Tiger Tales #106 - The Mating Day

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Tiger Tales
The Mating Day
By L. Frank Baum
Author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Secret of the Lost Fortune, The Visitors from Oz, etc.

Originally published in Short Stories, September 1898.

Gouigi the Hunter lay motionless beneath a wide-spreading yacca that towered far above the other trees of the forest. The moon was out, and its beams penetrating the leafy barriers, threw a network of fantastic shadows across the glistening brown body of the islander.

He lay upon his back with hands clasped firmly beneath his head, and his bright black eyes staring at the branches above him. A long, double-pointed spear was beside him, the ends drawn to the fineness of a needle痴 point, its length well-polished and greased save for the handles near the centre.

Gouigi was thinking, and he had lain in nearly the same posture since the dawn of the previous day. For custom decreed that all those islanders who intended to take part in the mating tournament should absent themselves for the period of a day and a night from the society of their fellows, and Gouigi had made declaration to the chief that he would fight at the tourney.

One day each year the natives of this island of Macheki, in the South Seas, set apart for the mating of the maidens with the young braves of the tribe, and on this day took place a series of conflicts among the aspirants to determine which should have first choice from the bevy of eligible maidens.

Usually, upon such occasions, the victor was content to triumph over his adversaries, without seriously injuring them, and those vanquished had thus an opportunity to fight among themselves for second choice, and so on until the maids were all chosen. And upon most mating days there were many of the young warriors to take part in the conflict, yet now Gouigi counted upon his fingers and found there were but seven all told, who had declared their intention or fighting upon the morrow. For amongst the maidens to be chosen was Cheluika, the daughter of the chieftain, and whoever won the first choice would thus in time become the first brave of the tribe, since the chief was very old and unlikely to live more than a few moons longer. Therefore, this time the duel would be fought to the death, the prize being the greatest fate had ever yet placed within reach of the mating-day champions, and only the strongest and bravest of the young men had dared to undertake the task of winning the Princess Cheluika, and with her the leadership of the tribe.

Gouigi mused on all this as he lay under the yacca awaiting the time to return to the village. Somewhere amidst the forest were six other warriors resting or preparing themselves for the fray, but he did not dwell upon them long. True, they were the pick of the tribe, well skilled in the use of the spear and of great and powerful build.

But he, Gouigi, was the strongest of them all--save, perhaps, Mati the Tiger, and Mati was a brute, whom he loathed and would delight to kill. He spat upon the ground when he thought upon him, and turned his musings into more pleas-ant channels.

Soon he would be chief of the tribe and able to command where he had before served. He would fight the Kankins for one thing, and drive them from the little neighboring island, whence they so frequently descended upon his people to annoy them with their poisoned darts. And he would move the village over into the little harbor at the south, where the winds were less fierce. There were so many things he had in mind to accomplish when he should become chief.

What a fortunate thing he had waited until Cheluika was to be mated instead of choosing little Natka last year, as he had at one time intended. It was Mati the Tiger who had put it into his head to wait.

"For my part," Mati had said at that time, "I shall wait for the mating of the Princess Cheluika, for whoever wins her will be chief."

And he, because he hated Mati and wished to fight him, had also waited, and so there was no one to choose little Natka, who had looked at him reproachfully, but said no word.

It had been a long year, in which he had repeatedly quarreled with his rival; but the end was nigh at last, and his ambitions would not only be fulfilled, but supplemented by a triumph over Mati the Tiger. True, it would be a struggle to the death; there was no doubt of that. But he, Gouigi, would win. As for Cheluika, he knew very little about her, for he had been several years with the other young men at the wars, and the fishing, and the hunting grounds, and the princess had grown up in the village. But he had noted that Cheluika was a handsome maiden, proud and reserved, and mixing little with the other girls of the tribe. He could recall, as he lay musing under the big tree, her full, rounded form, her piercing dark eyes, the erect carriage of her head and her disdainful smile. Yes, Cheluika would do very well for a mate. She was not so lively as little Natka, nor could he expect her to mend his lines so deftly or to polish his spear so carefully as the laughing maiden who often followed him to the shore when he went to the fish-ing. But she was the chief痴 daughter, and with her he gained power and position, which, in their way, meant as much to the simple islander as to his civilized brethren.

The moon was waning now, and the light breeze which fanned his brow and fluttered the leaves of the tree heralded, he knew, the dawn. He sat up, drew a piece of dried meat from his pouch, and leisurely ate of it, drinking afterward from a little stream that flowed near by. Then, sitting down again, he examined with care his spear, testing its strength in every possible way.

