OUT OF THE PRIMITIVE
BY ROBERT AMES BENNET
Author of "Into the Primitive," etc.
WITH FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS IN COLORS
BY ALLEN T. TRUE
TO MY FRIEND
The second night north of the Zambezi, as well as the first, the
little tramp rescue steamer had run out many miles into the offing and
laid-to during the hours of darkness. The vicinity of the coral reefs
that fringe the southeast coast of Africa is decidedly undesirable on
When the Right Honorable the Earl of Avondale came out of his close,
hot stateroom into the refreshing coolness that preceded the dawn, the
position of the Southern Cross, scintillating in the blue-black sky to
port, told him that the steamer was headed in for the coast. The black
surface of the quiet sea crinkled with lines of phosphorescent light
under the ruffling of the faint breeze, which crept offshore heavy
with the stench of rotting vegetation. It was evident that the ship
was already close in again to the Mozambique swamps.
Lord James sniffed the rank odor, and hastened to make his way forward
to the bridge. As he neared the foot of the ladder, his resilient step
and the snowy whiteness of his linen suit attracted the attention of
the watcher above on the bridge.
"Good-morning, m' lord," the officer called down in a bluff but
respectful tone. "You're on deck early."
"Hullo, Meggs! That you?" replied his lordship, mounting the steps
with youthful agility. "It seems you're still earlier."
"Knowing your lordship's anxiety, I decided to run in, so that we
could renew the search with the first glimmer of daylight," explained
the skipper. "We're now barely under headway. According to the smell,
we're as near those reefs as I care to venture in the dark."
"Right-o! We'll lose no time," approved the young earl. "D'you still
think to-day is apt to tell the tale, one way or the other?"
"Aye, your lordship. I may be mistaken; but, as I told you, reckoning
together all the probabilities, we should to-day cover the spot where
the _Impala_ must have been driven on the coral - that is, unless she
foundered in deep water."
"But, man, you said that was not probable."
"A new boat should be able to stand the racking of half a dozen
cyclones, m' lord, without straining a bottom plate. No; it's far more
probable she shook off her screw, or something went wrong with the
steering gear or in the engine room. I've recharted her probable
course and that of the cyclone. It was as well for us to begin our
search at the Zambezi, as I told your lordship. But if to-day we fail
to find where she piled her bones on the coral, it's odds we'll not
to-morrow. On beyond, at Port Mozambique, we got only the north rim of
the storm. I put in there for shelter when the barometer dropped."
"That was on your run south. Glad I had the luck to chance on a man
who knows the coast as you do," remarked Lord James. "Look at those
steamers Mr. Leslie chartered by cable - a good week the start of us,
and still beating the coverts down there along Sofala! Wasting time!
If only I'd not gone off on that shunt to India - And they six weeks in
these damnable swamps - if they won ashore at all! You still believe
they had a chance of that?"
"Aye. As I explained to your lordship, if the _Impala_ hadn't lost all
her boats before she struck, there's a fair probability that the water
inside the reefs - "
"Yes, yes, to be sure! If there was the slightest chance for any one
aboard - Lady Bayrose, Miss Leslie and their maids, the only women
passengers, and a British ship! Everything must have been done to save
them. While Tom - he'd be sure to make the shore, if that was within
the bounds of possibility. Yet even if they were cast up alive - six
weeks on the vilest stretch of coast between Zanzibar and the Zambezi!
They may be dying of the fever now - this very hour! Deuce take it,
man! d'you wonder I'm impatient?"
"Aye, m'lord! But here's the dawn, and McPhee is keeping up a full
head of steam. We'll soon be doing seven knots."
As he spoke, the skipper turned to step into the pilot house. Lord
James faced about to the eastern sky, where the gray dawn was
beginning to lessen the star-gemmed blackness above the watery
horizon. Swiftly the faint glow brightened and became tinged with
pink. The day was approaching with the suddenness of the tropical
sunrise. In quick succession, the pink shaded to rose, the rose to
crimson and scarlet splendor; and then the sun came leaping above the
horizon, to flood sea and sky with its dazzling effulgence.
Captain Meggs had entered the pilot house in the blackness of night.
He came out in the full glare of day. Lord James had turned his back
to the sun. He was staring at the bank of white mist that, less than
two miles to westward, shrouded the swampy coast. Meggs had brought
out two pairs of binoculars, one of which he handed to his charterer.
