The Treasure in the Forest, by H. G. Wells
Stolen Bacillus and
The canoe was now approaching the land. The bay opened out, and a gap
in the white surf of the reef marked where the little river ran out to
the sea; the thicker and deeper green of the virgin forest showed its
course down the distant hill slope. The forest here came close to
the beach. Far beyond, dim and almost cloudlike in texture, rose the
mountains, like suddenly frozen waves. The sea was still save for an
almost imperceptible swell. The sky blazed.
The man with the carved paddle stopped. "It should be somewhere here,"
he said. He shipped the paddle and held his arms out straight before
The other man had been in the fore part of the canoe, closely
scrutinising the land. He had a sheet of yellow paper on his knee.
"Come and look at this, Evans," he said.
Both men spoke in low tones, and their lips were hard and dry.
The man called Evans came swaying along the canoe until he could look
over his companion's shoulder.
The paper had the appearance of a rough map. By much folding it was
creased and worn to the pitch of separation, and the second man held
the discoloured fragments together where they had parted. On it one
could dimly make out, in almost obliterated pencil, the outline of the
"Here," said Evans, "is the reef and here is the gap." He ran his
thumb-nail over the chart.
"This curved and twisting line is the river—I could do with a drink
now!—and this star is the place."
"You see this dotted line," said the man with the map; "it is a
straight line, and runs from the opening of the reef to a clump of
palm-trees. The star comes just where it cuts the river. We must mark
the place as we go into the lagoon."
"It's queer," said Evans, after a pause, "what these little marks down
here are for. It looks like the plan of a house or something; but what
all these little dashes, pointing this way and that, may mean I can't
get a notion. And what's the writing?"
"Chinese," said the man with the map.
"Of course! He was a Chinee," said Evans.
"They all were," said the man with the map.
They both sat for some minutes staring at the land, while the canoe
drifted slowly. Then Evans looked towards the paddle.
"Your turn with the paddle now, Hooker," said he.
And his companion quietly folded up his map, put it in his pocket,
passed Evans carefully, and began to paddle. His movements were
languid, like those of a man whose strength was nearly exhausted.
Evans sat with his eyes half closed, watching the frothy breakwater of
the coral creep nearer and nearer. The sky was like a furnace now, for
the sun was near the zenith. Though they were so near the Treasure he
did not feel the exaltation he had anticipated. The intense excitement
of the struggle for the plan, and the long night voyage from the
mainland in the unprovisioned canoe had, to use his own expression,
"taken it out of him." He tried to arouse himself by directing his
mind to the ingots the Chinamen had spoken of, but it would not rest
there; it came back headlong to the thought of sweet water rippling
in the river, and to the almost unendurable dryness of his lips and
throat. The rhythmic wash of the sea upon the reef was becoming
audible now, and it had a pleasant sound in his ears; the water washed
along the side of the canoe, and the paddle dripped between each
stroke. Presently he began to doze.
He was still dimly conscious of the island, but a queer dream texture
interwove with his sensations. Once again it was the night when he and
Hooker had hit upon the Chinamen's secret; he saw the moonlit
trees, the little fire burning, and the black figures of the three
Chinamen—silvered on one side by moonlight, and on the other
glowing from the firelight—and heard them talking together in
pigeon-English—for they came from different provinces. Hooker had
caught the drift of their talk first, and had motioned to him to
listen. Fragments of the conversation were inaudible and fragments
incomprehensible. A Spanish galleon from the Philippines hopelessly
aground, and its treasure buried against the day of return, lay in
the background of the story; a shipwrecked crew thinned by disease,
a quarrel or so, and the needs of discipline, and at last taking to
their boats never to be heard of again. Then Chang-hi, only a year
since, wandering ashore, had happened upon the ingots hidden for two
hundred years, had deserted his junk, and reburied them with infinite
toil, single-handed but very safe. He laid great stress on the
safety—it was a secret of his. Now he wanted help to return and
exhume them. Presently the little map fluttered and the voices sank.
A fine story for two stranded British wastrels to hear! Evans' dream
shifted to the moment when he had Chang-hi's pigtail in his hand. The
life of a Chinaman is scarcely sacred like a European's. The cunning
little face of Chang-hi, first keen and furious like a startled snake,
and then fearful, treacherous and pitiful, became overwhelmingly
prominent in the dream. At the end Chang-hi had grinned, a most
incomprehensible and startling grin. Abruptly things became very
unpleasant, as they will do at times in dreams. Chang-hi gibbered and
threatened him. He saw in his dream heaps and heaps of gold, and
Chang-hi intervening and struggling to hold him back from it. He took
Chang-hi by the pigtail—how big the yellow brute was, and how he
struggled and grinned! He kept growing bigger, too. Then the bright
heaps of gold turned to a roaring furnace, and a vast devil,
surprisingly like Chang-hi, but with a huge black tail, began to feed
him with coals. They burnt his mouth horribly. Another devil was
shouting his name: "Evans, Evans, you sleepy fool!"—or was it Hooker?
