Книга Quest of the Spider. Содержание - Chapter x. voodoo s domain
Chapter X. VOODOO'S DOMAIN
JOHNNY thought faster than the man with the gun—by about eighteen inches. The shotgun charge missed him that much. With a bound, he was out of the flashlight glare.
The flash stabbed wildly in pursuit of him. In his excitement, the man who held it let his finger slip off the button. Darkness clapped down.
It was the rush of sepia blackness that gave Johnny his big idea. He was thinking.
Why was this father so enraged and so certain his small son had been kidnaped? What had caused him to leap to the conclusion so swiftly? Why had he been determined to slay Johnny without waiting for an explanation?
What made the enraged man act as if Johnny was a foul rat, to be scotched without mercy?
The wrathful father had mistaken Johnny for one of the villainous swamp denizens—a voodoo worshiper. Certain obscene rites of the voodoo fiends usually involved the blood from a human sacrifice—a child!
The father thought his tot was being seized for a hideous voodoo ceremony!
Johnny's keen brain raced. He saw suddenly that this situation was made to his order.
He darted forward. He scooped up the small boy. He sprang into the brush. The father dared not shoot, even should he have had the chance, for fear of hitting his offspring.
The shaver was quiet. He seemed to be enjoying the excitement. This was not to Johnny's liking.
"Bellow for your dad, skipper!" he commanded. "Make him think I'm eating your ears off!"
Obediently, the boy let out a piercing howl for "Daddy!"
"He's over there!" shouted the frenzied father. "Follow him! Don't let the voodoo devil get away with my son!"
Johnny put on speed.
"Kinda onery to fool your old man like this," he told the shaver. "But maybe it'll teach him not to be so sudden on the trigger. If I had jumped a little less quick, the world would have lost its second best geologist."
Johnny was careful to make considerable racket, and not go so swiftly that his pursuers would lose track of him. Abruptly sighting the lights of several houses, he swung to one side. Evidently what he had seen was a trading post, where the swamp dwellers bartered muskrat skins, moss, fish, and crabs for their few necessities.
A few minutes later, he stopped his dawdling. He put every ounce of effort into racing through the swamp with the small boy.
For bloodhounds were now on his trail! Evidently they had been secured from the trading post. His trailers gained rapidly!
"This isn't quite so funny!" Johnny muttered. If those enraged pursuers caught him, he was certain to be shot or hanged without delay. Johnny looked exactly like one of the fiendish swamp denizens, and as such would be considered lower than a rat.
Mile after mile, Johnny plunged ahead. His legs ached. Each breath felt as if a mowing machine-sickle was being sawed up and down his throat. A lesser man than Johnny would have collapsed long ago, for Johnny's remarkable physical quality was his endurance. Ordinarily, he was tireless. But carrying the shaver and outrunning the bloodhound pack was taxing even his abilities.
He reached a break in the jungle where moonlight poured down like transparent silver.
Suddenly a man appeared before him. The fellow jabbed out a long-barreled squirrel rifle.
"Who yo' be?" he rumbled.
JOHNNY carefully kept his face expressionless. This was exactly what he had been hoping for! The man was one of the yellowish-brown, monkeylike swamp clan!
True, the fellow was the largest of the tribe Johnny had seen. And he had a somewhat more intelligent face than usual. A good muscular development showed under the torn sleeves of his shirt.
ejaculated Johnny, lapsing into the conglomerate swamp dialect. "Yo' show me way to lose de bloodhounds! Me—I pay yo' to do dat! Oui!"
"Vat yo' do?" inquired the swamp man suspiciously. "Why dey want yo?"
Johnny indicated the small boy, who was peering with mingled interest and fear at the sinister-looking swamp man.
"Me—I grab dis white pickaninny!" Johnny explained.
"Dam'! Why yo' do dat?"
Here Johnny drew on his knowledge of voodoo. He explained, with many a hocus-pocus gesture, that he was no less than a high priest of voodoo!
The swamp man was impressed. He furtively produced a charm which looked suspiciously like it was carved out of a human arm bone.
"Yo' want white pickaninny to make beeg voodoo sacrifice?" he muttered. He was a voodoo believer. As such, he would help Johnny.
"Yo' got de idea," said Johnny.
Meantime, the bloodhounds were rapidly drawing nearer. The beasts set up a fearsome baying and yipping. Frightened owls and other birds flashed over the clearing in flight, resembling darksome, big, wind-blown leaves.
Sacrй!" the swamp man swore softly. "Yo' have to leave white pickaninny. No can take heem!"
growled Johnny, pretending great reluctance. He added that the voodoo dieties demanded a sacrifice of the blood of a white child in the good old-fashioned manner.
"Yo' gotta leave heem!" insisted the swamp man.
Johnny retorted stubbornly. "Eef we can escape, we can take white brat along."
