bench by the lagoon before the
Palace of Fine Arts with the cries of the sea gulls in our ears.
Well, he should have kept his appointment with me. But I
As we started to leave the building and hunt for a seat, a small
woman, possibly thirty years of age, with a washed-out complexion
of the farmer's wife sort, darted up to him in a bird-like way, for
all the world like the darting veering gulls over our heads and
fastened herself to his arm with the accuracy and dispatch and
inevitableness of a piece of machinery.
"There you go!" she shrilled. "A-trottin' right off and never
givin' me a thought."
I was formally introduced to her. It was patent that she had never
heard of me, and she surveyed me bleakly with shrewd black eyes,
set close together and as beady and restless as a bird's.
"You ain't goin' to tell him about that hussy?" she complained.
"Well, now, Sarah, this is business, you see," he argued
plaintively. "I've been lookin' for a likely man this long while,
and now that he's shown up it seems to me I got a right to give him
the hang of what happened."
The small woman made no reply, but set her thin lips in a needle-
like line. She gazed straight before her at the Tower of Jewels
with so austere an expression that no glint of refracted sunlight
could soften it. We proceeded slowly to the lagoon, managed to
obtain an unoccupied seat, and sat down with mutual sighs of relief
as we released our weights from our tortured sightseeing feet.
"One does get so mortal weary," asserted the small woman, almost
Two swans waddled up from the mirroring water and investigated us.
When their suspicions of our niggardliness or lack of peanuts had
been confirmed, Jones half-turned his back on his life-partner and
gave me his story.
"Ever been in Ecuador? Then take my advice--and don't. Though I
take that back, for you and me might be hitting it for there
together if you can rustle up the faith in me and the backbone in
yourself for the trip. Well, anyway, it ain't so many years ago
that I came ambling in there on a rusty, foul-bottomed, tramp
collier from Australia, forty-three days from land to land. Seven
knots was her speed when everything favoured, and we'd had a two
weeks' gale to the north'ard of New Zealand, and broke our engines
down for two days off Pitcairn Island.
"I was no sailor on her. I'm a locomotive engineer. But I'd made
friends with the skipper at Newcastle an' come along as his guest
for as far as Guayaquil. You see, I'd heard wages was 'way up on
the American railroad runnin' from that place over the Andes to
Quito. Now Guayaquil--"
"Is a fever-hole," I interpolated.
Julian Jones nodded.
"Thomas Nast died there of it within a month after he landed.--He
was our great American cartoonist," I added.
"Don't know him," Julian Jones said shortly. "But I do know he
wasn't the first to pass out by a long shot. Why, look you the way
I found it. The pilot grounds is sixty miles down the river.
'How's the fever?' said I to the pilot who came aboard in the early
morning. 'See that Hamburg barque,' said he, pointing to a sizable
ship at anchor. 'Captain and fourteen men dead of it already, and
the cook and two men dying right now, and they're the last left of
"And by jinks he told the truth. And right then they were dying
forty a day in Guayaquil of Yellow Jack. But that was nothing, as
I was to find out. Bubonic plague and small-pox were raging, while
dysentery and pneumonia were reducing the population, and the
railroad was raging worst of all. I mean that. For them that
insisted in riding on it, it was more dangerous than all the other
diseases put together.
"When we dropped anchor off Guayaquil half a dozen skippers from
other steamers came on board to warn our skipper not to let any of
his crew or officers go ashore except the ones he wanted to lose.
A launch came off for me from Duran, which is on the other side of
the river and is the terminal of the railroad. And it brought off
a man that soared up the gangway three jumps at a time he was that
eager to get aboard. When he hit the deck he hadn't time to speak
to any of us. He just leaned out over the rail and shook his fist
at Duran and shouted: 'I beat you to it! I beat you to it!'
"'Who'd you beat to it, friend?' I asked. 'The railroad,' he said,
as he unbuckled the straps and took off a big '44 Colt's automatic
from where he wore it handy on his left side under his coat, 'I
staved as long as I agreed--three months--and it didn't get me. I
was a conductor.'
"And that was the railroad I was to work for. All of which was
nothing to what he told me in the next few minutes. The road ran
from sea level at Duran up to twelve thousand feet on Chimborazo
and down to ten thousand at Quito on the other side the range. And
it was so dangerous that the trains didn't run nights. The through
passengers had to get off and sleep in the towns at night while the
train waited for daylight. And each train carried a guard of
Ecuadoriano soldiers which was the most dangerous of all. They
were supposed to protect the train crews, but whenever trouble
started they unlimbered their rifles and joined the mob. You see,
whenever a train wreck occurred, the first cry of the spiggoties
was 'Kill the Gringos!' They always did that, and proceeded to
kill the train crew and whatever chance Gringo passengers that'd
escaped being killed in the accident. Which is their kind of
arithmetic, which I told you a while back as being different from
"Shucks! Before the day was out I was to find out for myself that
that ex-conductor wasn't lying. It was over at Duran. I was to
take my run on the first division out to Quito, for which place I
was to start next morning--only one through train running every
twenty-four hours. It was the afternoon of my first day, along
about four o'clock, when the boilers of the Governor Hancock
exploded and she sank in sixty feet of water alongside the dock.
