Racing For Life
At last the sea subsided, and we were able to get a better view of the
armada of small boats in our wake. There must have been two hundred of
them. Juag said that he had never seen so many boats before in all his
life. Where had they come from? Juag was first to hazard a guess.
"Hooja," he said, "was building many boats to carry his warriors to the
great river and up it toward Sari. He was building them with almost
all his warriors and many slaves upon the Island of Trees. No one else
in all the history of Pellucidar has ever built so many boats as they
told me Hooja was building. These must be Hooja's boats."
"And they were blown out to sea by the great storm just as we were,"
"There can be no better explanation of them," I agreed.
"What shall we do?" asked Juag.
"Suppose we make sure that they are really Hooja's people," suggested
Dian. "It may be that they are not, and that if we run away from them
before we learn definitely who they are, we shall be running away from
a chance to live and find the mainland. They may be a people of whom
we have never even heard, and if so we can ask them to help us--if they
know the way to the mainland."
"Which they will not,' interposed Juag.
"Well," I said, "it can't make our predicament any more trying to wait
until we find out who they are. They are heading for us now.
Evidently they have spied our sail, and guess that we do not belong to
"They probably want to ask the way to the mainland themselves," said
Juag, who was nothing if not a pessimist.
"If they want to catch us, they can do it if they can paddle faster
than we can sail," I said. "If we let them come close enough to
discover their identity, and can then sail faster than they can paddle,
we can get away from them anyway, so we might as well wait."
And wait we did.
The sea calmed rapidly, so that by the time the foremost canoe had come
within five hundred yards of us we could see them all plainly. Every
one was headed for us. The dugouts, which were of unusual length, were
manned by twenty paddlers, ten to a side. Besides the paddlers there
were twenty-five or more warriors in each boat.
When the leader was a hundred yards from us Dian called our attention
to the fact that several of her crew were Sagoths. That convinced us
that the flotilla was indeed Hooja's. I told Juag to hail them and get
what information he could, while I remained in the bottom of our canoe
as much out of sight as possible. Dian lay down at full length in the
bottom; I did not want them to see and recognize her if they were in
truth Hooja's people.
"Who are you?" shouted Juag, standing up in the boat and making a
megaphone of his palms.
A figure arose in the bow of the leading canoe--a figure that I was
sure I recognized even before he spoke.
"I am Hooja!" cried the man, in answer to Juag.
For some reason he did not recognize his former prisoner and
slave--possibly because he had so many of them.
"I come from the Island of Trees," he continued. "A hundred of my
boats were lost in the great storm and all their crews drowned. Where
is the land? What are you, and what strange thing is that which
flutters from the little tree in the front of your canoe?"
He referred to our sail, flapping idly in the wind.
"We, too, are lost," replied Juag. "We know not where the land is. We
are going back to look for it now."
So saying he commenced to scull the canoe's nose before the wind, while
I made fast the primitive sheets that held our crude sail. We thought
it time to be going.
There wasn't much wind at the time, and the heavy, lumbering dugout was
slow in getting under way. I thought it never would gain any momentum.
And all the while Hooja's canoe was drawing rapidly nearer, propelled
by the strong arms of his twenty paddlers. Of course, their dugout was
much larger than ours, and, consequently, infinitely heavier and more
cumbersome; nevertheless, it was coming along at quite a clip, and ours
was yet but barely moving. Dian and I remained out of sight as much as
possible, for the two craft were now well within bow-shot of one
another, and I knew that Hooja had archers.
Hooja called to Juag to stop when he saw that our craft was moving. He
was much interested in the sail, and not a little awed, as I could tell
by his shouted remarks and questions. Raising my head, I saw him
plainly. He would have made an excellent target for one of my guns,
and I had never been sorrier that I had lost them.
We were now picking up speed a trifle, and he was not gaining upon us
so fast as at first. In consequence, his requests that we stop
suddenly changed to commands as he became aware that we were trying to
"Come back!" he shouted. "Come back, or I'll fire!"
I use the word fire because it more nearly translates into English the
Pellucidarian word trag, which covers the launching of any deadly
But Juag only seized his paddle more tightly--the paddle that answered
the purpose of rudder, and commenced to assist the wind by vigorous
strokes. Then Hooja gave the command to some of his archers to fire
upon us. I couldn't lie hidden in the bottom of the boat, leaving Juag
alone exposed to the deadly shafts, so I arose and, seizing another
paddle, set to work to help him. Dian joined me, though I did my best
to persuade her to remain sheltered; but being a woman, she must have
her own way.
The instant that Hooja saw us he recognized us. The whoop of triumph
he raised indicated how certain he was that we were about to fall into
his hands. A shower of arrows fell about us. Then Hooja caused his
men to cease firing--he wanted us alive. None of the missiles struck
us, for Hooja's archers were not nearly the marksmen that are my
Sarians and Amozites.
We had now gained sufficient headway to hold our own on about even
terms with Hooja's paddlers. We did not seem to be gaining, though;
and neither did they. How long this nerve-racking experience lasted I
cannot guess, though we had pretty nearly finished our meager supply of
provisions when the wind picked up a bit and we commenced to draw away.
Not once yet had we sighted land, nor could I understand it, since so
many of the seas I had seen before were thickly dotted with islands.
Our plight was anything but pleasant, yet I think that Hooja and his
forces were even worse off than we, for they had no food nor water at
Far out behind us in a long line that curved upward in the distance, to
be lost in the haze, strung Hooja's two hundred boats. But one would
have been enough to have taken us could it have come alongside. We had
drawn some fifty yards ahead of Hooja--there had been times when we
were scarce ten yards in advance-and were feeling considerably safer
from capture. Hooja's men, working in relays, were commencing to show
the effects of the strain under which they had been forced to work
without food or water, and I think their weakening aided us almost as
much as the slight freshening of the wind.
