His suspense was brief, for while he stood with rifle ready, a large puma, or American lion, emerged from a point a couple of rods away, walked in his stealthy fashion to the edge of the river and began lapping the water.
Ashman wished nothing with him in view of more important business elsewhere, and he, therefore, stepped softly back in the wood, before the beast finished drinking.
The puma quickly slaked his thirst, and then, raising his head, looked about him with an inquiring stare as though he scented something suspicious. He gazed toward the other shore and finally swung himself lightly around, and trotted back to the forest.
Just before entering, he abruptly stopped and looked toward the spot where Ashman was concealed. He offered a tempting shot, but it hardly need be said that the young man restrained himself, and the next minute the beast vanished.
A MYSTIFIED SENTINEL.
Jared Long, the New Englander, and Quincal, the native helper, were the sentinels on duty in the immediate vicinity of the camp.
The professor was wearied from a hard day's work, and, feeling that everything possible had been done for the safety of all, stretched out upon his blanket on the soft ground and was soon asleep.
He expected to assume his duty as guardsman in the course of a few hours, and needed all the rest he could get before that time.
Bippo and Pedros were so disturbed by what they had witnessed, that, though they lay down at the same time, it was a good while before they closed their eyes in slumber. Their homes were near the mouth of the Xingu, and, even at that remote point, they had heard so many fearful accounts of the ferocious savages that infested the upper portions of the river, that they never would have dared to help in an attempt to explore the region but for the liberal pay promised, and their unbounded faith in the white men and their firearms.
The poor fellows would have given all they had, or expected to have, to be transported down the Xingu and out of the reach of the terrible natives who used their poisoned arrows and javelins with such effect; but, behold! the explorers, undaunted by what had taken place, had no thought of turning back, but were resolved to push on for an unknown distance, and Bippo and his friends had no choice but to go with them, for to run away would insure certain death at the hands of these people who seemed to be all around them.
Jared Long had so little faith in the usefulness of the servant Quincal as sentinel, that he arranged to place the least dependence possible on him. With no supposition that any danger was likely to come from the woods behind them, he sent the fellow a short distance back, instructing him to keep his ears and eyes open, since if he failed to do so, some wild animal was likely to devour him.
In crossing the Xingu below the falls, the rapid current had swept the canoe downward, so that it lay against the bank at a point fully two hundred yards below. It was here that the American stationed himself, standing, like Fred Ashman, just far enough from the water to be shrouded in the slight but increasing shadow made as the moon slowly worked over and beyond the zenith.
Looking across to the other shore, he could discern nothing upon which to hang a suspicion; but the first thing, perhaps trifling in itself, which attracted notice, was the unusual quantity of driftwood which appeared to be coming through the rapids and floating past.
As has been stated, in such a wooded country as the Matto Grasso there was always more or less of this, and Long had taken a critical survey of the rapids and noted the stuff which went plunging and dancing through them. Now, however, he was sure there was an increase, and a good deal of it consisted of large trees and logs, which must have been brought down by some cause more than ordinary.
Had there been anything else to occupy his attention, the fact would have escaped him, but the sentinel who is alive to his duty, notes little things, even when they seem to have no bearing on the great subject which engages all his energies.
It was a long way from the camp to the source of the Xingu, and in such a vast country as Brazil, there might have been a violent storm raging at that moment above and below them without the least evidence, so far as they could see, around them. Like all countries, that portion of empire is ravaged at times by fierce hurricanes and cyclones, which might have uprooted scores of trees and flung them into the waters which were now bearing them toward the Amazon and the broad Atlantic.
The sentinel naturally gave his chief attention to the other side of the Xingu, where so many stirring scenes had taken place that afternoon and evening. The camp-fire, which had been left burning, had smouldered so low that none of the embers were discernible, and only a thin column of smoke crept slowly upward marking where it had been. But this vapor was so clearly seen in the wonderful moonlight that it was easy to fix the precise point where the trail entered the wilderness.
It was just there, as Long believed, that the savages would debouch into sight, and renew the warfare which thus far had been only one series of disasters to them.
He was not mistaken, when, shortly after he had noticed the increasing number of logs and driftwood, he fancied he detected something going on at the very point on which his gaze was fixed.
As was the case with Fred Ashman, it was some time before he could so much as conjecture its nature. The glimpses were so faint and momentary that nothing tangible resulted, though he was positive that some of their enemies were there.
At the moment he uttered an exclamation of impatience, he made out three figures of the natives, who advanced far enough from the wood for him to identify them.
Not only that, but they walked stealthily to the edge of the river and stood several minutes, as if looking across at the canoe.
Long was confident that he could drop one of them at least, and he was tempted to do so. The most effective way of keeping the savages off was by nipping their schemes in the bud, and filling them with additional terror of the white strangers.
But he decided to wait a while, suspecting, as he did, that some scheme whose nature he could not guess was under way, and that if the projectors were undisturbed, it would soon be revealed.
Jared Long, we say, was convinced that the natives were scrutinizing the canoe and seeking to learn something about the occupants, whom they had doubtless watched as they made their way from the water to the shelter of the wood. Such was his belief, and yet he was altogether mistaken.
It struck him as odd that the savages acted as they did, when it would seem that they could see just as well from the edge of the wood, where they were not exposed to the fire of their enemies; but he reflected that there was precious little about the conduct of the natives from the first that could be explained on the line of common sense and consistency.
The trio stood in view less than five minutes, when they darted back to cover, as if afraid of being seen by the whites, a theory altogether untenable under the circumstances.
The natural supposition of the sentinel was that a large number of the savages had gathered under the bank and were making ready for some demonstration, which would soon take place.
It was not yet time to awaken the Professor and the natives. In fact, the plucky New Englander half believed that with his repeating rifle he would be able to beat off any approach from the other shore.
At this moment, he was amazed to see one of the savages do an extraordinary thing.
Darting out from the wood behind him, he ran to the smouldering camp-fire seized a brand that was covered with ashes, and circled it so swiftly about his head that it was fanned into a roaring blaze.
While doing this, he stood apparently with one foot in the margin of the Xingu, and evidently with not the slightest fear of the white strangers within gun-shot. He not only swung the brand forward several times, but reversed and spun it in the other direction, with a velocity that made it look like a solid ring of fire.
Suddenly the truth flashed upon the bewildered sentinel: the savage was signaling to some friend or friends on the other bank! That being the case, it followed that the friend or friends were most uncomfortably close to the camp of the white men.
And still Long failed to attach any importance to the unusual quantity of logs and driftwood that was sweeping down the Xingu in front of him.
TO THE DEATH.
It was at this juncture that Jared Long, peering out from the shadow of the wood, observed a larger log than any he had yet noticed, sweeping by within a short distance of shore.
It was without any branches, except a few near the top, but there seemed to be a number of big knots projecting from the upper side. He counted seven and they were all of the same size. Furthermore, unless he was mistaken, the huge tree, from some cause, was working closer to land.
Suddenly one of the knots moved!
The sentinel uttered an exclamation, for the startling truth flashed upon him with the quickness of lightning.
Each apparent knot was the head of a native!
With amazing coolness, the New Englander brought his Winchester to a level, and bang, bang, bang, he shattered three of the knots in quick succession.
He would not have stopped the frightful work even then, had not the other targets disappeared.
Awaking to their danger, the warriors, dropped down so low in the water that the log intervened between them and the deadly marksman.
Still the tree with its terrible load was approaching land. The natives were swimming toward shore and pushing it in front of them.
Long stepped back and roused the professor, placing his mouth so close to his ear that he was able to apprise him of what was going on, without being heard by their enemies.
Grimcke bounded to his feet, rifle in hand.
"We'll take them as they come out!" he replied, instantly grasping the situation.
The log was drifting lower down at the same time that it neared the land. Determined to confront the savages the instant they came forth, the explorers hurried along the edge of the wood, so as to be on the spot when the landing should be made. It was well they did so, for a more astounding discovery than the first, instantly followed the movement.
More than one of the trees that had floated by carried its human freight, and nearly a score of savages were crouching in the edge of the river, so flat on their faces that not one was visible from the spot where the sentinel was standing a moment before.
The natives, with a cunning that was never suspected, had crossed the Xingu above the rapids, where, as they knew, such a proceeding would not be anticipated by the explorers. Then, stealthily making their way to the bottom of the rapids, they first launched a number of trees and logs until, as may be said, the white man on guard should become so accustomed to them that they would cause no distrust.
If he should be tempted to scrutinize the first, he would learn that nothing was amiss and would let the rest go by unquestioned.
As a result, the natives had floated past the canoe and under the very nose of the sentinel without his detecting it.
The savage who swung the torch on the other side of the river probably meant it as a command for the daring raiders to make no further delay in their attack.
The group lying against the shore must have been puzzled by the sudden bombardment from the edge of the wood. They were so disconcerted, that instead of springing to their feet and charging upon the two defenders of the camp, half of them turned about, and diving deep into the stream, began furiously swimming for the other shore.
They must have concluded that there was a hitch somewhere in the programme, and the time for disappearing had arrived.
