The Adventures of Piang The Moro Jungle Boy
A Book for Young and Old
By Florence Partello Stuart
Illustrated By Ellsworth Young
New York The Century Co. 1917
Copyright, 1917, by The Century Co.
Copyright, 1916, by David C. Cook Publishing Company Copyright, 1917, Boys' Life The Boy Scouts Magazine
Published September, 1917
I The Charm Boy 6 II The Floating Island 32 III The Hermit of Ganassi Peak 51 IV The Fire Tree 78 V Riding the Cataract 108 VI The Jungle Menace 129 VII The Secret of the Source 157 VIII The Juramentado Gunboat 193 IX The Bichara 223 X Piang's Triumph 251
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Slowly he swam downward, conscious of a large body moving near him Frontispiece Rising to his feet, spear poised, he waited 17 His hands closed over something 36 On its neck it supported a weird creature 70 "The boom! We must cut it!" 87 With hands outstretched above his head, he waited for the great moment 122 Piang reached up on tiptoe to pluck a ripe mango 139 Gracefully the little slave-girl eluded Piang and Sicto 149 Over and over they rolled, splashing and fighting 167 A shrill whistle echoed through the forest 210 "Juramentado! Gobernado!" faintly whispered Piang 227 The water spout caught the eggshell praus in its toils 261
"Do you know the fragrant stillness of the orchid scented glade, Where the blazoned, bird-winged butterflies flap through?"
THE ADVENTURES OF PIANG THE MORO JUNGLE BOY
Piang is a real boy. Dato Kali Pandapatan is a real Moro chief. The Moro is not a Filipino.
When I returned from my life among the natives of the lower Philippines, I was appalled to find that America was not only ignorant of, but entirely indifferent to our colonies across the seas. The general impression seemed to be that Manila was a delightful Spanish city, and that Manila was the Philippines. That there are several thousand little islands in the Philippine group, each harboring its distinct tribe, each with its own dialect and religion, was entirely unknown. Impressed by the nobility of the Moro in contrast to the other tribes of the archipelago, by his unfortunate treatment and his possibilities for development, I found myself taking up his cause, and was repaid by intense interest wherever I launched forth on my pet subject. I was so successful that gradually I began to idealize the Moro, weaving around him, not the "might have beens," but the "might be's." Hence, "The Adventures of Piang."
Many of our military heros of other days share the honors with Piang; their exploits and privations are a romance in themselves, and among these pages the army and navy will recognize stories that have long since become history. I am indebted to Dean Worcester for statistics and a great deal of information on the origin and development of the Moro. Indeed some of Piang's adventures are actual incidents of Dean Worcester's travels. Robinson and Foreman have given me much material, and I find their books authentic and true chronicles of the Malay people. But most of all I am indebted to that great and wise man, Colonel John P. Finley, United States Army, who during his term as civil governor of the Moro provinces, did more to help a down-trodden people than any Christian who has ever attempted to bring them to the true light.
Anticipating carping criticisms from geographic purists, the author is ready to admit taking liberties with longitudes and latitudes, juggling lakes and mountains to the envy of Atlas, in order to serve the picturesque and romantic purposes of Piang.
Some of the stories in this volume appeared in the juvenile magazines, "St. Nicholas," "What To Do," and "Boys' World," and are reprinted through the courtesy of the editors.
THE CHARM BOY
In the warm Celebes Sea, four hundred miles south of Manila, lies the romantic, semi-mysterious island of Mindanao, home of the Moro. For three centuries Spain struggled to subjugate this fierce people, with little or no success, and she turned them over to America with a sigh of relief. Perpetual warfare is the pastime of the Moro; it is his sport, his vocation; and the Mother Jungle hurls a livelihood at his feet. Food, clothing, shelter are his birthright.
One of the most powerful tribes of Moroland is ruled by Dato (chief) Kali Pandapatan. Far up in the hills dwells this powerful clan, arrogant and superior in its power. Piang, the chosen of Allah, dwells among them; haughtily the boy accepts their homage as his due, for he is destined to become their ruler some day. His prowess and bravery are the boast of his people, and the name of Piang is known from one end of Mindanao to the other.
The tribe was assembled for the ceremony. Within the hollow square stood Dato (chief) Kali Pandapatan and old Pandita (priest) Asin. There was a rustle of expectancy among the onlookers; their interest was divided between the two solitary figures, silently waiting, and a hut, much bedecked with gaudy trappings and greens. On all sides the silent jungle closed in around the brilliant throng, seeming to bear witness against mankind; men might force a tiny clearing in its very heart after years of struggle and work, but the virgin forest sang on, undisturbed, watchful.
The grass flaps, forming the door of the hut, moved. Like a soft wind caressing the palm-trees, a murmur rustled through the crowd:
"It is he!"
Children scrambled away from restraining parents to get a better view; dogs, filled with uneasiness by this strange silence, whined. The stillness was unnatural. Distant cries of a mina-bird floated to this strained audience; the river, muttering its plaints to the listening rushes, sounded like a cataract in their ears.
Into the midst of this crowd walked a stately, graceful youth. The dusky goldenness of his skin was enhanced by his rainbow-hued garments. From waist to ankle he was encased in breeches as tight as any gymnast's pantaloons; they were striped in greens and scarlets and had small gold filigree buttons down the sides. A tight jacket, buttoned to the throat, was fastened with another row of buttons, and around his waist was gracefully tied a crimson sash, the fringed ends heavy with glass beads and seed-pearls. A campilan (two-handled knife, double-edged), and a pearl-handled creese (dagger) were thrust into the sash. With arrogant tread he advanced, the ranks dividing like a wave before an aggressive war-prau. His piercing black eyes expressed utter indifference, and he ignored those gathered to witness his triumph. Only once he seemed to smile when the little slave girl, Papita, timidly touched his arm. The rebuke that fell upon her from the others, brought a frown to the boy's face, but he continued to advance until he stood beside Dato Kali Pandapatan and Pandita Asin. Here, like a sentinel giant, bereft of his nearest kin, one monster tree remained standing. It seemed to whisper to its distant mates, who nodded answer from their ranks at the edge of the clearing. Under this tree Piang paused, gazing fixedly at his beloved chief.
"Piang," said Kali, "the time has come for you to prove that you are the chosen of Allah."
A perceptible rustle followed this.
"On the night of your birth, the panditas announced that the charm boy, who was to lead the tribe to victory, would be born before the stars dimmed. Your cry came first, but there was another, also, fated to come to us that night. The mestizo (half-breed) boy, Sicto, opened his eyes before that same dawn, and you are destined to prove which is the chosen Allah." Anxiously the Moro men and women gazed at their idol, Piang. His manly little head was held high, and the powerful shoulders squared as he listened.
The sun, but lately risen, bathed the multitude in its early light and chased the light filigree of moisture from the foliage. Through the branches of the solitary tree, wavy sunbeams made their way to flicker and play around Piang, and one bold dart seemed to hesitate and caress the mass of glossy, black hair.
"Sicto!" called Kali. There was another murmur, but very different from the one that had preceded Piang's coming. From the same hut came forth another boy. A little taller than Piang, was Sicto, lean and lank of limb. His skin was a dirty cream color, more like that of the Mongolian than the warm tinted Mohammedan. His costume was much like Piang's, but it was not carried with the royal dignity of the other boy's. Sicto's head was held a little down; the murky eyes avoided meeting those of his tribesmen, and his whole attitude gave the impression of slinking. The high cheek-bones and slightly tilted eyes bore evidence of the Chinese blood that flowed in his veins, and the tribe shuddered at the thought of Sicto as charm boy. He advanced with a shambling gait.
"Sicto, it is given that you shall have your chance." Kali Pandapatan spoke loudly, a frown on his brow. "Piang is of our own blood, and we, one and all, wish him to be our charm boy, but there shall be no injustice done. Born under the same star, within the same hour, it is not for me to decide whether you or Piang is the Heaven-sent." Turning to the pandita, Kali whispered something. The old man nodded and advanced a few steps, saying:
"My people, I shall leave it to you, whether or not I have made a wise decision. There is no way for us to prove the claim of either of these boys, so I am sending them to seek the answer for themselves." Asin paused, and the crowd moved. "On yonder mountain dwells the wise hermit, Ganassi. He has lived there for many years, apart from man, alone in the jungle with beast and reptile.
There are no trails to his haunt; no man has seen Ganassi for a generation, but that he still lives we know, for he answers our signal fires each year and replies to our questions." Turning to the two boys, he addressed them directly: "The mountain where he dwells has been named after him, Ganassi Peak, and friends through the hills will direct you toward it. You shall both start at the same time, but by different routes. One leads through the jungle, over the hills; the other follows the river to its head-water, the lake. Old Ganassi will guide the real charm boy to him; he is great; he is ubiquitous. Have no fear of the jungle or its creatures, for he will be with you."
Amazement and joy were written on Piang's face. He was to penetrate the jungle at last, alone! His heart thrilled at the thought of the adventures waiting for him there, and with radiant face he turned toward the inviting forest.
"Piang! Piang!" resounded through the stillness, as the excited Moros watched him.
Sicto stood, head down, wriggling his toes in the sand. He did not like the idea of the lonely jungle, or the thought of the long hard days between him and Ganassi Peak, but he did not speak.
With solemn ceremony the pandita prepared to anoint the boys according to the rites of the tribe. A slave boy ran lightly forward and sank on his knees before the pandita. On his head he bore a basket covered with cool, green leaves. Praying and chanting, the priest uncovered the basket, revealing two beautiful dazzlingly white flowers.
