Had King Haffgo been encountered anywhere else, he would have been set down as a European with an unusually fair complexion. It bore no liking to that of the African or native Murhapa. His skin had none of that chalky, transparent appearance shown by the Albinos, but was almost pinkish and ruddy.
His bushy hair was not white, but of a decided brown, his eyes hazel, his nose Roman, with a strong chin and a keen expression, such as was natural to a man who had reigned an absolute autocrat all his life.
He was about fifty years of age, but his face was wrinkled like a man of threescore and more.
King Haffgo was seated on his throne when his visitors were ushered into his presence, as though he expected and was waiting for them.
The white men were unacquainted with the etiquette prevailing in this barbaric court, but there are certain ceremonies which are received as expressive of courtesy and obeisance the world over.
Ziffak gave no instructions; but, placing himself at the side of Professor Grimcke on the left, he surveyed his friends with much curiosity, as if waiting to see how they would conduct themselves.
Grimcke, Long and Ashman removed their hats and bowed slowly, bending their heads almost to their knees. Then, as they straightened up again, the Professor, who took upon himself the duty of spokesman, said:
"We greet the great King Haffgo, and beg that he will accept the homage of his brothers from their homes near the great water."
"Why do my brothers come from their homes to hunt out the king of the Murhapas, when he has not asked them to come?"
These words were uttered almost exactly as given. The accent was thick and somewhat broken, but they showed an astonishing command of the English tongue, and proved that Waggaman and Burkhardt had found some exceedingly apt pupils among this people.
It is not necessary to give the interview in detail. There was a certain stateliness about the manner of the king which was remarkably becoming. His guests had prepared themselves, when starting out on their exploring enterprise, to make friends, by providing a large supply of gaudy trinkets, such as is always pleasing to the average savage; but, when they saw the wonderful crown and diamond ornaments of this autocrat, they were ashamed to let the baubles in their possession be seen.
They consisted mainly of children's toys; and, since they were entirely different from anything in the country, Professor Grimcke finally made bold to offer them, with another low obeisance, to his majesty. The latter may have been delighted, but, if so, he did not allow it to appear in his face or manner.
Fred Ashman handed him two brightly-polished knives, fashioned somewhat after the familiar Bowie pattern, and, despite his reserve, it was easy to see that they pleased him more than anything else.
Jared Long's present was a handsomely-carved meerschaum pipe. The king was an inveterate smoker, and, even if he didn't do anything more than nod his head when it was placed in his hand, he ought to have been very grateful.
Despite the pains which our friends took to win the good will of King Haffgo, it was apparent to all three that their visit was not welcome. Waggaman and Burkhardt may not have whispered anything in his ear about them, but the ruler was thoroughly filled with a distrust of all white men, the only exceptions being the ones that were the cause of this distrust.
Being a man of unquestioned native sagacity, it needed nothing more from his first guests than their accounts of what the other race was doing in the cities and towns along the sea coasts. Any people who builded canoes large enough to cross the awful waste of waters in quest of diamonds and gold, were sure to seize the chance to force their way up the Xingu where much more boundless wealth awaited them.
The famous diamond mines of Brazil were not very far from this portion of the Matto Grosso, and the pains which the emperors of Brazil had taken to draw a part of their riches from the earth was all the proof Haffgo could ask of the rapacity of the nations which called themselves civilized.
Now, while this remarkable ruler could not always make certain that no white men should enter his dominions, there remained a very good chance of preventing such intruders from getting away again, carrying the glowing accounts of what they had discovered. So long as he could maintain this condition of affairs, so long was he safe; for if he "absorbed" every foreigner ascending the Xingu, the supply could never exceed the demand.
The King conversed with not only the Professor, but with Long and Ashman in turn. They were as deferential as they knew how to be, but all the same, their sagacity told them he bore them no good will, and would have been much better pleased had the Aryks wiped them out before they ascended the rapids.
At the conclusion of the interview, which lasted about half an hour, the King Haffgo informed them they were at liberty to remain two days in the village, during which they were not to pass outside its boundaries. At the expiration of the period named, they would be allowed to descend the Xingu to their homes, under their pledge to tell no person what they had seen and learned about the Murhapas.
ARIEL THE BEAUTIFUL.
It will be understood that during the interview described, the three white men stood near the front entrance to the royal apartment with their faces turned toward King Haffgo.
In this position each made good use of his eyes and Fred Ashman's, from some cause or other, continually wandered to the draped curtains at the right of the ruler, between which he must pass when entering or leaving that part of his residence.
It was while his gaze was used on these curtains that he saw them gently agitated in a way which left no doubt that some person on the other side was the cause.
By and by he discerned part of a dainty hand, and the next minute became aware that a pair of the most beautifully lustrous eyes on which he had ever gazed was peering into the apartment.
"It is Ariel," was his instant thought, "and she as listening to the words that we are speaking."
The thought had hardly found shape, when one eye, a part of a lovely face and the top of the head were discerned, as the owner, giving rein to her curiosity, ventured upon a little further view of the visitors.
Then, as if conscious of her breach of etiquette, she withdrew, like a flash, from view altogether.
But he knew it was only for a brief interval, and sure enough, the eyes speedily appeared at another portion of the curtains, where the beauteous princess must have believed she was not observed, for she looked steadily at the faces of the visitors, with a depth of interest that it was vain for her to attempt to conceal.
The heart of Fred Ashman gave a flutter, when he realized that the midnight orbs were fastened upon him, and, evidently studying his countenance with more interest than those of his companions.
Feeling a peculiar boldness, because of the strange situation in which he was placed, he deliberately smiled at the unknown one.
She could not have vanished more suddenly had she been snatched away by the hand of some ogre.
A pang shot through Fred's heart, as he felt that he had driven away the enchantress by his own forwardness. He reproached himself bitterly for having overreached himself.
But while he was lamenting, he once more discovered the eyes, rivalling the diamonds in the crown of her royal father, slyly viewing him from the other side of the curtain. This time the fair one took care that no part of her countenance was visible, and the young man was equally guarded for the time, not to betray his sweet knowledge of the other's scrutiny.
It was at this juncture, that King Haffgo addressed some pointed questions to Ashman who was forced to withdraw his gaze from the marvellously attractive sight, and fasten it upon the rugged and wrinkled countenance of the king of the Murhapas.
But those eyes were in his field of vision, and, even while speaking to the potentate, his glance continually wandered to the orbs which attracted him as the lodestone draws the magnet.
But alas! the American forgot a fact of the first importance: the eyes of the father were as observant as those of his only child. He saw the furtive glances at the curtains, and a slight rustling at his right hand told him that his beloved Ariel, with the curiosity of her sex, was playing the eavesdropper.
The indulgent father would have cared nothing for this, had he not discovered the extraordinary interest which one of his three callers manifested in his child. In that moment, the distrust which he felt of the strange race was turned to violent hatred toward one of its members, because of his unpardonable insolence in daring to return the gaze with a smile.
The king suddenly leaned the javelin in his hand against the chair in which he was sitting, and partly rose from his seat as if about to descend from the throne. Instead of doing so, he leaned slightly to one side, and, with a quick movement, seized one of the curtains and snatched it aside.
The act, which was like the flitting of a bird's wing, caused Ariel, his daughter, to stand forth fully revealed!
If the white men had been dazzled by the amazing collection of diamonds on the brow of the king, it may be said that they were now blinded for the moment by the vision of loveliness which burst upon them, like the unexpected emergence of the sun from behind a dark cloud.
Before the princess could rally from her bewilderment, her father sharply commanded her to advance. She knew that that affectionate parent could be stern and cruel as well as loving and affectionate, and with her eyes bent modestly on the floor she stepped forward and stood beside him.
Her hair, instead of being auburn like her parent's, was as black as the raven's wing. It hung in luxuriant wavy masses below her waist, being gathered by a white clasp of burnished silver at the back of the neck, without which it would have enveloped all the upper part of her body in its fleecy veil.
Her gown of spotless white, composed of native cloth, as fine as satin, was without any ornament. It was encircled at the waist by a golden girdle, falling in folds which concealed the rest of the figure, leaving only one Cinderella-like foot to twinkle from the front, like a jewel of rare beauty.
But no eye could fail to see that the slight girlish figure was of ravishing perfection. The waist was slender, the partly revealed arms were as delicate as lilies, the tiny hands with their tapering fingers were like those of a fairy, while the countenance was one of the fairest that ever sun shone on.
The contour was such as Rubens delighted to place on canvas, and that Michael Angelo loved to carve from the snowy marble. The Grecian nose, the small mouth, the white teeth, unstained like those of her countrymen and countrywomen, the wealth of hair, the lustrous, soulful eyes, the sea-shell-like tint of the cheeks, all these fell upon the startled vision of the explorers with such overpowering suddenness that for the moment they believed they were dreaming, or that some trick of magic revealed to them a picture which had no reality.