The other half, however, leaped to their feet, and, brandishing their spears and yelling at the top of their voices, ran swiftly in the direction of the whites, who were still firing their Winchesters.
"Get behind a tree!" shouted the professor, who had a wholesome dread of the poisoned weapons, and who lost no time in availing himself of the nearest shelter.
But he did not cease to use his rifle. The cartridges in his magazine were running low, and it was necessary to exercise care in aiming, for a few precious seconds must be consumed in extracting an additional supply from the belt at his waist.
But Jared Long declined to follow the sensible advice and example of his friend. Scorning to seek shelter, even from such terrible weapons, he blazed away, making nearly every shot tell.
It was not until he saw a knot of savages working round with a view of getting behind him, that he fell back a few paces, though still exposed. The wonder was that he had not already been pierced by more than one of the fatal missiles.
Suddenly he was jerked almost off his feet. The impatient professor had seized his arm and yanked him behind the tree at his side in spite of himself.
The New Englander would have been a zany to expose himself again, after being provided in this summary fashion with a shield.
But he, too, had about emptied the magazine of his Winchester. Although he could have brought out more cartridges from his belt in a twinkling, he coolly leaned his rifle against the tree and whipped out his revolver.
"After that is emptied," he reflected, "my knife is left."
The action of the natives suggested that it was their wish to take both the men prisoners instead of killing them. They had done too much to be let off with such an easy death: they were wanted for torture.
But, in making such a contract, it may be said that the assailants found it exceedingly difficult to deliver the goods.
They might as well have tried to seize and hold a couple of diminutive volcanoes, as to lay hands on the men whose supply of fire and death seemed without limit.
In the midst of the frightful struggle, with the shrieking figures falling, dashing forward and retreating, as if in wild bewilderment, Quincal rushed out of the wood with a shout brandishing his spear and making straight for the ferocious savages.
With a daring and strength that surprised the latter no more than it did his white friends, he drove the head of the weapon sheer through one of the assailants, who went over backward with a screech that drowned all other noises.
Quincal still grasped his weapon with both hands, and with amazing power, extricated it, as his victim fell, and turned upon the others.
But, by this time, he was surrounded and his fate was sealed.
Anxious to save the brave fellow, the professor and Long emptied their revolvers among his enemies, but were unable to scatter them until the fellow sank to the ground, pierced deep and fatally in a dozen places by the poisoned javelins.
Instinctively, the two white men filled their magazines from their belts, as quickly as they could, and by the time Quincal was no more, they opened again on the savages.
The latter had already lost fearfully, and this renewed assault was more than they could stand. If, instead of trying to make the white men prisoners, they had contented themselves with hurling their spears, when they first sprang from the ground, nothing could have saved Grimcke and Long.
Now, when they launched the missiles, it was too late. The white men were each protected by the trunk of a large tree, and standing back in the shadow, their faces could not be seen. The only way of locating them was by the flash of their guns.
They sent a shower of the javelins into the wood, and then were seized with that strange, aimless panic which sometimes comes over the bravest men in the crisis of a conflict. The survivors made a wild break for the river, into which they sprang as far as they could leap, diving deep, swimming as far as possible beneath the surface, then coming up an instant for breath and diving again.
The blood of the Professor and the American was at fever heat. They felt it wrong to show mercy, after what had taken place, and were in no mood for any further weakness of that nature.
Both ran down to the edge of the stream, and, standing almost in the water, took deliberate aim at every black head as it rose to the surface. They kept popping up here and there, at varying distances, only to drop out of sight again, the instant the swimmer caught breath; but in many instances, when they went down the second or third time, they did not come up again.
Professor Grimcke and Jared Long were throwing away no ammunition.
Finally, the dark forms began rising from the river on the other shore, where they darted into the wood, fearful of the dreadful messengers which followed them even there.
The repulse was decisive and there was little fear of the attack on the camp being renewed that night.
The shocking evidences of the disastrous repulse were on every hand, with the body of poor Quincal lying at the feet of the assailant whom he had slain, and with nearly a score of dusky bodies stretched in every conceivable attitude.
A CHANGE OF CAMP.
Professor Grimcke and Jared Long stood like a couple of warriors, exhausted from the desperate conflict which they had been waging for hours.
And yet the sanguinary contest had lasted but a few minutes, while they who had wrought all this destruction did little more than stand, aim and fire their guns. The task of the natives was tenfold harder, as the results were tenfold worse against them.
Like old hunters, the first thing the explorers did was to fill the magazines of their Winchesters with cartridges, after which their revolvers were reloaded. Then they were ready for business again.
At this moment, Bippo and Pedros crept from the wood, the picture of quaking terror. They had been roused at the beginning of the tumult, but deeming discretion the better part of valor, scrambled farther back into the forest, where they remained almost dead with fright, until sure the awful scene was over.
There can be little question that Quincal was as much terrified as they and possibly more. It was his very excess of panic, which turned his head, and caused him to do that which would have been beyond his power under other circumstances.
When they saw the dead body of their comrade, Bippo and Pedros broke into loud lamentations. There could be no doubt that they mourned the poor fellow as much as did the explorers who had witnessed his death.
The surroundings of the camp were so frightful that the Professor proposed they should get beyond sight of it by drifting further down stream, a proposal to which his companion willingly agreed.
What should be done with the body of Quincal? This was the question which caused the party to hesitate a minute or two after the canoe was shoved into the water and ready to float down stream.
The wishes of his companions were asked, and Bippo replied that the most fitting burial, and one in accordance with the peculiar customs of their people, was to give it burial in the Xingu.
This was in consonance with the feelings of Grimcke and Long, and they at once made arrangements to carry out the plan.
The remains were tenderly carried into the boat, and a large stone fastened by means of a piece of rope to the ankles, which were tied together. Then the craft was paddled to the middle of the river, and the body carefully lifted over the side. Holding it thus suspended for a minute or two, Jared Long and the Professor lifted their hats and closed their eyes while the New Englander uttered a brief prayer, committing the soul to Him who gave it, commending the other body, lying alone in the dark forest where it had fallen, to the same merciful Father, and beseeching his protection to the living through the perils by which they were environed. A splash followed, and all that was mortal of the native sank out of sight to sleep until awakened by the trump of the resurrection morn.
The sad duty completed, the attention of the party was given to the duties before them.
It was a sorrowful reflection, that, since the set of sun, two of their number had yielded up their lives, and they had barely reached the edge of the Matto Grosso, that land of mystery into which they hoped to penetrate far enough to learn much that was yet unknown to the civilized world.
If they were compelled to pay such fearful toll before they were fairly within the strange region, what was to be the cost of exploring the wild country itself?
But while Bippo and Pedros were more anxious than ever to leave the section with its dreadful memories behind them, neither dare give expression to his thoughts, and the German and American were not made of the stuff which yields when first exposed to the fire.
They reasoned that if there were no such formidable difficulties to overcome, others would have visited the country long before and explored it so fully that nothing would be left for those who came after them. The prize is the most valuable for which the highest price is exacted. Neither referred to the abandonment of their work, for no such idea entered their minds.
It is not to be supposed that during the fearful scenes through which the leader of the expedition and his friend passed, they forgot that their friend Fred Ashman was only a short distance away. Indeed, one cause for pushing the canoe into the stream and allowing it to drift with the swift current was that they might join Fred with the announcement of what had taken place during his absence.
They supposed that he must have heard the rifle reports and the yells and shrieks of the natives during the desperate conflict, for though the rapids gave out a roar which penetrated miles, yet the sharp discharges and cries of the combatants were of a nature to be heard still farther.
Had the explorers suspected what was coming, Ashman, of course, would have staid with his friends; for his services were almost indispensable. In fact, but for the singular attempt of the natives to make captives of the white men, they would have been unable to withstand the terrific onslaught, despite the vast superiority of their weapons over those of the assailants.
It never occurred to Grimcke or Long that their friend could have got into trouble himself. He was removed from the scene of conflict, which was over so quickly that he could not have reached the spot in time to take part, had he started on the instant the first gun was fired.
But it struck both, while drifting downward and carefully scanning the shore, as strange that nothing had been seen of Ashman. Enough time had now elapsed for him to traverse the intervening distance several times, and it was to be supposed that he would have put in an appearance without delay, provided he was free to do so.
The two talked together in low tones, and admitted that there was something to cause misgiving in Fred's continued absence. What could be the explanation?
The Professor was inclined to think their friend had gone farther down stream than he first intended; but, even if such were the fact, he hardly could have traveled so far that he would not have been well on his way back to the battle ground by this time.
The trend of the Xingu was such at this point, that the thin line of shadow along the wood on their left, as they passed down the river, steadily widened until it now almost reached the water itself. In a short time it would extend over the surface and afford the canoe that shelter which, had it come earlier in the evening, might have postponed the desperate conflict with the savages.
The move from above was merely to get away from the sights that met them at every turn; and, without seeking to drift to the point where Ashman was supposed to be waiting, the explorers turned the prow to land, which they touched a moment later.
