Swamp Swallowed by Alexander Montgomery
ACROSS the long perspective of the mangrove flats the sun glared
fierce and crimson. From the black mud-banks, white, pestilential
vapours rose upon the torpid air. A subtler miasm quivered over the
long stretches of mephitic ooze, against the sickly green of which
gleamed out the hideous reds and yellows of fantastic crabs that
scuttled--as the boat came near--into pools prismatic with stagnation.
Beneath the slimy surface the banded water-snakes glanced to and fro;
from the reed-beds came in hungry swarms the tiger-mosquitoes; and from
the mangrove roots the sword-flies darted out in swift detachments upon
the half-nude rowers--sweltering in a bath of vegetable fetor.
Of the white men, one would have fired at the log-like immobility of
a crocodile, basking untroubled of that "instinctive terror of man"
which is but one of man's own anthropocentric delusions. But the other
said, "No!" He was a tan-faced old fellow, with a wide, grim mouth and
stiff, white, ape-like whiskers.
"Fire a shot here, and we may as well go back. Curious acoustics,
these places have. The report of a gun wanders up and down the swamps
and creeks as if it was never going to stop!"
"You've been here before, then?"
"Wouldn't be here now if I hadn't, and if I didn't count myself
fever-proof But as for you, Green--"
Green--young and smooth-faced, but big, brick-red, and
square-jawed--cut in, "No more of me, old man! I'll see this thing
through! And, anyhow, if I'm not fever-proof, I'm pretty well past
praying for by this time! See?"
"I see you're good stuff, at any rate! And nothing else will do for
this job. Let's sum up--leaving out such trifles as heat and insects.
Fever, snakes, sunstroke, poisoned arrows from the Dyaks, treachery
from these chaps of our own, and, after all--perhaps nothing at the end
"I'm game for all but the last. Heavens! Redfern, that would be a
"Crusher?" Redfern leaned over to the young fellow. "This is it. I'm
five--and-sixty; here's my first chance of a pile, and I've staked on
it whatever's left me, say 10 or 15 years. It's worth it. But you--you
might have lived for 70 years yet."
"Confound it, man, you talk as if it was all up with me. My chance
is as good as yours, at all events."
The other man said nothing. He had private reasons for being of a
Through pallid, steam-like mist--the visible breath of Death--the
rising moon made faint light for the two men groping in the stinking
mud, and shrinking now and then from the horrid, unnamed things their
hands encountered. For half an hour they toiled, till to the knees and
elbows they were foul with evil-smelling filth. Then Green gave up.
"This is the place, right enough," he said--"according to your map.
Triangle between three creeks; biggish bluff at one end, three
mangroves in the middle. And between them we've searched nearly every
inch. If your friend Kussoab wasn't a first-class liar, he was mad!
Either way, it's--ugh!" Something was wriggling from the mud between
his feet, and, springing smartly from the spot, he slipped and fell
"It's only a goocha!" Redfern kicked the fish-like saurian ten feet
away. "What a fool you are! Hullo!--are you hurt?"
For Green lay where he had fallen--not hurt, but thinking hard, One
hand, as he came down, had touched a stone, and any stone in that
absolutely rockless region must be the stone they sought--the stone
which covered the treasure he had till now but half believed in. And
with belief came greed and quick resolve. A part!--he would have all!
"This old man's day is past!--mine's to come! And what I mean for him,
no doubt, is no more than he meant for me!"
All this in the ten seconds before Redfern helped him to his feet.
"Let's get back to the boat," Green said then, "for the present, at any
rate. I feel infernally queer."
Back to the boat they picked their squelching way; the elder man
puzzled, but not yet suspicious. It was when they had drunk of the
"gunny water," made of rum and quinine, that a glimmer of the truth
came to Redfern, the more readily that he had himself determined, if
the find were made, to "lose" his partner in this hellish wet
wilderness of Manduka. For thus together do the wits of scoundrels
Thicker still the ghastly fever-fog hung round the shadowy boat, but
the moon was in mid-heaven and the light had increased, when Green sat
up and looked around the boat--silent but for the snoring of the
wearied Malay rowers. Neither was there visible the inevitable
cheroot--glow which would have told of Redfern's wakefulness. Green
stole from under the awning and over the side.
Redfern, a minute later, raised his head and listened--then took his
rifle and slipped also away into the half-illumined mist, which
immediately thereafter yielded up a dusky figure that got hastily into
the boat and woke its fellows; for the Malay crew had, since dark, been
one man short--a secret watch upon the doings of the whites. Then, by
the light of a little cocoanut lamp, six swarthy faces gloated over a
broken kris--the fragment of the blade rust-eaten to a rugged skewer,
but the hilt, of damp-defying gold, set thick with stones that sparkled
even through the clinging slime.
The frogs forbore their raucous chorus--alarmed by Redfern's
"What a guilcless innocent you take me for! You sneak back here when
you think I'm asleep, and you show me a hole that"--with a
sneer--"somebody else made! Really, now, young man--which is to say,
young scoundrel! young thief!--you might credit me with some
Green stamped up a shower of mud. "Scoundrel yourself! Brains or no
brains--there's the hole, and I didn't make it. And, besides, if I
found anything, where is it?"
Redfern threw up his rifle. "Exactly!" he said. "That's what I want
to know. Where is it?"
Green stooped his head. "Listen!" he said, "there's your
A hurried sound of oars came faintly through the sluggish air, and
both men made off, stumbling and squattering in their haste to reach
the main creek.
They were too late! A scornful yell from far away in the fog was all
that answered to their shouts.
With the earliest grey of morning Redfern sprang from the
mangrove--root on which he had sat silent for hours. "Come!" he said,
"let's get away from here, at all events. Getting out of the Manduka's
Green slowly raised himself from the mud and lit his pipe. "What
chance is there of that?" he asked sullenly.
"About one in a hundred!" Redfern answered, belying his belief, for
he was a man of science, not ill-versed in jungle-craft, and he thought
the odds were in favour of his own escape--unhampered by a tyro's
Ile eyed his double-rifle as he headed westward through the dreary,
dripping mangroves. His cartridges--save the two in the barrels--had
gone with the boat. "I could not spare a bullet, even if--" The other
called him, and he turned.
Green, up to his ankles in mud, was dragging out each foot in
turn--only to sink the other deeper as his weight came on it. And the
up-turned stuff--though the surface was a glossy green--was of a dirty
saffron hue. A "porridge-pot," Redfern knew it for, and, on the
instant, turned and made off. This--without his intervention--would rid
him of his incumbrance, though to see the poor wretch slowly perish
there was no need. But--blindly rushing from the other's crics--a word
came to his ear that stopped him.
"The kris!--the kris!--I have it, after all!"
Redfern sped back to where the struggling Green--with wild eyes
starting from his fear-blanched face--was clawing frantically at the
viscid horror that, by this time, held him to the middle. Testing with
his rifle-butt, Redfern swiftly found the limit of the fatal
"porridge," and, flinging himself full length upon the firmer ground,
thrust out the barrels to the utmost.
"What did you say about the kris?" he panted, as he lay.
"I have it!" Green gasped, as he got one hand on the muzzles. "If I
sink, it sinks with me!"
And as, lying thus for life, he plucked the rifle towards him, the
piece, exploding, sent its bullets through his chest. Then Redfern,
stretching eagerly to reach Green's inside pocket, was caught
For twenty horrible minutes he fought, and prayed, and swore, and
yelled to earless solitudes. And, when the noise had ceased, a
monstrous green batrachian--squatting on the double grave--croaked
solemnly that all was well!