"Your lordship sees," he remarked. "We're none too far out from the
"Beastly mist!" complained Lord James, his handsome high-bred face
creased with impatience and anxiety. "D'you fancy we're anywhere near
the islet from which we put off last evening?"
"I've tried to hold our position, m'lord. But these Mozambique Channel
currents are so strong, and shift so with the tides, we may have been
either set back or ahead."
Already the bank of morning mist was beginning to break up and melt
away under the fervent rays of the sun. The young earl raised his
glasses and gazed southwards along the face of the dissolving curtain.
Through and between the ghostly wreaths and wisps of vapor he could
see the winged habitants of the swamps - flamingoes, cranes, pelicans,
ibises, storks, geese, all the countless tropical waterfowl - swimming
and wading about the reedy lagoons or circling up to fly to other
feeding grounds. Opposite the steamer the glasses showed with
startling distinctness a number of hideous crocodiles crawling out on
a slimy mudbank to bask in the sunshine. But nowhere could the
searcher discern a trace of man or of man's habitation.
"Gad! not a sign! Rotten luck!" he muttered.
He turned and swept the four-mile curve of coast around to the north-
northeast. Suddenly he stiffened and held the glasses fixed.
"Look!" he cried. "Off there to the northwards - cliffs!"
"Cliffs? Aye, a headland," confirmed the skipper.
"Put about for it immediately," directed Lord James. "If they were
cast up here, they'd not have lingered in these vile bogs - would have
made for the high ground."
Meggs nodded, and called the order to the steersman. The ship's bows
swung around, and the little steamer was soon scuttling upcoast
towards the headland, along the outer line of reefs, at a speed of
From the first, Lord James held his glasses fixed on the barren guano-
whitened ledges of the headland. But though he could discern with
quickly increasing distinctness the seabirds that soared about the
cliff crest and nested in its crevices, he perceived no sign of any
signal such as castaways might be expected to place on so prominent a
When, after a full half-hour's run, the steamer skirted along the edge
of the reefs, close in under the seaward face of the headland, the
searcher at last lowered his binoculars, bitterly disappointed.
"Not a trace - not a trace!" he complained. "If they've been here,
they've either gone inland or - we're too late! Six weeks - starvation -
Meggs shook his head reassuringly. "The top of the headland may be
inaccessible, m'lord. We may find that they - Heh! what's that?"
He leaned forward to peer through his glasses at a second headland
that was swinging into view around the corner of the cliffs.
"_Smoke!_" he cried. "_Smoke! - and a flag!_"
"Gad!" murmured Lord James, hastily bringing his own glasses to bear.
The second headland was about five miles away. The thin column of
smoke that was ascending from its crest near the outer end, could
plainly be seen with the naked eye. But a sunlit cloud beyond
necessitated the full magnifying power of the binoculars to disclose
the white signal flag that flapped lazily on a slender staff near the
Lord James drew in a deep breath, and his gray eyes glowed with hope.
Here was evidence that not all aboard the wrecked or foundered
_Impala_ had been lost.
"Meggs," he cried, "you're the one and only skipper! It must be their
signal - it _is_ their signal! But which of them? - who went under and
who escaped! - Miss Genevieve? Tom?"
"This Mr. Blake?" ventured Meggs. "I take it, he's some relation to
"No; chum - American engineer. Gad! if he went down! But it's
impossible - Most resourceful man I ever knew. He must have won ashore
with the others. And the women - a British captain! It must be we'll
find crew and all safe!"
"Not on this coast," replied Meggs. "They'd have lost most their boats
before the _Impala_ struck."
"In that event - Deuce take it! will we never get there? If I had my
motor-boat now! By Jove, this stretch here between the headlands is
not swamp. It's dry plain - and black. Been burnt over. There's a
place - tree-trunks still smouldering. The grass has been fired within
the last day or two."
"No one in sight as yet, on the cliffs," said the skipper, who had
continued to scrutinize the northern headland. "No watch above; no
sign of any one or any camp below. Must all be around on the far side.
We'll clear the point, and run in through the first break in the
"If they fail to show up on this side," qualified Lord James, slowly
sweeping the cliffs from foot to crest and inland along the dry fire-
About half a mile from the beach the wall of rock was cleft by a
wooded ravine that ran up through the cliff ridge. At its foot was a
grove of trees whose bright green foliage seemed to indicate an
abundance of water. Above, a gigantic baobab tree towered out of the
cleft and upreared its enormous cabbage-shaped crown high over the
crest of the ridge.
