When they returned from their trip, Mackay and A Hoa with the assistance of some of their Christian friends set about looking for a new house in a more wholesome district. It was much easier for the missionary to rent a place now, and he managed to secure a comfortable home upon the bluff above the town. It was a dryer situation and much more healthful. Here one room was used as a study and every morning when not away on a tour a party of young men gathered in it for lessons. Sometimes, what with traveling, preaching, training his students, visiting the sick, and pulling teeth, Mackay had scarcely time to eat, and very little to sleep. But always as he came and went on his travels, his eyes would wander to the mountains where the savages lived, and with all his heart he would wish that he might visit them also.
His Chinese friends held up their hands in dismay when he broached the subject. To the mountains where the Chhi-hoan lived! Did Kai Bok-su not know that every man of them was a practised head-hunter, and that behind every rock and tree and in the darkness of the forests they lay in wait for any one who went beyond the settled districts? Yes, Kai Bok-su knew all that, but he could not quite explain that it was just that which made the thought of a visit to them seem so alluring, just that which made him so anxious to tell them of Jesus Christ, who wished all men to live as brothers. A Hoa and a few others who had caught the spirit of the true soldier of the cross understood. For they had learned that one who follows Jesus must be ready to dare anything, death included, to carry the news of his salvation to the dark corners of the world.
But the days were so filled with preaching, teaching, and touring, that for some time Mackay had no opportunity for a trip into the head-hunters' territory. And then one day, quite unexpectedly, his chance came. There sailed into Tamsui harbor, one hot afternoon, a British man-of-war, named The Dwarf. Captain Bax from this vessel visited Tamsui, and expressed a desire to see something of the life of the savages in the mountains. This was Mackay's opportunity, and in spite of protests from his friends he offered to accompany the captain. So together they started off, the sailor-soldier of England and the soldier of the cross, each with the same place in view but each with a very different object.
It took three days journey from Tamsui across rice-fields and up hillsides to reach even the foot of the mountains. Here there lived a village of natives, closely related to the savages. But they were not given to head-hunting and were quite friendly with the people about them. Mackay had met some of these people on a former trip inland, and now he and Captain Bax hired their chief and a party of his men to guide them up into savage territory.
The travelers slept that night in the village, and before dawn were up and ready to start on their dangerous undertaking. Before them in the gray dawn rose hill upon hill, each loftier than the last, till they melted into the mountains, the territory of the dreaded head-hunters. They started off on a steady tramp, up hills, down valleys, and across streams, until at last they came to the foot of the first mountain.
Before them rose its sheer side, towering thirty-five hundred feet above their heads. It was literally covered with rank growth of all kinds, through which it was impossible to move. So a plan of march had to be decided upon. In front went a line of men with long sharp knives. With these they cut away the creepers and tangled scrub or undergrowth. Next came the coolies with the baggage, and last the two travelers. It was slow work, and sometimes the climb was so steep they held their breath, as they crept over a sheer ledge and saw the depth below to which they might easily be hurled. The chief of the guides himself collapsed in one terrible climb, and his men tied rattan ropes about him and hauled him up over the steepest places.
During this wearisome ascent the most untiring one was the missionary; and the sailor often looked at him in amazement. His lithe, wiry frame never seemed to grow weary. He was often in the advance line, cutting his way through the tangle, and here on that first afternoon he met with an unpleasant adventure.
The natives had warned the two strangers to be on the lookout for poisonous snakes, and Mackay's year in Formosa had taught him to be wary. But he had forgotten all danger in the toilsome climb. He was soon reminded of it. They were passing up a slope covered with long dense grass when a rustling at his side made the young missionary pause. The next moment a huge cobra sprang out from a clump of grass and struck at him. Mackay sprang aside just in time to escape its deadly fangs. The guides rushed up with their spears only to see its horrible scaly length disappear in the long grass.
That was not the only escape of the young adventurer, for there were wild animals as well as poisonous snakes along the line of march, and the man in the front was always in danger. But at the front Mackay must be in spite of all warning. Nobody moved fast enough for him.
At last they reached the summit of the range. They were now on the dividing line between Chinese ground and savage territory, and the men who dared go a step farther went at terrible risk. The head-hunters would very likely see that they did not return.
But Mackay was all for pushing forward, and Captain Bax was no less eager. So they spent a night in the forest and the next day marched on up another and higher range. As they journeyed, the travelers could not but burst into exclamations of delight at the loveliness about them. Behind those great trees and in those tangles of vines might lurk the head-hunters, but for all that the beauty of the place made them forget the dangers. The great banyan trees whose branches came down and took root in the earth, making a wonderful round leafy tent, grew on every side. Camphor trees towered far above them and then spread out great branches sixty or seventy feet from the ground. Then there was the rattan creeping out over the tops of the other trees and making a thick canopy through which the hot tropical sun-rays could not penetrate.