Apparently satisfied with his inspection, he proceeded to bind up his long hair, heavy with walrus grease, into a knot, fastening it upon the back of his head with a fish-bone. Afterward he made his toilet by rubbing every part of his body plentifully with grease, and then, seizing his weapon, he started through the forest on his way to the village. With the first streak of dawn every member of the tribe was astir, and soon men, women and children assembled upon the green slope that led to the sea. In two long lines that faced each other they squatted to witness the coming spectacle, and at the head of these lines sat the old chief, with the row of maidens just before him who were eligible to be mated.

The girls were calm enough, for it was well understood that but one would be chosen this day, since the fight was to the death. The surviving champion would, of course, select the princess. The daughter of the chieftain, proud and self-contained, sat at the feet of her father, while the maidens on either side cast many curious and some envious glances at her dark immobile face.

Little Natka was there, nearly at the end of the line, but her eyes were red with weeping, for on this day she knew that Gouigi was destined either to fall in death or to mate with the princess, and either event would rob her of him forever.

At the other end of the double row of spectators and facing the chief and the maidens, was the dark edge of the forest, and now, as the sun shot its first ray over the treetops, the aged chief arose painfully to his feet and exclaimed: "It is the day of mating. The maidens await their lords. Who demands to choose first amongst them?"

"I demand the choice!" cried a voice, and a tall, powerful warrior stepped from the forest and advanced into the square. A loud murmur arose from the people, for this was Mati the Tiger, whose prowess was well known and respected.

But scarcely had he taken his place, spear in hand, when a lithe, slender form darted from the thicket and said boldly:

"I am here to choose first from the maidens. Who denies my right?"

"I!" returned Mati, and poising his spear he advanced upon his rival, who quickly sprang to meet him.

The contest was short. For a moment both whirled their slender spears rapidly before them, and then, quicker than the eye could follow, they came together--and separated. Mati stood upright, but his antagonist, uttering a great cry, fell writhing upon the ground and then lay still, pierced to the heart by the sharp-pointed spear of his foe.

Again from the crowd arose a murmur of approval, and the Princess Cheluika, aroused from her customary reserve, laughed aloud and clapped her hands together.

"Who now disputes my right?" cried Mati, strutting up and down in evident pride.

"I!" answered a voice, and another youth stepped from the forest to confront him.

The combat was longer this time, for the new champion was wary, and twice the warriors came together and separated before Mati's powerful arm could drive his spear-point home. Again he received the plaudits of the spectators, and again the princess laughed.

The dead bodies were drawn from the square, and Mati turned to face another foe. But none were able to combat him long, and within the hour five dead forms lay side by side upon the green, silent evidences o his wonderful skill.

The princess was fairly transformed by excitement. A deep red glowed beneath her brown cheeks, her eyes glistened like a serpent's, and as each warrior fell before the strong arm of Mati her little hands were the first to demonstrate approval. She seemed to revel in the bloodshed, and Gouigi, watching her from the concealment of the forest, wondered at her high spirits and glanced anon from her radiant face to where little Natka sat shrinking backward and shielding her eyes from the ghastly scene.

But his turn had come now. Mati was already shouting:

"Who now challenges my right to choose first?"

Gouigi grasped his spear firmly and advanced with slow strides into the open. The crowd greeted the newcomer with a growl of applause.

His great form, erect and firmly-knit, glistened bravely in the morning sun. His head was thrown back in an attitude both dignified and defiant, and his clear eyes, steadfast and piercing, sought his rival's face and questioned it gravely. He looked every inch a chieftain, and the people, quick to judge a warrior's powers and resources, glanced at one another and whispered:

"Mati has found his match!"

Mati himself undoubtedly realized that his most desperate fight lay before him, but he did not flinch. Shaking his spear in bravado and casting a look at Cheluika, who smiled and nodded her head to encourage him, he advanced with quick strides toward Gouigi the Hunter.

Swiftly the spears of the antagonists whirled above their heads, and then, with a sudden rush, they met, and the crash of the spears, splintered both into fragments, echoed sharply through the forest.

The natives looked at each other in amaze, for such a thing as this had not happened before in their experience. Gouigi and Mati, each astonished at the force of the other's blow, stood face to face glaring defiance. Then Gouigi turned his head.

"A spear!" he shouted.

Instantly two young men leaped from the ranks of the spectators and thrust their spears into the hands of the combatants.

"Good!" cried the princess, leaning eagerly forward.

The fight began anew, and so fiercely did it wage that for a time nothing could be distinguished but a mass of struggling brown limbs and the flash of the greased spears as they whirled in the sunshine. Then arose a wild cry, for Gouigi's spear had broken near the middle and the Tiger was pressing him furiously. But Gouigi managed the half weapon that remained to him with such consummate dexterity that a minute later Mati's spear was wrenched from his grasp and sent flying through the air. The Tiger reeled backward and fell upon his knees, and now, as in a flash, the sharp point of Gouigi's spear was at his throat.

But ere he had time to strike a piercing scream cleft the air and Cheluika rushed forward and threw herself between the warriors.