In the midst of the general barrenness and aridity, the verdant oasis
of the ravine appeared to be the most certain place to look for the
castaways. Lord James fancied that he could discern a slight haze of
smoke rising out of the cleft beneath the baobab. But if there was a
camp in the cleft bottom, it was hidden from view by the trees and
cliff walls. The only certain sign of man within sight was the signal
flag and the smoke of the smouldering fire in the midst of the seabird
colony near the outer end of the cliff crest.
The steamer was gliding along, with slackened headway, close in under
the headland, when a breath of air opened out the folds of the
tattered white flag. Meggs had been watching it through his
binoculars. He lowered the glasses, and remarked knowingly: "Thought
so. That's no ship's canvas. It's linen or duck - A woman's skirt
"What! Then at least one of the women got ashore!"
"Aye. But d' you make out how that cloth is lashed to the bamboo? It
was knotted on by a landsman. We'll find neither officers nor crew
among the survivors."
The steamer was now opposite the face of the headland, Meggs sprang
into the pilot house. Within the next few moments the speed of the
vessel fell off to less than a knot. Slowly the old steamer swung her
bows around towards the shore and began feeling her way into a narrow
gap through the half hidden barrier of the reefs, which here were
merged into a single line.
For the time being all the attention of Meggs was concentrated upon
the safe conning of his ship through the dangerous passage. It was
otherwise with Lord James. The last two shiplengths before the turn
had opened up the view around the north corner of the headland. From
the flank of the cliff ridge a wedge of brush-dotted plain extended a
quarter-mile or so to a dense high jungle bordering a small river. The
first glance had shown his lordship that it was of no use to look
beyond the river. The coast trended away northwards in another vast
stretch of fetid swamps and slimy lagoons.
With almost feverish eagerness, he turned to scan the little plain.
First to catch his eye were a dozen or more graceful animals dashing
away from the shore in panic-stricken flight. He turned his glasses
upon them and saw that they were antelope. This was not encouraging.
That the timid animals had been feeding in the vicinity of a human
habitation a full hour after dawn was not probable. Nor did a careful
search of the plain through the glasses disclose any sign of a hut or
tent or the smoke of a camp-fire.
An order from Meggs preparatory for letting go anchor roused Lord
James from his momentary pause. He faced the skipper, who was leaning
from a window of the pilot house.
"Sound your siren, man!" he exclaimed. "There's no camp in sight. Yet
they must be within hearing."
Meggs nodded, called an order for the lowering of a boat, and drew
back into the pilot house. As he reappeared in the doorway, to step
out on the bridge, the tramp's siren shrilled a blast loud enough to
carry for miles. It echoed and re-echoed along the cliff walls, and
was flung back upon the little steamer in a deafening blare.
Lord James turned to sweep the border of the river jungle with his
glasses. A herd of fat ungainly hippopotami, on the bar out beyond the
mangroves of the river mouth, fixed his gaze. But a moment afterwards
one of the sailors in the bows pointed upwards and yelled excitedly:
"Hi! hi! - there aloft! Lookut th' bloomin' mad 'un!"
At last - one of the castaways! High above, on the very brink of the
precipice, near the outer end of the headland, a man stood waving down
to the ship in wild excitement.
Lord James hastily focussed his glasses upon the beckoner. Seen
through their powerful lenses, he seemed to leap to within a few feet
- so near that Lord James could see the heaving of his broad chest
under the tattered flannel shirt as he flung his arms about his head
and bellowed down at the steamer in half frantic joy.
The looker wasted no second glance on the rude trousers of spotted
hyena skin or the big lean body of the castaway. Neither the wild
whirling of the sun-blackened arms nor the bristly stubble of a six
weeks' growth of beard could prevent him from instantly recognizing
the face of his friend.
"Tom! - Tom!" he hailed. "Hullo! hullo, old man! Come down!"
Even as he cried out he realized that he could neither be heard nor
recognized at so great a distance. Though the binoculars enabled him
to see his friend with such wonderful distinctness, the deep shouts
that the other was uttering were hardly audible above the clatter
aboard the steamer. But now the ship's siren began to answer the hails
of the castaway with a succession of joyous shrieks.
