WE all agreed afterwards that none of us had ever worked so hard in our lives before as we did that day. For my part, I know I was often on the point of dropping exhausted with fatigue; but I just kept on going—like a machine—determined that, whatever happened, I would not be the first to give up.
When we had scrambled to the top of a high peak, almost instantly we saw the strange mountain pictured in the letter. In shape it was the perfect image of a hawk’s head, and was, as far as we could see, the second highest summit in the island.
Although we were all out of breath from our climb, the Doctor didn’t let us rest a second as soon as he had sighted it. With one look at the sun for direction, down he dashed again, breaking through thickets, splashing over brooks, taking all the short cuts. For a fat man, he was certainly the swiftest cross-country runner I ever saw.
We floundered after him as fast as we could. When I say we, I mean Bumpo and myself; for the animals, Jip, Chee-Chee and Polynesia, were a long way ahead—even beyond the Doctor—enjoying the hunt like a paper-chase.
At length we arrived at the foot of the mountain we were making for; and we found its sides very steep. Said the Doctor,
“Now we will separate and search for caves. This spot where we now are, will be our meeting-place. If anyone finds anything like a cave or a hole where the earth and rocks have fallen in, he must shout and hulloa to the rest of us. If we find nothing we will all gather here in about an hour’s time—Everybody understand?”
Then we all went off our different ways.
Each of us, you may be sure, was anxious to be the one to make a discovery. And never was a mountain searched so thoroughly. But alas! nothing could we find that looked in the least like a fallen-in cave. There were plenty of places where rocks had tumbled down to the foot of the slopes; but none of these appeared as though caves or passages could possibly lie behind them.
One by one, tired and disappointed, we straggled back to the meeting-place. The Doctor seemed gloomy and impatient but by no means inclined to give up.
“Jip,” he said, “couldn’t you smell anything like an Indian anywhere?”
“No,” said Jip. “I sniffed at every crack on the mountainside. But I am afraid my nose will be of no use to you here, Doctor. The trouble is, the whole air is so saturated with the smell of spider-monkeys that it drowns every other scent—And besides, it’s too cold and dry for good smelling.”
“It is certainly that,” said the Doctor—“and getting colder all the time. I’m afraid the island is still drifting to the southward. Let’s hope it stops before long, or we won’t be able to get even nuts and fruit to eat—everything in the island will perish—Chee-Chee, what luck did you have?”
“None, Doctor. I climbed to every peak and pinnacle I could see. I searched every hollow and cleft. But not one place could I find where men might be hidden.”
“And Polynesia,” asked the Doctor, “did you see nothing that might put us on the right track?”
“Not a thing, Doctor—But I have a plan.”
“Oh good!” cried John Dolittle, full of hope renewed. “What is it? Let’s hear it.”
“You still have that beetle with you,” she asked—“the Biz-biz, or whatever it is you call the wretched insect?”
“Yes,” said the Doctor, producing the glass-topped box from his pocket, “here it is.”
“All right. Now listen,” said she. “If what you have supposed is true—that is, that Long Arrow had been trapped inside the mountain by falling rock, he probably found that beetle inside the cave—perhaps many other different beetles too, eh? He wouldn’t have been likely to take the Biz-biz in with him, would he?—He was hunting plants, you say, not beetles. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes,” said the Doctor, “that’s probably so.”
“Very well. It is fair to suppose then that the beetle’s home, or his hole, is in that place—the part of the mountain where Long Arrow and his party are imprisoned, isn’t it?”
“All right. Then the thing to do is to let the beetle go—and watch him; and sooner or later he’ll return to his home in Long Arrow’s cave. And there we will follow him—Or at all events,” she added smoothing down her wing-feathers with a very superior air, “we will follow him till the miserable bug starts nosing under the earth. But at least he will show us what part of the mountain Long Arrow is hidden in.”
“But he may fly, if I let him out,” said the Doctor. “Then we shall just lose him and be no better off than we were before.”
“Let him fly,” snorted Polynesia scornfully. “A parrot can wing it as fast as a Biz-biz, I fancy. If he takes to the air, I’ll guarantee not to let the little devil out of my sight. And if he just crawls along the ground you can follow him yourself.”
“Splendid!” cried the Doctor. “Polynesia, you have a great brain. I’ll set him to work at once and see what happens.”