"The champakas!" cried Papita in amazement as the rare flowers were exposed. An admonishing hand was placed over her lips. Slowly Asin raised the flowers, heavy with dew, above the two boys, and the clear, crystal drops fell upon their heads. Across the sky trailed a flock of white rice-birds; as they flitted across the clearing, their shadows leaped from one picturesque Moro to another; a twig snapped, startling a baby, who cried out. The spell was broken.
The chant was taken up by the entire tribe, and slowly at first, they began to revolve around the central figures. As their excitement grew, the pace quickened, until they were whirling and gyrating at a reckless rate. Like a pistol-shot came the command to cease, and quietly all returned to their original places. Kali Pandapatan raised his hand for silence.
"I shall throw my creese into the air. Sicto, you may have first choice. Do you choose the point, or the flat fall?"
"If the creese falls without sticking into the ground, I shall choose my route first."
The crowd instinctively pushed a little closer as Kali tossed the shining blade into the air. A gasp, forced from between some anxious lip, broke the stillness. Every eye followed the course described by the knife, and when it fell, clean as an arrow, the blade piercing the earth, there was a sigh of relief. Piang was to have first choice.
"Piang, it is given that you shall choose. Will you proceed by the river or take your chances with the jungle? One route is as safe as another, and only the real charm boy can reach Ganassi."
"I will go by the river," Piang answered quietly, with great dignity.
It was a beautiful day. To us, the heat would have been stifling, the humidity distressing, but Piang loved it all and joyfully looked forward to the trip up the river.
The trying ceremony over, the two candidates had hurried off to prepare for the long journey. Cumbersome garments were discarded, and Piang was clothed in the easy costume of the jungle traveler; breech-clout, head-cloth, a sarong, flung carelessly over one shoulder, and a panuelo (handkerchief) with a few necessary articles tied securely in it. His weapons were a bolo, a creese, and a bow and arrow. Piang's bare limbs, bronze and powerful, glistened in the brilliant sunshine, and he was very picturesque as he paddled along the stream, dipping his slim hands into the current, arresting objects that floated by. He had made his banco (canoe) himself; had even felled the palma brava alone, and had spent days burning and chopping the center away, until at last he was the proud possessor of one of the swiftest canoes on the river. As on ice-boats, long outriggers of slender poles extended across the banco, and the ends were joined by other bamboo poles, so that the canoe looked like a giant dragon-fly as it skimmed lightly over the water.
Piang stopped at a lily-pad to gather some of the inviting blossoms, but regretted it instantly, as a swarm of mosquitos rose and enveloped him. He thought to escape their vicious attacks by paddling faster, but it was no use; they had come to stay. Trailing after him a long uneven stream, they seemed to take turns in tormenting him, and as the leaders became satiated, they fell back, allowing the rear rankers to buzz forward and renew the attack. Piang longed for a certain kind of moss that grows at the roots of trees, but his keen eyes could not discover any.
It was almost all he could do, to paddle his banco and fight the pests; his sarong was wrapped tightly around him, but it was no protection against the savage mosquitos, and he was about to drop in the water despite the crocodiles, when he spied some of the moss. With a cry of relief, he headed toward the bank and managed to pull some into the boat. Taking from his bundle a queerly shaped, wooden object, he spun it like a top, rapidly, backward and forward in a pan until smoke appeared at the point of the rod. Powdering some bark, he threw it into the pan, and when it began to blaze, he added some of the damp moss. Gradually a thick, pungent smoke arose. It curled upward, enveloping him and almost choking him with its overwhelming aroma, but it dispelled the mosquitos immediately, and Piang continued his journey unmolested.
He was very happy that morning, for was he not free, honored by his tribe, and engaged in the dearest of pastimes, adventure? The poor little girls have no choice in their occupations, for as soon as they are large enough, their tasks are allotted to them; they must sit all day and weave, or wear out their little backs pounding rice in the big wooden bowls. But the man child is free. The jungle is his task. He must learn to trap game, to find where the fruits abound, and to avoid the many dangers that wait for him. Piang broke into a native chant:
"Ee-ung pee-ang, unk ah-wang!" As it resounded through the forest in his high-pitched, nasal tones, he was answered from the trees, and little, gray monkeys came swinging along to see who their visitor might be. Piang mischievously tossed a piece of the smoking moss to the bank and paused to see the fun. Their almost human coughs, as the smoke was wafted their way, made him laugh. They scampered down, tumbling over each other in their anxiety to be first, and one little fellow, who succeeded in out-distancing the others, stuck its hand into the smoldering embers. Astonished, at first, it nursed the injured member, but gradually becoming infuriated, it finally shrieked and jumped up and down. It began to pelt the smudge madly with stones, chattering excitedly to its companions, as if describing the tragedy. The others had climbed back into the trees, paying no attention to Piang, but keeping a watchful eye on the danger that had been hurled among them.
Piang lazily plied his paddle, laughing to himself at the foolishness of monkeys. He tried to peer through the dense trees that crowded toward the river, hiding the secrets of the jungle. He wanted to know those secrets, wanted to match his strength against the numberless dangers that are always veiled by that twilight, which the sun strives in vain to penetrate, year after year, turning away discouraged. Piang listlessly examined the river, little knowing the perilous adventure that waited for him just beyond the bend.
One lone log, majestic in its solitude, floated down the river, resisting the efforts of tenacious creepers to bind and hold it prisoner. Piang poked it with his paddle. Another was floating in its wake, and he idly tapped this, also. It stirred, turned over, and disappeared under the boat.
"Boia!" ("Crocodile!") breathed the startled boy. He had disturbed one of the sleeping monsters! Piang's heart beat very fast, and a shudder passed through him as he felt something bump the bottom of the boat. The crocodile was just beneath him and if it rose suddenly, it would upset him. One, two, three seconds he waited, but they were the longest seconds Piang had ever known. There was a slight movement astern; the boat tipped forward, swerved, and before Piang could right himself, a vicious snort startled him. The crocodile was lashing the water with its tail, and the light shell was pitching and rolling dangerously. Piang scrambled to his knees.
There are only two vulnerable spots on a full-grown crocodile; under the left fore leg, where the heart can be pierced, and the jugular vein, easily reached through the opened jaws. Piang, in the bow of the boat, paused, arm raised, waiting for a favorable opportunity. The canoe was being swept backward, stern first, and the crocodile swam close, nosing it, making it careen perilously. Any moment the merciless jaws might close over the brittle wood, crushing it to splinters. The small, bleary eyes seemed to devour Piang as they tortured him with suspense, but he patiently waited for his chance, knowing that he would only have one. The banco gave a jerk as it bumped into an obstruction, and the impact forced it outward a few feet. The moment had come. As the crocodile plunged forward, Piang thrust his spear into its breast. There was a gurgling sound, a swishing of the water, and the Ugly thing rolled over on its back.
Piang never could remember just how he escaped. From every sheltered cove, from behind innocent-looking snags, appeared the heads of hungry crocodiles, awakened by the fight. Luckily they were attracted by the blood of Piang's victim, and he skilfully avoided the clumsy animals as they rushed after the fast disappearing meal. One powerful monster succeeded in dragging the body into the rushes, and the noise of the dispute, as they fought over their unfortunate mate, nauseated the boy. His arms were tired and stiff and his head was reeling, but he bravely worked at the paddle until he reached a bend of the river. It had been a narrow escape, and Piang had learned a lesson. Never again would he idly thump logs in a stream!
The boat suddenly came to a standstill. It was turning as if on a pivot. It had been caught in one of the numerous eddies at the mouth of a small tributary stream. Vigorously he strove to gain the channel. He hugged the bank, hoping to free himself from the whirlpool, but his outrigger became entangled in some weeds, and the boat slowly began to tip. Frantically he reached toward the tall nipa-palms, nodding over his head, but their flimsy stalks gave easily, and he was almost thrown out of the boat. The sparkling water, as if laughing at his predicament, caressed the helpless craft, drawing it closer and closer to its bosom. The banco gave a lurch; it was tipping; it shipped a quantity of water. All Piang's weight thrown against the upturned outrigger had no effect. Helplessly, he looked into the green, whirling depths.
There was only one thing to be done. Taking a long breath, he grabbed his creese and dived. Down, down; the current pulled and tugged at him; the rush of sand and mud blinded him, and he was almost swept out into the river. But he managed to catch hold of the roots that were twined about the boat and finally cut the banco free. With a bound it started down the river. The empty shell, at the mercy of the waves, danced and frolicked like a crazy thing, and Piang was almost stunned by a blow from the outrigger as it passed him.
The boat was rushing right back into the midst of the crocodiles, but he bravely struck out after it. There was no chance for him if he failed to reach it. The whispering rushes and feathery palms at the water's edge hid evil-smelling mud, festering with fever, the home of reptiles and crocodiles. Desperately the boy strove to overtake the boat, and just as he was giving up hope, a friendly snag tempted the runaway to pause, and Piang's strong, young hand closed over the outrigger. Then began the task of climbing back. A sudden movement might release the banco, and it would continue its mad flight, which he would be powerless to stop. Keeping his eye on the frail-looking snag, he threw himself on his back in the water and worked his way along the outrigger as he would climb a tree. Finally his hand touched the body of the boat, and, cautiously turning over, he sat straddling the bamboo frame. It was all he could do to keep from jumping into the boat, but he restrained his impatience and started worming over the side.
