BURIED ALIVE

Terrified beyond measure by the awfulness of the storm, I gave little
heed to the fact that the rocky hollow in which I lay with the two
faithful blacks had filled with water, so that our bodies were nearly
covered by the pool that had formed. My head still rested on the
trousers packed with gold, and one arm was closely clasped around a leg
containing the treasured metal grains. So I lay, half dazed and scarcely
daring to move, while the rain pattered down upon us and the storm
sobbed itself out by degrees.

I must have lost consciousness, after a time, for my first distinct
recollection is of Bryonia drawing my body from the pool to lay it on a
dryer portion of the rock, where the overhanging trees slightly
sheltered me. The sky had grown lighter by now, and while black streaks
of cloud still drifted swiftly across the face of the moon, there were
times when the great disc was clear, and shed its light brilliantly over
the bleak and desolate landscape.

Within an hour the rain had ceased altogether, and stars came out to
join the moon; but still we lay motionless atop the peak of rock, worn
out by our struggles with the elements and fitfully dozing in spite of
the horrors we had passed through.

Bry was first to arouse, and found the sun shining overhead. There was
no wind and the temperature of the morning air was warm and genial. The
black’s legs pained him, for in his terrible climb up the rock during
the storm a jagged piece of rock had cut his thigh and torn the flesh
badly. He had not noticed it until now, but after examining the wound he
bathed it in the water of the pool and bound it up with a rag torn from
his shirt.

While he was thus occupied Nux sat up and watched him, yawning. They
spoke together in low tones, using the expressive Sulu language, and had
soon acquainted each other with the events that had occurred since they
separated. Their murmured words aroused me to a realization of the
present, and having partially collected my thoughts I began to rub my
eyes and look wonderingly around me.

The top of the rock was no longer flat, but inclined toward the sea. The
three tall trees also inclined that way, instead of growing upright, and
the neighboring cliff of the mainland seemed further removed from us
than before. Something appeared to be missing in the landscape, and then
I suddenly remembered how the rocking-stone had leaped into the gulf
during the storm.

“All safe?” I asked, looking at my black friends gratefully.

“All safe,” answered Bry, smiling.

“It was a dreadful night,” I continued, with a shudder. “Have you heard
anything from the robbers yet?”

“No, Mars Sam.”

“They’re probably sleeping late. Anyhow, they can’t have gone away on
the raft yet.”

Bry shook his head.

“All very wicked mans, Mars Sam,” he said. “Even in big storm, while we
climb up to cave, Mars Daggett tell me to go behind Pete an’ push him
off rock.”

“The villain!” I exclaimed, indignantly.

“He tell me if I not push Pete off, he kill me,” continued Bry, with a
grin.

“What did you do?”

“When they run into cave, I run by it, an’ come here. That’s all, Mars
Sam.”

“You did well, Bry. If they climb up here after you, we’ll fight them to
the death.”

“No climb rock any more, Mars Sam,” said Bry, soberly.

“Why not?”

“See how rock tip? Only fly can climb rock now.”

“I believe you’re right, Bry!” I cried, startled at this dreadful
assertion; “and, if so, we’re prisoners here. Let us see what it looks
like.”

I crawled rather stiffly down the inclined surface to the edge
overlooking the sea, and one glance showed me that it would now be
impossible for anyone to walk along the narrow ledge.

While I looked a sharp cry of horror from Nux reached my ears, and
swiftly turning I hastened with Bry toward the place where the black was
leaning over the gulf that separated the peak from the mainland.

“What is it, Nux?” I asked, anxiously.

But the Sulu only stood motionless, pointing with one finger into the
abyss, while his eyes stared downward with an expression of abject fear.

We both followed his gaze, and one glance was sufficient to fully
acquaint us with the awful catastrophe the vengeance of the storm had
wrought.

The huge rocking-stone, weighing thousands of tons, which for ages had
remained delicately balanced upon the edge of the chasm, had been struck
by a bolt of lightning and torn from its base. Crashing into the gulf, a
point of the great, wedge-shaped boulder had entered the mouth of the
cave where the desperadoes sought shelter, and, crowded forward by its
own weight, it had sealed up the robbers in a living grave, from whence
no power of man could ever rescue them.

It was this mighty wedge, crowded into the space between the slender
peak and the main cliff, that had caused the former to lean outward; and
in one comprehensive look we were able to read the whole story of the
night’s tragedy—a tragedy we had instinctively felt in the crash of the
storm, but could only realize now.

“Poor fellows!” I whispered, softly, forgetting in my awe that they had
been our relentless enemies. “It was a terrible fate. Perhaps they’re
even now sitting in that dark hole, shut off from all the world and
waiting for death to overtake them. Isn’t it dreadful.”

The blacks glanced at one another without reply; but I noticed that they
exchanged a secret sign which their pagan priests had taught them when
they were boys, and which was supposed to propitiate the demon of
retribution. To their simple minds Daggett and his gang of cut-throats
had been properly punished for their wickedness.

But for my part I am glad to remember that at the moment I ignored the
fact that these men were wicked, and grieved that four human beings had
suddenly been cut off in the prime of their manhood. The recollection of
their crimes might temper my regret afterward, but just now my thoughts
were all of sorrow and commiseration.

Nux roused me from my reflections by asking:

“What we do now, Mars Sam?”