In the same moment Lord James perceived that a second castaway - a
woman - was running forward along the crest of the headland. Fearlessly
she came darting down the broken ledges, to stand on the cliff edge
close beside the man. Lord James stared wonderingly at her dainty
girlish form, clad in a barbaric costume of leopard skin. Her bare
arms, slender from privation and burned brown by the sun, were
upraised in graceful greeting above the sensitive high-bred face and
its crown of soft brown hair.
"Genevieve!" murmured the earl. "What luck! Gad! what luck! Even if
Hawkins went to the bottom and took the jewels with him! She's safe -
both of 'em safe! Hey! what's that? Signalling towards the far side -
There he bolts, and she after him! Couldn't run that way if they had
He whirled about and sprang to descend the ladder, but paused to
direct the skipper. "I'll command the boat. Men are not to land. D'you
take me? There's at least one of the ladies here. Have a sling ready,
and tell the stewardess her services will soon be required."
Before Meggs could reply, he was down the ladder and darting across to
the side. But there he turned and ran aft to the cabin. The
stewardess, a buxom Englishwoman, stood at the head of the
companionway, gazing towards the cliff top. At his order, she followed
him below. After several minutes he reappeared with a lady's dust-coat
folded over his arm. The boat was already lowered and manned. He swung
himself outboard and went down the tackle hand under hand.
As he dropped lightly into the sternsheets beside the cockswain he
signed the men to thrust off. The boat shot out across the still
water, and headed shorewards on a slant for the south corner of the
headland. Urged on by their impatient passenger, the rowers bent to
their oars with a will, despite the broiling heat of the sun in the
dead calm air under the lee of the cliffs.
They were well in to the shore before the cockswain discovered a
submerged ledge that ran out athwart their course almost to the coral
reefs. This compelled them to put about and follow the ledge until
they could round its outer end. As the boat at last cleared the
obstruction and headed in again for the shore, the south flank of the
cliffs came into view.
A short distance inland, the two castaways that had appeared on the
cliff top were running towards the beach, the girl clinging to the
hand of the man.
"Give way! give way, men!" urged Lord James. "At least let's not keep
TWO - AND ONE
Spurred to their utmost, the oarsmen drove the boat shorewards so
swiftly that it was less than thirty yards out when the castaways came
flying out the rocky slope of the cliff foot and scrambled down to the
Lord James sprang up and waved his yachting cap.
"Miss Leslie! - Tom, old man!" he joyously hailed them. "You're safe! -
"Good Lord! That you, Jimmy?" shouted back the man, "Well, of all the
- Hey! down brakes! 'Ware rocks!"
At the warning, the boat's crew backed water and came on inshore with
more caution. Without stopping to ask her permission, the man caught
up the panting, excited girl in his arms, and waded out to meet the
"That's near enough. Swing round," he ordered.
The boat came about and backed in a length, to where he stood thigh-
deep in the still water, with the blushing girl upraised on his broad
shoulder. Lord James again lifted his cap. His bow could not have been
more formal and respectful had the meeting occurred in the queen's
"Miss Leslie! This is a very great pleasure, 'pon my word! But you've
overheated yourself. You should not have run," he remonstrated. As
Blake lifted her in over the stern, he deftly unfolded the silk
dustcoat and held it open for her." Permit me - No need of such haste,
y'know. I assure you, we're not so strict as to our hour of sailing."
"I - I - Of course we - " stammered the girl.
"To be sure! Ah, no hat! I should have foreseen. Very stupid of me not
to've brought a hat or parasol. But I dare say you'll make out till we
get back aboard ship."
His conventional manner and quiet conversational tone alike tended to
ease her of her embarrassment. By the time she had slipped on the coat
and seated herself, the crimson blushes that had flooded her tanned
cheeks were fast subsiding, and she was able to respond with a fair
degree of composure: "That was extremely thoughtful of you, Lord
"Not at all, not at all," he disclaimed. "Cocks'n, if you'll be so
kind as to go forward, I'll take the tiller. Tom, old man! don't stand
there all day. You'll get your feet damp. Climb in!"
"No; pull out," replied Blake, his eyes hardening with sudden resolve.
"I forgot something. Got to go back to the cleft. You take Jen - Miss
Leslie aboard at once."
"Oh, no, Tom!" hastily protested the girl. "We'll wait here for you."
"Here?" he demanded. "And without your hat?"