Hooja must have commenced to realize that he was going to lose us, for
he again gave orders that we be fired upon. Volley after volley of
arrows struck about us. The distance was so great by this time that
most of the arrows fell short, while those that reached us were
sufficiently spent to allow us to ward them off with our paddles.
However, it was a most exciting ordeal.
Hooja stood in the bow of his boat, alternately urging his men to
greater speed and shouting epithets at me. But we continued to draw
away from him. At last the wind rose to a fair gale, and we simply
raced away from our pursuers as if they were standing still. Juag was
so tickled that he forgot all about his hunger and thirst. I think
that he had never been entirely reconciled to the heathenish invention
which I called a sail, and that down in the bottom of his heart he
believed that the paddlers would eventually overhaul us; but now he
couldn't praise it enough.
We had a strong gale for a considerable time, and eventually dropped
Hooja's fleet so far astern that we could no longer discern them. And
then--ah, I shall never forget that moment--Dian sprang to her feet
with a cry of "Land!"
Sure enough, dead ahead, a long, low coast stretched across our bow.
It was still a long way off, and we couldn't make out whether it was
island or mainland; but at least it was land. If ever shipwrecked
mariners were grateful, we were then. Raja and Ranee were commencing
to suffer for lack of food, and I could swear that the latter often
cast hungry glances upon us, though I am equally sure that no such
hideous thoughts ever entered the head of her mate. We watched them
both most closely, however. Once while stroking Ranee I managed to get
a rope around her neck and make her fast to the side of the boat. Then
I felt a bit safer for Dian. It was pretty close quarters in that
little dugout for three human beings and two practically wild,
man-eating dogs; but we had to make the best of it, since I would not
listen to Juag's suggestion that we kill and eat Raja and Ranee.
We made good time to within a few miles of the shore. Then the wind
died suddenly out. We were all of us keyed up to such a pitch of
anticipation that the blow was doubly hard to bear. And it was a blow,
too, since we could not tell in what quarter the wind might rise again;
but Juag and I set to work to paddle the remaining distance.
Almost immediately the wind rose again from precisely the opposite
direction from which it had formerly blown, so that it was mighty hard
work making progress against it. Next it veered again so that we had
to turn and run with it parallel to the coast to keep from being
swamped in the trough of the seas.
And while we were suffering all these disappointments Hooja's fleet
appeared in the distance!
They evidently had gone far to the left of our course, for they were
now almost behind us as we ran parallel to the coast; but we were not
much afraid of being overtaken in the wind that was blowing. The gale
kept on increasing, but it was fitful, swooping down upon us in great
gusts and then going almost calm for an instant. It was after one of
these momentary calms that the catastrophe occurred. Our sail hung
limp and our momentum decreased when of a sudden a particularly vicious
squall caught us. Before I could cut the sheets the mast had snapped
at the thwart in which it was stepped.
The worst had happened; Juag and I seized paddles and kept the canoe
with the wind; but that squall was the parting shot of the gale, which
died out immediately after, leaving us free to make for the shore,
which we lost no time in attempting. But Hooja had drawn closer in
toward shore than we, so it looked as if he might head us off before we
could land. However, we did our best to distance him, Dian taking a
paddle with us.
We were in a fair way to succeed when there appeared, pouring from
among the trees beyond the beach, a horde of yelling, painted savages,
brandishing all sorts of devilish-looking primitive weapons. So
menacing was their attitude that we realized at once the folly of
attempting to land among them.
Hooja was drawing closer to us. There was no wind. We could not hope
to outpaddle him. And with our sail gone, no wind would help us,
though, as if in derision at our plight, a steady breeze was now
blowing. But we had no intention of sitting idle while our fate
overtook us, so we bent to our paddles and, keeping parallel with the
coast, did our best to pull away from our pursuers.
It was a grueling experience. We were weakened by lack of food. We
were suffering the pangs of thirst. Capture and death were close at
hand. Yet I think that we gave a good account of ourselves in our
final effort to escape. Our boat was so much smaller and lighter than
any of Hooja's that the three of us forced it ahead almost as rapidly
as his larger craft could go under their twenty paddles.
As we raced along the coast for one of those seemingly interminable
periods that may draw hours into eternities where the labor is
soul-searing and there is no way to measure time, I saw what I took for
the opening to a bay or the mouth of a great river a short distance
ahead of us. I wished that we might make for it; but with the menace
of Hooja close behind and the screaming natives who raced along the
shore parallel to us, I dared not attempt it.
We were not far from shore in that mad flight from death. Even as I
paddled I found opportunity to glance occasionally toward the natives.
They were white, but hideously painted. From their gestures and
weapons I took them to be a most ferocious race. I was rather glad
that we had not succeeded in landing among them.
Hooja's fleet had been in much more compact formation when we sighted
them this time than on the occasion following the tempest. Now they
were moving rapidly in pursuit of us, all well within the radius of a
mile. Five of them were leading, all abreast, and were scarce two
hundred yards from us. When I glanced over my shoulder I could see
that the archers had already fitted arrows to their bows in readiness
to fire upon us the moment that they should draw within range.
Hope was low in my breast. I could not see the slightest chance of
escaping them, for they were over-hauling us rapidly now, since they
were able to work their paddles in relays, while we three were rapidly
wearying beneath the constant strain that had been put upon us.
It was then that Juag called my attention to the rift in the shore-line
which I had thought either a bay or the mouth of a great river. There
I saw moving slowly out into the sea that which filled my soul with
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