And the flowers! Sometimes Mackay and Bax would stand amazed at their beauty. They came one afternoon to an open glade in the cool green dimness of the forest. On all sides the stately tree-ferns rose up thirty or forty feet above them, and underneath grew a tangle of lovely green undergrowth.
And upon this green carpet it seemed to their dazzled eyes that thousands of butterflies of the loveliest form and color had just alighted. And not only butterflies, but birds and huge insects and all sorts of winged creatures, pink and gold and green and scarlet and blue, and all variegated hues. But the lovely things sat motionless, sending out such a delightful perfume that there could be no doubt that they were flowers, -- the wonderful orchids of Formosa! Mackay was a keen scientist, always highly interested in botany, and he was charmed with this sight. There were many such in the forest, and often he would stop spellbound before a blaze of flowers hanging from tree or vine or shrub. Then he would look up at the tangled growths of the bamboo, the palm, and the elegant tree-fern, standing there all silent and beautiful, and he would be struck by the harmony between God's work and Word. "I can't keep from studying the flora of Formosa," he said to Captain Bax. "What missionary would not be a better man, the bearer of a richer gospel, what convert would not be a more enduring Christian from becoming acquainted with such wonderful works of the Creator?"
At last they stood on the summit of the second range and saw before them still more mountains, clothed from summit to base with trees. They were now right in savage territory and their guide clambered out upon a spur of rock and announced that there was a party of head-hunters in the valley below. He gave a long halloo. From away down in the valley came an answering call, ringing through the forest. Then far down through the thicket Mackay's sharp eyes descried the party coming up to meet them. Just then their own guide gave the signal to move on, and the missionary and Captain Bax walked down the hill -- the first white men who had ever come out to meet those savages.
Half-way down the slope the two parties came face to face. The head-hunters were a wild, uncouth-looking company, armed to the teeth. They all carried guns, spears, and knives and some had also bows and arrows slung over their backs. Their faces were hideously tattooed in a regular pattern, while they wore no more clothes than were necessary. A sort of sack of coarse linen with holes in the sides for their arms, served as the chief garment, and generally the only one. Every one wore a broad belt of woven rattan in which was stuck his crooked pointed knife. Some of the younger men had their coats ornamented with bright red and blue threads woven into the texture. They had brass rings on their arms and legs too, and even sported big earrings. These were ugly looking things made of bamboo sticks. The head-hunters were all barefooted, but most of them wore caps -- queer-looking things, made of rattan. From many of them hung bits of skin of the boar or other wild animals they had killed. They stood staring suspiciously at the two strangers. Never before had they seen a white man, and the appearance of the naval officer and the missionary, so different from themselves, and yet so different from their hated enemies, the Chinese, filled them with amazement and a good deal of suspicion. After a little talk with the guides, however, the visitors were allowed to pass on. As soon as they began to move, the savages fell into line behind them and followed closely. The two white men, walking calmly onward, could not help thinking how easy it would be for one of those fierce-looking tattooed braves to win applause by springing upon both of them and carrying their heads in triumph to the next village.
As they came down farther into the valley, they passed the place where the savages had their camp. Here naked children and tattooed women crept out of the dense woods to stare at the queer-looking Chinamen who had white faces and wore no cue.
The march through this valley, even without the head-hunters at their heels, would not have been easy. The visitors clambered over huge trunks blown across the path, and tore their clothes and hands scrambling through the thorny bushes. The sun was still shining on the mountain-peaks far above them, but away down here in the valley it was rapidly growing dark and very cold. They had almost decided to stop and wait for morning when a light ahead encouraged them to go on. They soon came upon a big camp-fire and round it were squatted several hundred savages. The firelight gleaming upon the dark, fierce faces of the head-hunters and on their spears and knives, made a startling picture.
They were round the visitors immediately, staring at the two white men in amazement. The party of savages who had escorted them seemed to be making some explanation of their appearance, for they all subsided at last and once more sat round their fire.
The newcomers started a fire of their own, and their servants cooked their food. The white men were in momentary danger of their lives. But they sat on the ground before the fire and quietly ate their supper while hundreds of savage eyes were fixed upon them in suspicious, watchful silence.