Again we all clustered round the Doctor as he carefully lifted off the glass lid and let the big beetle climb out upon his finger.
“Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home!” crooned Bumpo. “Your house is on fire and your chil—”
“Oh, be quiet!” snapped Polynesia crossly. “Stop insulting him! Don’t you suppose he has wits enough to go home without your telling him?”
“I thought perchance he might be of a philandering disposition,” said Bumpo humbly. “It could be that he is tired of his home and needs to be encouraged. Shall I sing him ‘Home Sweet Home,’ think you?”
“No. Then he’d never go back. Your voice needs a rest. Don’t sing to him: just watch him—Oh, and Doctor, why not tie another message to the creature’s leg, telling Long Arrow that we’re doing our best to reach him and that he mustn’t give up hope?”
“I will,” said the Doctor. And in a minute he had pulled a dry leaf from a bush near by and was covering it with little pictures in pencil.
At last, neatly fixed up with his new mail-bag, Mr. Jabizri crawled off the Doctor’s finger to the ground and looked about him. He stretched his legs, polished his nose with his front feet and then moved off leisurely to the westward.
We had expected him to walk up the mountain; instead, he walked around it. Do you know how long it takes a beetle to walk round a mountain? Well, I assure you it takes an unbelievably long time. As the hours dragged by, we hoped and hoped that he would get up and fly the rest, and let Polynesia carry on the work of following him. But he never opened his wings once. I had not realized before how hard it is for a human being to walk slowly enough to keep up with a beetle. It was the most tedious thing I have ever gone through. And as we dawdled along behind, watching him like hawks lest we lose him under a leaf or something, we all got so cross and ill-tempered we were ready to bite one another’s heads off. And when he stopped to look at the scenery or polish his nose some more, I could hear Polynesia behind me letting out the most dreadful seafaring swear-words you ever heard.
After he had led us the whole way round the mountain he brought us to the exact spot where we started from and there he came to a dead stop.
“Well,” said Bumpo to Polynesia, “what do you think of the beetle’s sense now? You see he doesn’t know enough to go home.”
“Oh, be still, you Hottentot!” snapped Polynesia. “Wouldn’t you want to stretch your legs for exercise if you’d been shut up in a box all day. Probably his home is near here, and that’s why he’s come back.”
“But why,” I asked, “did he go the whole way round the mountain first?”
Then the three of us got into a violent argument. But in the middle of it all the Doctor suddenly called out,
We turned and found that he was pointing to the Jabizri, who was now walking up the mountain at a much faster and more business-like gait.
“Well,” said Bumpo sitting down wearily; “if he is going to walk over the mountain and back, for more exercise, I’ll wait for him here. Chee-Chee and Polynesia can follow him.”
Indeed it would have taken a monkey or a bird to climb the place which the beetle was now walking up. It was a smooth, flat part of the mountain’s side, steep as a wall.
But presently, when the Jabizri was no more than ten feet above our heads, we all cried out together. For, even while we watched him, he had disappeared into the face of the rock like a raindrop soaking into sand.
“He’s gone,” cried Polynesia. “There must be a hole up there.” And in a twinkling she had fluttered up the rock and was clinging to the face of it with her claws.
“Yes,” she shouted down, “we’ve run him to earth at last. His hole is right here, behind a patch of lichen—big enough to get two fingers in.”
“Ah,” cried the Doctor, “this great slab of rock then must have slid down from the summit and shut off the mouth of the cave like a door. Poor fellows! What a dreadful time they must have spent in there!—Oh, if we only had some picks and shovels now!”
“Picks and shovels wouldn’t do much good,” said Polynesia. “Look at the size of the slab: a hundred feet high and as many broad. You would need an army for a week to make any impression on it.”
“I wonder how thick it is,” said the Doctor; and he picked up a big stone and banged it with all his might against the face of the rock. It made a hollow booming sound, like a giant drum. We all stood still listening while the echo of it died slowly away.
And then a cold shiver ran down my spine. For, from within the mountain, back came three answering knocks: Boom!... Boom!... Boom!
Wide-eyed we looked at one another as though the earth itself had spoken. And the solemn little silence that followed was broken by the Doctor.
“Thank Heaven,” he said in a hushed reverent voice, “some of them at least are alive!”