Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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RGL e-Book Cover
Based on a painting by J.R.D. MacKenzie (1865-1941)

Ex Libris

First published in Chums, April 20, 1918

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-01-12

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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A pair of baleful eyes glared at the intruders.

JOCK MASTERS stopped and pointed downwards.

"Here we are, Mart! Here's Hyder Ali's valley!"

Martin Hamerton wiped the perspiration from his streaming face and stood stock still, staring into the depths below.

From the rocky ridge on which he and Jock stood the ground fell away steeply, until the wooded depths were lost in a blue haze.

Opposite, on the far side of the deep valley, towered rugged hills of dark-coloured rock, and above their steep summits the blue of the Indian sky was hidden by ugly piles of mountainous cloud. There was not a breath of wind, and the heat, even up here, was stifling.

"I believe you're right, Jock," said Mart at last, "That looks like the cave temple he talked of. See the mouth of it in the cliff over there. Hyder wasn't gassing, after all."

"Not about the place, perhaps," replied Jock with a short laugh. "As to the opals, that's another pair of shoes."

"If the valley is real, why not the opals?" asked Mart.

"H'm! Don't forget that Ali has had his knife into us this long time past," said Jock. "I don't believe that smooth-faced beggar is half as friendly as he lets on," he added.

"You suspicious old ass!" said Mart with a laugh. "Ali's all right. Those opals he showed us were genuine enough."

"They were opals all right," allowed Dick.

"And he's going to have that land back if we get the opals," returned Mart with a touch of irritation in his usually even voice. "But what's the use of arguing? Come on."

A rough track led down into the valley, and after an hour's tramp over scorching rock they came at last to the forest. The shade was grateful after the tremendous glare, but the air seemed positively stifling, and the place was so silent it was almost uncanny. Not a bird or a beast moved.

"'The silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak,'" quoted Mart, and laughed.

"You'll be silent for good and all if you're not careful," remarked Jock, and caught Mart by the arm just in time to save him from plunging into a black gulf that cut the path like a giant knife-slash.

"Phew! What a place!" exclaimed Mart, peering over into the black depths.

"How the dickens are we going to get across?" growled the practical Jock as he measured the ravine with his eyes. "It's twenty feet across if it's an inch."

"There's the path the far side," said Mart in a puzzled voice. "There must have been a bridge."

"There's the remains of it," said Jock, pointing to a broken tree trunk which stuck out from their side half-way across.

"And—hallo!" he added. "It's been cut!"

"It's been burnt," said Mart. "Look—it's all charred."

Suddenly Jock turned to Mart.

"Suppose we chuck it and get back?"

Mart stared. Never had he known Jock give up anything they had once started.

"Go back?" he repeated. "Why?"

"I hate the beastly place!" snapped Jock.

"What! And give up the opals?"

Jock went rather red.

"Come on, then," he said rather angrily. And almost snatching the axe out of Mart's hands he set savagely to work on a good-sized tree growing on the very edge of the nullah.

Jock was a fine axe man. It was not long before the tree began to sway. There was a sharp crack; then, with a rending crash, it heeled over and fell across the ravine. Its crown tore a passage through the dense jungle opposite, sending leaves and branches flying in every direction.

After the crash the silence shut down again more dead and sinister than before.

"Good business!" said Mart, trying to smile, and swung himself on to the trunk.

Jock made a sudden spring and caught him.

"Wait!" he muttered.

"What's the matter?" demanded Mart. "Listen! Hear that hissing?"

"By Jove! I do hear something."

He broke off with a gasp.

"Look at that!"

Out from the thick mass of tumbled foliage on the far side of the ravine there had suddenly shot up a long, slim body gaudily banded with yellow and black.

At the top swayed a head, dark, triangular, and deadly. A pair of baleful eyes glared at the intruders, and from the slavering jaws came a sound like steam from a boiling kettle.

"A king snake!" gasped Mart; and as he spoke the gorgeous yet hideous thing flung itself forward across their bridge.