"Look upon the white men!" commanded the king speaking in English, and with a sternness which left disobedience out of the question; "look, I say, for never will come the opportunity to see them again."
It was then that Ariel raised her eyes, and turned them toward the trio, gazing at no one in particular—for she knew her parent was closely studying her—but seeming to fix them upon some one miles behind them.
Grimcke, Long and Ashman again bowed their heads almost to the ground, and, feeling that the interview was over, began withdrawing.
Like the vassals leaving the presence of their sovereign, they did so walking backward, with their faces toward the throne, and making a low obeisance with each step.
The king looked steadily at them, without inclining his head or making the slightest acknowledgment of the salutation. Had not Fred Ashman been mad with the intoxication of his new, overwhelming passion, he would have observed that which was noticed by Grimcke and Long: the King was watching him.
The young American hardly raised his gaze from the floor, until in his retreat, he found himself at the entrance, by which all three had come in to the apartment. His companions had made their final obeisance and disappeared, while he was left with Ziffak standing near the middle of the apartment, his pose such that he could glance at his royal relative or at him without shifting his body.
It now became Fred's duty to assume the perpendicular, in order to effect a graceful withdrawal.
As he came upright once more, he looked straight into the countenance of the scowling king. Then—he could not help it—-his eyes flashed in the face of the blushing Ariel, who was gazing fixedly at him, and he smiled and saluted her.
It was a daring thing to do, with the eyes of the king and the head chieftain upon him. He never understood how it was that it was done. The salutation might have been forgiven, but that smile was an offense like smiting King Haffgo's countenance with the back of the open hand.
But wonder of wonders! the ruby lips of the radiant beauty parted for an instant in the faintest possible smile which lit up her countenance like a burst of sunshine. Ashman noticed not the diamond bracelet and necklace, which flashed in all their prismatic beauty, but knew only that she had returned the smile of recognition. For that boon he would have risked life a thousand times over.
Both Ziffak and the king were looking at the white man at the moment; but, as if suspicion had entered the brain of the infuriated monarch, he quickly shifted his head and glared at his daughter.
The movement was like the dart of a serpent, but that shadowy smile on the face of Ariel had passed, as the lightning flash cleaves the midnight, leaving the darkness deeper than before.
The king saw it not, and well for his child that so it was; for, much as he cherished her, he would have smitten her to the earth had he dreamed that she ventured on such a response to the impudence of the white man, whose very life was his own only through the sufferance of King Haffgo.
Not until Fred Ashman found himself in the air on the outside of the place did he realize what he had done. He feared that he had committed a fatal indiscretion, but when he asked, himself whether he would recall it if he could, his heart said "No."
The afternoon was drawing to a close, and there was a sensible coolness in the air. The natives who had remained standing round the front of the palace, when the explorers first went inside, had grown tired of waiting and, scattered in different directions. The Murhapa village wore its usual appearance, so in contrast with what met the eyes of our friends when they first saw it.
The Professor and the New Englander were waiting near the door for Ashman to join them. As he came out, the former shook his head, with a laugh, as an intimation that the young man in the ardor of his interest had made a mistake.
Fred admitted that possibly he had forgotten himself, but added that it was now too late to recall what had been done, and he was not sure that he would do so, if the opportunity were given.
"At any rate," said he, "we are promised safe treatment for a couple of days, provided we don't stray off or misbehave ourselves. Our visit can't amount to anything after all, since we must start for home whenever King Haffgo gives his command."
"A good deal may take place in two days," said the Professor significantly.
"And a good deal after five days," was the more significant remark of Jared Long.
It was evident from these declarations that Grimcke and Long had in mind the same thought; which came to Ashman himself, when the ruler of the Murhapas made known to his guests that they must take their departure within such a brief period.
While no one of the three would have dared to signify dissent, yet they were not the men to come so many hundred miles, forcing their way through endless dangers to turn about and retrace their steps at the command of a savage who looked upon himself as king, simply because he was able to lord it over a horde of barbarians.
It was no place to discuss their plans, in front of the "palace," especially as the natives were beginning to gather around them again, and among them it was certain was more than one who understood the English tongue "as she is spoke."
They were waiting for the coming of Ziffak, who was still within. He was their chaperon, and without his guidance, they did not dare to move from the spot.
"Hark!" suddenly exclaimed the Professor, raising his hand as a signal for the whispering to cease.
The sound of voices was heard inside. They recognized the tones of Ziffak, to which they had become accustomed since the previous night. Those of King Haffgo were also distinguishable, and there could be no doubt to whom the low silvery accents heard only occasionally belonged.
The alarming feature of it all was, that the king was in an unmistakably angry mood. He not only talked fast but he talked loud, sure evidence of his excited feelings. It sounded as if Ziffak was striving to placate him, but his royal brother grew more savage each moment.
The words of all were uttered in the Murhapa tongue, so that the listeners could form no idea of their meaning. Had they been able to do so, it is safe to say that they would have been in anything but a comfortable frame of mind.
THE SHADOW OF DANGER.
A few minutes later, Ziffak came through the door of the king's residence and greeted the explorers.
His dusky countenance showed unmistakable traces of emotion, but like a true warrior, he knew how to govern his feelings. When he spoke, there was no agitation perceptible in his voice.
He motioned to his friends to enter the adjoining hut, where Bippo and Pedros had been left. The Professor showing a natural timidity, he stepped forward and led the way.
Immediately, the party found themselves within a structure, which while no larger than the others, still, in view of the royal prerogatives of the occupant perhaps, possessed more conveniences. The lower apartment, or rather floor, was separated into three divisions, the front being that in which the cooking was done, while serving also for a sitting and general reception room.
The mother of Ziffak and King Haffgo was a tall, muscular widow of threescore and ten, much wrinkled, but strong and active on her feet. Her countenance was darker if possible than that of the head chieftain, making it the more wonderful that Haffgo should be the reverse in that respect of both.
The royal mother paid little heed to her visitors, probably believing they were able to take care of themselves without help from her. Indeed, shortly after the white men entered, she took her departure, and was not seen again until dark, when she came in to help provide them with their evening meal.
Bippo and Pedros finding themselves safe at last were doing what they could to make up for the sleepless nights and hard labor they had undergone on their way thither. They were stretched upon some skins in one corner, sleeping heavily and refreshingly.
Ziffak sat on the floor with the whites. It was apparent from his manner that he was on the point of making a communication of importance, but he seemed to change his mind suddenly, and, for a time, spoke upon matters of such trivial account that his listeners were surprised.
The next astonishing thing which he did was to declare that the stories he gave to Ashman the night before, when made a prisoner by him were fables. There was no enchanted lake in the neighborhood, and his account of the burning mountain was a myth, as were his yarns about the diamonds obtained from the same mountain.
The Professor nodded his head, laughed and said he was glad to be told that; for, while he wished to believe their good friend, when he was in earnest, he found it hard to swallow those marvellous narratives which exceeded anything that had ever come to their ears.
Long and Ashman also expressed great relief at the naive confession of the head chieftain. All the same, however, not one of them was deceived by the fellow's subterfuge.
They knew that the stories which Ziffak related on the shore of the Xingu were true. Seized at that time by a burst of confidence, he had unburdened himself to the young man for whom he formed such deep admiration.
Since that time, and especially since his angry interview with his royal brother, he appreciated the grievous mistake he made and was now anxious to recall it. He, therefore, declared the accounts to be of the Munchausen order. His listeners read his purpose and it suited them to let him think they accepted every word of his remarkable recantation.
He impressed upon them that the king was angry because of their coming to his village. Indeed Ziffak was afraid that he would recall his permission to allow them to stay the two days, and might compel them to leave that night.
This was startling news, and, when Ziffak was pressed, he admitted that during his absence on the Xingu to meet them, Waggaman and Burkhardt had returned and secured an audience with His Majesty. This explained the new phase of matters and was anything but welcome information, but there was no help for it.
The Professor asked Ziffak whether he could not bring the two white men to his home, in order that an interview might be had. If that could be done, Grimcke was hopeful that a better understanding could be established, but the head chieftain replied that he had not seen either of the white men since he returned, nor did he know where to find them. They occupied a building on the opposite side of the king's home, but he was told they were not there. No doubt they were purposely keeping out of the way of the new-comers.
Suddenly Ashman asked their friend whether there was any objection to his taking a stroll around the village and whether he was likely to be molested. Ziffak promptly replied that there could be no earthly objection to anything of that nature, and springing to his feet, gun in hand, he bade his friends good-bye, saying he expected to be back with them at the end of an hour or so.
It cannot be said that Ashman had any special errand in view, when he formed this resolution, which was explainable upon the well known laws governing the human mind.