Half-way in his heart gave a leap! He could hear the swish-swish of the water on the other side of the banco as something made its way toward him. The eddy was the only thing that saved him, for he could see the dread thing twirling round and round as it tried to reach him. The boy was almost paralyzed with fear. As long as the crocodile was on the other side of the boat, he was safe, but now—the snag creaked, stirred.
Piang made one heroic effort, lifted himself clear of the water, and fell exhausted into the boat. He was not a moment too soon. The crunching sound, as the support began to give under the strain, was a fit accompaniment to the snarling and snapping of the crocodile, which, deprived of its prey, was lashing the water, trying to reach the frail outriggers. Piang thought he had never been swept through the water so rapidly, and that he would never gain control of his boat. Louder and clearer came the sounds of the fighting monsters beyond the bend, and there between him and safety lurked his latest enemy.
An impertinent, ridiculous twitter came from a tiny scarlet-crowned songster, as if it were trying to advise and direct the hard-pressed boy. Its solemn, round eyes stared at him, reproving and admonishing him for his foolhardiness. Piang, on his knees, struggling with the current, was unaware of his audience. Gradually he worked the boat around and headed up-stream, straight for the crocodile. Surprised by this sudden change in tactics, it snorted and opened its repulsive jaws. Piang had hoped to catch it in this position, so, pressing forward as rapidly as possible, he took careful aim and hurled his knife into its mouth. Rising to his feet, spear poised, he waited to see if the knife would be effective. The creature floundered and slashed the water, gave a blood-curdling bellow, and rolled over on its back, dead. A crocodile fights with its last breath to remain on its belly, for if not dead, it drowns as soon as it turns over.
Piang wanted his weapon. The body of the animal was caught by the current and shot rapidly past him down-stream, but the boy, warned by the commotion further down, hesitated to follow it. He realized, however, that his knife was very valuable to him, and that he was sure to have urgent need of it again, so he started after the ugly body. The sparkling wavelets sported and capered with their grewsome burden, sometimes dashing it against some stray log, again bearing it far across the river as if purposely assisting it to elude its pursuer.
Piang skilfully guided his banco in its wake, and finally succeeded in thrusting his spear into its side, and pulled it toward the bank. The knife was embedded far down in the terrible jaws, and Piang wondered if he dared reach into them. He looked at the tusk-like teeth, the first he had ever seen at close quarters, but he remembered with a shudder the wounds that he had helped care for—wounds made by such poisonous tusks.
Mustering his courage, he slowly extended his hand into its mouth. The big, wet tongue flopped against his hand; the powerful jaws quivered spasmodically, and the hot, fetid steam from the throat sickened him. His knife! He must get it! Desperately he tugged at the handle; it would not loosen its hold. Cold sweat broke out all over Piang. A new sound arrested him. The crocodiles below had already smelled the blood of the second victim and were plunging up-stream to find it. The boy thought the knife would never come out. He worked and twisted, and finally it gave so suddenly, that he lost his balance, and by a quick turn of his body just saved himself from another ducking. It was lucky for Piang that he finished when he did, for around the curve in the river, headed directly toward him, came the crowding, vicious scavengers.
Gathering his wits quickly, he pushed forward. The snorting and fighting grew more and more distant; the peaceful river stretched out before him like a silver road beckoning him to safety, and he offered a prayer of thanksgiving to Allah, the Merciful, that he had been spared that awful death.
It was nearly evening when Piang beached his banco and took up the trail to the village where he was to spend his first night. Confidently he trotted through the jungle, picking his way easily among the gathering shadows. Soon voices became distinguishable, and he heard tom-toms beating the evening serenade. Dogs howled in response, women chattered, boys quarreled. To Piang this represented the usual day's peaceful ending.
As he trotted into the clearing and paused before the hut of the dato, the curious crowded around him: mothers to see if the stranger's muscles could compare with their lads'; girls to flaunt their charms; boys to measure him with their eyes. Piang had no interest in anything but the boys, and as soon as the dato condescended to greet him with the customary salutation for guests, he was left in peace to join them at their interrupted game of pelota.
Twilight comes quickly in the tropics. When darkness had fallen, each family was squatting beside its rice pot, and as the night silence deepened, the village slept. Piang had asked for no shelter, and no invitation had been extended, but he silently accepted the hospitality, according to the strange Moro codes.
Slumber claimed the inhabitants of the barrio, but all around the jungle woke to the night. Noxious blooms raised their heads to drink in the deadly moisture; hungry pythons took up their silent vigil at water holes; night prowlers slunk in the gloom to spring on the more defenseless creatures, and over it all the inscrutable jungle kept watch, passing silent judgment on man and beast, in this great scheme of life.
THE FLOATING ISLAND
Like a mirror framed in soft velvet green, the lake broke upon Piang. In the still noon heat the motionless water scintillated and sparkled and the powerful rays of the sun seemed to penetrate to the very bottom. Dragon-flies and spiders skated merrily about, eluding the ever-watchful fishes lying in wait amid forests of lacy seaweeds and coral. Tall, stately palms, towering above their mates, scorned to seek their reflections in the clear depths, but frivolous bamboo and nipa-palms swayed gently out over the water, rustling and chattering with delight at their mirrored images.
Piang slipped through the mouth of the creek and gazed in amazement at the vast sheet of water. Stories of the lake and its wonderful floating islands had lured him from the more direct route to Ganassi Peak, and he eagerly searched for one of the curiosities. His eyes focused on a dot of green far in the distance. It was moving, turning, and suddenly a whole fleet of dancing, playful islands became distinct. Joyfully Piang started in pursuit. He wanted to see one, to touch it. Swiftly he flew through the water. As if detecting his purpose, the nomad islands eluded him. As soon as he chose one to pursue, it flaunted its charms the more and capered and dodged behind its fellows. Like a giant may-pole, the largest island held several smaller ones in leash, permitting them to revolve around it, interlacing vines and creepers that were rooted on the mother isle. Monkeys and jungle creatures crept fearlessly along these natural ropes, sporting from one island to another. Hablar-birds and aigrets squabbled over bits of rice and wild fruits. Piang caught sight of a civet-cat crouching in a tree on one island. It had probably gone to sleep in that tree while the island was nosing the mainland and had awakened to find itself adrift. Sometimes these floating islands would be held to the shore for years, intertwining liana (climbing plants of tropical forests) and bajuca (jungle rope), but sooner or later some wild storm is sure to set them wandering again.
There were weird tales of early Dyak settlers. These Borneo pirates had fled to Mindanao to escape justice, bringing many cruel and terrible customs that were to take root and bear fruit among the tribes of the sultan. A favorite pastime of the Dyaks had been to bind captives to a stray island and lead it slowly and tantalizingly to the mammoth waterfalls, shouting and dancing with glee as it plunged into the abyss.
The lake was like a fairy-land. Purple lotus flowers surrounded the boat. Piang dipped his hands into the cool water, and pulled them up by long slender roots; lily-pads offered their beauties and soon the banco was a bower of fragrant and brilliant flowers. Playfully Piang caught at a vine, floating in the wake of an island. The natural boat led him gently about, twisting and circling back and forth. He laughed merrily. The islands were too funny! They seemed almost human in their antics. Some had regular routes, and, like mail boats touched the same spot again and again, only to be hurried on as the current caught them. Others with malicious intent strayed in the path of their more systematic brothers, bumping and jarring them with obstinate regularity.
The joy of freedom thrilled Piang; the intimacy with nature and its mysteries stirred within him a desire to know more, feel more, and he gazed at the distant peak where his fortune awaited him, wondering if the old hermit, Ganassi, was in reality watching for his coming.
Toward afternoon Piang became conscious of a heavy steam-like vapor rising from the undergrowth at the edge of the jungle; the atmosphere grew suddenly sticky and sultry. Almost within a moment the brilliant sunshine was blotted out, and a gray twilight settled over the lake. Frightened birds, squawking and screaming, hurried by; a fawn, drinking at the water's edge, darted off through the jungle. A slight frown rippled across the water; the breeze chilled Piang. Trees in the distance seemed to bend nearly double with no apparent cause, but the rush of wind finally swept the whole valley, and the jungle shuddered and swayed before it. The storm seemed an animate thing, seemed to come upon the peacefulness of the lake like an evil genius, hurling its fury upon nature and her creatures.
Piang had never been alone in a typhoon. In bewilderment he looked about, wondering where he could find shelter. He watched the birds, the animals; his boat brought up against something with a thud. An island had bumped into him, and he realized in dismay what a menace the pretty toys might become in a typhoon. Struggling with the tempest, Piang fought past the islands, reached the shore, turned his banco bottom side up, and crept underneath.
The violent wind began to dash loose objects about, tearing limbs off trees and hurling them aloft as if they were mere splinters. A cocoanut crashed down, striking the ground near Piang; another fell, and yet another. Then the rain came in torrents. It fell unevenly as if poured by mighty giants from huge buckets. The ground beneath Piang was swaying, undulating. A tree crashed to the ground, tearing away vines and ferns. As he began to experience the motion of a boat, Piang became thoroughly alarmed and, dashing aside the banco, sprang to his feet.
