ON our way back to the village the Doctor began discussing natural history with Long Arrow. But their most interesting talk, mainly about plants, had hardly begun when an Indian runner came dashing up to us with a message.
Long Arrow listened gravely to the breathless, babbled words, then turned to the Doctor and said in eagle tongue,
“Great White Man, an evil thing has befallen the Popsipetels. Our neighbors to the southward, the thievish Bag-jagderags, who for so long have cast envious eyes on our stores of ripe corn, have gone upon the war-path; and even now are advancing to attack us.”
“Evil news indeed,” said the Doctor. “Yet let us not judge harshly. Perhaps it is that they are desperate for food, having their own crops frost-killed before harvest. For are they not even nearer the cold South than you?”
“Make no excuses for any man of the tribe of the Bag-jagderags,” said Long Arrow shaking his head. “They are an idle shiftless race. They do but see a chance to get corn without the labor of husbandry. If it were not that they are a much bigger tribe and hope to defeat their neighbor by sheer force of numbers, they would not have dared to make open war upon the brave Popsipetels.”
When we reached the village we found it in a great state of excitement. Everywhere men were seen putting their bows in order, sharpening spears, grinding battle-axes and making arrows by the hundred. Women were raising a high fence of bamboo poles all round the village. Scouts and messengers kept coming and going, bringing news of the movements of the enemy. While high up in the trees and hills about the village we could see look-outs watching the mountains to the southward.
Long Arrow brought another Indian, short but enormously broad, and introduced him to the Doctor as Big Teeth, the chief warrior of the Popsipetels.
The Doctor volunteered to go and see the enemy and try to argue the matter out peacefully with them instead of fighting; for war, he said, was at best a stupid wasteful business. But the two shook their heads. Such a plan was hopeless, they said. In the last war when they had sent a messenger to do peaceful arguing, the enemy had merely hit him with an ax.
While the Doctor was asking Big Teeth how he meant to defend the village against attack, a cry of alarm was raised by the look-outs.
“They’re coming!—The Bag-jagderags—swarming down the mountains in thousands!”
“Well,” said the Doctor, “it’s all in the day’s work, I suppose. I don’t believe in war; but if the village is attacked we must help defend it.”
And he picked up a club from the ground and tried the heft of it against a stone.
“This,” he said, “seems like a pretty good tool to me.” And he walked to the bamboo fence and took his place among the other waiting fighters.
Then we all got hold of some kind of weapon with which to help our friends, the gallant Popsipetels: I borrowed a bow and a quiver full of arrows; Jip was content to rely upon his old, but still strong teeth; Chee-Chee took a bag of rocks and climbed a palm where he could throw them down upon the enemies’ heads; and Bumpo marched after the Doctor to the fence armed with a young tree in one hand and a door-post in the other.
When the enemy drew near enough to be seen from where we stood we all gasped with astonishment. The hillsides were actually covered with them—thousands upon thousands. They made our small army within the village look like a mere handful.
“Saints alive!” muttered Polynesia, “our little lot will stand no chance against that swarm. This will never do. I’m going off to get some help.”
Where she was going and what kind of help she meant to get, I had no idea. She just disappeared from my side. But Jip, who had heard her, poked his nose between the bamboo bars of the fence to get a better view of the enemy and said,
“Likely enough she’s gone after the Black Parrots. Let’s hope she finds them in time. Just look at those ugly ruffians climbing down the rocks—millions of ’em! This fight’s going to keep us all hopping.”
And Jip was right. Before a quarter of an hour had gone by our village was completely surrounded by one huge mob of yelling, raging Bag-jagderags.
I now come again to a part in the story of our voyages where things happened so quickly, one upon the other, that looking backwards I see the picture only in a confused kind of way. I know that if it had not been for the Terrible Three—as they came afterwards to be fondly called in Popsipetel history—Long Arrow, Bumpo and the Doctor, the war would have been soon over and the whole island would have belonged to the worthless Bag-jagderags. But the Englishman, the African and the Indian were a regiment in themselves; and between them they made that village a dangerous place for any man to try to enter.
The bamboo fencing which had been hastily set up around the town was not a very strong affair; and right from the start it gave way in one place after another as the enemy thronged and crowded against it. Then the Doctor, Long Arrow and Bumpo would hurry to the weak spot, a terrific hand-to-hand fight would take place and the enemy be thrown out. But almost instantly a cry of alarm would come from some other part of the village-wall; and the Three would have to rush off and do the same thing all over again.
From an Indian rock-engraving found on Hawks’-Head Mountain, Spidermonkey Island The Popsipetels were themselves no mean fighters; but the strength and weight of those three men of different lands and colors, standing close together, swinging their enormous war-clubs, was really a sight for the wonder and admiration of any one.
Many weeks later when I was passing an Indian camp-fire at night I heard this song being sung. It has since become one of the traditional folksongs of the Popsipetels.
THE SONG OF THE TERRIBLE THREE Oh hear ye the Song of the Terrible Three And the fight that they fought by the edge of the sea. Down from the mountains, the rocks and the crags, Swarming like wasps, came the Bag-jagderags. Surrounding our village, our walls they broke down. Oh, sad was the plight of our men and our town! But Heaven determined our land to set free And sent us the help of the Terrible Three. One was a Black—he was dark as the night; One was a Red-skin, a mountain of height; But the chief was a White Man, round like a bee; And all in a row stood the Terrible Three. Shoulder to shoulder, they hammered and hit. Like demons of fury they kicked and they bit. Like a wall of destruction they stood in a row, Flattening enemies, six at a blow. Oh, strong was the Red-skin fierce was the Black. Bag-jagderags trembled and tried to turn back. But ’twas of the White Man they shouted, “Beware! He throws men in handfuls, straight up in the air!” Long shall they frighten bad children at night With tales of the Red and the Black and the White. And long shall we sing of the Terrible Three And the fight that they fought by the edge of the sea.