He was tired of idleness. The prospect of sitting for hours in the darkening apartment, talking with Ziffak, who, instead of being willing to give information, was doing his most to withhold it, was not inviting, but beyond this, he was restless because he was haunted by those marvellous eyes, peeping from behind the curtain in the king's room, and that smile of recognition when the gaze of the two met, thrilled him with a new and strange emotion.
It was this feeling which drove him forth. He wanted to escape the prying scrutiny of his friends, who, he fancied, suspected his secret. He wanted to walk in the open air and think and revel in the bliss of his new delight.
It was growing dark, when he stepped outside of the building. There was no light visible in any direction, though there would be plenty of it later on. The natives appeared to be moving aimlessly about, and one or two near at hand scrutinized him curiously, but they neither spoke nor made any movement to annoy him. They had not yet forgotten the lesson given by Ziffak some hours before.
To escape attention, he walked toward the river, passing down the long sloping bank, until he reached the open, cleared space which has been referred to as caused by the overflow of the water. Here the walking was easy, and, turning his face up stream, he walked slowly as a man does who is in deep thought.
A man who is revelling in the first dream of love is not the one to pay close attention to his surroundings. He is so apt to be rapt in his own sweet meditations, that he fails in the most ordinary observation.
Reaching the bottom of the slope, Ashman glanced behind and on his right. He caught glimpses of several figures moving about like shadows, but so far as he could judge, none of them was interested in him. Dismissing them from his mind, he moved on.
He had walked less than one-third of the length of the village front, when the form of a man slipped softly down the incline, following in his footsteps and moving as silently as a Murhapa warrior tracking his foe through the forest.
He was dressed similarly to the American, having the same style of Panama hat, shirt and boots, and he carried a rifle in his hand. Being of the same race, he ought to have been a friend, but when the bright moonlight fell upon his face, it showed the countenance of a demon.
He was Burkhardt, an escaped convict, who had lived for five years among the Murhapas, and he was seeking the life of Fred Ashman, who, in his enchanting visions of love, never dreamed of the awful shadow stealing upon him.
YOUNG LOVE'S DREAM.
What in all the world so sweet as young love's dream? It is the old, old story, and yet it is as new and fresh and blissful to the soul as it will be to the end of time, or until these natures of ours are changed by the same Hand that framed them.
What more bewitching romance could cast its halo about the divine passion than that which enshrined the affection of Fred Ashman for the wonderful Ariel, the only child of the grim Haffgo, king of the Murhapas?
He had met and chatted and exchanged glances with the beauties of his own clime, and yet his heart remained unscathed. He reverenced the sex to which his adored mother and sister belonged, and yet never had he felt the thrill that stirred his nature to the profoundest depths, when his eyes met those of the barbarian princess and the two smiled without either uttering a word.
"What care I for the gold and the diamonds and the precious stones of the Matto Grosso?" the ardent lover asked himself; "is not she the Koh-i-noor of them all?—the one gem whose preciousness is worth more than all the world?"
He was willing that the Professor and Jared Long should risk their lives in searching for the enchanted lake, and the burning mountain where such priceless wealth existed. Thousands of their kind had done it before, and countless thousands would follow in their footsteps through the generations to come.
But as for him, a new mission had broken upon his consciousness; he had a sacred duty to perform. Somewhere, in this broad world, a human soul is always waiting for its mate. Perchance it never comes, and the weary one may be joined to that which heaven never intended it to be joined, or it repines and goes to the grave unloved.
Fred Ashman was as sure as if he heard a voice from the stars, telling him that Ariel, the daughter of Haffgo, was his other self. He could never rest, he could not really live until it should be his lot to carry her from this lonely wilderness to his own home thousands of miles away.
To the young lover, aglow and happy in his new passion, all things are possible. It is he who can appreciate even the days of chivalry, when the valiant knight went forth, with lance and buckler to win his lady against all comers, counting it his highest happiness to face the perils of flood and field if perchance he could but win her smile.
And yet, amid all the roseate dreams which fairly lifted Fred Ashman from the gross earth, he could not entirely lose sight of his peculiar situation and the formidable difficulties which environed his path. He would not admit they were insurmountable, but they were hard to climb.
To come down to facts, he felt that the first, and, indeed, the indispensable step was to secure a meeting with the princess that had taken such complete possession of his heart.
Guarded as she was by her father, who was sure to resent with instant death any such presumption on his part, he might well shrink from the appalling attempt; but love has many ways of picking the locks that may be fastened to keep hearts apart.
That was the name which came to his tongue again and again, with the question whether his friendship could not be enlisted on the side of the youth, who had come so strangely to the Murhapa village. He was a shrewd fellow who must suspect the truth of those stolen glances. He had shown a sudden and strong affection for the explorers, and especially for Ashman to whom he surrendered. Was what friendship strong enough to lead him to a step that would insure a rupture with his royal brother and probably bring about war in his little kingdom?
"I wonder what revelation he was on the point of making when he sat down with us in his mother's home," Ashman muttered, as he slowly walked along the bank of the Upper Xingu, unmindful of the creeping shadow behind him.
That it bore upon that interview and related to the angry quarrel he did not doubt, but he could only conjecture its nature which was not encouraging when he recalled that Ziffak had told him and his friends, without protest on his part, that they were likely to be compelled to leave the village that night.
Ashman ceased in his walk, for he saw, in spite of his absorbing reverie, that he had passed above the uppermost house of the village. The condition under which he was allowed to stay in peace, even for a brief time, was that he should not wander beyond the limits of the town.
It was useless to excite resentment without reason, and he was about to turn and retrace his steps, when a slight rustling of the undergrowth, which marked the boundary of the forest on the south caused him to turn his head, stop, and hold his rifle ready for danger.
His old habit of caution came back the instant peril seemed to threaten.
While he debated whether to advance and force the stranger to reveal himself, the outlines of a form were distinguished and a slight figure stepped forth in the moonlight.
Ashman's heart seemed to stop beating and life itself hang in suspense, when he recognized the very being that had taken such full possession of his thoughts.
Ay, Ariel, daughter of King Haffgo, stood before him.
For a moment, neither spoke or moved. It was not strange perhaps that she was the first to recover the power of utterance.
Advancing timidly, she said in a tremulous voice and with an accent just broken enough to make it all the sweeter:
"You are in danger and I could not help coming to tell you."
"Heaven bless you!" he exclaimed, taking a step toward her, but still observing a respectful distance. "You have braved danger yourself to give me the warning."
"I left my home and waited for a chance to speak to you; I dared not go to the door of Ziffak's house for I would have been seen. Then, while I was wondering what to do, I saw you come forth and walk toward the river. I thought you would go to the end of the village, so I hurried on and hid among the bushes until I could speak to you without any one seeing me."
Ashman's head was in a swirl. He was trembling in every limb, while she seemed to be devoid of any agitation whatever.
"Your father King Haffgo was angry this afternoon, because I looked at you; but," added the lover, "I could not have helped doing it, if I knew my life would have paid for the act. Ziffak told me about you, so you see I did not feel that you were a stranger, even though I then saw you for the first time and never heard the music of your voice until now."
"The king is angry," said she, withdrawing a little as the happy fellow took another step; "he says you shall be killed, but Ziffak persuaded him to say your life should be spared if you went away to-night."
Ashman felt another delicious thrill as he reflected that if such were the understanding, there would seem to be no cause for the lovely Ariel to come thus far out of her way to repeat what Ziffak was sure to explain before the departure of the explorers.
Ah, it must have been because of her interest in him that she had sought this perilous stolen interview.
"Well, then," said he mournfully, "I must depart and never see you again. Death would be preferable to that!"
"But you may come back some time," said she in such a tremulous, hesitating voice, that he impulsively sprang forward and caught her dainty hand before she could escape him.
"O don't!" she plead like a timid bird, striving to withdraw the imprisoned fingers which he still held fast.
"Nay, but you must, if I am never to see you again," he exclaimed vehemently; "O, Ariel, I had hoped that I might stay here until I could see and talk with you and tell you that I can never, never leave you; that if I go, you must go with me; I will take you to my home which is many many long miles away, but I will be your slave; I will love you; I will make you happy; you shall never sigh for the land and the people you leave behind you——"
There is no saying when the impetuous lover would have stopped his wooing in this cyclone-like fashion hut for an alarming interruption. He had been smitten profoundly, and the urgency of the case impelled him to an ardor which could not have found expression under any other conditions; but, all the time the frightened maiden was striving to free her imprisoned hand, and the lover felt he ought to release it but could not.
Suddenly she ceased her efforts and looked beyond him with a gasp and such a startled expression, that he knew some unusual cause had produced it.
Ziffak, head chieftain of the Murhapas, was a shrewder and more far-seeing man than even his white friends suspected.
