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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

Upon which I intended to build my pyre


of him he rose to his feet,

with his two front paws on Ama's body, and bared his great fangs at me in a hideous grin, as he gave utterance to a snarling growl that might well have struck terror to the boldest. But my heart was so full of rage and grief at the dreadful sight before me that there was no room in it for any other emotion, and, halting short in my tracks, I gazed the brute steadfastly in the eye, as I slowly raised my bow and drew the arrow to its head. Never in my life had I felt more deadly cool and self-possessed than I did then as I aimed steadily at the animal's right eye; I felt that I _could not_ miss; nor did I; for while we thus stood motionlessly staring at each other, I released the string, and the next instant the great lithe beast sprang convulsively into the air, with the butt of my arrow protruding from his eye and the point buried deep in his brain. As he fell back, and struggled writhing upon the ground, moaning horribly for a few seconds ere his great limbs straightened out in death, I dashed forward, and, seizing poor Ama's body, drew it out of reach of the beast's claws. But a single glance sufficed to show me that the unfortunate girl was beyond the reach of further hurt. Yes, she was quite dead, this gentle, faithful, savage girl who, in return for a comparatively slight service, had unhesitatingly abandoned home, kindred, everything, to save me from a cruel and lingering death; and now the only thing that I could do to show my gratitude was to make sure that no further
violence should be offered to her remains.

My first impulse was to carry the body down to where the soil was softer, and there dig a grave for it; but while I was considering this plan, it occurred to me that, with no more efficient tool than a spear to serve as a shovel, it would be practically impossible for me to bury the body deep enough to protect it from the jackals and hyaenas; and I therefore determined that, instead of burying it, I would burn it. There was an abundance of fallen boughs and twigs in the adjacent jungle to enable me to build a funeral pyre; and I should have the melancholy satisfaction of actually watching the reduction of the body to impalpable ashes. I therefore took all that remained of poor Ama in my arms and carried it to the top of a bare rocky plateau close at hand, upon which I intended to build my pyre, and then diligently set to work to collect the necessary wood.

It took me the remainder of the day to collect as much dry and combustible material as I considered would be needful to accomplish the complete incineration of the body, and to build the pyre; but it was done at last; and then, once more raising the corpse in my arms, I gently placed it on the top. Then, making fire, as I had seen Ama do, by rubbing two pieces of wood together, I ignited a torch and thrust it deep into the heart of the pyre, through an opening which I had left for the purpose. The dry leaves and grass which I had arranged as kindling material instantly caught fire, and in a few minutes the flames were darting fiercely upward through the interstices, and wreathing themselves about the corpse. Then, placing myself to windward, clear of the smoke, I knelt down on the hard rock and--I am not ashamed to admit it--prayed earnestly that God would have mercy upon the soul of the simple, unsophisticated, savage maiden who had lost her life while helping me to save my own. I was doing a most imprudent thing to linger by the side of the pyre, for the smoke, in the first place, and the light of the flames when it fell dark, could scarcely have failed to attract to the spot any savages who might have been in the neighbourhood, when my plight would probably have been as bad as ever; but at that moment my sorrow at the loss of my companion overcame every other feeling, and, for the moment at least, I was quite indifferent as to what befell me. As it happened, no one came near me, and I remained, unmolested, watching the fire until it had burnt itself out, leaving no trace of the body that had been consumed.


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