It would have been more cheerful to have had a fire burning, but there was no other call for it. The mild temperature rendered it really more enjoyable without it, since the blaze was always sure to attract innumerable insects, and possibly might tempt the defeated natives to another effort to wipe out the deadly insults that had been theirs from the beginning.
It was not yet midnight, nor indeed anywhere near it, but the Professor volunteered to take his turn with Bippo for the remaining hours of darkness. But no such arrangement was necessary, since every member of the party was rendered wakeful by the exciting incidents, while the grief of Bippo and Pedros over the loss of their friend was sure to drive away all slumber for a long time.
The luggage was left in the canoe, where all the party would have stayed, had not their positions been so cramped as to render sleeping difficult. Their blankets were spread on the ground, where they reclined, talking in low tones, watching, listening, and speculating as to the cause of Fred Ashman's continued absence.
Long was about to open his mouth to advance a new theory, when a slight sound apprised him that either the young man they were talking about, or some one else, was approaching.
A STRANGE ENCOUNTER.
Fred Ashman was standing near the edge of the Xingu, as will be remembered, when his attention was diverted for the moment by a puma, which came out of the wood, drank from the stream, and then, after a brief pause, returned to his shelter.
All this while, the dull roar of the rapids was in the explorer's ears, and he was eager to withdraw his attention from the beast and direct it upon the opposite shore, where he was convinced something unusual was going on.
The minute the beast disappeared, he looked across at the point that had so interested him.
The question which he had asked himself some time before, was answered by the sight of a small canoe that was stealing down the river, instead of heading directly across to where he was standing. In this boat was a single individual, using a paddle with the deftness of an American Indian.
Here was something that needed attention, and, with the aid of the brilliant moonlight. Ashman watched the craft and its occupant as closely as if his own fate were wrapped up in its movements—a supposition which it was not improbable was fact itself.
The savage moved slowly, as if sensible of the call for the utmost care, went only a few rods down stream, when he turned out in the water and aimed for the shore where the watcher was standing. He had gone some distance below, and it was to be supposed that the force of the current would carry him still farther, so that if he made a landing it was likely to be far below.
But he who held the paddle was a master of that species of navigation, and Ashman was surprised to observe that he was aiming at the very spot where he was standing carefully concealed in the shadow. If nothing interfered, they were sure of making a closer acquaintance.
The boat was about the middle of the river, when the white man was struck by the immense size of the occupant. He was one of the largest men he had ever seen, his weight sinking the canoe almost to its gunwales.
"He must be the savage who hurled his javelin through our boat," was the conclusion of the astonished Fred. "What a magnificent fellow he is!"
The native sat so that his face was turned toward the young man, who studied his countenance with the deepest interest.
He had the busy head, the large protruding eyes, and the dark, naked skin of all his people. His enormous arms swung the paddle first on one side of the boat and then on the other. As he did so, Fred saw the play of the splendid muscle, which was like that of Hercules himself. Rash would be that antagonist who engaged him in a hand-to-hand struggle.
Nothing in the world was easier than for the explorer to extinguish the life in that impressive specimen of physical manhood, without the least risk to himself, and yet, although he knew him to be the most formidable enemy of his people, he held no thought of doing him harm—at least not at the present stage of his extraordinary business.
It was at this decidedly interesting juncture that a new element obtruded itself. The sounds of guns, shouts and yells, in the direction of the rapids left no doubt that his friends there were having a lively time with the natives.
Ashman would have turned and made all haste thither, but for the presence of this burly giant in front. Whatever was going on down stream was with the full knowledge of him, and he was the one for the white man to look after.
Had the latter been surprised by the sounds of conflict, he would have ceased paddling or headed his boat up stream, but he merely glanced toward the rapids, and continued dipping his paddle and propelling his craft, as if it was his intention to step ashore and grasp the hand of the astonished youth awaiting his arrival.
The passage occupied but a very few minutes. Just before the bank was reached, he made one powerful sweep of the oar, which sent the prow far up the shingle, and then leaped as lightly as a cat from the structure, which bounded up as if relieved of several hundred pounds' weight.
Turning about, the giant stooped down and took a spear as long and heavy as the one he had hurled nearly across the Xingu, through the boat of the explorers.
It seemed that there was to be no end to the obtrusion of "side issues" upon the little drama going on under Fred Ashman's eyes. It must have been that the puma which had slaked its thirst at the Xingu's margin a short time before, had become convinced that parties were near, entitled to his attention.
While endeavoring to locate him, he probably caught sight of the approaching native and concluded that he was the individual to whom he should turn.
Be that as it may, the native had only time to pick up his ponderous spear and face toward the wood, when the lion emerged from the broadening band of shadow, and, with a low, threatening growl, advanced upon him.
Like the cat species to which he belonged, he crouched so low while walking, that his shoulders protruded above his back in large humps, and his belly almost touched the ground. His long tail flirted angrily from side to side, his jaws were parted, disclosing his sharp, carnivorous teeth and blood-red tongue, while his eyes emitted a phosphorescent glow that was like fire itself.
He was a formidable antagonist, and as Ashman observed his movements and ugly appearance, he felt like pumping a half dozen bullets into his lank, muscular body.
But he experienced the natural interest of a sportsman in an impending fight, and was curious to see how the huge native would acquit himself in the struggle at hand.
He was not kept long in doubt. The savage observed the puma the moment his head emerged from the shadow into the moonlight, and he instantly prepared himself to meet him.
Little preparation, however, was necessary, for he carried but the single weapon and that had only to be grasped in his right hand.
The warrior might have leaped into his craft and escaped by paddling out in the river, where he could drive the boat at a faster pace than the beast could swim, but he did nothing of the kind.
He neither advanced nor retreated, but, standing just in front of the prow, he rested on his right leg; with the left foot thrown forward, and the tremendous javelin balanced over his right shoulder.
His pose was admirable, and even in that thrilling moment compelled the admiration of the single spectator, who was strongly of the opinion that the puma, to put it mildly, was committing an error of judgment.
There may have been some strange, instinctive knowledge which penetrated the brain of the beast before he reached the assailing point, and which compelled him to stop. The individual whom he had selected as his victim was not to be crushed at a single effort, as he was accustomed to bring down the llamas, antelope, and other animals of the wilderness. No; there was something in that pose, the demeanor and the flash of the midnight eyes which forced the fierce creature to pause, when on the very death line, as it may be termed.
But if the native was defiant, the puma had no purpose of retreating from before such a powerful enemy. In his blind ferocity, he would have assailed him, could it have been impressed upon him that his own destruction would be the inevitable result.
The lank jaws were still parted and dripped foam, as the lion continued his cavernous growls, while his ears lying flat on his head in the manner peculiar to the feline species, the bristling spine and the lashing of the tail gave the beast the appearance of a bundle of concentrated fury, as indeed he was.
Fred Ashman was struck almost breathless by what followed.
He observed the curious, twitching movement of the puma's legs as they were gathered closer under his body, and which is always a sure evidence that the animal is about to make his decisive leap upon his victim. The native must have read the movement aright, for the hand over his shoulder was suddenly thrown back and instantly forward again, as his javelin left his grasp with terrific force and the suddenness of lightning.
But inconceivably quick as was the action, the puma dodged the missile, which entered the earth just behind him, and driven with such tremendous force was buried half its length in the ground.
Almost at the same instant the body of the lion rose in air and shot forward as if driven from the throat of a Parrott gun.
But if the brute was quick, so was the man, who dropped downward without moving his feet, and allowed his assailant to pass over his head and land directly in the canoe, where for a single second only he was partly hidden from sight.
Hardly had he landed, when the warrior darted forward several paces to where his javelin projected from the ground, seized it with both hands and wrenched it free. Whirling about, he confronted the beast once more, as he was gathering himself for a second leap.
The savage learned wisdom from what had just occurred, and instead of allowing the weapon to leave his hand, held it with an immovable grip and awaited the renewal of the attack.
The puma seemed also to have absorbed some instruction from his failure, and instead of leaping at once, began a stealthy advance, coming over the side of the canoe with the gliding motion of a serpent, and evidently wishing to get so near that his victim could not escape again by the means he used before.
Suddenly the native, still holding the javelin with both hands, stepped forward a single pace. This placed him in the strongest possible position, and, with one appalling thrust, he drove the spear for a distance of two feet into the chest of the puma, instantly snatching it forth again, moving back a couple of feet, and holding himself ready for any assault from the brute.
No need of any virus on the point of that weapon, for it had cloven the heart of the lion in twain, and he went down without a single groan, as dead as dead could be.
The native stepped to the river, washed the blood from the weapon and then turned about to resume his advance toward the wood.
As he did so, he found himself face to face with a white man, who, stepping from the shadow, held his Winchester leveled at him in an exceedingly suggestive fashion.
If Fred Ashman had been astonished before, what words shall describe his amazement when the dusky Hercules, calmly staring at him for a moment, said in unmistakable English, "I surrender."
Fred Ashman was so startled by hearing the giant native utter his submission in unmistakable English, that he came near dropping his leveled Winchester to the earth in sheer amazement.
