Read CHAPTER XXXVI of Cudjo's Cave , free online book, by J. T. Trowbridge, on ReadCentral.com.

CARL FINDS A GEOLOGICAL SPECIMEN.

In the mean time Carl ascended the moonlit slope, with Sprowls pistol on one side of him, and the corporals bayonet on the other. Between the two he felt that he had little chance. But he did not despair. He reasoned thus with himself:

“These two men vill not think to take the cave alone. They must go back for reenforcements. That shall make a diwersion in my favor. If I show them some dark place, and make them think it is there, they vill not go wery near to examine.” And he arrived at this conclusion: “I suppose I shall inwent a cave.”

They were advancing cautiously towards the summit of a bushy ridge. Suddenly Carl stopped.

“Anything?” said Sprowl. Carl nodded, with a pleased and confident smile. “What?”

“You shall see wery soon. Shtoop low.” He himself crouched close to the ground. The men followed his example. “Come a little more on. Now you see that rock?” Lysander saw it. “Vell, it is not there.”

They crept forward a little farther. Then Carl stopped again, and said,

“You see that tree?”

“Which?”

“All alone in the moonshine.” Lysander perceived it.

“Vell,” said Carl, “it is not there.”

Again they advanced, and again he paused and pointed.

“You see them little saplings?” Lysander distinguished them revealed against the sky.

“Vell,” said Carl, “it is not there neither.”

He was crawling on again, when Sprowl seized his collar.

“What the devil do you mean? if I see these things!”

Carl turned on his side, smiled intelligently, and, beckoning the captain to bring his ear close, put his lips to it, covered them with his hand, with an air of secrecy, and whispered hoarsely,

“Landmarks!”

“Ah! well!” said Lysander, suffering him to proceed.

Carl crept slowly, raising his head at every moment to observe. The bayonet came behind; the captain continued at his side. “The further I take these willains from the others, the petter,” thought he. At length he came in view of the high ledge upon which Penn had discovered Cudjo at his idolatrous devotions, on the night of the fire. The moon was getting behind the mountain, and there were dark shadows beneath this ledge. Though he should travel a mile, he might not find a more suitable spot to locate his fictitious cave. He hesitated; considered well; then gently tapped Lysander’s arm.

“You see vair the rock comes down? And some pushes just under it? Vell, the cave is pehind the pushes, ven you find it!” Which was indeed true.

Lysander crept a few paces nearer, stealthily, flat on his belly, with his head slightly elevated, like a dark reptile gliding over the moonlit ground.

“Now is my time!” thought Carl. His heart beat violently. He raised himself on his knees, preparing to spring. Lysander was at least ten feet in advance of him, and he thought he would risk the pistol. “I run he fires he vill miss me I shall get avay.” But the corporal? Just then he felt a piercing pressure in his side. It was the corporal, nudging him with the bayonet to make him lie down.

“I vas shust going a little nearer.”

The corporal seemed satisfied with the explanation; but, as the boy advanced on his hands and knees, he advanced close behind him, holding the bayoneted gun ready for a thrust.

So Carl succeeded only in getting a little nearer Lysander, without increasing at all the distance between him and the corporal. It was a state of affairs that required serious consideration. He lay dawn again, and pretended to be anxiously looking for the mouth of the cave, whilst watching and reflecting.

Just then occurred a circumstance which seemed almost providentially designed to favor the boy’s strategy. Upon the ledge appeared two human figures, male and female, touched by the moonlight, and defined against the sky. They remained but a moment on the summit, then began to descend in the shadow of the ledge. Their movements were slow, uncertain, mysterious. Below the base of the rock they stood once more in the moonlight, and after appearing to consult together for a few seconds, disappeared behind the bushes where Carl had placed his imaginary cave.

If Sprowl had any doubts on the subject before, he was now entirely satisfied. He believed the forms to be those of Virginia and the schoolmaster; they had been out to enjoy solitude and sentiment in the moonlight; and now they were returning reluctantly to the cave.

“Wouldn’t Gus be edified if he was in my place!” Lysander little thought that he was the one to be edified, as he would certainly have been, to an amazing degree, had he known the truth. “But we’ll spoil their fun in a few minutes!” he said to himself, as he crept back towards his former position.

As for Carl, it was he who had been most astonished by the phenomenon. No sooner had he invented a cave, than two phantoms made their appearance, and walked into it! The illusion was so perfect, that he himself was almost deceived by it. Only for an instant, however. Continuing to gaze, he had another glimpse of the apparitions, when, having merely passed behind the bushes, they came out beyond them, in the direction of the real cave, and were lost once more in shadow. Lysander, engaged in making his retrograde movement, did not notice this very important circumstance; and the corporal was too intently occupied in watching Carl to observe anything else.

The captain got behind the shelter of a cluster of thistles, and beckoned for the two to approach.

“Corporal,” said he, “hurry back and tell Ropes to bring up his men. I’ll wait here.”

The corporal crawled off.

Carl heard the order, saw the movement, and felt thrilled to the heart’s core with joy. He was now alone with the captain. And he was no longer unarmed. In creeping towards the thistles, he had laid his hand on a wonderful little stone. Somehow, his fingers had closed upon it. It was about the size of an apple, slightly flattened, rough, and heavy. “I thought,” he said afterwards, “if anything vas to happen, that stone might be waluable.” And so it proved. Lysander, considering that the cave was found, had become less suspicious. “These Dutch are stupid, and that’s all,” he thought.

“You vas going to shoot me,” said Carl, with an honest laugh at the ludicrousness of the idea.

“And so I would,” said Sprowl, with an oath, “if you hadn’t brought us to the cave.”

“That means,” thought Carl, “he vill kill me yet if he can, ven he finds out.” He observed, also, that Sprowl, lying on his left side, had his right hand free, and near the pocket where his pistol was. It was not yet too late for him to be shot if he attempted an escape without first attempting something else. The violent beating of his heart recommenced. He felt a strange tremor of excitement thrilling through every nerve. His hand still held the pebble, covering and concealing it as he leaned forward on the ground. He crept a little nearer Lysander.

“The vay they go into the cave,” he said, “is wery queer.”

“How so?” asked the captain.

They were facing each other. Carl drew still a little nearer, and raised himself slightly on the hand that grasped the geological specimen.

“I promised to take you in. I vill take you in on vun condition.”

“Condition?” repeated Lysander.

“That is vat I said. Vun leetle condition. Let me whishper.”

Carl put up his left hand as if to cover the communication he was about to breathe into Lysander’s ear.

“The condition IS THIS!”

As he uttered the last words, he seized Lysander’s wrist with his left hand, and at the same instant, with a stroke rapid as lightning, smote him on the temple with the stone.

All this, being interpreted, meant, “I take you to the cave on condition that you go as my prisoner.” Thus Carl designed to keep his promise.

As he struck he sprang up, to be ready for any emergency. He had expected a struggle, an outcry. He never dreamed that he could strike a man dead with a single blow!

Without a shriek, without even a moan, Lysander merely sunk back upon the ground, gasped, shuddered, and lay still.

Carl was stupefied. He looked at the prostrate man. Then he cast his eye all around him on the moonlit mountain slope. No one was in sight. Was this murder he had committed? He knelt down, bending over the horribly motionless form. He gazed on the ghastly-pale face, and saw issuing from the nostrils a dark stream. It was blood.

Was it not all a dream? He still held the stone in his hand. He looked at it, and mechanically placed it in his pocket. Nothing now seemed left for him but to escape to the cave; and yet he remained fixed with horror to the spot, regarding what he had done.