The meal over the servants prepared a place for the travelers to sleep, and while they were so doing, the young missionary was not idle. He longed to speak to these poor, darkened heathen, but they could not understand Chinese. However, he found several poor fellows lying prostrate on the ground, overcome with malaria, and he got his guide to ask if he might not give the sick ones medicine. Being allowed to do so, he gave each one a dose of quinine. The poor creatures tried to look their gratitude when the terrible chills left them, and soon they were able to sink into sleep.
Before he retired to his own bed of boughs, the young missionary sang that grand old anthem which these lonely woods and their savage inhabitants had never yet heard:
All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
But these poor people could not "sing to the Lord," for they had never yet so much as heard his name.
All night the missionary lay on the ground, finding the chill mountain air too cold for sleep, and whenever he looked out from his shelter of boughs he saw hundreds of savage eyes, gleaming in the firelight, still wide open and fixed upon him.
Day broke late in the valley, but the travelers were astir in the morning twilight. The mountain-tops were touched with rosy light even while it was dark down in these forest depths.
The chilled white men were glad to get up and exercise their stiffened limbs. There were several of their party who could speak both Chinese and the dialect of these mountaineers, and through them Mackay persuaded the chief of the tribe to take them to visit his village.
He seemed reluctant at first and there was much discussion with his braves. Evidently they were more anxious to go on a head-hunt than to act the part of hosts. However, after a great deal of chatter, they consented, and the chief and his son with thirty men separated themselves from the rest of the band and led the way out of the valley up the mountainside. The travelers had to stop often, for, besides the natural difficulties of the way, the chief proved a new obstacle. Every mile or so he would apparently repent of his hospitality. He would stop, gather his tattooed braves about him and confer with them, while his would-be visitors sat on the ground or a fallen tree-trunk to await his pleasure. Finally he would start off again, the travelers following, but no sooner were they under way than again their uncertain guide would stop. Once he and his men stood motionless, listening. Away up in the boughs of a camphor tree a little tailor-bird was twittering. The savages listened as though to the voice of an oracle.
"What are they doing?" Mackay asked of one of his men, when the head-hunters stopped a second time and stared earnestly at the boughs above.
"Bird-listening," explained the guide. A few more questions drew from him the fact that the savages believed the little birds would tell them whether or not they should bring these strangers home. They always consulted the birds when starting out on a head-hunt, he further explained. If the birds gave a certain kind of chirp and flew in a certain direction, then all was well, and the hunters would go happily forward. But if the birds acted in the opposite way, nothing in the world could persuade the chief to go on. Evidently the birds gave their permission to bring the travelers home, for in spite of many halts, the savages still moved forward.
They had been struggling for some miles through underbrush and prickly rattan and the white men's clothes were torn and their hands scratched. Now, however, they came upon a well-beaten path, winding up the mountainside, and it proved a great relief to the weary travelers. But here occurred another delay. The savages all stopped, and the chief approached Mackay and spoke to him through the interpreter. Would the white man join him in a head-hunting expedition, was his modest request. There were some Chinese not so far below them, cutting out rattan, and he was sure they could secure one or more heads. He shook the big net head-bag that hung over his shoulder and grinned savagely as he made his proposal. If the white men and their party would come at the enemy from one side, he and his men would attack them from the other, he said, and they would be sure to get them all. The incongruity of a Christian missionary being invited on a head-hunt struck Captain Bax as rather funny in spite of its gruesomeness. This was a delicate situation to handle, but Mackay put a bold front on it. He answered indignantly that he and his friend had come in peace to visit the chief, and that he was neither kind nor honorable in trying to get his visitors to fight his battles.
The interpreter translated and for a moment several pairs of savage eyes gleamed angrily at the bold white man. But second thoughts proved calmer. After another council the savages moved on.
They were now at the top of a range, and every one was ordered to halt and remain silent. Mackay thought that advice was again to be asked of some troublesome little birds, but instead the savages raised a peculiar long-drawn shout. It was answered at once from the opposite mountain-top, and immediately the whole party moved on down the slope.
Here was the same lovely tangle of vines and ferns and beautiful flowers. Monkeys sported in the trees and chattered and scolded the intruders. Down one range and up another they scrambled and at last they came upon the village of the head-hunters.
It lay in a valley in an open space where the forest trees had been cleared away. It consisted of some half-dozen houses or huts made of bamboo or wickerwork, and the place seemed literally swarming with women and children and noisy yelping dogs. But even these could not account for the terrible din that seemed to fill the valley. Such unearthly yells and screeches the white men had never heard before.
"What is it?" asked Captain Bax. "Has the whole village gone mad?"