Terror flashed into his heart. What was happening? He had landed on the mainland and put his banco under a big tree, and now this tree was pitching and swaying, its branches sweeping the ground. The tree was being uprooted, and the earth at Piang's feet was plowed up as roots tore through the surface. The next tree was being felled in the same manner, and as his eyes darted about, he beheld everywhere the same terrifying picture. These mighty monuments of time, trees older than man, were being torn from their beds and thrown to the ground or left standing against each other for support. It seemed to be only the trees in Piang's vicinity that were doomed to destruction, and, although it was a dangerous thing to attempt, Piang decided to seek another shelter. He took a few difficult steps forward and was almost stunned by the immense fall of water. It dashed into his face, beat upon his head in a stinging, hissing mass; it ran in streams down his arms and legs, making him heavy and clumsy. As he caught at a tree for support, it groaned under his weight and crashed to earth; the ground was giving way, and he felt himself sinking. With a scream, he freed himself, and, jumping to a fallen tree, clung desperately, hoping to escape flying missiles. Just as he gathered himself for another advance his heart gave a jump. Through the mad rage of the typhoon, he could hear quick breathing! The ground tipped and swayed alarmingly, tossing trees about like masts on a ship in distress.
"Linug!" ("Earthquake!") moaned Piang. Bravely the boy crept forward, knife in hand. Whatever it was, hiding under that log, Piang must take his chances; if he remained where he was he would certainly be killed by falling trees. His feet made a sucking sound; a vivid flash of lightning blinded him, and it was all he could do to force his way through the wall of water that was pounding down upon him. With a desperate effort, he pulled himself along by vines, hoping to pass the unknown animal before it could leap; but the branches stirred, and he sprang back with a cry.
"Babui!" ("Wild boar!") he gasped. The creature's head shook with fury; its teeth were bared, and the tiny red eyes flamed with anger. The babui had the largest tusks Piang had ever seen, and he grasped his bolo firmly to meet the rush. One second, two seconds—the suspense was fearful, and Piang wondered why the boar did not attack. Strained almost beyond his endurance, he stood, rigid and cold, waiting. The wind sucked at his breath; the torrents of water, dashing in his face, kept him blinking and gasping, and still that wild thing pawed and snorted. Fascinated, Piang gazed into the vicious, bleary eyes, and finally he realized that they were losing some of their fury; the tusks sank into the spongy earth; the head fell lower. The babui was a prisoner, pinioned to the ground by a fallen tree! Relief was Piang's first sensation, but pity for the animal and fear for himself, roused him to the realization of new dangers yet to be faced. He must plunge into the dense jungle; it was only a short distance now. He glanced back to be sure that the babui could not free itself; it was swaying and moaning, unable to move.
As Piang paused to get his directions, the earth gave a tremendous jerk, which threw him on his face. He lay stunned for a few minutes and when he rose to his knees, he had the sensation of floating gently, softly. The jerking and trembling had ceased, and the ground swayed soothingly. Piang turned toward the jungle, to the spot where he had been about to step. Could he believe his eyes? Almost numb with terror, he gazed stupidly into the receding jungle. He was on land, but he was floating. He was sailing away from the jungle! Piang had taken refuge on a floating island.
In despair he gazed about him, trying to penetrate the thickly driving rain. He was on the very edge of the island and he wondered why he had not been swept into the lake. The mass of vegetation, wrenched from its bed, trailed along in the water as the nomad island whirled and danced on the angry waves. A tree, the branches of which were hanging in the water, was pulled from its bed, dragging part of the island with it. One long vine struggled to right itself against the current, to gain the shelter of the island again. It seemed most lifelike, and suddenly Piang realized with a shudder that it was alive. A python had been knocked from the falling tree and was being dragged along. Only the end of its tail was twined about a log; desperately it strove to work its way back, and Piang watched with dread. Its struggles grew weaker and weaker, and finally its head sank below the waves, and it joined the unresisting creepers that were being dragged along to destruction.
Piang leaned wearily against the only tree that remained standing; the fall of water, tearing down the trunk, cascaded over the jungle boy, and he raised his hand to shield his eyes. What had saved the solitary tree, Piang could not imagine, until he discovered a small diamond-shaped cut in the bark. He drew back with a shudder. Two crossed arrows were carved within the diamond. This was another Dyak custom so hateful to the Mohammedan; the tree was the sarcophagus of some Borneo chief. A century must have passed since the burial, for the incision was almost obliterated, but Piang knew that the mummy of his enemy reposed in savage dignity within the heart of the tree, and that the Dyak belief was that the tree could not fall or decay. He fought his way to the other side of the island. On it sped. Cries of frightened animals came faintly from the mainland; screams of birds, beaten to earth, pierced the din.
A tremor ran through the island. There was a tearing sound as if strong timbers were being forced apart; the whole mass stood still, then came a tremendous crash. It had collided with the fleet that Piang had been sporting with only an hour before. Surely the stray bits of jungle would crush each other to bits. A gray streak flew past Piang, and a frightened monkey, thinking to save itself from the other derelict, nearly landed on the babui. Paying no attention to either the boy or the babui, the monkey shrank against a log and hid its head, whining piteously.
A pale light broke through the gloom, and the rain ceased as suddenly as it had come. Piang's heart gave a bound as he watched the tempest abate. Suddenly he straightened himself and strained his ears to catch a new sound. What was that deep, distant rumbling? A cry so piteous broke from him, that even the dying babui started. The falls! He could hear them distinctly and realized that he was rushing toward them at a mad pace. Louder and clearer grew the thunder of those falls, and Piang's staunch little heart rebelled. He would not stand there like a Dyak prisoner! He would do something. He would save himself! A blazing flash rent the heavens and Piang caught sight of Ganassi Peak frowning and lowering in the clouds. Ganassi! If he only knew! No, it was too late. The falls roared hungrily, and nothing could keep the island from plunging to destruction.
Slowly Piang rose to his full height, and, folding his arms, determined to die bravely. He could see the upper falls now, high above his head, and he pictured the greater falls below him—the falls that were waiting to swallow his island. He tried to remember the prayer for such an occasion, but none came to him.
"There is no God but Allah!" muttered the terrified boy.
The island was pitching again as obstacles caught at it, spinning it around and around. Each thing that it struck on its reckless journey tore portions from it; gradually it became smaller. The light grew steadily clearer, and Piang could see what awaited him. Massive rocks loomed up at the head of the falls, and he calmly wondered if he would be killed before the plunge. The side of the island where he stood began to give way, and, although he was to die in a few minutes, instinct made him move to the other side. He tried to walk, but the ground gave at each step. He crawled along the trunk of a tree and unexpectedly came upon the monkey. The little creature was still huddled against the log and showed no fear of Piang; it whined louder, seeming to sense the rapidly approaching danger.
Suddenly the monkey jumped into the tree, and Piang followed it with his eyes. It seemed to be gathering itself for a greater leap. As Bruce watched the spider, so Piang, fascinated, kept his eyes on the little wild thing. Gradually it dawned on him that the monkey had discovered an avenue of escape! The island had veered off and was fast approaching a monster boulder that would surely break it in two. Growing on it were vines and trees hanging far out over the water.
Piang stumbled along and somehow made his way to the burial tree. A moment he paused, awed by a superstitious fear of the dead, but a violent clap of thunder terrified him into forgetting all but his immediate danger. There were only a few moments left; if he could reach the top of the tree before the island dashed past the vines, he might save himself. His hands tremblingly sought the notches sacred to the dead; he scrambled upward. Thorns pierced his tired limbs; vines and creepers took vicious delight in fastening themselves upon him. The tree shook as the monkey jumped farther out on a limb, and the movement seemed to put new strength in Piang. As he struggled up, a calmness came to him. He carefully watched the monkey, and when it crouched for the spring, Piang searched the approaching vines for one strong enough to hold him.
In a moment it would all be over. What if he jumped too soon or too late? What if the vine proved too frail? The monkey was crouching for the leap. The branch that Piang was clinging to bent under his weight. The monkey flashed through the air, made a desperate grab, and swung out of sight. In a daze, Piang prepared to follow; breathlessly he watched for his chance. With a prayer on his lips and with a mighty effort, he sprang straight out into space. His hands closed over something small and round. A dizziness came over him.
In dismay he felt the vine give, as if uncoiling itself from a windlass. Down, down he fell until his feet touched the soggy earth of the island. Still the vine uncoiled; the island crashed into the boulder. Desperately Piang tried to climb the vine, but its slackness offered no resistance. Slowly the island began to tip, to slide over the falls, and Piang made one more effort to save himself. As he grasped the vine more firmly, it brought up with a quick jerk, almost breaking his hold.
He felt the vine tighten, heard it creak and groan under his weight, and finally it lifted him clear of the island, swinging him far out over the abyss like a weight at the end of a pendulum.
His island slid from under him, leaving him suspended in mid air; in the second that he hung there, he could see the cruel rocks below, the seething, steaming water. The stately funeral tree gently inclined to the fall, and, with stern dignity, took the plunge. The dying babui, flung far out into space, added its diminutive death-wail to the din. The vine trembled over the chasm. Piang felt a quick rush of air, a sickening feeling, as if he were rapidly falling; with a tremendous impetus the vine swung back, crashed into a tree, and, with the agility of the monkey, Piang climbed to safety.
"There is no God but Allah!" came from the strained lips, and the boy turned his eyes toward the setting sun as it struggled to pierce the gloom.
"Bulutu!" ("Rainbow!") he cried, and a faint smile flitted across his bruised and bleeding face.