She was the big ferry boat that carried the railroad passengers
across the river to Guayaquil. It was a bad accident, but it was
the cause of worse that followed. By half-past four, big
trainloads began to arrive. It was a feast day and they'd run an
excursion up country but of Guayaquil, and this was the crowd
"And the crowd--there was five thousand of them--wanted to get
ferried across, and the ferry was at the bottom of the river, which
wasn't our fault. But by the Spiggoty arithmetic, it was. 'Kill
the Gringos!' shouts one of them. And right there the beans were
spilled. Most of us got away by the skin of our teeth. I raced on
the heels of the Master Mechanic, carrying one of his babies for
him, for the locomotives that was just pulling out. You see, way
down there away from everywhere they just got to save their
locomotives in times of trouble, because, without them, a railroad
can't be run. Half a dozen American wives and as many children
were crouching on the cab floors along with the rest of us when we
pulled out; and the Ecuadoriano soldiers, who should have been
protecting our lives and property, turned loose with their rifles
and must have given us all of a thousand rounds before we got out
"We camped up country and didn't come back to clean up until next
day. It was some cleaning. Every flat-car, box-car, coach,
asthmatic switch engine, and even hand-car that mob of Spiggoties
had shoved off the dock into sixty feet of water on top of the
Governor Hancock. They'd burnt the round house, set fire to the
coal bunkers, and made a scandal of the repair shops. Oh, yes, and
there were three of our fellows they'd got that we had to bury
mighty quick. It's hot weather all the time down there."
Julian Jones came to a full pause and over his shoulder studied the
straight-before-her gaze and forbidding expression of his wife's
"I ain't forgotten the nugget," he assured me.
"Nor the hussy," the little woman snapped, apparently at the mud-
hens paddling on the surface of the lagoon.
"I've been travelling toward the nugget right along--"
"There was never no reason for you to stay in that dangerous
country," his wife snapped in on him.
"Now, Sarah," he appealed. "I was working for you right along."
And to me he explained: "The risk was big, but so was the pay.
Some months I earned as high as five hundred gold. And here was
Sarah waiting for me back in Nebraska--"
"An' us engaged two years," she complained to the Tower of Jewels.
"--What of the strike, and me being blacklisted, and getting
typhoid down in Australia, and everything," he went on. "And luck
was with me on that railroad. Why, I saw fellows fresh from the
States pass out, some of them not a week on their first run. If
the diseases and the railroad didn't get them, then it was the
Spiggoties got them. But it just wasn't my fate, even that time I
rode my engine down to the bottom of a forty-foot washout. I lost
my fireman; and the conductor and the Superintendent of Rolling
Stock (who happened to be running down to Duran to meet his bride)
had their heads knifed off by the Spiggoties and paraded around on
poles. But I lay snug as a bug under a couple of feet of tender
coal, and they thought I'd headed for tall timber--lay there a day
and a night till the excitement cooled down. Yes, I was lucky.
The worst that happened to me was I caught a cold once, and another
time had a carbuncle. But the other fellows! They died like
flies, what of Yellow Jack, pneumonia, the Spiggoties, and the
railroad. The trouble was I didn't have much chance to pal with
them. No sooner'd I get some intimate with one of them he'd up and
die--all but a fireman named Andrews, and he went loco for keeps.
"I made good on my job from the first, and lived in Quito in a
'dobe house with whacking big Spanish tiles on the roof that I'd
rented. And I never had much trouble with the Spiggoties, what of
letting them sneak free rides in the tender or on the cowcatcher.
Me throw them off? Never! I took notice, when Jack Harris put off
a bunch of them, that I attended his funeral muy pronto--"
"Speak English," the little woman beside him snapped.
"Sarah just can't bear to tolerate me speaking Spanish," he
apologized. "It gets so on her nerves that I promised not to.
Well, as I was saying, the goose hung high and everything was going
hunky-dory, and I was piling up my wages to come north to Nebraska
and marry Sarah, when I run on to Vahna--"
"The hussy!" Sarah hissed.