Mackay turned to one of his guides, and the man explained that the noise came from a village a little farther down the valley. A young hunter had returned with a Chinaman's head, and his friends were rejoicing over it. The merrymaking sounded to the visitors more like the howling of a pack of fiends, for it bore no resemblance to any human sounds they had ever heard.
Fortunately they were invited to stop at the nearer village and were not compelled to take part in the horrible celebration. They were taken at once to the chief's house. It was the best in the village, and boasted of a floor, made of rattan ropes half an inch thick. All along the outside wall, under the eaves, hung a row of gruesome ornaments, heads of the boar and deer and other wild animals killed in the chase, and here and there mingled with them the skulls of Chinamen. The house held one large room, and, as it was a cold evening, a fire burned at either end of it. At one end the men stood chatting, at the other the women squatted. The visitors were invited to sit by the men's fire. There were several beds along the wall, two of which were offered to the strangers. But they were not prepared to remain for the night, and had decided to start back before the shadows fell.
The whole village came to the chief's house and crowded round the newcomers, men first, women and children on the outskirts, and dogs still farther back. Several men came forward and claimed Mackay as a friend. They touched their own breasts and then his, in salutation, grinning in a most friendly manner. The young missionary was at first puzzled, then smiled delightedly. They were some of the poor fellows to whom he had given quinine the evening before in the valley.
This greeting seemed to encourage the others. They became more friendly and suddenly one man who had been circling round the visitors touched the back of Mackay's head and exclaimed, "They do not wear the cue! They are our kinsmen." From that moment they were treated with far greater kindness, and on several other visits that Mackay made to the head-hunters, they always spoke with interest of him as kinsman.
But all danger was not over. The savages were still suspicious, and at any moment the newcomers might excite them. So they decided to start back at once, while every one was in a friendly mood. They made presents to the chief and some of his leading men; and left with expressions of good-will on both sides.
By evening they had reached the valley where they had first met the savages and here they prepared to spend the night. They had no sooner kindled their fires than from the darkness on every side shadowy forms silently emerged, -- the savages come to visit them! They glided out of the black forest into the ring of firelight and squatted upon the ground until fully five hundred dusky faces looked out at the travelers from the gloom. It was rather an unpleasant situation, there in the depths of the forest, but Mackay turned it to good account. First he and Captain Bax made presents to the headmen and they were as pleased as children to receive the gay ornaments and bright cloth the travelers gave them. And then Mackay called their interpreter to his side and they stood up together, facing the crowd. Speaking through his interpreter, the missionary said he wished to tell them a story. These mountain savages were veritable children in their love for a story, as they were in so many other ways, and their eyes gleamed with delight.
It was a wonderful story he told them, the like of which they had never heard before. It was about the great God, who had made the earth and the people on it, and was the Father of them all. He told how God loved everybody, because they were his children. Chinese, white men beyond the sea like himself and Captain Bax, the people of the mountains, -- all were God's children. And so all men were brothers, and should love God their Father and each other. And because God loved his children so, he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to live among men and to die for them. He told the story simply and beautifully, just as he would to little children, and these children of the forest listened and their savage eyes grew less fierce as they heard for the first time of the story of the Savior.
The next day, after a toilsome journey, the travelers reached the plain below. They had made their dangerous trip and had escaped the head-hunters, but as fierce an enemy was lying in wait for both, an enemy that in Formosa devours native and foreigner alike. Captain Bax was the first to be attacked. All day, as they descended the mountain, the rain came down in torrents, a real Formosan rain that is like the floodgates opening. The travelers were drenched and chilly, and just as they emerged from the forest Captain Bax succumbed to the enemy. Malaria had smitten him.
Shaking with chills and then burning with fever, he was placed in a sedan-chair and carried the remainder of the way, three days' journey, to the coast, where the medical attendants on board his ship cured him. Mackay was feeling desperately ill all the way across the plain, but with his usual determination he refused to give in until he almost staggered across the threshold of his home.
The house had been closed in his absence. It was now damp and chilly and everything was covered with mold. He lay down in his bed, alternately shivering with cold and burning with fever. In the next room A Hoa, who had gone to bed also, heard his teeth chattering and came to him at once. It was a terrible thing to the young fellow to see his dauntless Kai Bok-su overcome by any kind of force. It seemed impossible that he who had cured so many should become a victim himself. A Hoa proved a kind nurse. He stayed by the bedside all night, doing everything in his power to allay the fever. His efforts proved successful, and in a few days the patient was well. But never again was he quite free from the dreaded disease, and all the rest of his life he was subject to the most violent attacks of malaria, a terrible memento by which he was always to remember his first visit to the headhunters.