The real reason for leaving the little boy behind now came out—not that Johnny had the slightest idea from the first of letting him fall into the hands of the voodoo men.
The Gray Spider did not want the attention of the law drawn to his clan of swamp devils. To kidnap the white boy would do just that. Therefore, either Johnny had to leave his prize behind, or take his chances with the bloodhounds and the shotguns.
Johnny feigned vast disappointment. He boosted the small boy to a branch, strapped him there with his belt, and followed the swamp man.
Covering only a couple of rods, Johnny's guide waded into a cluster of canes. He bent the tall, rushlike stems aside. A small pirogue, dug out of a single log, was concealed there. The two men entered. Both dipped crude paddles. The little craft handled almost as easily as a birch-bark canoe, even if it was hollowed out of a log.
They shot away.
Behind them, they heard shouts.
"Here he is!" the father called, finding his son safe. "The voodoo devil had to leave him!"
Johnny smiled slightly. No harm had been done. The father had been punished with a little additional worry for his too hasty attempt to shoot Johnny. The shaver had put in an exciting hour or two in the swamp, with no danger to himself.
And Johnny was in a fair way to be welcomed with open arms by the voodoo-sacrificing swamp denizens. They would look on him with admiring eyes. Hadn't he tried to get a white child for the human sacrifice?
JOHNNY was amazed at the speed they were making. On other occasions he had seen natives go swiftly through a jungle that seemed impenetrable. But never anything quite like this!
At times his escort propelled the pirogue straight for a seemingly solid bank. But water always materialized under the keel. Sometimes the watery trail was completely concealed by cane and reeds growing out of it.
"Yo' sure know de way!" he flattered his guide.
I oughta! Me—I live all my life here."
"What yo' name?"
"Buck Boontown," replied the swamp man.
"Buck" Boontown, Johnny reflected, seemed to be of a somewhat higher mentality than the other swamp dwellers, just as he was a better physical specimen.
Nevertheless, the fellow was a vicious character. His belonging to the voodoo cult showed that.
"Where yo' come from?" demanded Buck Boontown.
Johnny now spun an elaborate story. He had been all over world, studying the fine points of voodoo sorcery, and now he was visiting this region, where he had heard the art had attained a high degree of perfection. Or so he said.
This vaguely missed being an outright fib. Buck Boontown ate it up. Johnny—or plain "Pete," as Johnny introduced himself—made an instant hit with Buck.
We got plenty big voodoo man in dese swamps," Buck Boontown said impressively. "Yo' ever hear of de Gray Spider?"
"Me—I t'ink so," Johnny said vaguely. "Nothin' but talk, though."
Bien!" ejaculated Buck Boontown. "Maybe Gray Spider take yo' into his inner circle."
Johnny put forth a distinct effort to keep his face blank. This was getting hot!
"Ees yo' in de inner circle?" he questioned.
"I sure is!"
Here was luck!
"Right out of the hat, I picked a guy who is on the inside of the Cult of the Moccasin!" Johnny complimented himself silently. "And what I mean, I believe he's on the inside!"
"Can yo' guide to where Gray Spider ees hang out, non?" he asked aloud.
"Hees hangout at Castle of de Moccasin," retorted Buck Boontown. "Me—I can sure guide yo' dere. But first, I gotta find out if de Gray Spider want yo'!"
Buck Boontown was on the inside, Johnny knew now. He settled to his paddling, elated that he was meeting with such good fortune. He felt he was drawing the net of Doc Savage's vengeance tighter about the sinister Gray Spider.
THE night was about gone before they reached their destination. Buck Boontown, Johnny learned in the meantime, had been en route into the swamp when he chanced to hear the bloodhounds. Knowing they were after some criminal, he had stopped. It was the law of the swamp dwellers that all criminals were to be aided to escape.
As a matter of fact, Johnny had been aware of this far-from-honorable creed. That was why he had deliberately made himself a fugitive.
Their journey ended at a small hill in the swamp. This was populated by hordes of dogs, only a few less children, and a number of evil-looking men and women. There was an even dozen ramshackle huts.
A long shed held crudely baled moss. Evidently it awaited transport to a trade boat. Muskrat traps, seines, and fish lines festooned from the shack eaves.
Johnny stepped from the dugout canoe to what he thought was a log. He got the start of his life when the "log" walked out of the water with him. It was a giant gator. The big reptile was picketed with a rope like a cow. It was apparently a pet, for it made no effort to annex Johnny's leg.
"Yo' can sleep in de moss shed," suggested Buck Boontown.
And there Johnny spent the rest of the night. He slept soundly, although subconsciously alert for the slightest hostile sound.
A tremendous dog fight, punctuated with the howls of pickaninnies trying to break up the fray, awakened him. This seemed to be a usual morning occurrence, since none of the grown-ups paid particular attention.