"Now, Sarah," her towering giant of a husband begged, "I just got
to mention her or I can't tell about the nugget.--It was one night
when I was taking a locomotive--no train--down to Amato, about
thirty miles from Quito. Seth Manners was my fireman. I was
breaking him in to engineer for himself, and I was letting him run
the locomotive while I sat up in his seat meditating about Sarah
here. I'd just got a letter from her, begging as usual for me to
come home and hinting as usual about the dangers of an unmarried
man like me running around loose in a country full of senoritas and
fandangos. Lord! If she could only a-seen them. Positive
frights, that's what they are, their faces painted white as corpses
and their lips red as--as some of the train wrecks I've helped
"It was a lovely April night, not a breath of wind, and a
tremendous big moon shining right over the top of Chimborazo.--Some
mountain that. The railroad skirted it twelve thousand feet above
sea level, and the top of it ten thousand feet higher than that.
"Mebbe I was drowsing, with Seth running the engine; but he slammed
on the brakes so sudden hard that I darn near went through the cab
"'What the--' I started to yell, and 'Holy hell,' Seth says, as
both of us looked at what was on the track. And I agreed with Seth
entirely in his remark. It was an Indian girl--and take it from
me, Indians ain't Spiggoties by any manner of means. Seth had
managed to fetch a stop within twenty feet of her, and us bowling
down hill at that! But the girl. She--"
I saw the form of Mrs. Julian Jones stiffen, although she kept her
gaze fixed balefully upon two mud-hens that were prowling along the
lagoon shallows below us. "The hussy!" she hissed, once and
implacably. Jones had stopped at the sound, but went on
"She was a tall girl, slim and slender, you know the kind, with
black hair, remarkably long hanging, down loose behind her, as she
stood there no more afraid than nothing, her arms spread out to
stop the engine. She was wearing a slimpsy sort of garment wrapped
around her that wasn't cloth but ocelot skins, soft and dappled,
and silky. It was all she had on--"
"The hussy!" breathed Mrs. Jones.
But Mr. Jones went on, making believe that he was unaware of the
"'Hell of a way to stop a locomotive,' I complained at Seth, as I
climbed down on to the right of way. I walked past our engine and
up to the girl, and what do you think? Her eyes were shut tight.
She was trembling that violent that you would see it by the
moonlight. And she was barefoot, too.
"'What's the row?' I said, none too gentle. She gave a start,
seemed to come out of her trance, and opened her eyes. Say! They
were big and black and beautiful. Believe me, she was some looker-
"The hussy!" At which hiss the two mud-hens veered away a few
feet. But Jones was getting himself in hand, and didn't even
"'What are you stopping this locomotive for?' I demanded in
Spanish. Nary an answer. She stared at me, then at the snorting
engine and then burst into tears, which you'll admit is uncommon
behaviour for an Indian woman.
"'If you try to get rides that way,' I slung at her in Spiggoty
Spanish (which they tell me is some different from regular
Spanish), 'you'll be taking one smeared all over our cowcatcher and
headlight, and it'll be up to my fireman to scrape you off.'
"My Spiggoty Spanish wasn't much to brag on, but I could see she
understood, though she only shook her head and wouldn't speak. But
great Moses, she was some looker--"
I glanced apprehensively at Mrs. Jones, who must have caught me out
of the tail of her eye, for she muttered: "If she hadn't been do
you think he'd a-taken her into his house to live?"
"Now hold on, Sarah," he protested. "That ain't fair. Besides,
I'm telling this.--Next thing, Seth yells at me, 'Goin' to stay
here all night?'
"'Come on,' I said to the girl, 'and climb on board. But next time
you want a ride don't flag a locomotive between stations.' She
followed along; but when I got to the step and turned to give her a
lift-up, she wasn't there. I went forward again. Not a sign of
her. Above and below was sheer cliff, and the track stretched
ahead a hundred yards clear and empty. And then I spotted her,
crouched down right against the cowcatcher, that close I'd almost
stepped on her. If we'd started up, we'd have run over her in a
second. It was all so nonsensical, I never could make out her
actions. Maybe she was trying to suicide. I grabbed her by the
wrist and jerked her none too gentle to her feet. And she came
along all right. Women do know when a man means business."
I glanced from this Goliath to his little, bird-eyed spouse, and
wondered if he had ever tried to mean business with her.
"Seth kicked at first, but I boosted her into the cab and made her
sit up beside me--"
"And I suppose Seth was busy running the engine," Mrs. Jones
"I was breaking him in, wasn't I?" Mr. Jones protested. "So we
made the run into Amato. She'd never opened her mouth once, and no
sooner'd the engine stopped than she'd jumped to the ground and was
gone. Just like that. Not a thank you kindly. Nothing.