He had been the first to observe the significant glances of Fred Ashman at the hanging curtains, as he was the first to detect the presence of his beloved niece behind them.
Although King Haffgo saw not the smile which flitted over the face of his daughter, when her eyes met those of the young American, yet Ziffak observed it, and he could not have translated it wrongly had he wished to do so.
An intimation has been given of the nature of the quarrel between Ziffak and his royal brother. The latter was so infuriated that he declared that every one of the white men should die. Ziffak reminded him of his pledge that they should be safe for two days, a pledge that he had repeated in their presence.
But in his hot anger, Ziffak said, he would break that pledge. One of the explorers had dared to look upon the face of Ariel and smile. Had he detected her returning it, he would have driven his javelin through her body as she stood beside him.
Ziffak gave no hint of what he had observed.
The head chieftain was not afraid to brave his brother to his face; but he wisely forbore carrying the quarrel beyond the point of reconciliation. He told his brother that he was so beside himself that he forgot he was a Murhapa who never broke his word. But if the king insisted, he would see that the white men took their departure before the rising of the morrow's sun.
King Haffgo consented that if that was done, he would permit them to go in peace. It was Ziffak's hope that his brother, after his anger had time to cool, would modify his last declaration still further and allow them to stay their two days, that led him to qualify his remark about the necessity of their withdrawing that night.
The same cunning which stood the head chieftain so well during this stormy interview remained with him to the end. While he and his brother were wrangling, Ariel stood mute and with bowed head. She durst not speak, but withdrew only a minute or two before her parent.
Ziffak was still warmly attached to Ashman, and was willing to risk his life in his behalf. Knowing that Waggaman and Burkhardt had had much to do with stirring the resentment of the king, he was angry enough to slay both of them.
When the most peculiar situation is considered, however, it is hardly safe to believe the head chieftain was ready to go to the length of helping to bring about a meeting between the lovers.
He understood his niece well enough to know that despite the fury of her parent, she would brave a good deal to exchange words with the handsome stranger that had made such an impression on his heart.
So long as this young man remained in Ziffak's house, so long was it impossible for such meeting to take place; but, when Ashman sprang up and announced his intention of taking a stroll, Ziffak believed that it was with the intention of trying to see Ariel. That is to say, he suspected what really came to pass, though it was not in the mind of the youth.
Ashman had not been gone long, when Ziffak made an excuse to withdraw, saying he meant to find out, if he could, where Waggaman and Burkhardt were hiding. He counselled the Professor and the New Englander to stay where they were until his return, which he promised should not be long deferred.
Neither Grimcke nor Long dreamt of the object of their dusky friend in leaving, and as the mother of the Murhapa reappeared about that time and started a fire, with a view of preparing their evening meal, they concluded that the best thing for them was to follow the advice of the brave fellow.
The instant Ziffak was on the outside of his own house, he became as alert as a cat scenting a mouse. He held his ponderous javelin with its poisoned tip in his right hand, and he looked keenly about in the gathering gloom.
A warrior stopped in front of him and made a respectful inquiry about the white men. Ziffak uttered such an angry reply and raised his weapon so menacingly that the native skurried away in terror of his life.
All at once the keen black eyes caught sight of a small, petite figure as it vanished in the darkness. He smiled, for he recognized Ariel on her way to the upper end of the village. He knew on the instant what that meant.
Then the penetrating gaze outlined the figure of a man, sneaking like a wild animal, down the river bank. He was seen only faintly, but he was equally sure of his identity. It was Burkhardt, one of the hated white men that had poisoned the mind of his brother and caused him to forget he was a Murhapa, whose word should be sacred.
An exultant gleam came into the dusky face, as he stole forward in the same direction that the convict took. The action of the miscreant showed that he was following some prey, and who was it as likely to be as the white man that was abroad and was held in such detestation by the scoundrel?
Burkhardt, in one respect, acted precisely as did his intended victim. The latter was so absorbed in his own delicious thoughts, that, after that hurried glance around him, he did not once again look to the rear. So Burkhardt, never once dreaming that he was under surveillance, kept his gloating eyes fixed on the shadowy figure in front, without looking to see that while the man was hunting the tiger another tiger was not hunting him.
Being a slight distance to the rear of the convict, Ziffak could not see the form in front of him with equal distinctness, but the faint glimpse which he caught was all he needed.
Thus the strange procession passed up the western bank of the calmly flowing Xingu. Fred Ashman moving slowly and lost in reverie, Burkhardt prowling like a wild beast behind him, with Ziffak clinging to the heels of the wretch as if he were his very shadow.
The moon, which gave but faint light at the beginning, increased in power as the minutes passed. Ziffak fell back, so that if Burkhardt should look around, he would not recognize though he might see him.
But the ruffian did not turn his head: he was too intent on the fearful task before him.
Suddenly he stopped. Instantly Ziffak crouched down into the smallest possible space and clutched his javelin. The increasing moonlight showed that he had passed beyond the upper end of the village and was watching the lovers on the fringe of the forest beyond.
A movement on the part of Burkhardt, as if he were making preparation to fire his rifle, caused Ziffak to move swiftly and silently forward until he was within twenty paces. Then he paused, for he was close enough.
The change of position on the part of the pursuer enabled him to catch the outlines of the lovers, so absorbed in each other's presence that they forgot to keep within the sheltering shadow of the trees.
Burkhardt could ask for no better opportunity than that which was now before him. He knew the inextinguishable hatred of King Haffgo for this white man, and no greater favor could be done the ruler than to slay him.
Sinking on one knee, he carefully brought his gun to a level. The gleam of the moonlight on the barrel insured unerring aim.
But a moment before it was perfected, Ashman stepped forward and seized the hand of his adored one. This caused such a change of the relative situation of the two that the weapon could not be fired without endangering the life of the maiden.
That would never do, and waiting a moment in the hope that another charge would take place, Burkhardt began stealthily moving to the right to secure the advantage. A few steps up the slope were all that was required, when he again knelt on one knee and pointed his rifle at the unsuspicious American.
It was but an instant before that Ariel caught sight of the crouching figure and was transfixed with terror. The moonlight enabled her to identify the person, who was aiming his gun either at her or her companion.
Before she could speak, and at the moment Ashman turned his head, a giant figure was seen to rise as if out of the very earth, directly behind the miscreant. He held his prodigious javelin poised over his bead. He was seen to make a sudden onward movement and then the weapon vanished.
Speeding toward the couple with such amazing velocity it was invisible; but, ere the crouching convict could press the trigger of his rifle, he was seen to sprawl forward, his gun flying from his grasp. The terrible javelin had gone entirely through his body as though it were tissue paper, and pinned him like an impaled insect to the earth!
"The scoundrel!" exclaimed Ashman, who was just too late to anticipate their friend.
"It is Ziffak who has saved us!" gasped Ariel, shrinking against the side of her lover.
The herculean chieftain towered aloft in more imposing proportions than ever as he strode toward the startled couple. Whether he was advancing to regain his weapon, or whether he meant to join them could not be known; for, before he reached the body of the assassin, he abruptly stopped and looked in the direction of the village.
He had caught an ominous sound: it was that made by the discharge of firearms!
"Great heaven!" exclaimed Ashman; "they have attacked my friends in Ziffak's house; I must go to their help; dearest Ariel, what will become of you?" added the distracted lover.
"Leave me alone," she replied, becoming calm again; "I can return home."
"Well, then, good-bye! It may be for the last time," he impulsively added, catching her, his one arm clasped about her yielding form and drawing her to him. Then, while she only faintly resisted, he kissed her passionately, as a lover kisses the queen of his heart when he believes he is bidding her farewell forever.
Suddenly, Ashman felt both of the willowy arms about his own neck, and she returned his caresses with a fervor equal to his own.
"Heaven bless and keep you!" he murmured; "I now have everything to live for! I shall fight hard, for it is not the life of my friends or my own that it is at stake! It is you! It is YOU!"
The startled Ziffak had paused but an instant, when he read aright the meaning of the sounds of guns from the village. The explorers had been attacked by the Murhapas. King Haffgo must have given the order. He had violated his pledge for the first time in his life. Great was his provocation!
The bosom of the giant heaved with indignation. He stood glaring like a lion at the keepers who are torturing his mate to death, while he is barred within the cage and cannot rush to her help.
Then, wheeling about, he broke into a run straight for his home, whence came the shots that left no doubt that Professor Grimcke, Jared Long, and perchance their servants were fighting for their lives.
The chieftain had not far to go, and half the distance was passed, when he paused as suddenly as he had started. A new and startling decision had formed itself in his mind.
Again he wheeled and dashed toward the spot where he had left the lovers a minute before.
They saw him coming, and Ashman released his beloved and started to join the chieftain, who he suspected had come for him.