He had not dreamed that the savage understood a word of that tongue, but judged from his own posture, with his weapon pointed at him, that the other knew when an enemy had "the drop" on him. Even if such were the fact, he counted upon a desperate resistance, and was prepared to give the fellow his quietus by a shot from his rifle.
The savage held his ponderous javelin in his hand, but made no effort to use it. His black eyes were fixed on the face of the handsome American, and he could not have failed to note the expression of bewilderment and wonder caused by the words that had just dropped from his dusky lips. Indeed, Ashman fancied he detected something akin to a smile lighting up the forbidding countenance.
It may be said that the young explorer for the moment felt himself in the position of the man who drew an elephant in a lottery—he didn't know what to do with his prize. It had come to him so unexpectedly that he was bewildered.
But he was quick to rally from his dazed condition. The fact that the giant had shown such a knowledge of the English tongue suggested the possibility not only of obtaining important information, but of making a friend of this personage, who must possess great influence among his people.
True, the events of the afternoon and evening were against anything in the nature of comity or good will, but no harm could come from an attempt to bring about an understanding between the people and the explorers that had become involved in such fierce conflicts with them.
"Drop that spear!" commanded Ashman.
"I have surrendered," said the savage, in a low, coarse voice; "and Ziffak does not lie."
Nevertheless, while the words were passing his lips, he unclosed his right hand and allowed the implement to fall to the ground.
"Is your weapon poisoned?" asked Ashman, still mystified by the extraordinary situation and hardly knowing what to say.
"Your man in the wood was pierced by one of our spears; ask him."
"Such a warrior as Ziffak does not need to tip his weapons with poison," said Ashman, glancing significantly at the carcass of the puma. "It is cowardly to use such means against your enemies."
The savage shook his head and an ugly flash appeared in his eyes.
"Do not the whites from the Great River use fire to slay the natives before they can come nigh enough to use their spears?"
"But they have no wish to use them against your people; we would be their friends, and it pains us to do them harm; we would not have done so had they not compelled us."
Ziffak stood a moment as motionless as a statue, with his piercing black eyes fixed with burning intensity on the white man. The latter would have given much could he have read his thoughts, of which an intimation came with the first words that followed.
"Waggaman and Burkhardt told our people that if we allowed the white folks to come into our country, they would bring others and slay all our men, women and children."
"Who are Waggaman and Burkhardt?" asked the explorer, uncertain whether he was awake or dreaming.
"They have lived with the Murhapas for years; they are white men, but they are our friends."
Ashman recalled the story told by Bippo and his companions earlier in the evening. It must be that the names mentioned belonged to those two mysterious individuals, who beckoned them across the Xingu. For some reason of their own, they wished to keep all others of their race out of the country.
It was plain that Ziffak was a remarkable person and the explorer determined to use every effort to win his good will.
"Waggaman and Burkhardt have told you lies; we are your friends."
"Why do you not stay at home and leave us alone?"
"We expect to go back, after ascending the river a short distance further; nothing would persuade us to live here, and, as I have told you, we would not harm any person if they would leave us alone."
Ziffak seemed on the point of saying something, but checked himself and held his peace, meanwhile looking steadily at the man who had made him a prisoner in such clever style.
Ashman resolved on a rash proceeding.
"Take up your spear again, Ziffak; go back to your people, and, if you believe what I say, tell them my words, and ask them to give us a chance to prove that we mean all I have uttered."
"My people know nothing about you," was the strange response.
"You heard but a few minutes ago the sounds of guns and the shouts from the direction of the rapids, which show they were fighting."
"Those people are not mine," said the native; "but they are my friends, and I fight for them."
"From what you said, you are a Murhapa?"
Ziffak nodded his head in the affirmative.
"Where do they live?"
He extended his hand and pointed up the river.
"One day's ride above the rapids and you reach the villages of the Murhapas. There live Waggaman and Burkhardt; they came many years ago. I am a chieftain, and they rule with me."
"It was from them you learned to speak my tongue?"
Ziffak again nodded his head, adding:
"Many of my people speak it as well as I."
"Tell me, Ziffak, why, if your home is so far above the rapids, you are here among these people, whose name I do not know?"
"They are Aryks; they have much less people than the Murhapas, and are our slaves. Some days ago word was brought to us that a party of white men were making their way up the Xingu. Waggaman and Burkhardt and I set out to learn for ourselves and to stop them. They went down the other side of the river and I came down to the Aryk village. I roused them to kill you before you could pass above the rapids, but we were able to slay only one of them."
"And it was a sad mistake that you did that; for he was a good man, who wished you no evil. Where are Waggaman and Burkhardt?"
The native shook his head. He had picked up his spear, but made no movement toward taking his departure. Ashman hoped he would not, for everything said not only convinced him of the first importance of gaining the fellow's confidence, but encouraged him in the belief that he was fast doing so. He resolved to leave no stone unturned looking to that end.
"Why did not your two white friends help you in the fight, to keep us from going further up the Xingu?"
"Maybe they did," replied Ziffak, with a significant glance up stream, which left no doubt that he referred to the conflict that had taken place there while the couple were talking on the margin of the river.
"I don't believe it," Ashman hastened to say, hopeful that such was the case; for, with two white men and their firearms, the peril of his friends must have been greatly increased.
"Why do you seek to enter our country?" asked the dusky giant, after a brief pause.
"We want to learn about your people; but I pledge you we wish not to harm a hair of their heads."
It was not to be expected that a savage who has heard nothing else for years except that any penetration of his territory by white men meant destruction, could give up that belief simply on the pledge of one of the race accused.
But it was equally clear that this particular savage was favorably disposed toward Ashman. It may have been that his good will was won by the neat manner in which he had got the best of Ziffak, the most terrible warrior ever produced by that people. A brave man respects another brave man.
"Why did Waggaman and Burkhardt visit your villages and make their home with you for so many years?"
"I do not know," replied Ziffak, with another shake of his head; "but they have proven they are friends. They do not want to go back to their people, who are all bad."
The thought occurred to Ashman, though he did not express it, that the strange white men were criminals. They may have escaped from the diamond mines, which were at no great distance, and naturally preferred the free, wild life of the interior to the labor and tyranny which the miserable wretches condemned to service in those regions undergo.
"Ziffak," said the explorer, lowering his weapon, "will you walk back to the camp of my people? You have my promise that no harm shall be offered you by any one."
The herculean native nodded his head, and the strange couple started up the bank in the direction of the camp, which was now as silent as though not a hostile shot had been fired, or a savage blow been struck.
THE LAND OF THE MURHAPAS.
It looked as if Fred Ashman had gained a double victory over the giant Ziffak, and his second triumph was infinitely greater than his first.
His heart thrilled at the thought that this formidable antagonist had been so suddenly transformed into a friend; and yet he could not entirely free himself from a certain misgiving, as the two walked side by side along the Xingu. Recalling the dexterity of the native—all the more wonderful because of his bulk—he reflected, that it was the easiest thing in the world for him to turn like a flash and pierce him with his poisoned javelin before the slightest defence could be made.
It was this thought which led him stealthily to place his hand on the butt of the revolver at his hip, prepared to whip it out and fire as quickly as he knew how. At the same time he edged away from him, so as to maintain considerable space between their bodies.
Ziffak suddenly changed his javelin from his right to his left hand, the movement sending a shock of fear through the American, who the next moment blushed from shame, for it was manifest that the shrewd savage suspected the timidity of his new friend, and shifted the frightful weapon to the side furthest from him to relieve any misgiving on his part.
The conversation continued as they walked, the native showing a surprising willingness to answer all questions.
Ashman gathered from what was told him that the Murhapas were a tribe numbering fully a thousand men, women and children; that they occupied a village or town on the right bank of the Xingu about twenty miles above the rapids, where the incidents already recorded occurred, and that they were far superior in intelligence, physical development and prowess to any other tribes in the Matto Grosso.
It was about five years before that the two white men, Waggaman and Burkhardt, suddenly made their appearance at the towns. The fact that they did not come up the Xingu, but from the forest to the south, strengthened Ashman's suspicion that they were criminals who had managed to escape from the Brazilian diamond mines, though it was a mystery how they had secured the two rifles which they brought with them. They had no revolvers, and their guns were not of the repeating pattern. When their ammunition gave out, one of them made a journey of several days' duration into the wilderness, invariably bringing back a supply which lasted a long time.
Such weapons were entirely unknown to the Murhapas, who had never heard of anything of the kind. The exploits of the owners caused the natives to look upon them with awe. They were soon established on the best of terms with their new associates, who allowed them to do as they chose in everything.
It is not to be supposed that Ashman gathered all the information given in this chapter, during his brief walk with Ziffak. Indeed, that which has already been stated was obtained only in part during the memorable interview; but it may be as well to add other facts which afterwards came to the knowledge of him and the explorers, since it is necessary to know them in order to understand the strange series of incidents and adventures in which they became speedily involved.