"But next morning when we came to pull out for Quito with a dozen
flat cars loaded with rails, there she was in the cab waiting for
us; and in the daylight I could see how much better a looker she
was than the night before.
"'Huh! she's adopted you,' Seth grins. And it looked like it. She
just stood there and looked at me--at us--like a loving hound dog
that you love, that you've caught with a string of sausages inside
of him, and that just knows you ain't going to lift a hand to him.
'Go chase yourself!' I told her pronto." (Mrs. Jones her proximity
noticeable with a wince at the Spanish word.) "You see, Sarah, I'd
no use for her, even at the start."
Mrs. Jones stiffened. Her lips moved soundlessly, but I knew to
"And what made it hardest was Seth jeering at me. 'You can't shake
her that way,' he said. 'You saved her life--' 'I didn't,' I said
sharply; 'it was you.' 'But she thinks you did, which is the same
thing,' he came back at me. 'And now she belongs to you. Custom
of the country, as you ought to know.'"
"Heathenish," said Mrs. Jones, and though her steady gaze was set
upon the Tower of Jewels I knew she was making no reference to its
"'She's come to do light housekeeping for you,' Seth grinned. I
let him rave, though afterwards I kept him throwing in the coal too
fast to work his mouth very much. Why, say, when I got to the spot
where I picked her up, and stopped the train for her to get off,
she just flopped down on her knees, got a hammerlock with her arms
around my knees, and cried all over my shoes. What was I to do?"
With no perceptible movement that I was aware of, Mrs. Jones
advertised her certitude of knowledge of what SHE would have done.
"And the moment we pulled into Quito, she did what she'd done
before--vanished. Sarah never believes me when I say how relieved
I felt to be quit of her. But it was not to be. I got to my 'dobe
house and managed a cracking fine dinner my cook had ready for me.
She was mostly Spiggoty and half Indian, and her name was Paloma.--
Now, Sarah, haven't I told you she was older'n a grandmother, and
looked more like a buzzard than a dove? Why, I couldn't bear to
eat with her around where I could look at her. But she did make
things comfortable, and she was some economical when it came to
"That afternoon, after a big long siesta, what'd I find in the
kitchen, just as much at home as if she belonged there, but that
blamed Indian girl. And old Paloma was squatting at the girl's
feet and rubbing the girl's knees and legs like for rheumatism,
which I knew the girl didn't have from the way I'd sized up the
walk of her, and keeping time to the rubbing with a funny sort of
gibberish chant. And I let loose right there and then. As Sarah
knows, I never could a-bear women around the house--young,
unmarried women, I mean. But it was no go! Old Paloma sided with
the girl, and said if the girl went she went, too. Also, she
called me more kinds of a fool than the English language has
accommodation for. You'd like the Spanish lingo, Sarah, for
expressing yourself in such ways, and you'd have liked old Paloma,
too. She was a good woman, though she didn't have any teeth and
her face could kill a strong man's appetite in the cradle.
"I gave in. I had to. Except for the excuse that she needed
Vahna's help around the house (which she didn't at all), old Paloma
never said why she stuck up for the girl. Anyway, Vahna was a
quiet thing, never in the way. And she never gadded. Just sat in-
doors jabbering with Paloma and helping with the chores. But I
wasn't long in getting on to that she was afraid of something. She
would look up, that anxious it hurt, whenever anybody called, like
some of the boys to have a gas or a game of pedro. I tried to worm
it out of Paloma what was worrying the girl, but all the old woman
did was to look solemn and shake her head like all the devils in
hell was liable to precipitate a visit on us.
"And then one day Vahna had a visitor. I'd just come in from a run
and was passing the time of day with her--I had to be polite, even
if she had butted in on me and come to live in my house for keeps--
when I saw a queer expression come into her eyes. In the doorway
stood an Indian boy. He looked like her, but was younger and
slimmer. She took him into the kitchen and they must have had a
great palaver, for he didn't leave until after dark. Inside the
week he came back, but I missed him. When I got home, Paloma put a
fat nugget of gold into my hand, which Vahna had sent him for. The
blamed thing weighed all of two pounds and was worth more than five
hundred dollars. She explained that Vahna wanted me to take it to
pay for her keep. And I had to take it to keep peace in the house.
"Then, after a long time, came another visitor. We were sitting
before the fire--"
"Him and the hussy," quoth Mrs. Jones.
"And Paloma," he added quickly.
"Him and his cook and his light housekeeper sitting by the fire,"
"Oh, I admit Vahna did like me a whole heap," he asserted
recklessly, then modified with a pang of caution: "A heap more
than was good for her, seeing that I had no inclination her way.