“I don’t know,” I answered, despairingly. “If we can’t escape from this
rock we are little better off than those poor fellows below us. See! the
stone, as it fell, tore away the ledge completely.”

“No climb down, any way at all,” said Bry, squatting upon the rock and
clasping his knees with his hands.

“We haven’t any rope, or enough clothing to make one,” I continued,
striving to be calm and to force myself to think clearly. “But if we
remain up here it won’t take us long to die of thirst or starvation. The
aggravating thing about it is that the mainland is just too far away for
us to leap across to it. We’re in a bad fix, boys, and no mistake.”

Bry gazed reflectively at the trees.

“If we had axe,” said he, “we chop down tree, and make fall across the
gulf.”

“Ah! that’s a clever idea,” I cried; but my elation quickly subsided,
and I added gloomily, in the next breath: “only we have no axe.”

Bry made no answer, but sat thoughtfully gazing around him. Presently he
began to creep around the table of rock on his hands and knees,
examining every part of its surface with great care.

At one place, where the edge of the rock was jagged and of a harder
character than the rest, he paused to make a more thorough examination,
and then he drew out his one-bladed jack-knife and began prying into the
rock with its point.

Nux and I immediately crept to his side to see what he was doing, and
soon Bry had loosened a piece of rock that weighed about five pounds. It
was flat on the lower surface and of irregular circular form. This
fragment the Sulu examined with great care, and struck it sharply
against the rock without breaking it. It seemed to meet his approval,
for he laid it carefully aside and at once attempted to pry up another
portion of the hard rock. Then, when he had again succeeded, he sat down
and began cautiously chipping one piece of rock against the other, until
he had brought the first fragment to a wedge shape that resembled a rude
axe.

“Ah! I understand now what you’re about, Bry,” I exclaimed, delightedly.
“Do you think you can make it work?”

Bry nodded.

“That way we make axe in Jolo-Jolo,” he said, proudly.

He now handed the rude implement to Nux, who seemed to comprehend
without words what was required of him, for he at once began rubbing the
edge of the stone axe upon a rough portion of rock to smooth and sharpen
it more perfectly.

Meanwhile Bry pried up more rock and formed a second axe-head, and so
for several hours the men labored patiently at their task, while I,
unable to be of assistance, sat watching them with breathless interest.

When the second axe was ready for Nux to sharpen, Bry climbed up the
trunk of one of the tall pines and, selecting a branch of the size he
desired, with much effort cut it from the tree with his knife.

Then he descended, trimmed the branch, and, began fashioning it into an
axe-handle. He made no attempt to render it graceful or beautiful, you
may be sure. The one requirement was service, and the wood was tough and
strong enough to answer the purpose required.

By the time the handle was ready Nux had worn the edge of the first rude
stone axe to a fair degree of sharpness, and with it Bry split the end
of the handle far enough down to wedge the axe-head between the pieces.
Then he bound the top together with strips of bark cut from a young
limb, which was far stronger than any cord would have been.

A clumsy instrument it seemed to be, when it was finished; but Bry
balanced it gravely in his hands, and swung it around his head, and
nodded his full approval and satisfaction.

“Now we chop down tree,” he announced.

Of the three trees that fortunately grew upon the column of rock, two
were evidently too short to reach across the gulf from where they stood.
But the third was close to the edge, and towered well above its fellows;
so this was the one Bry selected. A woodsman would probably have laughed
at the strokes dealt by the Sulu; but Bry knew what he was about, for he
had chopped trees in this way before. Too hard a blow would have crushed
the stone edge of the weapon, and a prying motion would have broken it
at once; so the black struck straight and true, and not with too much
force, and slowly but surely wore through the stalwart trunk of the
tree.

When the axe got dull he unbound the bark thongs and exchanged it for
the other, while Nux re-sharpened it. This consumed a good deal of time,
and the day was far advanced before Bry decided that the chopping was
deep enough to allow them to fell the tree. This they did in a peculiar
way, for Nux climbed into the high branches and then, aided by Bry and
me, who pushed from below, he began swaying the tree back and forth, his
own weight adding to the strain, until suddenly it gave way at the stump
and—slowly at first, but with ever accelerating speed—fell with a crash
across the gulf.

It looked like a trying and dangerous position for Nux; but the black
cleverly kept on the outer side of the branches, which broke his fall so
perfectly that even as the tree touched the cliff he sprang to the
ground safe and uninjured.

“Hooray!” I shouted, in delight; for this bridge removed from my heart
all terrors of starvation and imprisonment, affording us a means of
leaving the islet of rock as soon as we pleased to go.

But the sun was even now sinking below the horizon; so we decided not to
effect the crossing until morning. Nux climbed back over the swaying
trunk, and after he had rejoined us we ate the last crumbs of food we
possessed for our supper and then lay down to sleep.

Having passed the day in idleness I found I was not very tired or
sleepy; but the blacks were thoroughly exhausted by their labors, and
they welcomed the rest as only weary men can.

Long after they were snoring I sat in the moonlight thinking of our
strange adventures of the past twenty-four hours; the recovery of the
gold, the destruction of the robbers, and our present means of release
from the dangerous pinnacle that had threatened to hold us fast
prisoners. And I realized, with a grateful heart, that I owed all of my
good fortune and narrow escapes to the faithful black men, and made a
vow that I would never in the future forget the services they had
rendered.