He woke up. They were in the mouth of the lagoon.
"There are the three palm-trees. It must be in a line with that clump
of bushes," said his companion. "Mark that. If we go to those bushes
and then strike into the bush in a straight line from here, we shall
come to it when we come to the stream."
They could see now where the mouth of the stream opened out. At the
sight of it Evans revived. "Hurry up, man," he said, "Or by heaven I
shall have to drink sea water!" He gnawed his hand and stared at the
gleam of silver among the rocks and green tangle.
Presently he turned almost fiercely upon Hooker. "Give me the
paddle," he said.
So they reached the river mouth. A little way up Hooker took some
water in the hollow of his hand, tasted it, and spat it out. A little
further he tried again. "This will do," he said, and they began
"Curse this!" said Evans, suddenly. "It's too slow." And, leaning
dangerously over the fore part of the canoe, he began to suck up the
water with his lips.
Presently they made an end of drinking, and, running the canoe into a
little creek, were about to land among the thick growth that overhung
"We shall have to scramble through this to the beach to find our
bushes and get the line to the place," said Evans.
"We had better paddle round," said Hooker.
So they pushed out again into the river and paddled back down it to
the sea, and along the shore to the place where the clump of bushes
grew. Here they landed, pulled the light canoe far up the beach, and
then went up towards the edge of the jungle until they could see the
opening of the reef and the bushes in a straight line. Evans had
taken a native implement out of the canoe. It was L-shaped, and the
transverse piece was armed with polished stone. Hooker carried the
paddle. "It is straight now in this direction," said he; "we must push
through this till we strike the stream. Then we must prospect."
They pushed through a close tangle of reeds, broad fronds, and young
trees, and at first it was toilsome going, but very speedily the trees
became larger and the ground beneath them opened out. The blaze of the
sunlight was replaced by insensible degrees by cool shadow. The trees
became at last vast pillars that rose up to a canopy of greenery far
overhead. Dim white flowers hung from their stems, and ropy creepers
swung from tree to tree. The shadow deepened. On the ground, blotched
fungi and a red-brown incrustation became frequent.
Evans shivered. "It seems almost cold here after the blaze outside."
"I hope we are keeping to the straight," said Hooker.
Presently they saw, far ahead, a gap in the sombre darkness where
white shafts of hot sunlight smote into the forest. There also was
brilliant green undergrowth, and coloured flowers. Then they heard the
rush of water.
"Here is the river. We should be close to it now," said Hooker.
The vegetation was thick by the river bank. Great plants, as yet
unnamed, grew among the roots of the big trees, and spread rosettes of
huge green fans towards the strip of sky. Many flowers and a creeper
with shiny foliage clung to the exposed stems. On the water of the
broad, quiet pool which the treasure seekers now overlooked there
floated big oval leaves and a waxen, pinkish-white flower not unlike
a water-lily. Further, as the river bent away from them, the water
suddenly frothed and became noisy in a rapid.
"Well?" said Evans.
"We have swerved a little from the straight," said Hooker. "That was
to be expected."
He turned and looked into the dim cool shadows of the silent forest
behind them. "If we beat a little way up and down the stream we should
come to something."
"You said—" began Evans.
"He said there was a heap of stones," said Hooker.
The two men looked at each other for a moment.
"Let us try a little down-stream first," said Evans.
They advanced slowly, looking curiously about them. Suddenly Evans
stopped. "What the devil's that?" he said.
Hooker followed his finger. "Something blue," he said. It had come
into view as they topped a gentle swell of the ground. Then he began
to distinguish what it was.
He advanced suddenly with hasty steps, until the body that belonged to
the limp hand and arm had become visible. His grip tightened on the
implement he carried. The thing was the figure of a Chinaman lying on
his face. The abandon of the pose was unmistakable.
The two men drew closer together, and stood staring silently at this
ominous dead body. It lay in a clear space among the trees. Near by
was a spade after the Chinese pattern, and further off lay a scattered
heap of stones, close to a freshly dug hole.
"Somebody has been here before," said Hooker, clearing his throat.
Then suddenly Evans began to swear and rave, and stamp upon the
Hooker turned white but said nothing. He advanced towards the
prostrate body. He saw the neck was puffed and purple, and the hands
and ankles swollen. "Pah!" he said, and suddenly turned away and went
towards the excavation. He gave a cry of surprise. He shouted to
Evans, who was following him slowly.
"You fool! It's all right It's here still." Then he turned again and
looked at the dead Chinaman, and then again at the hole.