The Murhapa tribe was ruled by King Haffgo, whose complexion was almost as fair as that of a European. He had fifty wives, but only one child, whose mother was dead. This child was a daughter, Ariel, of surpassing beauty and loveliness, the pride of her grim father and adored by all his subjects. From Waggaman and Burkhardt she had acquired a knowledge of the English tongue, which Ziffak declared was superior to his own. Both of these men had sought in turn to win her as his wife, and the king was not unwilling, because of the awe in which he held them; but Ariel would not agree to mate herself with either, though she once intimated that when she became older she might listen favorably to the suit of Waggaman, whose appearance and manner were less repulsive than those of his comrade.
The first duty the guests took upon themselves was to impress King Haffgo and his subjects that all white men except themselves were their deadliest enemies, and, if any of them were allowed to visit the village, they would assuredly bring others who would cause the utter destruction of the inhabitants.
Three years before, a party of six white explorers ascended the Xingu, and suddenly presented themselves to the Murhapas, without previous announcement or knowledge. Despite their professions of friendship, and a most valiant defence, they were set upon and slain the same hour they appeared among the fierce people.
Ariel, the daughter of the king, was but a child, at that time, just entering her teens. She did not know of the cruel massacre until it was over, when she surprised all by expressing her sorrow and declaring that a great wrong had been done the strangers. From that time forward, those who studied her closely saw that she had formed a strong distrust, if not dislike, of Waggaman and Burkhardt, though, seeing the high favor in which they were held in court, she sought to veil her true feelings.
Ziffak was a younger brother of the king, and bore the title of head-chieftain. He was next in authority and power, and, because of his immense size and prowess, led all expeditions against their enemies, none of whom was held in fear. Occasionally, he headed a hundred warriors, who made excursions through the neighboring wilderness and in pure wantoness spread destruction and death on every hand.
The Aryks, after receiving several such terrible visits, sued for terms and willingly agreed to consider themselves slaves of the Murhapas. Their location was favorable to detect the advance of any of the dreaded white men up the Xingu, and they agreed in consideration of being left alone, to check any such approach, a fact which will explain the fierceness and determination with which they contested the ascent of the river by our friends.
If they allowed the whites to pass above the rapids, they knew that the mighty Ziffak would sweep down upon them and visit frightful punishment upon their heads.
Instead of bringing a body of his own warriors, Ziffak, as has been intimated in another place, came alone down one side of the Xingu, with Waggaman and Burkhardt on the other, the calculation being to rouse enough Aryks to destroy the invaders, as they were regarded. Enough has been told to show how thoroughly the head-chieftain acquitted himself of this duty.
Several of the powerful reasons for the jealousy of Waggaman and Burkhardt of their race, was apparent in the fact that there was an astonishing abundance of diamonds and gold among the Murhapas. Although none was seen on Ziffak, it was only because he was on the war-path. He had enough at home to furnish a prince's ransom, while the possessions of the beautiful princess Ariel were worth a kingdom.
These were obtained from some place among the mountains to the westward of the town. In the same mysterious region was a peak, whose interior was a mass of fire that had burned from a date too remote to be known even in the legends of the wild people. There was a lake also, whose waters were so clear that a boat floating over them seemed suspended in mid air.
This wonderful section was claimed by King Haffgo, who would permit none but his subjects and the two white men to visit it. A party of Aryks; presuming upon the friendly relations just established with their masters, ventured to make their way to the enchanted place without permission or knowledge of the Murhapas.
Before they could get away, they were discovered by some of the lookouts, and every one slain with dreadful torture. The lesson was not lost upon their surviving friends, who never again ventured to repeat the experiment.
The Murhapas were the first to use the spears with the deadly points. They not only taught the Aryks how to prepare the poison from the venom of several species of serpents and noxious vegetables, but imparted to them the remedy,—a decoction of such marvellous power, that a single swallow would instantly neutralize the effect of any wound received from the dreaded missiles.
Among the tribes named, there was no knowledge of the use of iron though the ore is abundant in that region. The only objects composed of the metal were the firearms of the white men, and the natives could not comprehend how they were fashioned from the substance which underwent such a change from its native state.
Every implement used by this people is made from stone, which however seems almost the equal of iron and steel. Spear points, axes and cutting tools are shaped with remarkably keen edges, with which trees are readily felled, and cut into any form desired.
Shells are used in the formation of knives, while the teeth of certain fish, taken from the Xingu, enables them to construct still more delicate implements for cutting and carving.
Indian corn, cotton and tobacco are raised from a soil whose fertility cannot be surpassed, though strangely enough the tribes have no knowledge of the banana, sugar cane and rice, which belong so essentially to the torrid zones. Dogs and fowls are entirely unknown, and there is no conception of a God, though all have a firm belief that they will live again after death. A myth has existed among them from time immemorial of the creation of the world, which, according to their views, consists of the regions around the headwaters of the Xingu and Tapajos.
Ziffak was a favorite of the beauteous Ariel, and it is not improbable that, knowing as he did, her lamentation over the cruel death of the white men, who appeared at her home three years before, he was more willing than would otherwise have been the case to stay his hand, after doing such yeoman service against the new-comers.
Where these tribes came from is a question yet unsolved by anthropologists, though the theory has many supporters that most of the isolated peoples are allied to the original stock of the once mighty Caribs, who journeyed from the south to the sea.
Conscious of their own might, and knowing the prodigious mineral wealth at their command, the Murhapas are naturally jealous of their neighbors, and fight fiercely to resist anything that bears a resemblance to an encroachment upon their rights.
It will be understood that Waggaman and Burkhardt met with little difficulty in rousing their enmity particularly against the Caucasian race, since the members of that, of all others, were the ones most to be dreaded.
The foregoing, much of which is in the way of anticipation, we have deemed best to incorporate in this place.
THE NEW ALLY.
The amazement which so nearly overwhelmed Fred Ashman during the few minutes succeeding the surrender of Ziffak, was shared in all its entirety, when the two presented themselves before the astounded explorers in the canoe.
In fact, Jared Long came within a hair of shooting the Hercules, before the situation could be explained to him. Even then he refused for awhile to believe the astonishing story, but declared that some infernal trickery was afoot. Finally, however, he and the Professor and Bippo and Pedros realized that the most powerful enemy had become their ally.
Ziffak showed a strange talkativeness after joining the company. Seating himself on the ground where all were now veiled in shadow, he answered the questions that were rained upon him, until most of the information given in the preceding chapter was told to the wondering listeners.
The account of the dreadful reception that awaited their predecessors three years before, would have deterred such brave men as the explorers from pushing further, but for the fact that they had secured an all-powerful friend at court. Believing that he could pave the way for a friendly reception, they were eager to visit what seemed to them an enchanted land.
There was some uneasiness over Waggaman and Burkhardt, who, it could be easily seen, would at the most do nothing more than disguise their enmity under the guise of friendship, holding themselves ready for some treachery that would bring about the death of the visitors.
The conversation lasted a long time, and was ended by the natural question put to Ziffak as to what should be the next step.
From what he had already stated, it was evident they were not yet through with the Aryks. Despite their frightful repulse, they would hold the Murhapas in greater dread than the whites; and, well aware of the penalty of allowing them to pass above the rapids, would never cease their efforts to prevent such a disaster. It followed, therefore, that something must be done to spike their guns, and Ziffak was the only one who could do it.
The whites were not surprised, when he offered to return to the point down the river, where he had left his canoe, recross to the other side, and make known to the Aryks that it was his wish that the explorers should be molested no further.
The announcement would be a surprise indeed to them, but there was none who would dare question the authority of such a source.
During the absorbingly interesting conversation, Ziffak stated that his object in coming from the other side was to reach the camp of the whites at the same time that an attack was made by the Aryks who so cunningly used the floating logs and trees as a screen to hide their approach. He preferred his course to that of accompanying them.
It will thus be seen, that, although the act of Fred Ashman in passing down the Xingu seemed like a mistake, yet it was the most providential thing that could have occurred.
Having made known his plan, the burly chieftain set about carrying it out with characteristic promptness. Without saying good-bye, he rose to his feet, and walking rapidly off, soon disappeared in the direction of the spot where took place his encounter with the puma and his meeting with Fred Ashman.
He had not been gone long, when those left in camp caught sight of the little boat skimming swiftly across the Xingu below them. The preliminaries of the singular movement in their favor was going on according to programme.
But, with the departure of Ziffak, something like a distrust of his friendship entered the minds of the three whites. Bippo and Pedros were so overcome by what they had seen that they were unable to comprehend what it all meant. They kept their places in the boat and listened and wondered in silence.
The Professor hoped for the best, though he admitted that there was something inexplainable in the business. He had spent hours in examining the strange fish of the Upper Xingu, in inspecting the remarkable plants, which he saw for the first time, and in studying the zoology and mineralogy of the region. He had been delighted and puzzled, over and over again, but all of these problems combined failed to astonish him as did the action of Ziffak and the story he told.
Ashman was the most hopeful of all. He had been with the native more than the rest, and was given the opportunity to study him closely. He was confident that he read the workings of his mind aright, and that the fellow would be their friend to the end.
