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."As soon as I get back to my horse, I'm riding on that beast's track."He spoke matter-of-factly and had a look to match."Those things shouldn't beallowed to live, you know."He was so right that any direct comment seemed out of the question.I let itride for a few paces."It seems to me you've already done your part where this one's concerned," Ithen ventured."Put a part on a pedestal, and it's still nothing more than a part," he smiled.We had reached the other two, and he changed his tone."This lady isn't seriously harmed, I hope?" The man addressed, a youngster, raised a wretched face."She hasn't cometo," he said."She still breathes, and her pulse is good," my companion declared after abrief examination."If you can ""Here come a couple of people," I interrupted him."One of them's a woman,too.""She'll give you the help you need.The shelter also, for undoubtedly they livenear here." My new acquaintance and I both had the feeling of being relieved ofa responsibility that would interfere with our own projects."I'll be on my waythen."While not as anxious as he to venture on alone, I had determined to do so."Do you happen to know where this road goes? By the way, I'm Shandon.""The name is Calidore." He shook his head, as he removed his steel glove totake my hand."I know nothing of that road, but it will soon bring you to somecastle, I should think."He was starting toward his horse, but I had one more question."Will there beany place to spend the night?"He looked puzzled, then decided I was in earnest."At the castle," he calledback."You'll get the best of hospitality, and you may well find the lady you seekthere."As I proceeded, the forest was not the pleasant, green place it had been.Having seen one of the resident monsters, I heard another every time a branchsnapped.They watched me from the deepening shadows.Their snarls camedown the wind which sprang up.At first my sustaining purpose was the hope of joining and convoyingRosalette.When dusk drew near, however, I had to conclude that if I did seeher that night, it would be only after she had already found comfort andprotection in some household along the way.No doubt, indeed, she was eatinga fine meal while I still struggled, worn and empty, through a dark,beast-haunted wood.Thus my sympathies shifted from her to myself.There had to be a new goal inkeeping with my new conception of the state of affairs.A choice of two wasoffered.Deliverance from evil would come either when I stepped clear of theforest or when I saw the castle Calidore had mentioned.I chose the second asthe most probable.In time my mind became so engaged with it that I was sureof the castle's existence.Calidore hadn't exactly guaranteed it was there, buthe knew the ropes.In his expert opinion it should be no more than a few milesoff.Unwilling to halt, I was tired out by twilight.But no matter how hard I pushedmyself the castle failed to materialize.This didn't make me despondent.As Ihad it in my mind that the building was bound to be somewhere near, I wasexasperated instead.I was, in fact, in a bad humor generally.It annoyed me to be jittery.Failing tofind Rosalette was a disappointment.Then my feet hurt, my muscles ached,and I was gone in the stomach."Hold it!" a voice ordered."Grip your tracks!" A man had sprung out frombehind a great sugar maple just ahead of me; a man who laughed when he sawme jump.That was all that was necessary.At last my anger had a concrete object of a size to cope with."Are you talking to me or do you just like to yell?" While I was speaking, Imoved forward to show my unconcern.He stopped laughing."You'd better do what you're told," he said.He was a well set-up fellow dressed in a green jacket and tights.Incongruously for such a rugged customer, he wore a little hat with a feather init.I couldn't see his face too clearly, but clearly enough to measure the distanceto his chin.He carried a long stick but had made the mistake of letting meinside its range."Look, mister;" I said to him, "this road has room for two-way traffic; but ifyou can't see it that way get off and let me by.""I may let you go on," he retorted with a calmness which further infuriatedme, "but not until I find out a few things.""Such as what?""Oh, where you're headed and whether you've got anything I could use."Without lifting my feet, I inched nearer."I guess I've got at least one thing youcould use," I muttered.At this suggestion of compliance he took one hand from the stick and thrustit out, snapping the fingers."We'll see.Turn around and "He didn't finish, because I grabbed his hand with my left and uppercut himas I jerked him nearer.He was still falling when my own feet were pulled outfrom under me.Rolling when I hit the ground, I crouched.Nobody attacked me, though a pairof legs straddled the earth not a foot away.Looking up and up, I found the top.The man could not have been less than seven feet tall, and he was built like theCardiff Giant.What I could see of his face looked hard, but his voice was notill-humored."Would you rather talk it over?"There were six or eight men surrounding me in addition to him all of him.No one interfering, I rose and dusted myself off."All right," I sulked, "but I haven't got anything but an appetite.""You ain't the only one," he informed me. VIIUnder the LeavesInstead of searching me on the spot, they led me off the road.Above usbranches from trees fifty feet apart interlocked.The gloom could only be toldfrom night because colors were still more or less distinguishable.We weren't ona path, but we hustled along as if late for the office.Most of my captors seemed to be in a genial mood.They were talking andjoking among themselves, and there was a certain amount of horseplay.It mademe feel better, even if I couldn't share their high spirits.That doesn't mean Iwas glad to go with them; but I didn't try to make a break for it, either.For onething, aside from the fact I was too tired, that seven-footer had a grip on myarm.After a while he imitated the whippoorwill.He was answered from somewhereahead, and soon I could hear human voices from the same direction.About thesame time I caught a glimpse of light.In a minute more we had reached our destination and it was no place at all.In place of the building or buildings I had expected, there was merely a space.Ringing the spot were trees, and high up the leaves met.Though it was nowdark, that much could be seen, because several fires were burning.Of thesethe large one in the center was evidently for illumination.The lesser ones werecooking fires.Lounging in the glow of these blazes were a hundred-odd men wearing thesame uniform as my captors.Some jumped up with a cheer, as we came nearenough to be identified."They've bagged somebody!" a man crowed."We eat!""Sit down until Robin's had a look at him," another advised."'Tain't no good, if he decides to throw him back in the pond."In spite of the first fellow's remark, I didn't suspect cannibalism here.Tobegin with, there wasn't enough of me to go around; and there was enoughcooked meat warming by the fires to feed a small army.As much puzzled asworried, I passed to the other side of the great wood fire.At that point thosewho had been leading me stood aside to let me see and be seen.A fellow was sitting on a log, tying feathers on an arrow [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]