Startled by a movement at his side, Piang found the frightened monkey trying to thrust its head under his arm. Taking the trembling little creature up, Piang pillowed it against his breast. And so these strange companions, the timid, wild monkey and the gentle, savage boy crouched in the tree together, watching the typhoon beat out its fury on the helpless things of nature, and ever clearer grew the bulutu as it wreathed and crowned Piang's goal, Ganassi Peak.
THE HERMIT OF GANASSI PEAK
The silence was oppressive. Piang stumbled along through the tangle of vines and weeds, tired and foot-sore. Would he never find the path to the peak? And was there really a mysterious old man who had lived up there for over a hundred years? Sicto was somewhere on that mountain, striving to reach the summit too, and the pandita had said that the boy who arrived first, was the real charm boy. They had both started from the barrio (village) the same day; Sicto had plunged into the jungle, while Piang had chosen the river and lake. He shuddered at the recollection of his many narrow escapes during the journey. Where was his enemy, Sicto, now? Had he found an easier route, and was he already with old Ganassi, receiving the rites of charm boy?
Unfamiliar with the vegetation on the mountain, Piang was afraid to touch the many strange fruits, so he contented himself with bananas and cocoanuts, and for water he drank dew from the enormous pitcher-plants. The jungle was thick, and it was difficult to decide in what direction to go, so Piang had to climb trees to get his bearings. One day just as he was starting up a tall tree, he was startled by a sound. Something was crashing through the bushes below him. Visions of terrible mountain animals flashed through his head, and he hastily scrambled up the tree. On came the creature, now pausing a moment, now plunging into the mesh of vines, tearing them asunder, always following the path Piang had made. Preparing himself for some strange beast, the boy drew bow and waited. Suddenly he started. A cold chill gripped him. That sound! It was a voice—Sicto's! Crouching against the tree, Piang hoped to escape detection, but just as Sicto passed beneath the tree, Piang's bow slipped and fell to the ground. Sicto jumped aside and looked up:
"Oh, ho, my pretty Piang! So I've got you, have I?" The bully started up the tree.
Like a flash Piang was away. As easily as any monkey he swung himself into the next tree, and before Sicto realized it, Piang was taunting him from the very top of a far-off tree. More agile and much smaller than Sicto, Piang could easily travel in this way, and after a few unsuccessful attempts to follow, Sicto jumped to the ground. Slyly making his way along on foot, Sicto watched his rival. When Piang thought he had outdistanced his pursuer, he slipped to the ground and started off.
"Leeeeee lelelele ouiiiit!" The war-cry rang through the jungle, and Piang knew that his life depended on his fleet-footedness. Over fallen tree trunks, through dense cogon grass, Piang fled. His feet were pierced by wicked thorns, and everything he touched seemed to throw out a defense against him. Bamboo caught at his clothing and held him prisoner; bajuca vines clutched his weapons, hurling him to the ground. Sicto was gaining on him. After poor Piang had made the path through the jungle, it was easy enough for Sicto to follow.
On, up, fled the boy. He came to a clearing through which a mountain stream was bubbling. The sun beat down; the stifling heat rising from rotting vegetation took his breath away, but Piang ran on. What was that black hole yawning in the mountain side? With a gasp, Piang realized he was at the mouth of the haunted cave.
The brook, flowing swiftly down the mountain, plunged into the cave and disappeared, to come to the surface about two miles away. It was the home of the most terrible reptiles and animals, and the souls of wicked people waited there for Judgment Day.
Piang scanned the precipitous cliffs, the impenetrable jungle, in search of an avenue of escape. He was trapped. A gloating cry from Sicto decided him. Sicto was a coward and would be afraid to follow him, so Piang ran toward the cave. Had not the pandita said that Ganassi would be with the real charm boy, and was not Piang sure of that protection? Who but Piang was the charm boy?
Piang's courage began to flag, however, as he caught the cold, damp odor from the cave, but he bravely plunged into the forbidding-looking cavern. Man had probably never set foot in that place before. Creeping along, he peered into the increasing darkness, but could see nothing. A shriek startled him, and the sight that met his eyes made his blood run cold. Sicto had started to follow Piang, but just as he came to the opening, a huge python slipped across the mouth of the cave, waving its enormous head from side to side. Sicto, trembling with fear, retreated into the jungle, and as Piang saw him disappear, he longed to be out again, fighting Sicto, anything, rather than penned up in the cave with that frightful snake and the unknown horrors. There was no turning back, however, for that sentinel continued to slip and slide across the opening, and Piang bravely faced the two miles that lay between him and the other end of the underground passage.
The air was heavy and moldy; the sides of the cave wet and slippery. Once his hand touched something that moved, and he almost fainted.
"I am the real charm boy," he whispered, "and nothing will hurt me. Ganassi, the wonder man, is with me. Forward!"
Courageous and determined, the boy pressed on. A muffled cry resounded through the passage. Flattening himself against the slimy wall, Piang listened. He could not imagine what had made the sound, and he unsheathed his knife. At times he followed the bed of the stream, wading ankle-deep in the water, but the slippery stones turned or tripped him, and when he stepped on something that moved, he groaned and jumped to the narrow shelf-like ledge that overhung the water.
A faint light stole through the gloom. Was it the end? But surely not, he had not gone more than a few hundred yards. He hurried forward. Brighter, clearer, it grew. Suddenly the brook made a sharp turn, and he found himself in a high, vaulted chamber, sparkling and shimmering in the light from above. Piang was so glad to see daylight again, faint as it was, that he did not stop to consider new dangers, and eagerly ran forward. He searched the sides for support on which to climb to the crevices, but the rotting vines and moss that lined the walls gave at his touch, and he fell back discouraged. Something crumbled under his body, and he discovered to his horror that he had fallen on a skeleton. A man had been here before him, then? But closer examination proved the bones to be those of a packda (ape). Snakes and worms wriggled out of the skeleton, and Piang shrank back in fear. The dread hamadryad leered at him; poisonous toads and lizards scurried for cover. How many more of these creatures would he encounter before escaping from this dungeon? Would Ganassi protect him and lead him safely through? Something seemed to tell the boy that he was safe and with renewed faith, he prepared to continue the journey.
Everywhere the beauty of nature asserted itself. Pale green ferns seemed to hold out beseeching arms toward the light; moss crept upward hopefully, softening the rough ledges with its velvet touch. Great stalagmites and stalactites, smothered in the embrace of lichen and creepers, accepted the homage of the plant life indifferently. Piang was blind to the sublimity of his surroundings, as he hurried on. Carefully he stepped on the ledge; warily he held out his bolo to ward off surprises. A sudden hiss made him leap into the stream, and shuddering, he plunged on, down the black path. Would the stream lead him to the sunlight again? Or was he burrowing into the depths of the earth, never again to breathe the air of life?
Finally, after almost giving up hope, he heard the distant call of a mina-bird. The jungle! Frantically he worked his way forward, wondering if the mate to the sentinel at the other opening would bar his passage. Daylight! Faintly, at the end of the long tunnel, he could see the blessed green of the forest, but his cry of joy was stilled; his hope of safety vanished. Again that mournful cry echoed through the cavern, and he gave himself up for lost. The souls of the wicked were pursuing him, would capture him, and make him pay for intruding upon them! Piang reeled as he heard a splash in the water behind him; he caught at something for support; it writhed out of his hand. Paralyzed with fear, the boy scarcely breathed. On came the pursuer, stealthily, warily. Reaching the end of his endurance, Piang wheeled, and faced the cave. Something paused, whined, and a streak flew past him. The fetid odor of a living creature brought him to his senses, and his anxious eyes discerned the outline of a civet-cat making its way to the opening.
As he struggled through those last few rods, Piang thought he had never worked so hard in his life, but finally he lay in the sunshine, safe, free, and unafraid.
For two days Piang struggled upward. Everything was strange to him; the growths and trees were different from those of the lowlands. Scrub palms, covered with small buds, on which the dread packda feeds, began to appear, and Piang anxiously scanned the trees. There is no creature in the jungle that has the strength of the packda. Only the crocodile and the python are foolish enough to attack it, but the crocodile's jaws are torn asunder, and the python is clawed to pieces.
"Piang!" The name echoed and vibrated through the forest. Who had called him? Trembling with fear, filled with apprehension, Piang took refuge in a tree. From the branches he scanned the surrounding forest. Was a spirit following him from the haunted cave, or was it the hated Sicto?
"Piang!" It came softly this time, as if from a greater distance. The underbrush moved, and Piang prayed that it might not be a spirit come to destroy him. The bush rustled, cracked, and parted as a dazzling white head made its appearance. Piang shut his eyes, dreading what was to come. Almost swooning, he slipped, lost his hold, and went crashing through the branches. Stunned by the fall, it was sometime before he regained consciousness, but the first thing he was aware of, was a hot breath on his face. Slowly he opened his eyes, wondering if he was dreaming. There, bending over him, was a marvelous white fawn.
Startled and ashamed, Piang looked at the lovely thing. He put out his hand and the animal laid her soft muzzle in his palm, allowing him to caress her. What did she want? Were some of her babies in trouble? With his arm about the fawn's neck, Piang allowed himself to be led along a well defined path, trodden by many feet.
"Piang!" Again his name was called, but for some reason fear had been banished from his heart, and he advanced without a qualm. Presently they came to one of the numerous jungle clearings. The sun did not burn at this altitude, and Piang took a deep breath of the fresh, crisp air. A flapping of wings startled him, and before he could prevent, a brilliant mina-bird circled his head and gently lighted on his shoulder. A soft white mist was floating around and below him. The clouds! He was in them, "the breath of the wind," and he thought that this must be fairyland.