Evans hurried to the hole. Already half exposed by the ill-fated
wretch beside them lay a number of dull yellow bars. He bent down in
the hole, and, clearing off the soil with his bare hands, hastily
pulled one of the heavy masses out. As he did so a little thorn
pricked his hand. He pulled the delicate spike out with his fingers
and lifted the ingot.
"Only gold or lead could weigh like this," he said exultantly.
Hooker was still looking at the dead Chinaman. He was puzzled.
"He stole a march on his friends," he said at last. "He came here
alone, and some poisonous snake has killed him … I wonder how he
found the place."
Evans stood with the ingot in his hands. What did a dead Chinaman
signify? "We shall have to take this stuff to the mainland piecemeal,
and bury it there for a while. How shall we get it to the canoe?"
He took his jacket off and spread it on the ground, and flung two or
three ingots into it. Presently he found that another little thorn had
punctured his skin.
"This is as much as we can carry," said he. Then suddenly, with a
queer rush of irritation, "What are you staring at?"
Hooker turned to him. "I can't stand … him." He nodded towards the
corpse. "It's so like—"
"Rubbish!" said Evans. "All Chinamen are alike."
Hooker looked into his face. "I'm going to bury that, anyhow, before
I lend a hand with this stuff."
"Don't be a fool, Hooker," said Evans. "Let that mass of corruption
Hooker hesitated, and then his eye went carefully over the brown soil
about them. "It scares me somehow," he said.
"The thing is," said Evans, "what to do with these ingots. Shall we
re-bury them over here, or take them across the strait in the canoe?"
Hooker thought. His puzzled gaze wandered among the tall tree-trunks,
and up into the remote sunlit greenery overhead. He shivered again
as his eye rested upon the blue figure of the Chinaman. He stared
searchingly among the grey depths between the trees.
"What's come to you, Hooker?" said Evans. "Have you lost your wits?"
"Let's get the gold out of this place, anyhow," said Hooker.
He took the ends of the collar of the coat in his hands, and Evans
took the opposite corners, and they lifted the mass. "Which way?" said
Evans. "To the canoe?"
"It's queer," said Evans, when they had advanced only a few steps,
"but my arms ache still with that paddling."
"Curse it!" he said. "But they ache! I must rest."
They let the coat down. Evans' face was white, and little drops of
sweat stood out upon his forehead. "It's stuffy, somehow, in this
Then with an abrupt transition to unreasonable anger: "What is the
good of waiting here all the day? Lend a hand, I say! You have done
nothing but moon since we saw the dead Chinaman."
Hooker was looking steadfastly at his companion's face. He helped
raise the coat bearing the ingots, and they went forward perhaps a
hundred yards in silence. Evans began to breathe heavily. "Can't you
speak?" he said.
"What's the matter with you?" said Hooker.
Evans stumbled, and then with a sudden curse flung the coat from
him. He stood for a moment staring at Hooker, and then with a groan
clutched at his own throat.
"Don't come near me," he said, and went and leant against a tree. Then
in a steadier voice, "I'll be better in a minute."
Presently his grip upon the trunk loosened, and he slipped slowly down
the stem of the tree until he was a crumpled heap at its foot. His
hands were clenched convulsively. His face became distorted with pain.
Hooker approached him.
"Don't touch me! Don't touch me!" said Evans in a stifled voice. "Put
the gold back on the coat."
"Can't I do anything for you?" said Hooker.
"Put the gold back on the coat."
As Hooker handled the ingots he felt a little prick on the ball of
his thumb. He looked at his hand and saw a slender thorn, perhaps two
inches in length.
Evans gave an inarticulate cry and rolled over.
Hooker's jaw dropped. He stared at the thorn for a moment with dilated
eyes. Then he looked at Evans, who was now crumpled together on the
ground, his back bending and straitening spasmodically. Then he looked
through the pillars of the trees and net-work of creeper stems, to
where in the dim grey shadow the blue-clad body of the Chinaman was
still indistinctly visible. He thought of the little dashes in the
corner of the plan, and in a moment he understood.
"God help me!" he said. For the thorns were similar to those the
Dyaks poison and use in their blowing-tubes. He understood now
what Chang-hi's assurance of the safety of his treasure meant. He
understood that grin now.
"Evans!" he cried.
But Evans was silent and motionless now, save for a horrible spasmodic
twitching of his limbs. A profound silence brooded over the forest.
Then Hooker began to suck furiously at the little pink spot on the
ball of his thumb—sucking for dear life. Presently he felt a strange
aching pain in his arms and shoulders, and his fingers seemed
difficult to bend. Then he knew that sucking was no good.
Abruptly he stopped, and sitting down by the pile of ingots, and
resting his chin upon his hands and his elbows upon his knees, stared
at the distorted but still stirring body of his companion. Chang-hi's
grin came in his mind again. The dull pain spread towards his throat
and grew slowly in intensity. Far above him a faint breeze stirred the
greenery, and the white petals of some unknown flower came floating
down through the gloom.