"Hold!" she commanded, "he shall fight again!" Then, as a murmur arose, she added: "I am Cheluika, the daughter of your chieftain, and I say he shall have another chance!"

Mati, still kneeling with bowed head, never moved from his place, while Gouigi, with spear still poised, seemed as if carved from stone.

The aged chief tottered to his feet and looked around upon his people with a troubled air.

"It is wrong," he said; "it is very wrong, and you all know it! But Cheluika is a woman, and she is my daughter. It shall be as she says. Mati shall have one more chance."

The people were silent, sitting with knit brows and angry faces. But Gouigi drew back and cast down his broken spear.

"It is well," he said calmly. "Arise, Mati the Tiger, and choose your weapon."

Cheluika rushed back to where the chief sat, and drawing two great knives, fashioned from walrus tusks, from his girdle, cast them upon the ground before the duelists.

"There are the weapons!" she cried.

Mati sprang to his feet, seized one of the knives, and waved his hand at the princess in token of thanks. Gouigi stooped to pick up the other knife, but before he could resume the defensive Mati bounded upon him with the ferocity of his namesake, the tiger, and only a quick movement on Gouigi's part saved him from death. As it was the blow but slashed his shoulder, and never heeding the dark blood that gushed forth he sprang at his treacherous enemy with a fierceness that matched his own.

For a time the blows fell fast, the spectators gazing with breathless interest at the unwonted sight. Forward and backward they pressed, and then Mati's great left arm shot around Gouigi's neck and drew him close to his breast, but just as his knife was raised to strike, the combatants whirled half around and fell full length upon the ground. For a few seconds they remained motionless, then slowly Gouigi released himself from the other痴 grasp and rose to his feet. But Mati lay prone upon his back, and protruding from his breast was the hilt of the Hunter痴 knife.

Amidst the cries of approval that greeted the conqueror was heard the clapping of hands, and Gouigi, glancing toward Cheluika, was rewarded with a bright smile and a nod of her stately head. But further along the line his eyes wandered, and there was little Natka, sitting back in her place and sobbing softly for joy.

The warrior's stern face relaxed, and for the first time that day he smiled grimly.

Then, although blood was dripping from many wounds upon his body, he advanced to the chief, and folding his arms with savage grace, said, in a clear voice:

"I claim the right to choose my mate from these maidens. Who dares dispute me?"

There was no reply, and the old chief again arose and slowly addressed him.

"You have fought a great fight, and you have won. There is none living who dares dispute your right. Therefore, choose your mate from these maidens, and may your house be ever the abode of peace and plenty!"

In these words was the ceremony concluded, and now all eyes were turned upon the Princess Cheluika. The daughter of the chief arose to her feet. The smile still lingered upon her features, but she held herself proudly erect as her dark eyes read the rebuke upon the faces confronting her.

"Mati was brave," she said, "but he is dead; and Gouigi was more brave, and is alive! Therefore, if I favored the Tiger in the fight it was to prove that Gouigi had the strongest arm and the greatest skill. Now you know why I gave Mati another chance. I have spoken."

She gave one proud look around her, and then her eyes sought those of Gouigi, and again she smiled. No shout of approval greeted her speech as she resumed her seat. The people were silently watching Gouigi. He stood before the chief in the same attitude as before, but now a frown contracted his swarthy face, and his great eyes glittered strangely.

"Choose, oh Gouigi!" commanded the chief.

Gouigi started and raised his head. Slowly his eyes passed down the line of maidens until they rested upon little Natka, and lifting his right hand he walked deliberately to where she sat and, drawing the astonished girl to his side, he exclaimed in a loud voice:

"I have won the right to choose, and from all these maidens I take Natka to be my mate!"

Even that isolated tribe of savages could appreciate a heroism greater than mere prowess in battle, and the air resounded with wild cries of approval as the men and women of Macheki gathered around Gouigi to offer their congratulations.

But soon a hush fell upon the crowd, and with one accord they turned toward the scene of the late conflict, for the proud Cheluika, unable to support the infamy of the slight Gouigi had put upon her, had rushed to the body of Mati and, drawing the knife from his breast, plunged it deep into her own heart.

By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, February 23, 1919.

The Forgetful Poet's Riddles

The Forgetful Poet says that you knew more about history than he had supposed, and that you had no trouble in filling in the blanks. The necessary words were: One hundred and eighty-seven, Washington, Valley Forge and George. An adjective that describes morning meadows and also a naval hero is Dewey.

One's in a circus,
And one's in a road;
Both are used on the table
In every abode.

Said the merchant,
"'Tis the last of you!"
But 'twasn't, for it
Was a ------

He thus addressed,
It had a tongue--
Yet did not speak,
It was too young!

[Answers next time.]

Copyright © 2010 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.

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