"Piang!" This time the voice was near at hand. Both creatures responded to the call, and Piang suffered himself to be led onward. The fawn stopped near a gigantic banian-tree. It was the only tree in the clearing and spread over more than an acre of ground, enticing the surrounding creepers and orchids to its shelter. Piang had seen these trees before, but never such a large one. The banian is like a huge tent; each branch sends shoots to the ground, which take root and become additional trunks, and year after year the tree increases its acreage; hundreds of men can find shelter under these jungle temples.
"Piang!" The voice came from within the tree. Astonished, Piang watched the mina-bird flit through the sunlight and disappear into the banya. The fawn paused, looked gravely into the boy's eyes, and with stately mien, walked into the tree.
"Thank you, my little friends, for bringing Piang to Ganassi," said the voice from within.
Ganassi! So this was the haunt! This lovely natural dwelling, the dread Ganassi's home! Expectantly, Piang waited. Was Ganassi a man, or was he only a voice, the heart of this banian-tree? While he stood gazing at the tree, waiting for the spirit to address him, or the man to appear, he was startled by a black, shiny head, and the loathsome coils of a python, writhing in the branches. The serpent! Piang had heard that it could fascinate animals, keeping them prisoner by its mystic powers, until ready to devour them. Ganassi was, then, an evil spirit in the form of a serpent! Piang uttered a low cry.
"So, my little pet, you have frightened Piang, the charm boy! You must not do that."
The snake, responding to the voice, stuck its head through the foliage and slipped from sight.
The voice! The voice! It had called him the charm boy! Piang's fear abated, and he said tremblingly:
"O great Ganassi, will you not show yourself to me, Piang?" Breathlessly the boy listened. The branches swayed, parted, and the mina-bird floated through. The python, head erect, followed, and next came the graceful white form of his first friend. On its neck it supported a weird creature. Bent and wrinkled, was the little old man; a few strands of white hair flowed from his chin, and his eyebrows and lashes had almost disappeared. Toothless, almost hairless as he was, there was that about Ganassi that precluded horror, for his sparkling eyes were kind, and his mouth gently curved into a smile. Piang fell on his knees. The hermit surrounded by his pets, advanced and raised the boy.
"My little Piang! So you have come to Ganassi at last. He has known for many years that you would come. Long before you were born he knew, and his heart is glad to welcome you."
"Is it true, O wise man, that I am the real charm boy, and that I shall lead Kali Pandapatan's tribe to victory?"
"You have spoken, my son. It was over you, not the impostor, Sicto, that the mystic star hovered on the night of your birth."
At the mention of his enemy's name, Piang quickly scanned the surrounding jungle, but Ganassi's soft chuckle reassured him.
"Have no fear, child. Sicto can never harm you, nor will he ever reach Ganassi. The python would smother him; the mina-bird would peck out his eyes; the gentle fawn would lead him astray."
"How do you know all this, O Ganassi?"
"The question shall be answered, Piang, because you are charm boy, but should other lips utter it, they should never speak again. Enter."
Ganassi held back the slender trunk-roots of the banian. Curiously, the boy looked about. All the wonder of the jungle seemed centered in this sacred spot. A forest of stems and aerial roots greeted his eyes; from overhead the graceful and rare Vanda lowii sent inquisitive blooms to caress his cheek; they mingled with his dark hair, scenting the air with their strange fragrance. From tree-ferns, nestling in the branches, tiny heads peeped out, and little feathered creatures chirruped a welcome. A civet-cat was lazily stroking its face with one paw. Something large and hairy stirred on a nest of dried grass, and sleepily a full-grown packda stretched himself and gazed at Piang. The python approached it, and a hairy paw was extended; his snakeship coiled up beside the ape, and the mina-bird flew to the ape's shoulder.
Piang could scarcely believe his eyes. Here all was at peace, and natural enemies forgot to fight and kill.
"Piang, all these creatures are going to be your friends."
Piang seated himself on the soft turf opposite Ganassi; the fawn nosed her head under Piang's arm and sank by his side.
"The charm that I am about to give you will protect you from tempest, danger, and deceit: no storm can destroy you; no animal can creep upon you unaware, and no man can lie to you. You will become the wise man of Mindanao, the guide of your people, the heart of the island."
Solemnly the boy followed the words of the old man.
"You shall be taught all the truths of the nation, and you shall pass them along to the generations."
Piang's face brightened. At last he was to know the answers to many puzzling questions.
"Ask what you will, boy. I will answer you truthfully and justly, telling you the things as they are, as they have been since the day of creation."
"Why, O Ganassi, must Mohammedans never eat the flesh of the wild boar? It is forbidden that we touch pork, yet the Christians find it good." Ganassi's brow clouded:
"Have you never heard of the Christian's God? Do you not know that we hate Christians because they believe a Son of God could be killed by man? They call him Christ, but we know that the Almighty is Toohan, omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. Their prophet Isa [Jesus] once visited the great Mahomet, and when Mahomet demanded that he divine what was in the room beyond, Isa refused, saying that he had no wish to show power.
"'Answer correctly, or you pay for it with your life!' thundered Mahomet. Isa then replied that he had two strange animals in the room.
"'Wrong!' cried Mahomet. 'You shall now be killed. My two beloved grandchildren are behind those doors!' but when they were flung open, two filthy boars ran out; Isa had changed the children into pigs! And so, Piang, no true Mohammedan will eat the flesh of the wild boar. Beware, lest you ever let a Christian hear this story; it is not for us to acknowledge that Isa is greater than Mahomet."
Piang was shocked. No wonder his people abstained from the flesh of the boar.
"Can you tell me what makes the sea rise and fall, and why the tides rush in and flow out again?" asked Piang.
A smile broke over Ganassi's leathery features.
"In a far distant sea lives a giant crab; when he goes into his hole, the water is pushed out, and when he comes forth for food, the water rushes in." It was so simple that Piang laughed heartily. The mina-bird, startled, squawked an admonition and fluttered to Piang's lap.
"Where do we go when we die," asked the inquisitive boy.
Ganassi scouted the Christian's belief that heaven is in the clouds. Were they not in the clouds now?
"When a child is born, the soul enters the body through the opening left in the skull. This hole soon closes, confining the spirit within. When death comes to a household in Moroland, have you not seen the master of the house mount to the roof and remain there through the night? Well, that is to prevent the evil spirit, Bal-Bal, from entering. This dread creature sails through the air like a flying Lemur (monkey), tears the thatch from the roof with his terrible curved nails, scatters the defenders, and licks up the body with his forked tongue of fire. The soul of this deceased never reaches heaven. Your charm, Piang, will ward him off." The boy sat, mouth open, eyes staring. "A soul is guided to a cave that leads deep down in the earth, and there, between two gigantic trees, stands Taliakoo, a giant, who tends the eternal fires. Taliakoo inquires of the newcomer what he has to say for himself, and to the surprise of the soul, something within it answers. Conscience, the witness, replies, and according to the decree of this strange arbiter, the fate of the soul is decided. If nothing but ill can be said for it, it is pitched into the fire; if it has been good, it is allowed to pass on to the abode of the blessed. The soul that meets with neither fate, is punished according to its sins: if it has lied, its mouth pains; if it has been a thief, its hands itch and burn, and eventually, after the period of punishment is over, it precedes to heaven, cleansed of its sins."
The big ape, sleeping soundly, emitted a snore so human, that Piang laughed.
"Why does the packda look so like a man, Ganassi?"
"Because he once was a man," was the startling reply. "He was lazy and, instead of working, climbed trees and hunted minas (monkey-nuts). A companion, becoming vexed, uttered a curse on him and threw a stick at him. These things clung to the lazy man: the stick became a tail, and the curse deprived him of speech. Ashamed of himself, he and his family took to the trees, never to return."
Many questions were put to the wise old hermit, and his ready answers astonished, but satisfied, Piang. Night came on, and the strange company lay down together under the shelter of the banian and slept.
Piang was very happy. He had reached Ganassi, was proclaimed the real charm boy, and was at last to receive the glorious charm. Some said it was a star tossed to Moroland by the Creator, that it was the emblem of power, and that he who wore it would be filled with a divine understanding. Others believed it to be the great diamond of Borneo, captured many years before from the pirates of that fierce land. Piang did not care which it proved to be, as long as it shone and sparkled with beauty. All agreed that its brilliance dazzled the eye, that its magnificence was unrivaled. Ganassi had waited a hundred years for the charm boy who was destined to wear it, and at last the star had proclaimed Piang to be the lucky boy. Through Piang's dreams flitted the visions of shimmering jewels of gold, and the happy smile on the boy's lips made old Ganassi's heart glad.
"Up, up with you, sleepyhead!" called Ganassi. "The sun will catch you napping if you do not hurry."
Piang sleepily rubbed his eyes and sat up. Horror and fright seized him as he beheld the body of the python curled up beside him and the packda contemplating him with indifference. From the doorway Ganassi smilingly watched him.
"Come, my subjects are assembling; they will all assist in the ceremony of the sacred charm." The charm! Piang remembered and jumped to his feet. Creatures from all over the mountain were answering Ganassi's weird call; the air was full of fluttering birds, and monkeys came swinging toward them. Ganassi gave to each a sweet or a fruit.
"Piang, no dato can boast of a grander court than Ganassi, eh?" chuckled the old man.