"Back!" he commanded, waving his immense arms; "neither of you must go to the village!"
"But what shall we do?" asked Ariel, pausing in front of the excited giant.
"Flee at once! Delay not a moment! If you do not, Haffgo will slay both of you! They are searching for Ariel! They suspect she is with you! They will soon know it and death awaits each!"
Never had Ziffak shown such fearful excitement. He swung his arms, and in his wild agitation uttered some of his words in Murhapa, but his meaning was caught by Ashman, who was infected by his overwhelming emotion. He was distraught for the moment, and stood undecided what to do.
It was the lovely Ariel who showed the most self-command.
"Whither shall we go, Ziffak?" she asked in English.
"To the enchanted lake; to the burning mountain! You know the way! Nothing else will save you, and you are lost if you wait another minute!"
And laying hands on the young man, he whirled him about and gave him a shove which nearly threw him off his feet. Then he reached to catch her, but she eluded him and slipped like a bird to the side of her lover.
"We will go!" said she; "leave us alone!"
Ashman turned his head and seizing the hand of his companion, said,
"You are my guide now! Lead on, and I will follow you to the death!"
She made no answer, but moved rapidly through the wood until they came to the open space along the river. Here, since there were no obstructions, they increased their pace almost to a run. He sought to maintain his place beside her, but she moved so fast, with little apparent effort that it was hard to do so.
He had his Winchester and revolver, and he glanced behind to learn whether they were followed. Ziffak had vanished, and no one was in sight. It was well that such was the fact; for he would not have hesitated to shoot down any that might appear.
The extraordinary flight continued for a furlong, and then Ariel paused on the edge of the Xingu. Her lover saw the reason: a small canoe lay against the shore.
"Is this to be used?" he asked, glancing in her pale face.
She nodded her head, and, lifting her skirts, stepped daintily within, and sat down near the stern. He shoved the boat clear, sprang in and sat down near the middle, as he seized the broad thin paddle.
Although considerably above the rapids, which had been the cause of all his difficulty, Ashman noticed that the current was not so swift as that encountered at many places leagues below; and, since the width was no greater, it followed that that portion of the Upper Xingu was of unusual depth.
In the strange excitement of the occasion, the lovers spoke few words. They had said much, and, when the opportunity should again come, they would say a great deal more; but they were fleeing for their lives, and any distraction of their whole interest and effort was likely to be fatal.
Ariel realized this as fully as did Ashman. She continually glanced in every direction, especially toward the village which was fast receding behind them. Fred swung the paddle powerfully, but with as little noise as possible.
In such crises of a man's life he thinks rapidly. While the young man's heart was aglow with the ecstacy of a promised fulfillment of his love—a more glorious fulfillment than he had dared to dream of—he saw that a desperate struggle was not only certain but close at hand.
Very soon the flight of Ariel must be discovered, and her infuriated father would stop at nothing to punish the elopers. He could command hundreds of the most valiant warriors of the Matto Grosso, and any one, except such a lover as Fred Ashman, would have shrunk from the prodigious task before him.
When the flight of the canoe had continued for several minutes, and he could breathe a little more freely, he asked of his companion, whether she was familiar with the region they expected to visit.
The reply was singular. King Haffgo was accustomed to make regular excursions to the wonderful place, and he rarely did so without Ariel as his companion. He had guards stationed night and day to watch for the approach of strangers, for there was wealth enough to awaken the avarice even of the Emperor of Brazil himself.
Leaving his warriors at the entrance to the lake, with instructions to prevent any one following him, Haffgo would paddle the frail craft out upon the lake, with his daughter as his only companion.
They explored much of the strange locality, visiting places unknown, so far as they were aware, to every one else.
Ashman reflected that this was extremely fortunate so far as Ariel was concerned, for it gave her the very knowledge that was so necessary in their flight; but, unfortunately, their bitterest and most unrelenting enemy possessed the same knowledge.
Now the Xingu broadened, and the flow became still more moderate. Ashman held his paddle suspended and looked around.
"Are we entering the lake?"
"Not yet," she replied with a shake of her lovely head.
The oar was dipped again, and the light boat shot forward like a water fowl over the smooth surface.
He had noticed that the boat was similar to that used by Ziffak, being composed of a species of bark, the seams of which were skilfully joined with tendons, and the outside covered with a gum which rendered it close enough to exclude even air itself.
What seemed to be a creek a hundred feet wide, suddenly opened on the right, winding through an exuberant forest whose branches overhung the water. She motioned with her hand for him to guide the boat into this, adding that it was the entrance to the enchanted lake of which he had heard such glowing accounts, and whose existence, he remembered, had been denied by Ziffak, though it had been admitted by him only a brief while before.
The course of the canoe was changed, and Ashman involuntarily slackened the pace, while he gazed around with increasing wonder.
The distance was not far, when a towering rock was observed jutting out from the bank. It was fully twenty feet high, rough, jagged and massive and obtruded half-way across the stream.
She whispered to him to proceed as cautiously as he could, for on the rock was stationed one of the lookouts of King Haffgo, whose duty it was to challenge every one on his way to the enchanted lake. Ashman was told to keep his lips mute, in case they were hailed, as they were likely to be, and to leave to her any explanation it might be necessary to make.
In the bright moonlight, the sentinel was sure to notice the presence of a white man in the boat, but would be likely to believe he was either Waggaman or Burkhardt, while he would not dare to question the daughter of the king, however much he might be astonished at her presence at this time.
Ashman saw the figure of a Murhapa, but instead of being erect, he was seated on a ledge of the rock, his body half prone and in a motionless posture. The paddle was dipped more softly than ever as the craft came opposite him, but he did not speak, or stir.
"He's asleep?" whispered Ashman, looking inquiringly at her.
She nodded her head, and he did not require to be told of the great gain that would be secured, if they could pass without awaking him.
With that view, he used the utmost care, causing only the faintest ripple, as he propelled the light craft over the mirror-like surface.
In a few seconds, the massive rock was passed, and still the sentinel remained as motionless, as if he were a part of the solid stone, on which he was seated. He surely was a negligent servant to lose his consciousness thus early in the night.
A few more strokes, and a turn in the creek left him out of sight. That danger was safely passed, and Fred Ashman drew a sigh of relief, accepting it as a good omen of their future.
He now dipped the paddle deeper, and, within the following five minutes, the canoe and its occupants debouched upon the waters of the wonderful enchanted lake.
The situation in which the visitors to the dominions of King Haffgo were placed, was such as to sharpen their wits to the keenest edge.
After the departure of Fred Ashman, Ziffak talked more plainly with the Professor and New Englander. The head chieftain told his white friends what they had suspected; Haffgo was enraged at Ashman's presumption with his daughter. He was in that mood indeed, in which, but for his promise, he would have hurled his javelin at the youth before he left the audience chamber.
Ziffak, however, was hopeful that the anger of his royal brother would cool sufficiently to allow the visitors to remain there two days; but he doubted whether, after all, they would want to stay that long under the strained condition of things.
When the chieftain took his departure, it was without any hint that he wished to have an eye to the young gentleman, but Grimcke and Long suspected it, and their conversation became of the gravest character, for they fully realized their peril.
They regretted the mad infatuation of their young friend with Ariel the princess, and yet they did not blame him, for, as the New Englander remarked, could they have believed there was any hope for them, they would have fallen as irrestrainably in love as he.
But they did not, and, therefore, were in a frame of mind to consider the situation more coolly than the hot-headed lover.
Both agreed that the stroll taken by Ashman was likely to bring about trouble, but they were powerless to do anything. Ziffak was the only individual who could manage matters in such an emergency.
It will be remembered that night had fully come at the time of the chieftain's departure. The interior of the room would have been wrapped in gloom, had not the mother of Ziffak made her appearance and started a fire on the hearth at the further end of the apartment.
The white men watched her closely to see how the Murhapas were accustomed to secure ignition. But they were disappointed. She raked aside the ashes until some embers were disclosed beneath, which were readily fanned into a flame. This caused the apartment to shine with a light like that at mid-day.
She had brought in an earthen vessel of water and began broiling several thin slices of meat on the coals. They were quickly finished, and she then handed to each of her guests the prepared meat on an earthen plate. All ate heartily, using their fingers for knives and forks, while the cool water could not have been more refreshing.
Bippo and Pedros had been sleeping and resting so long that they desired to get out doors. Since they were not likely to be recognized in the night, if they used caution, Grimcke and Long told them to go, but to take care they did not lose themselves.
They had hardly departed when their hostess also left, passing out by the rear way. She did not speak, but as she was disappearing, gave the two men such a strange look that their suspicions were awakened. Both at that moment were reflecting upon the ominous news brought them by Ziffak.
By a common impulse, both hastened to the rear to learn all they could about the building in which they might be compelled to fight for their lives.