Jared Long, the New Englander, was equally positive in the other direction. He maintained that since the leopard cannot change his spots, no savage showing such relentless hatred of the white race as did Ziffak, could be transformed into a friend for no other reason than that he had been made a prisoner.
He insisted further that, if he succeeded in helping them through to the Murhapa village, it would be only with the purpose of securing a more complete revenge. Such a powerful tribe as his need feel no misgiving in allowing a small party to enter their town; for, after that was done, they would be so completely at their mercy that there was no possibility of any explorer ever living to tell the tale.
He especially dwelt upon the undoubted influence possessed by Waggaman and Burkhardt. They would never consent to yield the influence they had held so long, nor could they be induced to share it with any of their own countrymen.
Grimcke and Ashman laughed at his fears, but strive as much as they chose, they could not help being affected more or less by his pessimistic views.
However, the brave fellow declared that he would accompany them on the hazardous journey, and stick by them to the end. If they could not survive, they would fall together.
By this time the night was far along. A careful scrutiny of the other bank failed to reveal anything of their enemies, though all believed there were plenty of them along the shore.
Ashman proposed, that now, since they were entirely screened by the projecting shadow of the wood, they should cautiously push their way up the bank, as near as possible to the rapids, so as to lessen the distance that was to be passed on the morrow. There could be no objection to this, and adjusting themselves in the usual manner in the large canoe, they began the ascent of the river.
Naturally they would have kept close to the shore to escape, so far as they could, the force of the current, and the main object now was to prevent their movements being seen by the vigilant Aryks across the stream, who might resume hostilities before Ziffak could make his wishes known to them.
Our friends did not forget that a large body of these warriors had passed the Xingu above the rapids to reach the bank along which the craft was now stealing its way; but they had received such treatment that the survivors hurried from the vicinity.
Still there was a probability that after rallying from their repulse, more of them had swam across and were at that moment on the western shore, on the watch for just such a movement as was under way.
If this should prove the case, it could not be expected that Ziffak could interfere in time to prevent another sanguinary conflict; but that might come about, even if the explorers remained where they had stopped until daylight. If the Aryks were prepared to attack them while on the move, they could do so with equal effect while they were not in motion.
The increasing roar of the rapids was a great disadvantage, for it drowned all inferior noises and compelled our friends to depend on their eyesight alone to discover the approach of danger.
There was an involuntary shudder on the part of all, when they came opposite the scene of the desperate fight, and they hastened past without exchanging a word.
They had not much further to go when they found themselves, for the time, at the end of their voyage. It was impossible to ascend further, because of the rapids, which tossed the canoe about as though it were an eggshell.
A halt was therefore made, and, at the moment this took place, all observed that day was breaking, the light rapidly increasing in the direction of the Aryk village.
"Just what I told you!" exclaimed Jared Long, as the simultaneous discovery was made by all, that the forest around them was swarming with the vengeful savages, eager for another and bloodier joust at arms.
THE NICK OF TIME.
The peril which menaced the explorers was more frightful than any that they had been called upon to face since entering that mysterious land known by the name of the Matto Grosso.
The Aryks numbered more than half a hundred, all active, vigilant and armed with their fearful poisoned javelins. They had taken position among the trees on the western bank of the Xingu, at the base of the rapids, at the very point where the white men intended to shoulder their canoe and make their last portage.
Instead of being in the open, where they were in plain sight of the defenders, and fair targets for their unerring Winchesters, they were stationed behind the numerous trunks or lying on the ground, where little could be seen of them except their bushy heads and gleaming black eyes, as they glared with inextinguishable hate at the white men who had slain so many of their number.
The suspicious Long was looking in the direction, with the thought that if any ambush was attempted, that would be the very spot, when he caught sight of a dusky figure, as it whisked from behind a narrow trunk to another that afforded better cover.
That hasty glance in the dim morning light revealed an alarming number of heads glaring around the trees and from among the undergrowth like so many wild beasts, aflame with fury and the exultation of savages who knew that their enemies were at last forced inextricably into their grasp.
So assured were the Aryks in fact that they showed a disposition to toy for a moment with their victims, as a cat does with a mouse before craunching it in her jaws. They brandished their weapons, danced grotesquely and uttered shrill shrieks audible above the deafening roar of the angry Xingu as it foamed through the rapids.
It was a fearful trap in which our friends found themselves, for it was impossible to advance or retreat, and it was madness to hope that they could again escape the shower of spears that were already poised in the air and ready to be launched.
Bippo and Pedros, with wild shrieks of terror bounded into the canoe, and wrapping the blankets around them, cowered in abject helpless dread of impending death. They were only an incumbrance, as they had proven in more than one crisis before.
But not one of the Caucasians showed the white feather. Disdaining to seek impossible shelter, they coolly prepared to die fighting, while exposed to the hurtling javelins, whose appalling effectiveness they knew too well.
But at this appalling juncture, when life hung on the passing moment, a piercing shout rang out above the roar of the waters.
It came from a point behind them, and, despite the imminent peril all three looked around.
A small canoe was darting across the Xingu toward them, so close to the foot of the rapids, that it danced about like a cork and seemed certain to be submerged every minute.
In this frail craft sat the giant Ziffak, propelling it across the furious swirl with such prodigious power that though the spume dashed over it, the boat was driven by the sheer power of his mighty arms under, above, and through the waters.
It was he who uttered the resounding cry which caused the wondering explorers to turn their heads, and stayed the uplifted arms of the venomous Aryks.
All saw the giant head chieftain of the Murhapas who repeated the shout and added an exclamation that was a command, forbidding his allies to hurl a single weapon.
They must have deemed him mad, but if so he was ten times more to be dreaded than if sane. Not a javelin was launched, but all stood motionless awaiting his arrival, and doubtless believing he meant them to pause only long enough to place himself at their head as the leader.
They must have thought, too, that his appearance so filled the whites with fear that their arms were paralyzed, for, though he was in direct range, not a hand of the foreigners was raised to do him hurt.
Coming with such tremendous speed, Ziffak occupied but a moment in passing the remaining distance. Before the prow of his boat could touch land, he flung the paddle aside, spurned the canoe with his foot, caught up his huge spear, and with one bound placed himself opposite the wondering trio of white men, while two more leaps landed him among the Aryks.
Grimcke, Ashman and Long had read aright the meaning of the amazing demonstration and calmly awaited the issue.
Pausing in the very middle of the dusky force, he addressed them in their native tongue, with savage gestures and a fierceness of tones which rendered every word audible amid the roaring tumult.
Only a second or two was required for him to finish his harangue, when he made a final command for them to fall back, emphasized by the swing of his tremendous arms.
No more striking proof could have been given of the sway of this mighty warrior over his vassals, than was shown by their instant obedience to the order, which fell upon them like the bursting of a thunderbolt from the clear summer sky.
They did not scatter and flee, for they had not been directed to do so, but skurried several rods back among the trees, so as to leave the way open for the explorers to pass around the rapids to the calmer waters above.
Ziffak did not remove his eyes from the natives, until he saw that his commands were not only obeyed, but that it was understood by them that the white men were not to be molested.
This extraordinary person had hastened to the other shore, in accordance with his pledge, only to learn from a couple of Aryks whom he met that the main body of warriors had again crossed the Xingu above the rapids, and were gathered in the wood waiting for the whites to walk into the trap set for them.
Had our friends remained where he left them, no danger would have been encountered, but, as we have shown, they moved up stream and came within a hair's-breadth of being wiped from the face of the earth before their powerful ally could interfere.
The breaking morning gave Ziffak his first knowledge of the mistake they had made, and, leaping into his canoe, he drove it across the stream with resistless speed, reaching the spot in the nick of time, and barely doing that, since he was forced to raise his voice while yet on the river, in order to hold the battle in suspense.
Having satisfied himself that everything was adjusted, Ziffak now turned around, and, without the least appearance of agitation on his swarthy countenance, signified that the path was open for them to continue their journey.
Reaching into the canoe, Ashman seized Bippo by the nape of the neck and hoisted him out on land. He did the same with Pedros, both of them howling in the extremity of mortal terror. Tearing the blankets from their bodies, he shouted for them to give their help in carrying the canoe and luggage around the rapids.
It was some minutes before they could comprehend in their blind way the situation. Finally, when they saw that their deaths were postponed, they lent their aid as eagerly as a couple of obedient dogs.
The sturdy whites were equally helpful, and the boat was quickly raised aloft and so adjusted that its well apportioned weight bore lightly upon the shoulders of all.
The sidelong glances which Bippo and Pedros cast at the Aryks as they moved up the bank, brought a smile to the whites who witnessed them. The poor fellows were ready to let go and drop down dead the moment they felt the puncture of the whizzing javelins.
The Professor was at the head of the strange procession bearing the boat on their shoulders. Like his companions, he moved with a springy, elastic step, for he had received the most striking proof possible of the friendship of Ziffak, and he foresaw the dazzling results that were to flow from such an alliance.