It was indeed marvelous. Ganassi seemed to reign among the jungle folk as royally as any king. He chastised, praised, petted, and scolded; and one and all the beasts loved their wizened little master. Solemnly Ganassi went about his task. From his bosom he took a small object, smoothed, and caressed it. Piang trembled with excitement. Ganassi called each animal, and they responded to the beloved voice.
"Piang, my creatures approve my action. This is the sacred charm. One and all the animals have blessed it, and through your life, if you have faith, nothing will harm you." Piang's eyes darted around the strange circle, and, indeed, the animals accepted him as naturally as they did Ganassi.
"The time has come, Piang. The heavens have watched over you from babyhood, and you have proved your worth and bravery many times. I am ready to reward you. Come!"
Trembling, the boy advanced. Kneeling before the hermit, Piang clasped his hands and prayed that he might be worthy of the great honor about to be bestowed upon him. Gently the wise man laid his hands on Piang's head; softly he muttered a few words; then something dropped around the boy's neck.
"You may rise, Piang. You are now invincible!"
Bounding to his feet, Piang clasped the charm.
"I cannot see it, Ganassi. May I unclasp it to behold its beauty and splendor?" Keenly the old man looked into the face of the boy, measuring him, studying him.
"And if it is not beautiful, shiny, and bright, boy, what then?"
"Oh, but it must be, Ganassi! It is the most valuable thing in the world!"
"You may unclasp it, Piang."
Clumsily the boy fumbled with the fastenings; eagerly his eyes sought the charm. His face went blank; tears sprang to his eyes. He was holding a tiny gourd, no larger than a monkey-nut, suspended from a necklace of polished crocodile teeth. His disappointed eyes met Ganassi's, still studying him.
"Are you not satisfied, Piang? Are you then unworthy of the great honor bestowed upon you? Do you think that to be of value a thing must sparkle and shine?" Piang gathered himself, hid his disappointment, and bravely answered:
"I am satisfied."
"Shake the gourd, Piang."
A hollow rattle came from the immature growth, and Piang's face brightened.
"Its worth may be inside. Who knows? Only Ganassi, the wonder man, and he will tell no one." The keen old eyes twinkled as they watched Piang's face.
The mystery! It was again established, and Piang was happy. Maybe the precious stones were inside and some day would be revealed to him! As if reading his thoughts, Ganassi said:
"The charm must remain intact to wield its spell; if the gourd should ever be broken or stolen, both you and the charm lose the mystic power lately bestowed upon it. Piang, the source of power is faith! Believe, be honest, be true, and the world holds naught but joy for you and Kala Pandapatan's people."
A silence fell upon them all. The solemn words had sobered Piang, and he gazed into the eyes of the wise man.
"Begone, boy. The sun rises, and you have many miles to go. To-night I will light the signal fires and tell your tribe that you have come and gone, that Piang is charm boy of Kali Pandapatan's people forever."
THE FIRE TREE
The velvety dusk of the jungle was pierced here and there by the brilliant, crimson buds of the fire-tree. For weeks all Moroland had waited for their coming, the heralds of the combat season. During the harvest time there is a truce in these turbulent islands, but when the crops have been gathered, the natives become restless and long to sally forth to conquer. The myth that victory comes only to the tribe whose fire-tree has bloomed is implicitly believed, and impatiently the Moros await this announcement of the combat season. Paying no heed to their capital city, Manila, these merry little isles revel in intrigue, and there is no sport in Moroland that can compare with the combat. Tribes go forth to conquer and enslave others; the men look forward to it as an opportunity to prove their prowess; the women thrill at the possibility of capture. True, they may become the slaves of some unscrupulous dato, but there is always the romantic chance that they may fall into the hands of the hero of their dreams and become the favorite of his seraglio.
"Where is Piang?" Dato Kali Pandapatan addressed a copper-colored slave who salaamed and replied:
"In the jungle, O most high one, searching for the blooming fire branch."
"It is well." Kali Pandapatan, with folded arms, paused in the doorway of his hut, watching expectantly the only opening into the frowning jungle.
"He comes! He comes!" rippled through the barrio.
The eager inhabitants gathered to learn if the time was yet ripe. Into their midst ran a slim, bronze lad, waving above his head a branch, almost bare of green, but aflame with crimson blossoms. There was a hush. Women gathered their children to them; men grasped their weapons more firmly, and the young boys looked with longing eyes at the fortunate Piang.
"Ooola!" exclaimed Piang. Every lip repeated the word; every knee was bent, and the tribe lay prostrate at his feet; only old Kali Pandapatan remained standing, eyeing Piang with satisfaction. For a full two minutes the crowd remained motionless. The palm-trees whispered and crackled above them, and the river sent a soft accompaniment to the jungle music. To and fro above their heads Piang majestically waved the branch, until finally one bold voice demanded:
"Anting-anting!" ("The charm, the charm!") Piang defiantly bared his breast, exposing the sacred charm suspended from his necklace of crocodile teeth. There was moaning in the crowd, sobs of excitement, and protests of impatience, but every head remained lowered until the august relic was again covered. Piang began to chant in a high, nasal voice, and the others rose and joined in creating a weird, monotonous drawl. Like a statue stood the boy, holding the branch high above his head while they circled round and round him. Faster, faster they whirled; in a frenzy they shrieked; some fell and others tramped them in their excitement. Suddenly the boy stamped his feet, uttering a sharp cry. Every eye turned toward him.
"To the river!" he cried and lead the way. Two boys hurried forward and were on their knees in a twinkling, hollowing out a place in the sand, dog fashion. With many incantations and prayers, the branch was planted in the hole, the damp sand laid carefully around the base, and the two proud boys left to watch. If the flowers of the fire tree faded before the scorching sun set, it was destined that the tribe would be unsuccessful in its ventures for the season; should the blooms defy the rays of the sun until the dews of evening rested on its petals, old Kali Pandapatan could sally forth unafraid to meet his fierce brothers of the jungle.
Patiently they waited through the long, hot day; many eyes were anxiously turned toward the sacred emblem, but none dared approach. The little Moro boys, in whose care the branch had been left, squatted in silent patience. No butterfly was suffered to light on the delicate petals, no droning bee allowed to gather the honey of its cups. On dragged the sweltering afternoon. Piang and the dato were the only ones allowed to know that the branch was still fresh, but only Piang knew that its flowers had been dipped into a cool stream before it came to the tribe to foretell its victories or defeats.
"Allah, il Allah!" the call rang through the village. Sunset, the hour of prayer! Now, now they would know. Solemnly old Pandita Asin led the chant while the Moros prostrated themselves in supplication, and the dying sun slipped over the mountains, touching every tree and flower with its gold.
There was great feasting and celebration in the barrio that night. Women donned their most brilliant sarongs, tinted their silver-tipped finger nails with henna, and streaked their brows with splotches of white rice paste. The men twisted their hair up in gorgeous head-cloths, and the knot bristled with creeses. Suspended from their many-colored sashes were barongs, campilans or bolos, and tiny bells were fastened into the lobes of their ears. The brilliantly striped breeches seemed likely to burst, so tightly were they drawn over shapely limbs.
The branch had not withered. It had withstood the scorching rays of the sun. Kali Pandapatan was invincible.
"Piang!" called Kali Pandapatan.
The noises of the barrio were hushed. Their dato had spoken. The name was repeated, and gradually the call reached the charm boy, idly dangling his feet in a clear brook, attracting and scattering the curious fish. He sprang to his feet, listened, and darted off. His sleek, well fashioned limbs glistened in the sunlight, and the sarong that was gracefully flung over one shoulder floated out behind like a flame fanned by the wind. Twined in his long black hair was a wreath of scarlet fire flowers; every face brightened as he fled past.
"You have again brought the sign, Piang. When do we fight?" asked Kali Pandapatan.
"Not until we have delivered the siwaka (tribute) to the sultan at Cotabato. The fire-tree has not yet bloomed in the enemy's country, and we may yet pass through safely," Piang replied.
"You have spoken," said the dato and laid his palms on the youth's head.
Though the latent passion of battle stirred in the Moros' breasts, they were compelled to heed. Piang had proved a wise charm boy, and the tribe must obey him. Each season the siwaka must be carried over the steep, treacherous trail down to the coast, and those detailed to accompany the slaves who carried the bags of rice and comoties (sweet-potatoes), dreaded the trip. Added to the pitfalls of the obscure trail, were hostile territories to be traversed, and if the enemies' fire-tree had bloomed, they would surely be attacked and probably despoiled of their cargo.
"We will need warriors to guard the siwaka, chief," Piang reminded Kali, and the chief nodded and gave a quiet order. Every man disappeared from the streets. When they returned, in place of the gaudy, tight trousers, they were wearing loose, black pantaloons, the garb of battle. The women, true to the feminine nature, wailed and cried aloud, but in their hearts they, too, were glad that the quiet, monotonous days were over, and that before nightfall they might sleep in some strange cota (fort), slave or wife of the victorious dato.
"Piang," murmured a soft voice at the charm boy's elbow, and he turned to find the little slave girl, Papita, timidly looking up at him.
"Chiquita?" ("Little one?") he questioned.
"Sicto goes with you. Beware of him, for he would kill you!"
"I am not afraid," proudly answered Piang, "but why would Sicto kill me?"
Solemnly the little girl touched Piang's breast where lay hidden the sacred charm.
"He would kill you so that he might be charm boy of the tribe," whispered the girl. Piang laughed gaily, patted his little friend on the arm, and bounded to the head of the forming column. Nevertheless he noticed Sicto's sly, surly glance as the slaves and warriors bent before him.