The result was rather pleasing. The structure was heavier and more compact than the ordinary buildings, and, in addition to the usual opening in front, had one at the rear, through which the woman undoubtedly passed on her way to her royal son.
Neither of these openings were provided with anything in the nature of a door that could be closed. Whenever the rare occasions arose for such a sealing of the inhabitants of a house, it was done by means of furs suspended in front of the entrance.
The white men noted this with quick eyes, and then went back to the front apartment.
"In the event of attack," said the Professor with the utmost coolness, "you can take the rear door and I the front."
Long nodded his head; he understood and was ready.
They had hardly entered the front apartment, when both were struck by the unusual chatter of voices on the outside. There must have been a large gathering of people who were growing excited about something.
The Professor was about to step into the opening to learn what it meant, when Bippo burst into the apartment, the picture of fright and terror.
"Going to kill us!" was his alarming exclamation; "make me run—almost kill me!"
"Where's Pedros?" asked Long.
"He scared—run into woods—won't come back—run all way to Am'zon!"
"I think he'll have to stop once or twice to get breath before he reaches there," was the characteristic comment of the Professor, who standing near the door, listened more closely to the threatening words and exclamations on the outside.
It sounded singular to recognize more than one expression uttered in English by these people, who, until a few years before were unaware that such people were living.
But for the proof Ziffak had given of his loyalty the whites might have connected his absence with the ugly signs outside; but the confidence even of Jared Long in his friendship was unshaken.
"Bippo," said the Professor, speaking with the same quiet self-possession he had shown in the first place, "they are going to attack us; more than likely we shall be killed, but there is a chance for you, because you are dressed like these people, and, so long as you can keep in the shadow, you can pass for one of them; you can slip out by the opening at the rear without being noticed; steal away, find Pedros if you can, and leave."
The eyes of the servant seemed to protrude from his head, as he grasped the fearful meaning of these words. Then, clutching his spear in his hand, he whisked like a shadow into the rear apartment beyond sight.
Grimcke and Long smiled in each other's face; they could not blame the fellow for thinking of his own safety.
"The music will begin in a few minutes," added the Professor. "I think you had better guard the rear; you understand, Jared, that it's no time to throw away any powder."
"I don't propose to waste my ammunition," muttered the New Englander, as he stepped softly into the rear apartment.
Only a slight reflection from the fire on the hearth found its way into that part of the house, which had no window; but by the dim light Jared Long saw a dusky figure come rapidly from the door toward him. He was on the point of raising his gun, when it spoke:
"I thought you had left. Why didn't you go?"
"Love my white folks—can't leave 'em, stay die wid 'em."
This sounded very fine, but the New Englander was incredulous. He believed that their servant was more afraid to leave than to stay. He had probably taken a look outside and decided that he was safer under the shelter of those three Winchesters (for the weapon of poor Aaron Johnston was still in the possession of his friends).
Long was inclined to ask him to take charge of the extra rifle, and use it in helping to defend themselves; but, recalling the antipathy of the fellow against handling firearms, he decided that he would only throw away his cartridges.
He, therefore, cautioned him to keep out of the reach of any of the missiles that were likely to come flying into the apartment, and urged him, in case he saw any opening, to dart out among the people and do his best to escape.
Professor Grimcke firmly believed that the impending fight would be to the death, and that the only issue would be the slaying of himself and companion. It was the same danger they had faced many times, with the difference that this was to be the last.
He surveyed his surroundings, like a general making ready to receive the assault of a foe, and die fighting in the last ditch.
There was the door in front and the two windows, through which the attack could be made. He could cover all three with his repeating rifle, and, when the last struggle came, appeal to his revolver and knife. He smiled, grimly at the reflection, that he had every ground for believing, that the victory of the Murhapas would prove the most costly they had ever won. Jared Long was his equal in markmanship and coolness, and, as he coolly remarked, there would be no ammunition wasted, by either.
BESIEGERS AND BESIEGED.
Suddenly a bushy bead, with a black face, horribly distorted by passion, appeared at the window furthest from where Professor Grimcke was standing.
The right hand was raised and in the act of poising a javelin to hurl at the white man; but the latter, with an incredibly quick movement, brought his Winchester to a level and fired.
The bronze skull was shattered as though it were a rotten apple, and the Murhapa, with a resounding shriek, went backward in the darkness.
A slight rustling at the other window drew the white man's attention thither, and, without lowering his weapon, he let fly at a group who were simply peering within, evidently believing there was no call to use their javelins.
Another screech told that the bullet had found its mark, and the other faces vanished.
Then Grimcke stepped out from the wall to gain a view of the opening which answered for a door. A rustling there told him a crowd were gathering, but they had taken warning just in time to avoid a third shot. Then he slipped a couple more cartridges from his belt into the magazine, so as to keep it full, and awaited the next step in this extraordinary business.
"I've about a hundred left," he reflected, "and that's enough to keep things on a jump, if I can dodge their javelins."
Meanwhile, Jared Long was not idle. He had but the opening at the rear to watch, and he did the duty well. Almost at the moment that his comrade fired his first shot, he descried the figure of a Murhapa trying to steal into the apartment without detection; but just enough of the moonlight that was shut from the front doors and windows, reached the rear of the building, to disclose the outlines of the head and shoulders, as he began stealthily creeping into the building.
Bippo had discovered the peril at the same moment, and clutched the arm of his master with a nervous intensity of terror. Long impatiently shook him off, and, with the same cool quickness of Professor Grimcke, drove a bullet through the head of the dusky miscreant, who was slain so suddenly that he rolled convulsively backward, without any outcry.
Almost at the same instant, a second native emitted a wild shout. He was directly behind the first and the latter lurched against him, causing such fright that he leaped back several feet with the involuntary cry fully understood by all whose ears it reached.
Long stood as rigid as a statue for several minutes, waiting for another chance, but none presented. Then he reflected that his position was much more favorable than Grimcke's, for not only had he but the single opening to guard, but his apartment was so shrouded in gloom that the sharpest-eyed warrior could not locate him from the outside.
The New Englander stepped to the door communicating with the front apartment and, barely showing himself, spoke:
"I can attend to the window on the right, Professor; leave that to me, while you watch the door and the other one."
"Thanks," returned his friend; "I think there is a little too much light in this part of the house."
Moving quickly to the hearth he heaped the ashes with his foot upon the blazing embers, until they were so smothered that only a few tiny twists of flame struggled through the covering. This left the place in such darkness that a sense of security instantly came to him.
"Good!" called the New Englander, who could no longer be discerned; "that makes matters more nearly equal!"
Although, as we have said, the moonlight was substantially shut off from the front of the heavy structure, yet the moon itself, being full, so illumined the surroundings that it was quite easy to distinguish the head and figure of any one of their enemies the instant he presented himself at one of the openings.
What both the defenders feared was, that the savages would make a sudden rush and force themselves within the cabin in spite of the disastrous reception they were sure to be given. Such an essay was certain to result in the overthrow of the whites, but the Murhapas must have realized the cost it would be to them. Brave as they were, they hesitated to incur the consequences until other means had failed.
Professor Ernest Grimcke now did a most daring thing. The fierce welcome he had given the attacking Murhapas resulted in their temporary demoralization. Knowing they would speedily recover, he decided to take advantage of the panic by an attempt to intensify it.
Striding to the door he paused on the very threshold and peered out upon the large space in his field of vision.
Fully a hundred savages were in sight. Apparently they had been crowding around the entrance when the shots from within caused a hasty scattering. They had halted a dozen yards or so away, where they were talking excitedly, still frightened and enraged, and with no thought of relinquishing the fight.
They had withdrawn so far from the front of the building that they were in the strong moonlight, and consequently in full view of the white man, who saw others of the natives hurrying from the right and left. Among them were women and children and the confusion and excitement were fearful.
Standing thus, Grimcke again raised his repeater and deliberately opened fire on the crowd. It seemed cruel, but it was an act of self-defence, for those people were clamoring for the lives of the two men within, and would not be satisfied until they were at their mercy.
It was a strange scene that followed. The interior of the building being dark, while the moonlight failed to touch the front, the figure of the white man was invisible to the dusky wretches howling on the outside.
All at once, from the black opening of the building, came the crash of the repeating Winchester. Spouts of fire shot out into the gloom in terrific succession, as if fiery serpents were darting their heads in different directions; for the marksman aimed, quickly to the right, to the left and to the front, never pausing until he had discharged half a score of shots.
The panic for a minute or two was indescribable. Men, women and children shrieked and scattered for the nearest available shelter. Behind the buildings and down the river bank they dashed, stumbled and rolled, until, but for the tragic nature of the scene, the white man would have smiled.
But he had done enough, and he stepped back within the room to replenish the magazine of his rifle.