Had this remarkable savage been disposed to play them false, no better opportunity could have been given than that which occurred a few minutes before. All he had to do was to arrive on the spot a minute later: the Aryks would have left nothing for him except to view the dead bodies of the whites and their servants.
As for Jared Long, the doubter, he was willing to admit that he had made a grevious error of judgment. Had he thought that Ziffak suspected his misgivings, he would have taken the fellow's hand, and humbly begged his pardon.
THE JOURNEY'S END.
The explorers, bearing the canoe with the luggage upon their shoulders, ascended at a steady gait the western bank of the Xingu. The cleared space which they had noticed on both sides of the river, caused by the furious overflow, continued, so that the progress was comparatively easy.
The din of the rapids was so loud that they could not have heard each other, except by shouting at the top of their voices, for which there was no call, since even Bippo and Pedros were now able to read the full meaning of the extraordinary incidents of the night.
Ashman looked around and ascertained that Ziffak was not bearing them company. None of the savages were in sight, though all would have been as eager as tigers to rend the white men to shreds had such permission been given.
The absence of the great leader caused no uneasiness on the part of any one of our friends. Strange indeed, would it have been had they felt any distrust of him after his late interference.
The sun appeared while the party were still pushing forward. The sky was as clear as on the preceding day, and, though the temperature was quite warm, it was not unpleasantly so. Several causes contributed to the delightful coolness which renders the Matto Grosso one of the most attractive regions on the globe. The abundance of water, the endless stretch of forest, with few llanos of any extent, and, above all, the elevation of the plateau produce a moderation of temperature not met with in the lowlands, less than twenty degrees further south.
But the explorers were weary and in need of rest. It will be recalled that they found precious little opportunity for sleep during the preceding night, which marked the close of an unusually hard day's labor. They would have rested could they have done so, and now that the chance seemed to present itself, they wisely decided to wait a few hours before beginning the last stretch of water which lay between them and the villages of the Murhapas.
The halt was made at the top of the rapids, where the boat was carefully replaced in the river, the fracture made by Ziffak's javelin repaired, and everything adjusted for the resumption of their voyage. Then, with only the Professor on guard, the others lay down on their blankets and almost immediately sank into a deep, refreshing slumber.
Professor Grimcke, finding the care of the camp on his hands, took a careful survey of his surroundings, which were quite similar to those that had enclosed him many times before.
On both sides, stretched the almost endless Brazilian forest, within which a traveller might wander for weeks and months without coming upon any openings. In front was the Xingu, smooth, swift, and winding through the wilderness in such form that he could see only a short distance up stream. Looking in the opposite direction, the agitation of the water was noticeable before breaking into rapids, similar, though in a less degree, to the rapids above Niagara Falls. The volume still preserved its remarkable purity and clearness, which enabled him to trace the shelving bottom a long way from where he stood.
Grimcke was somewhat of a philosopher, and always eager to make the best use of the time at his command. There was nothing more to be feared from the Aryks, and his situation, therefore, of guardian of his sleeping friends might be considered a sinecure.
His fishing line was soon arranged, and with some of the dried meat he had brought along serving for bait, he began piscatorial operations.
It will strike the reader as incredible, but in Borne portions of the Orinoco and other tropical rivers of South America, the fish are so abundant that they have been known to impede the progress of large vessels moving through the waters. While no such overflowing supply is found in the Xingu, yet they were so numerous that it required but a few minutes for the Professor to haul in more than enough to furnish the entire party with all they could eat at a single meal.
His next step was to start a fire, and prepare the coals for broiling. This was a simple task, and was completed before his friends finished their naps.
No pleasanter awakening could have come to them than that of opening their eyes and finding their breakfast awaiting their keen appetites. They fell to with a will, and, though saddened by the loss of two of their number, were filled with a strange delight at the prospect of their visit to the enchanted land.
The boat was launched, but there was not enough wind to make it worth while to spread the sail, which had often proven of such assistance, but the four pairs of arms swung the paddles with a vigor that sent the craft swiftly against the current. The Professor disposed of himself in the boat so that he slept while the others were at work.
Naturally the craft was kept as close to the bank as possible, so as to gain the benefit of the sluggish current. The trees having been swept from the margin of the Xingu, an open space was before the explorers throughout the entire distance.
Despite the glowing expectations of the party, there was enough in the prospect before them to cause serious thought. Long and Ashman consulted continually and saw that it would not do to felicitate themselves with the belief that all danger was at an end.
Two facts must be well weighed. Waggaman and Burkhardt were inimical to them. Whether they could be won over even to neutrality could not be determined until they were seen. For the present they must be classed as dangerous enemies.
Was it unreasonable to suspect that their influence with the terrible King Haffgo would prove superior to that of Ziffak? If so, what hope was there of the escape of the explorers after once intrusting themselves within the power of the tyrant?
But the immediate question which faced our friends was, whether it would do for them to reveal themselves to the Murhapas without again seeing their native friend. They deemed it probable that he had pushed on to the village, with the expectation of reaching it ahead of them and thus preparing the way for their reception.
This, however, was but a pretty theory which was as liable to be wrong as right. At any rate, Ziffak must reach his home ahead of or simultaneously with the whites. The latter continued using their paddles with steady vigor, until near noon, when they knew that considerably more than half the distance was passed.
They now began swaying their paddles less powerfully, for the feeling was strong upon them that they had approached as close as was prudent to the Murhapa village.
It was about this time, that they rounded a bend in the Xingu which gave them sight of the river for fully half a mile before another change in its course shut out all view. Naturally, they scanned the stream in quest of enemies, who were now likely to be quite close.
The first survey showed them a canoe coming down stream. It was near the middle and was approaching at a rapid rate.
Fred Ashman laid down his paddle and took up his binocular.
"It is Ziffak!" he exclaimed, passing the glass to Long.
"So it is and he is alone," was the reply of the astonished New Englander, who added an exclamation of surprise that he should be approaching from that direction. The only explanation was, that since last seeing him, he had made a journey to his home and was now returning to meet and convoy his friends to his own people.
Such proved to be the case, as he explained on joining them.
After the affair at the foot of the rapids, he paused long enough to make clear to the Aryks that not one of them was to make another offensive movement against the whites under penalty of the most fearful punishment. He explained that these particular white men were the friends of all natives, and that they never would have harmed an Aryk had they not been forced to do so to save their own lives.
The cunning Ziffak dropped a hint that the newcomers were much better persons than the couple that had made their homes among the Murhapas for so many years. Then, having completed his business in that line, he struck through the forest at a high rate of speed and soon reached his own people.
He expected to find Waggaman and Burkhardt there, but they had not yet arrived. He explained to his brother the king what had taken place at the rapids of the Xingu and succeeded in gaining his promise of the king that he would allow the white men to enter the village without the sacrifice of their lives; but he was not willing that they should remain more than a couple of days. Indeed he gave such assent grudgingly and probably would have refused it altogether, but for the earnest pleading of his beloved Ariel, who insisted that it would be a partial recompense of the crime of three years previous.
This was the best that Ziffak, with all his influence at court could do, and indeed it was as much as he expected to accomplish. He admitted that Waggaman and Burkhardt were likely to interfere, but he did not believe they could do so to any serious extent, provided the white men themselves were circumspect in their behavior.
While this interesting interchange was going on, the two boats were side by side, so gently impelled that their progress was moderate and conversation pleasant. Thinking that the Professor had slept long enough, and that he ought to know the news, Fred Ashman turned to wake him; but to his surprise, the German met his look with a smile and the remark that he had heard every word spoken. Then he rose to a sitting posture, saluted Ziffak and proceeded to light his pipe.
The latter pleased the whites still further by explaining that he meant to keep them company for the rest of the distance. Despite his encouraging statements, they felt much easier with him as their escort.
By using their paddles with moderate vigor, they could reach their destination by the middle of the afternoon. There was no better hour to arrive, for the king was always in his best mood after enjoying his siesta, which was always completed by the time the sun was half-way down the sky.
It was to be expected also that before that hour, Waggaman and Burkhardt would spread the news of the expected coming of the wonderful strangers. They would do what they could, to excite distrust and enmity, but Ziffak was positive that since his brother had given his promise, it would be sacredly kept, and that for two days at least their stay at the village would be without peril to any one of the little company.
AT THE MURHAPA VILLAGE.
The sun was half-way down the sky when the canoe containing the explorers, and accompanied by the smaller craft impelled by Ziffak, rounded a bend of the upper Xingu and came in sight of the village of the Murhapas.
The herculean native gave an extra sweep of his paddle which sent his boat slightly in advance of the other, and, striking the shore, he sprang out and turned about to wait for them to disembark.
The scene was an impressive one, which every member of the company was sure to remember the rest of his life.
The huts in which these strange people made their homes were similar in structure to those of the Aryks, but instead of being built around the three sides of a rectangle, composed one row, numbering more than a hundred, and facing the river. They stood a hundred yards from the water, and being at the top of the sloping bank were above the reach of the most violent freshet that ever came down from the mountain-fed sources of the mighty Xingu.
