Table of content

Prologue The Man-Eater by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A native woman working in the little cultivated patch just outside the palisade which surrounded the mission was the first to see them. Her scream penetrated to the living room of the little thatched bungalow where the Reverend Sangamon Morton sat before a table, an open tin box before him and a sheaf of preferred stock certificates in his hands.

The Reverend Morton had heard such screams before. Sometimes they meant nothing. Again they might mean the presence of an inquisitive and savage jungle visitor of the order of carnivora. But the one thing always uppermost in his mind—the one great, abiding terror of their lives there in the midst of the savage jungle—was now, as always, the first and natural explanation of the woman's screams to leap to his mind. The Wakandas had come at last!

The missionary leaped to his feet, thrust the papers into a long manila envelope, placed them in the tin box and closed the cover as he hastened across the room to the wide fireplace. Here he kneeled and removed a flag stone from the hearth, slipped the box quickly into the aperture revealed beneath, rose, snatched a rifle from its hook over the mantle and rushed out into the compound. The whole thing had taken but a fraction of the time required to tell it.

In another room of the bungalow Mary Morton, the missionary's wife, and Ruth, his daughter, had heard the scream, and they, too, ran out into the compound. The Reverend Sangamon Morton found them there when he arrived, and calling to them to return to the bungalow, sped on toward the palisade gate, through which were now streaming the score of women and children who had been working in the garden.

Some native men were also hastening toward the gate from their various duties about the mission, converted heathen armed with ancient Enfields. The woman who had first screamed and whose shrill cry of terror had aroused the peaceful little community now fell to her knees before the Reverend Morton.

"Oh, sabe me, massa!" she cried. "Sabe me from de Wakandas! De Wakandas hab came!"

Morton brushed past her and hurried to the gate. He would have a look at the enemy first. The Reverend Morton was not a man to be easily stampeded. He had answered to false alarms in the past, and though he never permitted the cry of "Wolf!" to find him unready for the inevitable time when it should prove a true cry he was prone to scepticism until he should have the substantiating testimony of his own eyes.

Now, as he passed through the gate, his first glance at the approaching "enemy" brought a sigh of relief to his lips. Coming out of the jungle were strange black men, it was true—warriors armed with spears, and even guns—but with them marched two white men, and at the sight of the pith helmets and the smoke from two briar pipes a broad smile touched the lips of the Reverend Sangamon Morton.

The smile expanded into a good-natured laugh as he advanced to welcome the strangers and explain to them the panic into which their unheralded appearance had thrown his little community.

And so came Jefferson Scott, Jr., and his boon companion, Robert Gordon, to the little American Methodist mission in the heart of the African jungle. And there one of them, young Scott, found a wife in the missionary's daughter, Ruth. Robert Gordon remained for a month after the missionary had performed the simple ceremony that made his daughter Mrs. Jefferson Scott, Jr. Gordon was best man at the wedding, and with Mrs. Morton witnessed the marriage certificate.

The two young Americans had come to Africa to hunt big game. Jefferson Scott, Jr., remained to cast his lot with his wife's people in their unselfish work among the natives. Gordon bade them goodbye at last to return to his home in New York, and the evening before his departure the Reverend Mr. Morton called him into the living room, removed the flagstone from the hearth, and, reaching in, opened the tin box and withdrew a large manila envelope.

"I wish, Mr. Gordon," he said, "that you would deliver this into the keeping of Jefferson's father. It contains practically the entire fortune which I inherited from my father and for which I have no use here, but which, in the event of anything befalling me, would be of inestimable value to Mrs. Morton and Ruth. It is not safe here. The Wakandas, if rumor is to be credited, are preparing to revolt against the Belgian authorities, and if they do we shall have to leave here and cross nearly half the continent of Africa to safety.

"Under such circumstances these valuable papers would but add to my anxiety and worries, and so I ask you to take them to Mr. Scott for safety until my mission here is fulfilled and we all return to America."

And so Robert Gordon bade them farewell and started upon his journey to America, the manila envelope safe in his inside pocket.

A year later a little girl was born to Ruth Morton Scott—a little girl whom they christened Virginia, after the commonwealth of which her father was a native son.

When Virginia was a year old it came—the hideous thing that was often uppermost in the minds of all that little band isolated in the heart of the savage jungle. The Wakandas revolted.

Lieutenant De Boes heard the challenge of a sentry at the gate. Languidly he looked in the direction of the sounds and inwardly anathematized whatever fool might be moving about in such insufferable heat. Presently he saw one of his noncommissioned officers approaching with a naked savage. The stranger was sweat-streaked and panting, his eyes were wide in terror. The corporal brought him before the officer, saluting. Lieutenant De Boes noted excitement in his soldier's expression.

"What now?" he asked, returning the salute.

"The Wakandas are upon the warpath," reported the subordinate. "This fellow says that they killed nearly all within the village and then started for the mission where the Americans are."

Lieutenant De Boes sat up quickly and, leaning forward toward the news-bringer, fired question after question at him. When he had satisfied himself that the man did not lie he leaped to his feet. All thoughts of heat or lassitude were gone. He gave a quiet sharp order to the corporal, and as that soldier ran across the parade ground to the beehive barracks De Boes ran indoors and donned his marching togs and his side arms.