Jared Long had been drawn into the room by the furious fusillade, and now put the startling question whether advantage could not be taken of the panic to make a sudden dash for the woods. It would never do to make for the boat still resting against the shore, for it would be filled with poisoned javelins before they could shove out into the Xingu.
"I believe we can," replied the Professor; "it will take them some minutes to get over their panic and that will be enough for us."
"Let us leave by the rear," said Long, "for I don't think that is so well guarded."
The two turned to attempt the dash for freedom, when a cry from Bippo struck them.
"Stay here," exclaimed the New Englander, fearing that a diversion was on foot; "and I'll attend to him!"
He was back in the apartment in an instant. The light on the hearth having been extinguished, the gloom in this portion of the building was impenetrable, but a fearful struggle of some kind was going on. Some animal or person had got within and grappled Bippo who was fighting like a tiger.
Had the New Englander been able to distinguish the combatants, he would have ended the contest in a twinkling, but though the two rolled against his feet, he dared not fire through fear of hurting his friend.
"Are you under or on top?" he asked, bending downward at the moment he knew from the peculiar sounds the foes had become stationary.
"He on top," was the doleful response.
Long extended his right hand to learn precisely how matters stood, or rather lay, when it came in contact with the arm of a Murhapa in the act of raising it aloft to bury his knife in the body of the helpless Bippo, who was at the mercy of the savage, holding him inextricably in his grasp.
The American secured a firm hold of the forearm, and with a powerful wrench, not only jerked the miscreant free, but flung him from one side of the room clean to the door, where he was visible in the faint light beyond.
Evidently concluding that his mission in that place was over, he nimbly came to his feet and shot like a rocket through the opening.
The New Englander was in no mood for sentimentality, and, he levelled his weapon with the intention to kill; but quick as he was, he was just a fraction of a minute too late, and, much to his chagrin, the dusky wretch got away unharmed.
Long darted into the front room, ready for the proposal he had made just before.
The Professor was peering out, seemingly debating whether it was not advisable to re-open his bombardment.
"It beats creation," he remarked, as his friend appeared at his elbow, "how quickly those fellows rally; their heads are popping up in every direction, and it won't do to try to steal out this way."
"But I suggested the rear," reminded Long.
"Let's see how matters look there."
The survey from the other opening was disappointing. Although all the Murhapas had been affected in a greater or less degree by the panic, yet it was more incomplete at the rear, because the confusing volley had not come from that direction.
There seemed to be fully as many warriors on this side, which, with the exception of the river, was quite similar in appearance to the other. The shadowy figures were observed moving noiselessly in a dozen different directions, their heads bent down and their bodies crouching, as if in expectation of a shot, but, at the same time, they were not to be frightened off by any fusilade from within.
"We're just too late," remarked the Professor, quick to take in every point of the situation; "we might have done it a minute ago, but they are watching too closely now."
"Let's open again," suggested the New Englander.
"Better wait awhile; they can be stampeded easier then than now," was the reply of the Professor.
During this lull, when it may be said the defenders were becoming accustomed to the siege, they had time to give a few minutes' thought to their absent friends, Fred Ashman and Ziffak, regarding whom it was natural to feel great curiosity.
They believed themselves warranted in hoping for the best, so far as Ashman was concerned. He had probably strolled some distance, and must have been warned by the firing of the Professor's Winchester from the front, of the serious danger in which his friends were involved. If all had gone well with the youth up to that time, he ought to be wise enough to get away without an instant's delay. What was feared was, that in his anxiety to help his comrades, he would run into a peril from which he could not extricate himself.
The real hope for the youth was centered on Ziffak. Believing he had gone forth to look after Ashman, they were confident he would speedily get upon his track. If so, he would not permit him to return to the village.
From what the reader has been told, it will be seen that the defenders were not far off in their conjectures.
But, when they came to speculate upon the part that the head chieftain was likely to take, affecting Grimcke and Long, they were all at sea. It would ever be a source of wonder that he had been transformed from a relentless enemy into the strongest of friends, but they fully realized that such friendship must have its bounds.
Ziffak might not shrink from using very plain speech when talking face to face with his brother, but it was hardly to be supposed that he would raise his arm against his authority. At the time Ziffak made known the probability that the explorers might be compelled to take their departure that evening, he gave no intimation of any purpose of helping them to resist such an order.
Accustomed as he was to lead the warlike Murhapas in battle, he might well hesitate to ask them to turn their weapons against the king, and if he should presume on such treason, all the probabilities were that such weapons would be turned against the head chieftain himself.
ACROSS THE LAKE.
A few minutes after passing the bend in the stream, which hid the rock and the sleeping sentinel from sight, Fred Ashman observed that the smooth current broadened into a lake, forming the extraordinary sheet of water of which he had heard such strange accounts.
He held the paddle suspended, and looked around.
The surface was as calm as the face of a mirror, and in the strong moonlight, as he looked down he could see that it was of crystalline clearness—so much so, indeed, that a boat or any floating object looked as if suspended in mid-air.
It expanded right and left and in front, until he could barely discern the dim outlines of trees and rocks that shut it in. It was probably two or three square miles in extent, and to the westward the shore appeared to be composed of enormous boulders and masses of rocks.
Directly ahead, was a crag more massive than the rest, towering a hundred feet above the lake, with a breadth fully one half as great. It resembled some gigantic sentinel, keeping ward and watch over the strange region unknown to few if any white man.
Ashman turned to his companion with the question, what course he should take, and, without speaking, she pointed to the rock which she saw had attracted his attention.
Very slight effort was required to propel the delicate craft, which seemed to become sentient, and to move forward in obedience to the wishes of its occupants. He barely dipped the blade into the water, when it skimmed forward like a swallow. After a number of strokes he ceased and fixed his eyes on the landmark by which he was proceeding.
A singular emotion held him speechless for the time. The vast mass of stone appeared to be slowly rising from the bosom of the lake, and, instead of remaining motionless, was advancing to meet the tiny canoe and its awed occupants. One moment, it was like some vast ogre, stealing silently about to crush them beneath the clear waters, and then it became a friendly giant, reaching out its hand to lead them forward.
But for the distant sounds of firing at the Murhapa village, Fred Ashman would have felt that it was all a vision of sleep, from which he must soon awake to the realities of life.
But that horrible, grinding discord continually creeping into their ears told too plainly the dreadful scenes at comparatively a short distance. Even in his exalted mental state, Ashman began to ask himself what was to be the end of the strange venture upon which he had started. A disquieting misgiving arose, that perhaps he had not done the wisest thing in leaving his imperilled friends.
But he reflected that he had only obeyed the orders of Ziffak, who indeed would not have permitted his wishes to be disregarded, for who should know the wisest course so well as he? Besides, his own reason told him that if the Professor and his companion were attacked in the cabin, it was impossible for him to raise a finger in their behalf.
And so he dismissed that phase of the marvellous business from his mind and faced the present situation.
He had fled with Ariel from her father, King Haffgo. Instead of turning to the northward down the Xingu, they had gone further up the stream and directly away from the right course out of the perilous country.
But while, in one sense, this might be looked upon as the height of recklessness, he saw it was unavoidable. Had they turned down the Xingu, there would have been no escaping their foes, while the enchanted lake and its surroundings must afford secure shelter for a time.
But for how long?
That was the question which obtruded itself, even while filled with the delightful thrill of his new love, and when en rapport with his marvellous surroundings.
The intimate knowledge which Ariel possessed of the region would guide them to some spot where they could reasonably hope to be safe from pursuit, unless such pursuit was led by her enraged parent.
Ashman was still scrutinizing the great mass of rock, steadily assuming more definite shape in the moonlight as the intervening distance decreased, when he was surprised that he had not noticed the mountainous elevation behind it. The immense rock seemed but the beginning of others rising beyond to the height of a thousand feet, while they broadened to the right and left until they stretched over an extent of several miles.
It seemed to him that these constituted a spur of the Geral range, which extend in a northwesterly direction between the Guapore River (forming a part of the eastern boundary of Bolivia) and the headwaters of the Tapajos and Xingu. If so, their extent was continuous for a hundred miles.
Ashman had ceased paddling, though, under the faint momentum remaining, the canoe continued slowly moving over the lake and gradually drawing near the rock. He did not break the silence, but asked himself what could be the reason of Ariel's direction for him to paddle toward the rock. He supposed there was some place of concealment which she had in mind, though he discerned nothing of that nature.
"We cannot stay there forever," was the practical thought in the mind of the lover, who felt the next moment as though he would be happy to dwell forever anywhere with her.
"After we have staid here until pursuit is given up—if it ever will be—then we must leave the country. I will take her to my home in North America, where I shall love and cherish her and become the envied of all men."
"We are approaching the rock," he said, addressing her; "what next, dearest Ariel."
