Menu Bar

Contents   I   II   III   IV   V   VI   VII   VIII


  The end of the plain where the Great Forest begins. The foreground is sandy, level ground dotted by a few stones and clumps of stunted bushes cowering close against the earth to escape the buffeting of the trade wind. In the rear the forest is a wall of darkness dividing the world. Only when the eye becomes accustomed to the gloom can the outlines of separate trunks of the nearest trees be made out, enormous pillars of deeper blackness. A somber monotone of wind lost in the leaves moans in the air. Yet this sound serves but to intensify the impression of the forest's relentless immobility, to form a background throwing into relief its brooding, implacable silence.

  Jones enters from the left, walking rapidly. He stops as he nears the edge of the forest, looks around him quickly, peering into the dark as if searching for some familiar landmark. Then, apparently satisfied that he is where he ought to be, he throws himself on the ground, dog-tired.

  Well, heah I is. In de nick o' time, too! Little mo' an' it'd be blacker'n de ace of spades heah-abouts. (He pulls a bandana handkerchief from his hip pocket and mops off his perspiring face.) Sho'! Gimme air! I'se tuckered out sho' 'nuff. Dat soft Emperor job ain't no trainin' for' a long hike ovah dat plain in de brilin' sun. (then with a chuckle) Cheah up, nigger, de worst is yet to come. (He lifts his head and stares at the forest. His chuckle peters out abruptly. In a tone of awe) My goodness, look at dem woods, will you? Dat no-count Smithers said dey'd be black an' he sho' called de turn. (Turning away from them quickly and looking down at his feet, he snatches at a chance to change the subject—solicitously.) Feet, you is holdin' up yo' end fine an' I sutinly hopes you ain't blisterin' none. It's time you git a rest. (He takes off his shoes, his eyes studiously avoiding the forest. He feels of the soles of his feet gingerly.) You is still in de pink—on'y a little mite feverish. Cool yo'selfs. Remember you done got a long journey yit befo' you. (He sits in a weary attitude, listening to the rhythmic beating of the tom-tom. He grumbles in a loud tone to cover up a growing uneasiness.) Bush niggers! Wonder dey wouldn' git sick o' beatin' dat drum. Sound louder, seem like. I wonder if dey's startin' after me? (He scrambles to his feet, looking back across the plain.) Couldn't see dem now, nohow, if dey was hundred feet away. (then shaking himself like a wet dog to get rid of these depressing thoughts) Sho', dey's miles an' miles behind. What you gittin' fidgetty about? (But he sits down and begins to lace up his shoes in great haste, all the time muttering reassuringly.) You know what? Yo' belly is empty, dat's what's de matter wid you. Come time to eat! Wid nothin' but wind on yo' stumach, o' course you feels jiggedy. Well, we eats right heah an' now soon's I gits dese pesky shoes laced up. (He finishes lacing up his shoes.) Dere! Now le's see! (gets on his hands and knees and searches the ground around him with his eyes) White stone, white stone, where is you? (He sees the first white stone and crawls to it—with satisfaction.) Heah you is! I knowed dis was de right place. Box of grub, come to me. (He turns over the stone and feels in under it—in a tone of dismay.) Ain't heah! Gorry, is I in de right place or isn't I? Dere's 'nother stone. Guess dat's it. (He scrambles to the next stone and turns it over.) Ain't heah, neither! Grub, whar is you? Ain't heah. Gorry, has I got to go hungry into dem woodsall de night? (While he is talking he scrambles from one stone to another, turning them over in frantic haste. Finally, he jumps to his feet excitedly.) Is I lost de place? Must have! But how dat happen when I was followin' de trail across de plain in broad daylight? (almost plaintively) I'se hungry, I is! I gotta git my feed. Whar's my strength gonna come from if I doesn't? Gorry, I gotta find dat grub high an' low somehow! Why it come dark so quick like dat? Can't see nothin'. (He scratches a match on his trousers and peers about him. The rate of the beat of the far-off tom-tom increases perceptibly as he does so. He mutters in a bewildered voice.) How come all dese white stones come heah when I only remembers one? (Suddenly, with a frightened gasp, he flings the match on the ground and stamps on it.) Nigger, is you gone crazy mad? Is you lightin' matches to show dem whar you is? Fo' Lawd's sake, use yo' haid. Gorry, I'se got to be careful! (He stares at the plain behind him apprehensively, his hand on his revolver.) But how come all dese white stones? And whar's dat tin box o' grub I hid all wrapped up in oil cloth?

  (While his back is turned, the Little Formless Fears creep out from the deeper blackness of the forest. They are black, shapeless, only their glittering little eyes can be seen. If they have any describable form at all it is that of a grubworm about the size of a creeping child. They move noiselessly, but with deliberate, painful effort, striving to raise themselves on end, failing and sinking prone again. Jones turns about to face the forest. He stares up at the tops of the trees, seeking vainly to discover his whereabouts by their conformation.)

  Can't tell nothin' from dem trees! Gorry, nothin' 'round heah look like I evah seed it befo'. I'se done lost de place sho' 'nuff! (with mournful foreboding) It's mighty queer! It's mighty queer! (with sudden forced defiance—in an angry tone) Woods, is you tryin' to put somethin' ovah on me?

  (From the formless creatures on the ground in front of him comes a tiny gale of low mocking laughter like a rustling of leaves. They squirm upward toward him in twisted attitudes. Jones looks down, leaps backward with a yell of terror, yanking out his revolver as he does join a quavering voice.) What's dat? who's dar? What is you? Git away from me befo' I shoots you up! You don't?

  (He fires. There is a flash, a loud report, then silence broken only by the far-off, quickened throb of the tom-tom. The formless creatures have scurried back into the forest. Jones remains fixed in his position, listening intently. The sound of the shot, the reassuring feel of the revolver in his hand, have somewhat restored his shaken nerve. He addresses himself with renewed confidence.)

  Dey're gone. Dat shot fix 'em. Dey was only little animalslittle wild pigs, I reckon. Dey've maybe rooted out yo' grub an' eat it. Sho', you fool nigger, what you think dey isha'nts? (excitedly) Gorry, you give de game away when you fire dat shot. Dem niggers heah dat fo' su'tin! Time you beat it in de woods widout no long waits. (He starts for the forest—hesitates before the plunge—then urging himself in with manful resolution.) Git in, nigger! What you skeered at? Ain't nothin' dere but de trees! Git in! (He plunges boldly into the forest.)

Copyright © 1999-2012