Thirty minutes later a little company of fifty blacks in command of a single Belgian lieutenant filed through the factory gate and took up their march against a warlike tribe which numbered perhaps a thousand spears.

Once again came the terrified shriek of a native to the ears of the dwellers within the mission. Once again the men within ran toward the gates—ready but doubting. Jefferson Scott, Jr. was first among them, for he was younger and could run faster than his father-in-law. And this time the wolf had come.

The Wakandas were at the gates by the time the two white men had reached them. The Reverend Sangamon Morton fell, pierced through the breast by a heavy war spear before ever he could fire a shot in defense of his loved ones.

Scott, reinforced by the handful of men converts who lived within the mission enclosure, repelled the first charge, his heavy express rifle and deadly accuracy sending the blacks back toward the jungle, where they leaped and shouted until they worked themselves into a sufficient hysteria to warrant another assault. Time and again the ebon horde swooped down upon the gates. Time and again the handful of defenders drove them back. Yet it was without hope that Jefferson Scott, Jr. fought. He knew what must be the inevitable outcome. Already his own ammunition was exhausted and there was but little more good powder available for the Enfields.

They might hold out another day, but what good would that accomplish? It would be but to defer the final frightful moment. If they could but get word to the Belgian officer and his little command over on the Uluki. Scott questioned his companions as to the feasibility of getting a runner through to the factory. It was impossible, they said, as the whole country between the mission and the Belgians would be over-run by Wakandas by this time. Not one would volunteer to attempt the journey. They had fought bravely at his side, but none dared venture among the Wakandas, the very mention of whose name filled them with unreasonable terror.

But it was the only hope that Scott had. He must get word to the factory. If his blacks were afraid to bear it he must do so himself. His only hesitancy in the matter was the thought of leaving his young wife and baby daughter to the sole protection of the native converts. During a lull in the fighting he returned to the bungalow and placed the matter squarely before his wife and her mother.

"You must go, Jefferson," said the older woman. "I can take your place at the gates. The men love me, I know, and will fight for me and Ruth as bravely as though you remained. I will remain beside them and give them the moral support they need, and if there is a spare musket I can use that, too."

And so it was that as soon as night had fallen Jefferson Scott, Jr. slipped into the jungle upon his useless mission—useless, because a native had already carried the warning to De Boes.

Scott never reached the factory, nor did he ever return to the mission. Only the Wakandas know what his fate was.

De Boes and his soldiers arrived at the mission early in the morning after an all-night march. They came upon the rear of the Wakandas just as the savages made their last and successful charge. A score or more of the howling demons had scaled the gates and were among the defenders as the rifles of the Belgian's black soldiers volleyed into their rear. The Wakandas, taken wholly by surprise, broke and fled.

Inside the mission defenses De Boes found a dozen dead, and among them the body of courageous Mary Morton, lying just within the gates. In the bungalow Ruth Scott stood with a rifle in her hands, before the cradle of her little daughter—bereft in a single day of father, mother, and husband. The kindly and courteous Belgian helped her bury her dead, and sent out parties into the jungle in search of Scott, keeping them out until fear that he had been killed became a certainty. Then he conducted the mother and child back to the factory and from there arranged for their conveyance to the coast. Two months later Ruth Scott and little Virginia arrived at the Virginia homestead of the widowed and now childless Jefferson Scott—the father of her dead husband.

When, a year before, Jefferson Scott had learned of his son's marriage, he had not been displeased, though the idea of the boy remaining in Africa was not altogether to his liking. Then had come Robert Gordon with enthusiastic descriptions of the new daughter-in-law and her parents, and Jefferson Scott began to long for the return of his son and the coming of his son's wife to brighten the sombre life of the old mansion.

Gordon had delivered a long manila envelope into the elder Scott's keeping. "Mr. Morton felt that it would be safer here than in Africa," he explained. "It contains a considerable fortune in stocks, if I understood him correctly."

Then, after a long year, had come the news of the Wakanda uprising and the death of his son and the Mortons. Immediately Jefferson Scott cabled funds to his daughter-in-law, together with instructions that she come at once to him. That same night he took the long manila envelope from his safe to examine the contents, that he might have the necessary legal steps taken to insure the proper transfer of the certificates to Ruth Scott's name.

The manila of the wrapper was of unusual thickness, giving an appearance of bulk to the package that was deceptive, for when he opened it Jefferson Scott discovered but a single paper within. As he withdrew this and examined it a puzzled smile touched his lips. For a moment he sat regarding the document in his hand, then he shook his head and returned it to the envelope.

He did not place it again in the safe, but carrying it upstairs opened an old fashioned wall cupboard, withdrew a tin box from it, placed the envelope in the tin box, and returned it to the cupboard.

Two months later he welcomed Ruth Morton to his fireside, and from that moment until his death she was as an own daughter to him, sharing his love with her little Virginia, whom Jefferson Scott idolized.

And in the nineteen years that intervened it is doubtful if the manila envelope or its contents ever again entered the mind of the grandfather.

 Table of content