"Well, as I was saying, she had another visitor. He was a lean,
tall, white-headed old Indian, with a beak on him like an eagle.
He walked right in without knocking. Vahna gave a little cry that
was half like a yelp and half like a gasp, and flumped down on her
knees before me, pleading to me with deer's eyes and to him with
the eyes of a deer about to be killed that don't want to be killed.
Then, for a minute that seemed as long as a life-time, she and the
old fellow glared at each other. Paloma was the first to talk, in
his own lingo, for he talked back to her. But great Moses, if he
wasn't the high and mighty one! Paloma's old knees were shaking,
and she cringed to him like a hound dog. And all this in my own
house! I'd have thrown him out on his neck, only he was so old.
"If the things he said to Vahna were as terrible as the way he
looked! Say! He just spit words at her! But Paloma kept
whimpering and butting in, till something she said got across,
because his face relaxed. He condescended to give me the once over
and fired some question at Vahna. She hung her head, and looked
foolish, and blushed, and then replied with a single word and a
shake of the head. And with that he just naturally turned on his
heel and beat it. I guess she'd said 'No.'
"For some time after that Vahna used to fluster up whenever she saw
me. Then she took to the kitchen for a spell. But after a long
time she began hanging around the big room again. She was still
mighty shy, but she'd keep on following me about with those big
eyes of hers--"
"The hussy!" I heard plainly. But Julian Jones and I were pretty
well used to it by this time.
"I don't mind saying that I was getting some interested myself--oh,
not in the way Sarah never lets up letting me know she thinks.
That two-pound nugget was what had me going. If Vahna'd put me
wise to where it came from, I could say good-bye to railroading and
hit the high places for Nebraska and Sarah.
"And then the beans were spilled . . . by accident. Come a letter
from Wisconsin. My Aunt Eliza 'd died and up and left me her big
farm. I let out a whoop when I read it; but I could have canned my
joy, for I was jobbed out of it by the courts and lawyers
afterward--not a cent to me, and I'm still paying 'm in
"But I didn't know, then; and I prepared to pull back to God's
country. Paloma got sore, and Vahna got the weeps. 'Don't go!
Don't go!' That was her song. But I gave notice on my job, and
wrote a letter to Sarah here--didn't I, Sarah?
"That night, sitting by the fire like at a funeral, Vahna really
loosened up for the first time.
"'Don't go,' she says to me, with old Paloma nodding agreement with
her. 'I'll show you where my brother got the nugget, if you don't
go.' 'Too late,' said I. And I told her why.
"And told her about me waiting for you back in Nebraska," Mrs.
Jones observed in cold, passionless tones.
"Now, Sarah, why should I hurt a poor Indian girl's feelings? Of
course I didn't.
"Well, she and Paloma talked Indian some more, and then Vahna says:
'If you stay, I'll show you the biggest nugget that is the father
of all other nuggets.' 'How big?' I asked. 'As big as me?' She
laughed. 'Bigger than you,' she says, 'much, much bigger.' 'They
don't grow that way,' I said. But she said she'd seen it and
Paloma backed her up. Why, to listen to them you'd have thought
there was millions in that one nugget. Paloma 'd never seen it
herself, but she'd heard about it. A secret of the tribe which she
couldn't share, being only half Indian herself."
Julian Jones paused and heaved a sigh.
"And they kept on insisting until I fell for--"
"The hussy," said Mrs. Jones, pert as a bird, at the ready instant.
"'No; for the nugget. What of Aunt Eliza's farm I was rich enough
to quit railroading, but not rich enough to turn my back on big
money--and I just couldn't help believing them two women. Gee! I
could be another Vanderbilt, or J. P. Morgan. That's the way I
thought; and I started in to pump Vahna. But she wouldn't give
down. 'You come along with me,' she says. 'We can be back here in
a couple of weeks with all the gold the both of us can carry.'
'We'll take a burro, or a pack-train of burros,' was my suggestion.
But nothing doing. And Paloma agreed with her. It was too
dangerous. The Indians would catch us.
"The two of us pulled out when the nights were moonlight. We
travelled only at night, and laid up in the days. Vahna wouldn't
let me light a fire, and I missed my coffee something fierce. We
got up in the real high mountains of the main Andes, where the snow
on one pass gave us some trouble; but the girl knew the trails,
and, though we didn't waste any time, we were a full week getting
there. I know the general trend of our travel, because I carried a
pocket compass; and the general trend is all I need to get there
again, because of that peak. There's no mistaking it. There ain't
another peak like it in the world. Now, I'm not telling you its
particular shape, but when you and I head out for it from Quito
I'll take you straight to it.