"Back, Mart!" cried Jock; and as Mart sprang aside Jock flung up his gun and fired. With head torn to rags the great snake slipped from the trunk and dropped like a plummet into the abyss below.

"There's another!" cried Mart. "Two more! Gosh—a dozen!"

A dozen—there were scores. The whole jungle on the far side of the gorge was alive with the gleaming horrors. One head after another shot up out of the dense greenery, and one and all, mad with a sort of blind rage, dashed forward to attack.

"We've got to stop 'em," cried Jock as he thrust fresh cartridges into his gun. For the next three minutes the pair blazed away until the barrels burned their hands.

One after another the gaudily striped serpents were blown to bits, but more and more seemed to spring to life.

"Fire—fire's the only thing!" panted Jock. "Keep going, Mart. I'll light some grass."

He dropped his gun, and tearing up great armfuls of the dry jungle grass, flung them on to the fallen tree. He twisted up a torch, lit it, and flung it into the pile.

The dry stuff flared in a sheet of crackling flame. The tree itself caught and burned furiously.

"That's done it!" cried Mart, as he watched scorched, writhing snakes dropping one after another into the depths. "That's done the trick! Smart of you to think of it, Jock!"

"I didn't," Jock answered. "The last people Ali sent here did the same."

"So you were right, Jock," said Mart. "The old scoundrel must have known."

"Of course he did," Jock answered curtly. "He never meant us to come back."

"But how did he get through himself?" demanded Mart.

Jock shrugged his shoulders.

"This may not be the place at all. Or, if it is, the snakes may not have been here when Ali visited the valley. Anyhow, the best thing we can do is to get straight back."

Mart glanced at the sky.

"It's going to rain," he remarked, as he shouldered his gun and started. The words were hardly out of his mouth before there was a crash of thunder and down the rain came in torrents.

The water was running off them in streams as they reached the entrance to the great cave temple and plunged into it, and Mart only just saved himself from falling over a man who sat motionless on the floor just under the central arch.

Mart pulled up short and apologised, but the old fellow took no notice.

"The priest in charge," whispered Jock. "Don't disturb him."

They found dry fuel in a corner, lit a fire, and cooked a badly needed supper. Then Jock took some rice and placed it beside the old priest. He also filled his brass bowl, or lotah, with fresh water.

"Why didn't you give him some of our grub?" asked Mart.

"Because he'd sooner starve than eat anything we had cooked," Jock answered.

"He's not too grateful, anyhow," grumbled Mart.

"He'll eat it when he gets ready," said Jock briefly. "Now I'm going to turn in."

Mart merely nodded. Both of them were so tired that they were soon asleep.

Low voices roused Mart, and he sat up to see Jock and the old priest in talk. Jock's keen young face and the old priest's withered one were plain in the light of a lantern which the latter carried.

Suddenly Jock turned and came to Mart. "Not grateful! I tell you it was the best stroke ever, being civil to the old boy. He's our pal. I've told him everything, and he's going to show us a way of getting through the snakes."

Mart leaped up.

"What's his dodge?"

"Don't know; but he'll show us."

The shrivelled old fellow beckoned, and they followed through rock-hewn passages carved with strange beasts which flickered out fantastically in the swinging light.

And suddenly both pulled up short. They had entered another great hall, and at the far end stood a row of silent figures cased in plate and chain mail.

"They're only dummies," said Jock shakily.

"Beastly lifelike," answered Mart with a shiver.

The old priest was speaking. Jock turned to Mart.

"Topping! He says we're to dress ourselves up. The snakes can't bite through the stuff."

"It's a great scheme!" answered Mart.

"The chain mail," explained Joel. "It's lighter. Pick your suit."

Presently, armed cap--pie, the pair were back at the edge of the ravine.

"Luck's with us," said Mart. "The bridge is not burnt through."

"Put your visor down," Jock ordered. "And don't shoot. Use your knife."

Mart's heart was thumping as he walked softly across the tree trunk. Jock, too, quiet as he seemed, was anything but happy.

The long grass dripped with dew. The jungle in the grey dawn mist was still as death. There was no sign of its terrible inhabitants.