Miss Leslie put her scarred and begrimed little hands to her
Blake went on in an authoritative tone: "It won't do for you to get a
sunstroke now - after all these weeks. Jimmy, take her straight aboard.
I've got to go back, I tell you. We didn't stop for anything. There's
a jarful of mud and so forth that we sure can't leave to the hyenas."
He met the girl's appealing glance with firm decision. "You must get
aboard, out of this sun, fast as they can take you."
"Yes, of course, if you think it best - Tom," she acquiesced.
Her ready docility would of itself have been sufficient to surprise
Lord James. But, in addition, there was a soft note in her voice and a
glow in her beautiful hazel eyes that caused him to glance quickly
from her to his friend. Blake was already turning about to wade
ashore. From what little could be seen of his bristly face, its
expression was stern, almost morose. The powerful jaw was clenched.
Though puzzled and a trifle discomposed, Lord James quietly seated
himself beside the girl, and signing the men to give way, took the
"My dear Miss Leslie," he murmured, "if you but knew my delight over
having found both you and Tom safe and well!"
"Then you really know him?" she replied. "Yes, to be sure; he called
you by your first name. Wait! I remember now. One day soon after we
were cast ashore - the second day, when we were thinking how to get
fire, to drive away the leopard - "
"Leopard? I say! So that's where you got this odd gown?"
"No - the mother leopard and the cubs. I was going to say, Tom remarked
that James Scarbridge had been his chum."
"Had been? He meant _is!_"
"Then it's true! Oh, isn't it strange and - and splendid? You know, I
did not connect the remark with you, Lord James. He had told me to try
to think how we were to find food for the next meal. His reference to
you was made quite casually in his talk with Winthrope."
"Winthrope!" exclaimed Lord James. "Then he, too, reached shore? Yet
if so - "
The girl put her hand before her eyes, as if to shut out some terrible
sight. Her voice sank to a whisper: "He - he was killed in the second
cyclone - a few days ago."
"Ah!" muttered the young earl. After a pause, he asked in a tone of
profound sympathy, "And the others - Lady Bayrose?"
"Don't ask! don't ask!" she cried, shuddering and trembling.
But quickly she regained her composure and looked up at him with a
calm unwavering gaze that told him how much she had undergone and the
strength of character she had gained during the fearful weeks that she
had been marooned on this savage and desolate coast.
"How foolish of me to give way!" she reproached herself. "It is what
you might have expected of me before - before I had been through all
this, with his example to uplift me out of my helplessness and
inefficiency. Believe me, Lord Avondale, I am a very different young
woman from the shallow, frivolous girl you knew during those days on
"Shallow! frivolous!" he protested. "Anything but that, Miss
Genevieve! You must have known how vastly different were my - er -
impressions. If Lady Bayrose hadn't so suddenly shunted you off at
Aden to the Cape boat - Took me quite by surprise, I assure you. Had
you kept on to India, I had hoped to - er - "
She gave him a glance that checked his fast-mounting ardor.
"I - I beg pardon!" he apologized. "This of course is hardly the time -
About the others, if I may ask - that is, if it's not too painful for
you. I infer that Lady Bayrose - that she did not - reach the shore."
The girl's thorn-scarred, sun-blistered hands clasped together almost
convulsively. But she met his look of concern with unflinching
"Poor dear Lady Bayrose!" she murmured. "They had put her and the
maids into one of the boats - there at the first, when the ship crashed
on the reef. They ran back to fetch me, but before they could rush me
across, a wave more terrible than all the others swept the ship. It
tore loose the boat and whirled them away, over and over!"
"Gad!" he exclaimed.
"It also carried away the captain and most of the crew. Between the
breakers, Winthrope and Tom and I were flung into the one remaining
boat. Winthrope cut the rope before the sailors could follow, and
then - then the steamer slipped back off the reef and went down."
"I say! Only the three of you left! The boat brought you safe ashore?"
"No, we were overturned in the breakers, but were washed up - flung up
- how, I cannot tell. The wind was frightful. It must have blown us
out of the surf and along with the water that was being driven up and
over into the lagoon. The first I knew, I was behind a little knoll with
Winthrope. Tom was near - in a pool. He - he crawled out. It was nearly
dark. We were all so beaten and exhausted that we slept until morning.
When we awoke, there was no sign of - of any one else, or of the boat -