"It's no easy thing to climb, and the person doesn't live that can
climb it at night. We had to take the daylight to it, and didn't
reach the top till after sunset. Why, I could take hours and hours
telling you about that last climb, which I won't. The top was flat
as a billiard table, about a quarter of an acre in size, and was
almost clean of snow. Vahna told me that the great winds that
usually blew, kept the snow off of it.
"We were winded, and I got mountain sickness so bad that I had to
stretch out for a spell. Then, when the moon come up, I took a
prowl around. It didn't take long, and I didn't catch a sight or a
smell of anything that looked like gold. And when I asked Vahna,
she only laughed and clapped her hands. Meantime my mountain
sickness tuned up something fierce, and I sat down on a big rock to
wait for it to ease down.
"'Come on, now,' I said, when I felt better. 'Stop your fooling
and tell me where that nugget is.' 'It's nearer to you right now
than I'll ever get,' she answered, her big eyes going sudden
wistful. 'All you Gringos are alike. Gold is the love of your
heart, and women don't count much.'
"I didn't say anything. That was no time to tell her about Sarah
here. But Vahna seemed to shake off her depressed feelings, and
began to laugh and tease again. 'How do you like it?' she asked.
'Like what?' 'The nugget you're sitting on.'
"I jumped up as though it was a red-hot stove. And all it was was
a rock. I felt nay heart sink. Either she had gone clean loco or
this was her idea of a joke. Wrong on both counts. She gave me
the hatchet and told me to take a hack at the boulder, which I did,
again and again, for yellow spots sprang up from under every blow.
By the great Moses! it was gold! The whole blamed boulder!"
Jones rose suddenly to his full height and flung out his long arms,
his face turned to the southern skies. The movement shot panic
into the heart of a swan that had drawn nearer with amiably
predatory designs. Its consequent abrupt retreat collided it with
a stout old lady, who squealed and dropped her bag of peanuts.
Jones sat down and resumed.
"Gold, I tell you, solid gold and that pure and soft that I chopped
chips out of it. It had been coated with some sort of rain-proof
paint or lacquer made out of asphalt or something. No wonder I'd
taken it for a rock. It was ten feet long, all of five feet
through, and tapering to both ends like an egg. Here. Take a look
From his pocket he drew and opened a leather case, from which he
took an object wrapped in tissue-paper. Unwrapping it, he dropped
into my hand a chip of pure soft gold, the size of a ten-dollar
gold-piece. I could make out the greyish substance on one side
with which it had been painted.
"I chopped that from one end of the thing," Jones went on,
replacing the chip in its paper and leather case. "And lucky I put
it in my pocket. For right at my back came one loud word--more
like a croak than a word, in my way of thinking. And there was
that lean old fellow with the eagle beak that had dropped in on us
one night. And there was about thirty Indians with him--all slim
"Vahna'd flopped down and begun whimpering, but I told her, 'Get up
and make friends with them for me.' 'No, no,' she cried. 'This is
death. Good-bye, amigo--'"
Here Mrs. Jones winced, and her husband abruptly checked the
particular flow of his narrative.
"'Then get up and fight along with me,' I said to her. And she
did. She was some hellion, there on the top of the world, clawing
and scratching tooth and nail--a regular she cat. And I wasn't
idle, though all I had was that hatchet and my long arms. But they
were too many for me, and there was no place for me to put my back
against a wall. When I come to, minutes after they'd cracked me on
the head--here, feel this."
Removing his hat, Julian Jones guided my finger tips through his
thatch of sandy hair until they sank into an indentation. It was
fully three inches long, and went into the bone itself of the
"When I come to, there was Vahna spread-eagled on top of the
nugget, and the old fellow with a beak jabbering away solemnly as
if going through some sort of religious exercises. In his hand he
had a stone knife--you know, a thin, sharp sliver of some obsidian-
like stuff same as they make arrow-heads out of. I couldn't lift a
hand, being held down, and being too weak besides. And--well,
anyway, that stone knife did for her, and me they didn't even do
the honour of killing there on top their sacred peak. They chucked
me off of it like so much carrion.
"And the buzzards didn't get me either. I can see the moonlight
yet, shining on all those peaks of snow, as I went down. Why, sir,
it was a five-hundred-foot fall, only I didn't make it. I went
into a big snow-drift in a crevice. And when I come to (hours
after I know, for it was full day when I next saw the sun), I found
myself in a regular snow-cave or tunnel caused by the water from
the melting snow running along the ledge. In fact, the stone above
actually overhung just beyond where I first landed. A few feet
more to the side, either way, and I'd almost be going yet. It was
a straight miracle, that's what it was.