But the light was growing fast. Then the sun shot up like thunder over the jagged crests of the mountains, and everything was bathed in a crimson splendour.

"Now for it," muttered Jock.

He had hardly spoken before Mart gave a yell and slashed at a yellow and black riband that came flickering out of the grass.

At the same instant a second attacked Jock. He felt its fangs strike his greaved leg like the peck of an angry hen. He slashed it through and left it squirming.

Then the battle began. By twos and threes the serpents rose from the jungle grass and dashed like furies at the intruders. The brutes were absolutely fearless. Each, as it came, struck savagely at the boys, and if not killed at once flung its gleaming coils around their bodies and struck again and again.

Hampered by the weight of their armour, the boys grew so weary that they could hardly raise their arms. Sweat blinded them, and the thick air was clogged with a suffocating smell of musk.

Suddenly, out of the track rose a giant serpent full twelve feet long, and flung itself on Mart. Jock heard him give a muffled cry and saw him tumble flat to the ground. He had a vision of the snake's long, evil head poised above his chum's, and in the very act of striking downwards. At the same time he saw that Jock's visor had been jerked open in the fall and that his face was exposed to the deadly fangs.

There was no time to get across. Stooping, he picked up a stone and flung it with all his might. His aim was good. The stone struck the reptile just below the head, and bowled it over. But it was not dead. It writhed in whirling coils, striking blindly here and there.

Jock made one mad leap across, and with a frantic slash cut its spine clean through.

Mart lay like one dead.

"Did he get you?" groaned Jock; and then another snake was at him and he had to fight again.

He finished the horrid thing and looked round. To his relief Mart was on his feet.

"Good man, Jock!" he said hoarsely. "Yes, I'm all right. He didn't touch me. Seems to me we've nearly finished them. Let's make a run for it."

They stumbled wearily forward, and before they knew it were out in a wide clearing through which poured a broad, clear stream. Both broke into a run and plunged deep into the cool, sweet water.

"That's better," panted Mart, as at last he raised his dripping face. "We're through, Jock. We're through. What's the next thing on the programme?"

Jock's answer was to wade across to the far bank, where a quarry-like cutting disfigured the grassy bank. Stooping, he picked up a small pebble and held it high above his head. The morning sun struck full upon it, and it gleamed and glowed with the most wonderful iridescent tints.

"Opal!" cried Mart.

"Opal," repeated Jock quietly. "And the next thing on the programme is to collect as much of it as we can carry back."

Mart looked round.

"What about the snakes?" he said with a sudden shiver.

"Don't think we need worry," replied Jock quietly. "We haven't seen a single one in the clearing. Seems to me they only stick to the grass. And anyhow, we shall be right as rain so long as we are in the river."

"But we've got to get back," said Mart.

"We'll wait for night," Jock answered. "They don't show up till sunrise."

Mart broke into a sudden laugh.

"What a sell for that swab Ali!"

"It'll be worse than a sell before I've finished with him," said Jock. "He meant to kill us. Trust me to settle the score."

But the score was never destined to be settled. News travels strangely in the East, and somehow it came to Hyder Ali's ears that that Mart Hamerton and Jock Masters had escaped the trap that he had laid for them, and were on their way home again with a mule-load of opals.

He never waited for them, and when the pair reached Furzapore they found it the cleaner and pleasanter for his absence.

The opals they brought with them were enough to convince others that the find was a rich one, and Jock's uncle at once formed a company to work the mine.

During the next dry season the whole of the jungle in the snake-haunted valley was thoroughly burnt out, together with all its hideous brood.

To-day the valley has changed its name and become a pleasant and well-populated place, while Jock and Mart are rich men. But they have never forgotten the old priest or the debt they owe him. He has a chelah now—a pupil who cooks his rice and looks after him. Also he has many worshippers in his once lonely temple. And there is a new ornament on the cliff outside.

Mart, who is clever with his hands, did it himself. It is a carving in relief, showing the head of a huge snake. And in its open mouth it holds a great piece of gleaming opal.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.