Книга Quest of the Spider. Содержание - Chapter xvi. the pay-off


BUCK BOONTOWN paused several times to question such retreating swamp men as he encountered. He made sure all were getting away. None had been missed in spreading the word to quit the vicinity.

Doc Savage and his five men, Buck Boontown was assured, did not suspect a general exodus was under way.

"At dawn, dey weel die!" the swamp man leered.

He went on. The women and children of the voodoo clan had been moved to a spot a mile distant. He reached the place.

Every one was gone.

He spent twenty minutes learning the women and children had moved on a couple of miles. He tramped after them.

Somewhere in the distance, a rooster was crowing in a swamp henhouse. The hooting of owls had died. The eastern sky was showing ruddy color. Already, the higher clouds were being tinted like patches of gore by the first rays of the sun.

Dawn was not far off.

Buck Boontown joined his wife and son.

"How ees de keed?" he asked his wife.

"I'm all right, dad," said Sill Boontown.

Something in the lad's tone gave the swamp man an inkling of the truth. A great elation came into his wizened face. The shining happiness in his wife's features convinced him that what he had hoped for had come to pass.

The story quickly came out. Sill Boontown told of the operation which had worked such a miraculous cure.

Finishing, the youth produced several folded bank notes.

"De bronze man geeve me dese," he explained.

"What fo'?"

"Hees say fo' me to pay my way t'rough school een New Orleans with de money," replied the boy.

Buck Boontown looked at the denominations of the bills. He totaled their sum laboriously. The amount his son held exceeded by many times the pittance the Gray Spider had handed out for having murder done!

Remorse seized Buck Boontown.

This mighty bronze man who pursued the Gray Spider was not the devil he had been painted! He did not mean to slay all the worshippers of voodoo—for it was such a bloodcurdling lie that the Gray Spider had spread.

The bronze man had given Buck Boontown back his son—magically returned to normalcy.

Moreover, he had furnished the boy with money to educate himself, to visit the wondrous city of New Orleans. He had given a sum greater than Buck Boontown had ever expected to save!

These thoughts formed a dizzying maelstrom in the swamp man's head. And towering black and ghastly over it all was the knowledge that his hand was sending death to the giant bronze man.

Buck Boontown was not rotten at heart. His surroundings had made him ignorant and cruel. Raised in a civilized community, he would unquestionably have been respectable.

With a loud moan, Buck Boontown whirled and ran. He knew what he must do!

He made directly for the mound where Doc Savage and his five men were beseiged.

The swamp man hoped to get there in time to stop the escape of the flies, the bite of which would be fatal. His was indeed a race with death.

* * *

BUCK BOONTOWN threw away his machine gun. He also discarded a revolver. He was getting rid of all excess weight.

He sloughed through lakes of slime that he would ordinarily have gone around. Jabbing, scratching thorn thickets failed to turn him. He took perilous chances with a muddy bayou infested by 'gators.

The sun was nearly in view. Light of a beginning day seeped into the clammy, moist jungle.

It was almost the exact hour set for the opening of the box which held the poisonous insects.

Buck Boontown sought in vain to put on more speed. He rolled from side to side with exhaustion. Each tremendous, explosive breath blew a spray of crimson off his lips, for he had bitten through his tongue.

The mound where Doc and his five men were beseiged came into view.

Buck Boontown veered to the right. He saw the box which held the venomous flies. Horror gripped him anew.

He was too late!

The box lid was opening!

The swamp man did not slacken his headlong pace—he even managed to go a little faster. He pounced upon the box. A scant dozen of the poisoned flies had as yet escaped.

Buck Boontown knew the price he was going to pay for what he was doing. He did not hesitate. His was a man's code, for all the fact that he had fallen under the hideous spell of voodoo. Doc Savage had returned sanity to his son—therefore he would save the giant bronze man from this death trap.

One of the venomous flies bit him even as he closed the box lid. He hardly faltered. He secured the lid. Then he sat down on the box.

Deliberately, he let the famished, deadly flies settle upon him and begin drawing his blood.

Then he mashed them, one at a time!

After the destruction of the last devilish insect which had escaped, Buck Boontown got off the box.

Doc and his five men watched the swamp man's staggering approach.

"What ails the guy?" Monk muttered.

They soon learned the answer to that. Gasping, Buck Boontown explained. His words got weaker, incoherent. His face purpled. The deadly poison was working like cobra venom.

"Where is this Castle of the Moccasin?" Doc demanded.

Buck Boontown knew he was dying. Perhaps he saw the hideous falsity of the deities of voodoo. Perhaps he realized at last that the Gray Spider was a fiend lower than the water moccasins, the likeness of which he tattooed on the mouth roofs of his slaves. Whatever moved the swamp man, it was a force for the good of humanity.

In two strangled gasps, he told where the Castle of the Moccasin was.

Then he fell dead.

Buck Boontown had paid off.

A heavy silence held the little group of adventurers for a time. They couldn't think of anything to say.

Finally, Monk voiced a thought as good as any.

"That guy," said Monk, "was a hero!"

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