The ground in front of this novel town was cleared of all trees and undergrowth, but for most of the space was covered with bright green grass; the whole having the appearance of a well-kept lawn that had been artificially sodded or strewn with seed, which flourished with the luxuriance of every species of vegetation in that tropic country.
Not only in front, but on the sides and to the rear, for an extent of more than a hundred acres, the earth had been cleared with equal thoroughness and was growing abundant crops of cotton, tobacco, and edibles peculiar to the region.
The houses were separated by a space of several rods, so that the town itself extended a long way along the water. The dwellings, like those of the Aryks, consisted of a single story, with the door in the middle of the front, a window-like opening on each side of the same, roofed over with poles, covered with earth, leaves and grass, that were impervious to wind and storm.
It seemed to the astonished whites that the entire population had gathered along the shore to receive them. Several strange sights impressed them. The men were large, sinewy, bushy-haired and athletic. Some sported bows and arrows, but the majority by far carried the spears which the explorers held in such dread. There was no native, so far as they could see, who was the equal in size and strength of Ziffak, but they were so much the superiors of any natives encountered since leaving the Amazon, that it was easy to understand how they were the lords and masters of all the tribes with which they came in conflict.
We have spoken of the Murhapa houses as being but a single story in height. There was a single exception. In the middle of the town was a broader and larger structure than the others. It was two stories high and so much more marked in every respect that it was easy to decide that it was the residence or palace of Haffgo, the king of these people.
Another singular feature was noticed by our friends as they stepped from their canoe. Among the natives, who were mostly as dark of skin as Africans, was a sprinkling so different that the inference was that they belonged to some other race, or that nature was accustomed to play some strange freak in this almost unknown part of the world.
The king and his daughter Ariel had complexions as fair as the natives of Georgia and Persia, and yet Ziffak, a full brother of Haffgo, was as ebon-tinted as the darkest warrior of the tribe. Since the features of all were similar in a general way the cause was one that could not be explained.
It was a moment when the new-comers fully appreciated the value of a friend at court. They felt that had each possessed a dozen repeating Winchesters they would have been of no avail after leaving their canoe and entering the village. They had now placed their lives in the hands of Ziffak, and, should he choose to desert them, they were doomed; it was too late to retreat.
Many of the warriors scowled at the white men and their two helpers as though they would have been glad to impale them with their spears, but no demonstration was made. Evidently Ziffak possessed unlimited power and was backed by the pledge of the king.
Professor Grimcke was the first to step ashore, Ashman and Long following immediately. The three whites formed abreast, while Bippo and Pedros covered [Transcriber's note: cowered?] so close that it was hard for them to keep from stepping on their heels. Ziffak placed himself at the head, as the escort, and moved up the sloping bank with the dignity of a conqueror.
The women, showed more taste in their dress, for all wore loose-fitting gowns of native cloth, gaudily colored, though the children were attired similarly to the men, with little more than a breech cloth about the loins. Even the boys of a most tender age were each armed with a javelin, none of them, however, having the points of the weapons poisoned as did their fathers and elders when on the war-path.
Another striking characteristic of these people was the abundance of gold and diamond ornaments. Not a woman was visible from whose ears were not suspended heavy rings of the precious metal, while the majority had diamonds fastened in the gold, all of several carats' weight, and some so large and brilliant that they would have sold for immense sums in a civilized country.
The older females had not only rings hanging from their ears, but still more valuable ornaments depended from their noses. It would have enriched an army to loot the Murhapa village.
Each of the whites carried his Winchester, and Bippo and Pedros did not forget their almost harmless spears; but the rifle of Johnston was left behind with the valuable property.
At the moment of starting, Ziffak called to two warriors and said something in a commanding voice. They instantly hastened to the edge of the water and placed themselves in front of the large canoe. Their action left no doubt they were obeying an order to guard the treasures during the absence of the owners.
Reaching the top of the bank, the party were in what might be called the main or only street of the town. The grass had been worn smooth by the feet of the villagers, among whom was not a dog, cat, horse, and, indeed, any four-footed animal.
The visitors had landed near the lower end of the village, so that it was necessary to walk some way before reaching the house of the king, which was their destination.
As they started, the whole population began falling in behind them. The terrified Bippo and Pedros shrank still closer to those in front, trembling and affrighted, for the experience to which they were subjected was enough to upset them morally, mentally and physically.
Ziffak turned his head with such a threatening scowl that the foremost instantly fell back, dreading his vengeance, but when he faced the other way, they began crowding forward again.
There must have been that in the appearance and action of Bippo and Pedros which excited the latent mirth of the Murhapas, for say what we may, the trait exists in a greater or less degree in all human beings. One of them reached forward with his javelin and gave Bippo a sharp prick. With a howl, he leaped several feet in air and yelled that he was killed.
There was an instant expansion of dark faces into grins, showing an endless array of black stained, teeth, for the spear point was not poisoned, and the incident caused a laugh on the part of his white friends when they came to know the whole truth.
But the author of the practical joke had reckoned without his host. The cry had hardly escaped the victim, when Ziffak bounded to the rear like a cyclone. The fellow who was a full grown warrior was still grinning with delight, when he found himself in the terrific grasp of the head chieftain. It was then his turn to utter a shriek of affright, which availed him nothing.
Ziffak first smote him to the earth by a single tremendous blow. Then, before he could rise to his feet, he grasped his ankles, one with either hand, and swung him round his head, as a child whirls a sling, before throwing the stone.
To the awed spectators he seemed a black ring of fire, so dizzyingly swift were the gyrations, from the midst of which came a buzzing moan of terror.
Only for a second or two was he subjected to this torture. Suddenly Ziffak ran toward the Xingu and then let go of the ankles. The black, limp object went spinning far out in the air, as if driven from some enormous catapult.
Across the remaining space he went, falling several feet from shore and disappearing beneath the surface. But such fellows are extinguished with difficulty, and the cold water quickly revived him.
By and by he came up, blew the moisture from his mouth, swam to shore, climbed timidly out, and, sneaking up the bank again, humbly took his place at the rear of the procession.
But Ziffak, having disposed of the joker, paid no further attention to him, caring naught whether he swam or was drowned. The lesson was one that he would not forget, and produced a salutary effect upon the rest of the multitude. They instantly fell back so far that Bippo, finding he had not been seriously hurt, saw that he was safe from further disturbance.
It was only a few minutes later that Ziffak halted, his friends immediately doing the same.
The cause was apparent: they had reached the dwelling place of Haffgo king of the Murhapas.
HAFFGO, KING OF THE MURHAPAS.
It was a memorable interview which the explorers held with Haffgo, king of the mighty Murhapas.
Since Bippo and Pedros were servants, they were not admitted to an audience with the potentate. Ziffak conducted the others into the hut adjoining the palace. This was his own building, where his aged mother had charge. She understood matters from her son, and the frightened fellows were made to feel that they were safe for a time from the annoyances and persecutions of the multitude.
The apartment was an oblong one, being at the front, and was characteristically furnished. Instead of the smooth bare ground which formed the floors of the other buildings, the palace was entirely covered with the skins of wild animals, gaudily stained. The whole looked like a gorgeous, oriental carpet, which was as soft as down to the tread.
There were no chairs or benches for auditors, for no one presumed to sit in the presence of majesty. The walls were hung with the same species of ornamented furs, set off here and there by spears, bows and arrows, arranged in fantastic fashion.
At the further end of the apartment, was a platform several feet high, with a broad seat, covered with still more brilliant peltries, a footstool, and on each side a vase of magnificent flowers. These vases were of native manufacture, beautifully ornamented, while the flowers were of a radiant loveliness, such as are seen nowhere outside of tropical countries. Their delicious fragrance filled the apartment and affected the strangers the moment the blanket was pulled aside by Ziffak and they stepped within the royal reception room.
On each side was a broad open window, without glass, which admitted enough sunlight to flood the place with illumination.
At the right of the dais or throne, the curtains were draped so as to serve as a door for the king or any member of the royal household to enter or withdraw.
On this barbaric throne sat the extraordinary personage known as King Haffgo, ruler of the warlike Murhapas.
To say the least, his appearance was stunning, if not bewildering.
In the first place, it maybe doubted whether the intrinsic value of his crown was not the equal of any that can be found to-day in the monarchical countries of Europe, Asia or Africa. Its foundation seemed to be a network of golden wire, in which were set scores upon scores of diamonds, weighing from five to ten carats apiece, with a central sun the equal of the great Pitt diamond. The coruscations from these brilliants were overwhelming. As the king moved his head while speaking, every hue of the rainbow flashed and scintillated, the rays at times seeming to dart entirely across the room.
In addition, the neck of Haffgo was encircled by a double string of the same dazzling jewels, of hardly less magnitude; while the wrist of the right hand, which rested on a large javelin, was clasped by a golden bracelet of what appeared to be living fire.
The king was dressed in a species of thin cloth, gathered by a girdle at the waist. The crimson tint of this garment was relieved by figures of the sun, moon and stars, of dragons, birds, beasts and reptiles in gold. One of his feet was visible, disclosing a species of sandal such as is seen among the natives of the East Indies.