"But I paid for it. It was two years and over before I knew what
happened. All I knew was that I was Julian Jones and that I'd been
blacklisted in the big strike, and that I was married to Sarah
here. I mean that. I didn't know anything in between, and when
Sarah tried to talk about it, it gave me pains in the head. I mean
my head was queer, and I knew it was queer.
"And then, sitting on the porch of her father's farmhouse back in
Nebraska one moonlight evening, Sarah came out and put that gold
chip into my hand. Seems she'd just found it in the torn lining of
the trunk I'd brought back from Ecuador--I who for two years didn't
even know I'd been to Ecuador, or Australia, or anything! Well, I
just sat there looking at the chip in the moonlight, and turning it
over and over and figuring what it was and where it'd come from,
when all of a sudden there was a snap inside my head as if
something had broken, and then I could see Vahna spread-eagled on
that big nugget and the old fellow with the beak waving the stone
knife, and . . . and everything. That is, everything that had
happened from the time I first left Nebraska to when I crawled to
the daylight out of the snow after they had chucked me off the
mountain-top. But everything that'd happened after that I'd clean
forgotten. When Sarah said I was her husband, I wouldn't listen to
her. Took all her family and the preacher that'd married us to
"Later on I wrote to Seth Manners. The railroad hadn't killed him
yet, and he pieced out a lot for me. I'll show you his letters.
I've got them at the hotel. One day, he said, making his regular
run, I crawled out on to the track. I didn't stand upright, I just
crawled. He took me for a calf, or a big dog, at first. I wasn't
anything human, he said, and I didn't know him or anything. As
near as I can make out, it was ten days after the mountain-top to
the time Seth picked me up. What I ate I don't know. Maybe I
didn't eat. Then it was doctors at Quito, and Paloma nursing me
(she must have packed that gold chip in my trunk), until they found
out I was a man without a mind, and the railroad sent me back to
Nebraska. At any rate, that's what Seth writes me. Of myself, I
don't know. But Sarah here knows. She corresponded with the
railroad before they shipped me and all that."
Mrs. Jones nodded affirmation of his words, sighed and evidenced
unmistakable signs of eagerness to go.
"I ain't been able to work since," her husband continued. "And I
ain't been able to figure out how to get back that big nugget.
Sarah's got money of her own, and she won't let go a penny--"
"He won't get down to THAT country no more!" she broke forth.
"But, Sarah, Vahna's dead--you know that," Julian Jones protested.
"I don't know anything about anything," she answered decisively,
"except that THAT country is no place for a married man."
Her lips snapped together, and she fixed an unseeing stare across
to where the afternoon sun was beginning to glow into sunset. I
gazed for a moment at her face, white, plump, tiny, and implacable,
and gave her up.
"How do you account for such a mass of gold being there?" I queried
of Julian Jones. "A solid-gold meteor that fell out of the sky?"
"Not for a moment." He shook his head. " It was carried there by
"Up a mountain like that--and such enormous weight and size!" I
"Just as easy," he smiled. "I used to be stumped by that
proposition myself, after I got my memory back. Now how in Sam
Hill--' I used to begin, and then spend hours figuring at it. And
then when I got the answer I felt downright idiotic, it was that
easy." He paused, then announced: "They didn't."
"But you just--said they did."
"They did and they didn't," was his enigmatic reply. "Of course
they never carried that monster nugget up there. What they did was
to carry up its contents."
He waited until he saw enlightenment dawn in my face.
"And then of course melted all the gold, or welded it, or smelted
it, all into one piece. You know the first Spaniards down there,
under a leader named Pizarro, were a gang of robbers and cut-
throats. They went through the country like the hoof-and-mouth
disease, and killed the Indians off like cattle. You see, the
Indians had lots of gold. Well, what the Spaniards didn't get, the
surviving Indians hid away in that one big chunk on top the
mountain, and it's been waiting there ever since for me--and for
you, if you want to go in on it."
And here, by the Lagoon of the Palace of Fine Arts, ended my
acquaintance with Julian Jones. On my agreeing to finance the
adventure, he promised to call on me at my hotel next morning with
the letters of Seth Manners and the railroad, and conclude
arrangements. But he did not call. That evening I telephoned his
hotel and was informed by the clerk that Mr. Julian Jones and wife
had departed in the early afternoon, with their baggage.
Can Mrs. Jones have rushed him back and hidden him away in
Nebraska? I remember that as we said good-bye, there was that in
her smile that recalled the vulpine complacency of Mona Lisa, the
May 5, 1916.