Amid beating of tom-toms, wails of women, and howls of dogs, the column, single file, dipped into the jungle and was lost to sight.
Anxiously Piang watched for signs of the fire-tree as they slipped along through the enemies' country, but as yet the buds had not stirred, and he was thankful that the warm rains had not come to coax them into glow. That whole day the party toiled silently through the dense cogon grass that covered the mesa. High above their heads waved the wiry, straw-colored spines. Its sharp edges cut into the flesh, tore through cloths, stinging and paining old wounds. Not a breath of air reached them through the impenetrable mass, and the sun beat down on them mercilessly. For long stretches the path tunneled through the grass, boring deeper into the tangle, and they were almost suffocated by the choking dust that stung their nostrils.
"Iki!" ("Beware!") called Sicto. Every bolo was out, every savage ready, but the word was passed along the line that the leader, Sicto, had stepped on a snake. Entirely surrounded by the cruel grass the column paused. The heat, increased by the oven-like tunnel grew steadily worse, and those in the rear gasped and fought for breath. They could hear the scuffle as the leaders fought the reptile, and the fetid odor of the dread creature added to their discomfort. Sicto had been swinging along ahead, stepping lightly on the mattress-like turf, when he felt something move under his foot. It was well under the matted grass, but it was wise to despatch the creature if possible. Piang came to his assistance, and the snake, probably gorged with rotting meat, exuded a terrible odor as it was stabbed to death. Kicking the wriggling remains out of the path the column pushed on, wondering if they would ever come to the end of the stifling tunnel.
"Will it rain soon, Piang?" panted Tooloowee, as he toiled along behind the charm boy.
"I cannot tell yet, but by sunset we shall know."
Toward evening the grass thinned perceptibly, and the steaming, aching bodies felt the cool air rustling through the stalks.
"We are near the jungle; soon we shall be cool," sighed Kali Pandapatan. Yes, it was growing cooler; they could breathe again, but Piang knew that before morning they would be shivering with cold, that the rain would come in the night. He smelled it, the rain that would not come to help them through the arduous day.
When it came, there was a shout of joy. Kali looked anxiously at his sweating tribesmen. After the terrific heat of the day, this rain would chill them, and fever would surely follow; he must keep them on the move. There was a murmur of protest as the order was given to move; they had rested a scant two hours. By nine o'clock they were under way again, struggling with the jungle as they had fought the mesa. The downpour was straight and steady. It burrowed through the thick foliage and ran down the tree trunks in torrents. The footing became uncertain, and Piang warned Kali to look out for broken limbs. For many yards the path lay along fallen tree trunks, slippery with moss and mold. The footing became so treacherous that the order was given to crawl on all fours, and the progress was painfully slow and tedious. Frequently they strayed from the path and were forced to halt. The torches at the head of the column twinkled and flickered fitfully, but they only seemed to make the darkness more visible; they sputtered and flared, but the flames resisted the rain, and to the weary Moros they seemed like good spirits sent to guide them through the terrible jungle night.
Palm leaves, strewn in the path, had long clusters of needle-like spines at their bases that pierced their feet, and the cry "tinick!" ("thorns!") rang out frequently through the night. Finally it became necessary to march close up, in solid line, each man with his hand on the shoulder of the man in front. When the leader warned "Cajui!" ("Log!"), each repeated it as he stumbled over the obstacle, and if one fell, half the line would be bowled over.
"Tubig Malakee!" cried Piang. ("The big water!") Yes, the dull murmur of the river was plainly heard through the dripping rain, and they all quickened their pace in the desire to rid themselves of the jungle. Piang attempted to guide them across, but he walked into the water and sank from sight, and there was a cry of horror, for it seemed that one of the many crocodiles had dragged him under. When he came up sputtering and splashing, none the worse for his dip, he chided them for their little faith and pointed significantly to his charm. He had miscalculated in the blackness of the night and could not locate the ford. A drizzling rain was still falling; great hairy-legged spiders skated over the water, making things grewsome; the large lily-pad leaves moved suspiciously, so Kali gave the orders to camp for the rest of the night.
Silently the Moros prepared their camp. Deftly the ends of low-lying branches were pinioned to the ground with forked sticks; over these supports hemp and banana leaves were strewn to shield the sleepers from the heavy dew and rain. After many attempts a fire was coaxed into life, much to the dismay of the jungle folk. A beautiful golden fly-catcher, probably mistaking the glare of the fire for dawn, awoke and began to sing at the top of its tiny voice; a parrot screamed lustily. A venerable old monkey, sleepily rubbing its eyes, shook its fist, muttering profanely. Sicto, exasperated at the persistent maledictions, raised his bow.
"Do not kill the monkey, Sicto," warned Piang. "It is not good to kill in the jungle except for food or self-protection!"
A scowl was the only reply, but the big mestizo lowered his bow and turned over on his bed of leaves.
"Kali, we are no longer safe," Piang whispered as he crouched over the improvised bed of his chief.
"Sssshhhh," he warned, finger on lip. "Do not wake the others." Then he pointed toward a spot where hoards of fireflies clustered around one tree, twinkling and swerving to and fro. It was a beautiful sight, but far from a novel one to these two.
"The fire-tree!" muttered Kali.
"Yes," answered Piang. "The rain has brought the blooms to the valley, and we will be attacked to-morrow!" Silently they gazed at the strange tree. Fireflies abandon every tree and shrub for the fire-tree the moment it puts forth its buds, and nothing can coax them away until the ominous scarlet blossoms have drooped and fallen to the ground.
"We dare not cross the river now, Kali," said Piang, "but we can build rafts and float down to Cotabato."
And so it was decided. Early in the muggy dawn the warriors set to work constructing rafts out of bamboo and ratan (palm), and soon the siwaka was loaded and the journey continued by water.
Arrogantly Piang rode at the head of the procession, his proud little head crowned with a wreath of fire-tree blooms, the corners of his raft decorated with sprigs of the flaming buds. Cautiously they poled down the swift stream, avoiding treacherous logs and snapping crocodiles. Piang chuckled with delight as they stole along, for the enemy would not discover the ruse until they were far away.
It was some time before Sicto was missed. His name was passed from raft to raft, but none had seen him that morning. At first it was feared that one of the crocodiles had pulled him from a raft, but something seemed to tell Piang that the wily half-breed had stolen away to warn the enemy of Kali's strategy. Once the news of the rich booty to be captured and the prisoners to be taken had reached the valley people, nothing could keep them from pursuing, now that their fire-tree had bloomed. A solemn conclave was held.
The river is almost inaccessible from the jungle except at one point, the Big Bend. This is a favorite camping-ground of the valley people during the combat season; here their sacrifices are offered, their victims thrown to the crocodiles; they exercise full control of the river. If Sicto succeeded in warning the enemy before Kali reached that point there would be little hope of escape. Another force would surely be posted where he had embarked, cutting Kali off from his reinforcements at home. It was too late to attempt a retreat, however, hampered as they were with the cumbersome siwaka. Reach that bend first, they must.
"The charm, Piang," whispered Kali. Springing to his feet, the boy uttered a fierce "Oola." Every head bowed, and the sacred talisman was exposed.
"Forward, brothers!" he cried. "Forward with all your strength!"
The sun came out, and the dripping jungle began to steam. Palm leaves were constructed into hats to guard against sunstroke. Toward sunset they drew near the danger point. What was that monotonous sound dully vibrating through the jungle? Anxiously all eyes turned toward Piang.
"It is well, brothers," bravely comforted the boy. "Yes, that is the tom-tom of your enemy. Sicto has betrayed us, but have no fear. Piang, the charm boy leads you; take courage, and Allah, the Merciful, will give you victory." Piang commenced a murmur of prayer, and the Moros, joining in, filled the fast-settling night with whispered invocations which drifted off through the jungle.
Another council of war was held.
"Piang, if they have had time to lay the boom, what shall we do?"
"Go forward, Kali. Fight your way through the blockade," answered the charm boy. "I will remain here with a few men to guard to siwaka. Do you hide at the first bend until the moon gives you light, then strike!"
The astonished warriors looked with misgiving from one to the other, but Kali answered firmly:
"It shall be so, Piang."
The Moros were quickly assembled for the advance, and Kali paused by the side of Piang's raft:
"If we are driven back, Piang, I will give three calls of the mina-bird. Answer likewise and retreat as quickly as possible."
"Forward, Kali Pandapatan," answered Piang with great dignity. "We will not retreat."
Like ghosts in the night the little handful of men parted from their fellows and courageously faced the river and its dangers. The stream, swerving to the left, flows on to the apex of the Big Bend. As if regretting its departure from the true course, it doubles back and returns to take up its original direction at a point separated from its first departure by only a few rods. Between the two points is a waste of murky soil and sand, covered by dense growths of the jungle's choicest variety of obstacles. Gloomily Piang contemplated the morass that lay between him and freedom. Long he sat, looking into the distance where he could almost see the river as it completed the curve and swept on to the ocean. What would he not give to be safely on the other side? Suddenly he sat up very straight. Why not? The sand was soft, the current swift. If he could only make a narrow ditch across the flats. Pulling his raft up to the right side of the river, he jumped to the bank, but when he sank ankle-deep in the soft, sticky earth, he climbed hastily back. Poling along he searched for a solid footing, but everywhere the marshy soil gave, and he abandoned his attempts to land. The night grew deeper, blacker.