"Paddle right on," was the astonishing reply.
He looked at her with a questioning smile. Could she be in earnest?
"Right on," she repeated, reading his thoughts aright.
"Very well; the slave obeys his mistress," he replied, giving the paddle another dip in the water.
Gazing ahead, he instantly discovered the cause of her reply. A tunnel opened into the rock, seemingly near the centre. It was perhaps ten feet in height and with a width slightly greater. Could it be she meant he should enter that black forbidding passage? He asked the question and she replied that such was her wish.
He could not decline to take her whither she desired to go. Gently swaying the blade, he sent the boat within the dark opening, which appeared to distend its jaws to swallow the canoe and them from the world to which they had bidden good-bye.
Ashman was beginning to ask himself how he was to continue the advance in the darkness, which must become impenetrable as they passed beyond the limit of the moonlight, when he perceived the water into which he dipped the paddle.
Not only that, but it grew more distinct as he progressed, until once more the form of his beloved came out to view, as she sat near him in the canoe.
Wondering what it all meant, he gazed ahead. The surface of the water grew plainer, as his eye ranged along the tunnel, until, only a short distance away, the view was clearer than on the lake itself, beneath the full moon.
What was the explanation of this wonderful sea of illumination into which he was guiding the canoe?
Standing in the door of the building, his figure so wrapped in gloom that it was invisible to the fierce Murhapas, Professor Grimcke cautiously peered out upon the multitude that were clamorously seeking the death of himself and comrade.
The horde seemed to be everywhere. They were glaring over the river bank, behind which they could find secure shelter by merely dropping their heads; they were crouching at the corners of the adjacent houses, the king's residence affording screen to fully a score. Not yet fully recovered from their panic, they appeared to be awaiting the leadership of some strong man who held the fire-arms of the explorers in less dread than they.
A form rose upright along the Xingu, at the upper portion of the line of savages. In the full moonlight he was as clearly revealed as if at mid-day.
It was with strange feelings that Professor Grimcke saw that this individual belonged to the same race as himself. He was one of the two white men that had lived for years among the Murhapas and who had instigated the furious assault upon them.
"You have earned your fate," muttered the German, bringing his unerring Winchester once more to his shoulder, and sighting as best he could at the unconscious miscreant, who appeared to be conversing with some one sitting on the ground at his side.
The finger of Grimcke was pressing the trigger when, yielding to an unaccountable impulse, he lowered the weapon. He was impatient with himself that his heart should fail him at the critical moment, but perhaps it was well it was so.
"You and I ought to be friends," he reflected, "and it is not my fault that we are not, however, I cannot shoot you down like a dog, though you deserve it."
The emotion which checked him so unexpectedly, also prevented his renewing fire upon the Murhapas, who were really less guilty than he.
He had decided to await the next demonstration before discharging his gun again.
Jared Long was as vigilant and alert as his friend. It may be doubted whether he would have spared Waggaman, had he been given the opportunity to draw bead on him. He realized too vividly that the two defenders never would have been in this fearful situation but for the machinations of those two men.
It seemed to him that Bippo was curiously quiet. He had not spoken, nor, so far as he could judge, moved since his own return from his brief conference with the Professor.
He pronounced his name in a low voice, but there was no reply. A call in a louder tone also failed of response.
"I wonder whether he was killed?" was the thought which led Long to leave his station at the door, and to set out on a tour of investigation around the room, using his hands and feet to aid him.
He expected every minute to come in contact with the lifeless figure of his helper, whom he supposed to have been pierced by the poisoned weapon of the Murhapa; but when he had passed around the apartment and across it several times, until assured that not a foot of square space had been neglected he awoke to the fact that Bippo was not there.
It was hardly probable that he had entered the front apartment, but he made inquiry of the Professor. The latter replied that he had heard nothing of him; but, since he had a few minutes that could be spared without danger for that purpose, he went through a search similar to that of his friend.
"He is not here," called the Professor, in a guarded undertone.
The surprising conclusion followed that the fellow after all had effected his escape from the building, though how it was done puzzled the two whom he left behind.
Bippo had got away by yielding to one of those sudden inspirations which sometimes come to a person. Hearing the explorers speaking about a stealthy withdrawal by the rear, he decided to anticipate them. Without pausing to debate the matter or ask for permission, he slipped out the rear door and moved rapidly off in a crouching posture.
He must have been seen by numbers of the Murhapas, but was mistaken for one of their own number.
The error cannot be regarded as remarkable, when it is recalled that Bippo bore a strong resemblance to the savages around them. He was dressed the same and carried a spear similar to the missiles used by them. Though he lacked their bushy heads and stature, these were not marked enough to attract notice at a time when the Murhapas knew that several of their number had been defeated in their efforts to enter the structure from the rear.
With his wits sharpened by his danger, Bippo displayed admirable discretion. Showing no undue haste or flurry, he avoided too close acquaintance with the savages, who were so absorbed in the work of securing the destruction of the white men that they paid less attention to such an incident than they would at any other time.
So it was that he edged farther and farther away, until he found himself so close to the woods that he whisked among the trees without any one questioning or trying to check him. He was free at last, and, as if Dame Fortune had decided to take him in charge, he had hardly reached the margin of the Xingu, at a point considerably below the village, when he almost stumbled over Pedros, who was waiting and wondering what he ought to do next.
Both the Professor and his friend were glad that Bippo had managed to get away. They liked the fellow, and, even if they must be sacrificed, it was a relief to know that the poor native, who had had such a woful experience since leaving the Amazon, now had a fighting chance of escaping from the dreadful region.
Besides, as has been shown, the presence of the fellow was more of an incumbrance than a help. But for the delay caused by Long's rush to his help, the whites would have made a dash for liberty themselves, though the question of their escape was problematical to the last degree.
Precious little ground could the explorers see for extricating themselves from their peril. The Murhapas numbered a hundred, all were brave, and the weapons in their hands were dreaded tenfold more than firearms. It seemed miraculous that Grimcke and Long had not been pierced long before. Why did not the Murhapas set fire to the building, after the manner of the North American Indians?
This was the question which both the defenders had asked themselves several times, but in the case of each the answer was obvious.
The house, it will be recalled, adjoined that of King Haffgo, and, although there was no wind blowing, the burning of the less important structure was sure to endanger the other. As a last resort, the white men might be driven out in that way, but not yet.
If the besiegers could persuade themselves to make a united rush, they would be sure to prevail; but, as has been explained, the cost of such an essay was sure to be frightful, and led the Murhapas to defer that, also, until assured less risky means would not prevail.
It seemed to our friends that there were scores of schemes which ought to be successful, and, such being the case, it will be understood why they believed their last fight was on, and why they were disposed to show no mercy to their assailants.
The Professor was surprised, knowing, as he did, the part taken against them by Waggaman and Burkhardt, that no reports of firearms had yet been heard among the assailants. It would seem as if something of the kind was required in order that those miscreants should retain their prestige among the people.
Now, all these thoughts and many more passed through the minds of the defenders in a tenth of the time it has taken us to put them on paper. It was yet early in the evening, and the crisis in the siege must come before long.
Jared Long peeped out of the rear entrance. A study of what he saw showed little change in the situation. He was convinced that the next demonstration would be from the front. He, therefore, did not hesitate to leave his post and slip into the next room for a few hasty words with the Professor.
"There's no use of staying in here," he said, "for we are sure to be overwhelmed within the next hour."
"I fully agree with you."
"And I can see but one desperate hope."
"What is that?"
"To follow Bippo."
"I agree with you again; let us make such a demonstration from the front that we shall be able to draw most of them there; then one of us will make a rush."
"Why not both."
"We shall fail; one must keep up the firing while they think both are at it, and then the other can make the attempt."
"Very well; let me open here."
"No; we will both do it; you know that this station is mine and as soon as there appears to be a chance, you can make the start."
Now, both of the men believed in their hearts that if the desperate scheme could work, that the utmost it could do would be to save one: there could be no earthly chance for the other.
It was characteristic of the chivalrous friendship of each that he had fully determined that that forlorn opportunity should be given to the other.
But they understood their mutual natures too well to waste any words in argument, for neither would yield.
"Very well, Professor; we'll draw lots."
"I will agree to that."
It was so dark in the room that they could not see each other, nor did either window afford light enough for their purpose.
Grimcke glanced out the door. No immediate movement seemed impending, and they moved to the fire-place. The Professor kicked some of the ashes aside and a tiny blaze arose, throwing a dull illumination over a few feet of the room.
The Professor drew an American coin from his pocket,—one that he had kept ever since entering South America.
"Now," said he, placing both hands behind his back, "tell me which contains it."
"The right," said the New Englander.
"You have lost," coolly replied the Professor, bringing the two hands quickly to the front and opening the palms.