STORY: LIKE ARGUS OF THE ANCIENT TIMES
It was the summer of 1897, and there was trouble in the Tarwater
family. Grandfather Tarwater, after remaining properly subdued and
crushed for a quiet decade, had broken out again. This time it was
the Klondike fever. His first and one unvarying symptom of such
attacks was song. One chant only he raised, though he remembered
no more than the first stanza and but three lines of that. And the
family knew his feet were itching and his brain was tingling with
the old madness, when he lifted his hoarse-cracked voice, now
Like Argus of the ancient times,
We leave this modern Greece,
Tum-tum, tum-tum, tum, tum, tum-tum,
To shear the Golden Fleece.
Ten years earlier he had lifted the chant, sung to the air of the
"Doxology," when afflicted with the fever to go gold-mining in
Patagonia. The multitudinous family had sat upon him, but had had
a hard time doing it. When all else had failed to shake his
resolution, they had applied lawyers to him, with the threat of
getting out guardianship papers and of confining him in the state
asylum for the insane--which was reasonable for a man who had, a
quarter of a century before, speculated away all but ten meagre
acres of a California principality, and who had displayed no better
business acumen ever since.
The application of lawyers to John Tarwater was like the
application of a mustard plaster. For, in his judgment, they were
the gentry, more than any other, who had skinned him out of the
broad Tarwater acres. So, at the time of his Patagonian fever, the
very thought of so drastic a remedy was sufficient to cure him. He
quickly demonstrated he was not crazy by shaking the fever from him
and agreeing not to go to Patagonia.
Next, he demonstrated how crazy he really was, by deeding over to
his family, unsolicited, the ten acres on Tarwater Flat, the house,
barn, outbuildings, and water-rights. Also did he turn over the
eight hundred dollars in bank that was the long-saved salvage of
his wrecked fortune. But for this the family found no cause for
committal to the asylum, since such committal would necessarily
invalidate what he had done.
"Grandfather is sure peeved," said Mary, his oldest daughter,
herself a grandmother, when her father quit smoking.
All he had retained for himself was a span of old horses, a
mountain buckboard, and his one room in the crowded house.
Further, having affirmed that he would be beholden to none of them,
he got the contract to carry the United States mail, twice a week,
from Kelterville up over Tarwater Mountain to Old Almaden--which
was a sporadically worked quick-silver mine in the upland cattle
country. With his old horses it took all his time to make the two
weekly round trips. And for ten years, rain or shine, he had never
missed a trip. Nor had he failed once to pay his week's board into
Mary's hand. This board he had insisted on, in the convalescence
from his Patagonian fever, and he had paid it strictly, though he
had given up tobacco in order to be able to do it.
"Huh!" he confided to the ruined water wheel of the old Tarwater
Mill, which he had built from the standing timber and which had
ground wheat for the first settlers. "Huh! They'll never put me
in the poor farm so long as I support myself. And without a penny
to my name it ain't likely any lawyer fellows'll come snoopin'
around after me."
And yet, precisely because of these highly rational acts, it was
held that John Tarwater was mildly crazy!
The first time he had lifted the chant of "Like Argus of the
Ancient Times," had been in 1849, when, twenty-two years' of age,
violently attacked by the Californian fever, he had sold two
hundred and forty Michigan acres, forty of it cleared, for the
price of four yoke of oxen, and a wagon, and had started across the
"And we turned off at Fort Hall, where the Oregon emigration went
north'ard, and swung south for Californy," was his way of
concluding the narrative of that arduous journey. "And Bill Ping
and me used to rope grizzlies out of the underbrush of Cache Slough
in the Sacramento Valley."
Years of freighting and mining had followed, and, with a stake
gleaned from the Merced placers, he satisfied the land-hunger of
his race and time by settling in Sonoma County.
During the ten years of carrying the mail across Tarwater Township,
up Tarwater Valley, and over Tarwater Mountain, most all of which
land had once been his, he had spent his time dreaming of winning
back that land before he died. And now, his huge gaunt form more
erect than it had been for years, with a glinting of blue fires in
his small and close-set eyes, he was lifting his ancient chant
"There he goes now--listen to him," said William Tarwater.
"Nobody at home," laughed Harris Topping, day labourer, husband of
Annie Tarwater, and father of her nine children.
The kitchen door opened to admit the old man, returning from
feeding his horses. The song had ceased from his lips; but Mary
was irritable from a burnt hand and a grandchild whose stomach
refused to digest properly diluted cows' milk.
"Now there ain't no use you carryin' on that way, father," she
tackled him. "The time's past for you to cut and run for a place
like the Klondike, and singing won't buy you nothing."
"Just the same," he answered quietly. "I bet I could go to that
Klondike place and pick up enough gold to buy back the Tarwater