Sure enough the coin was in the left, but the sly fellow did not confess that he had deftly changed it after his companion made his guess.
A DESPERATE SCHEME.
Not another word was said. The question had been submitted to the arbitrament of chance and the New Englander had lost, and that, too without any suspicion on his part of the little trick played upon him.
Before resorting to the last opportunity, Long slipped through the back room and ascertained the outlook there. He was surprised at the result. Hardly a native was visible. It looked indeed as if they were working their way round to the front, and that some scheme of attack had been agreed upon by the leaders from that point.
The Professor's survey confirmed the theory of his friend. The Murhapas were more plentiful than ever. They appeared to be marshalling along the bank of the Xingu, where there were so many that it was impossible to count the heads and shoulders rising above the slope.
Waggaman was not in sight, though there could be no doubt that he was the inspiring spirit in the movement. All the indications were that a rush had been agreed upon. Should it be permitted to come off unopposed in its incipiency, it would be all up with the men who had defended themselves so bravely thus far.
"I will begin at the head of the row," said the Professor, "and you at the foot; make every shot tell."
"All right; begin!"
The fusillade was opened the same instant. Both men fired rapidly, and, though they could not pause to make their aim as sure as they wished, and though it is not to be supposed that every shot was effective, yet the execution was dreadful.
Arms were seen flung spasmodically upwards, figures leaped clear off the ground and then fell back out of sight, shrieks and shouts filled the air, and still the crack of the Winchesters continued without intermission.
One gratifying feature of the fearful scene was that the warriors began flocking around to the front, though they kept well back, as if to avoid the murderous discharge. These new arrivals not only afforded additional targets to the riflemen, despite their furious efforts to screen themselves, but proved that the scheme of the defenders was working as they desired: the natives were swarming from the rear to the front.
"Off with you; don't wait!" commanded the Professor.
"Good-bye!" was all that Jared Long said, as he darted from the side of his gallant friend and vanished.
Professor Grimcke took a few seconds to refill his magazine, when up went his Winchester again and the furious discharges seemed to be more rapid than before.
It would naturally be supposed that if the assailants saw that both of the white men had concentrated their fusillade at the front, they would make a dash to the rear. That, it may be said, would be the second step in the programme. It was calculated that the sudden volleys of the rifles would draw all the natives thither, and then, after learning what had taken place, a large part of them would rush back again.
The New Englander had been gone only a few minutes, when the Professor saw evidences that the second step was about to be taken. The savages were beginning to move back to the rear, though at a greater distance then from the building than before.
All at once Grimcke ceased firing. While looking sharply out of the door, he mechanically refilled the magazine of his rifle from his stock of cartridges which was running low.
"Now or never!" he said to himself, and then, turning, he ran swiftly through the two rooms to the rear door, through which he bounded without a moment's hesitation.
He expected his flight would be announced by a series of shouts and a storm of poisoned javelins. He held his breath, and, as the seconds passed, began wondering whether there was a possibility after all of successfully following the footsteps of his friend.
He was encouraged by the sounds of the deafening tumult from the front of the house. The Murhapas had swarmed into the front-room, proving that they had decided upon making the very rush of which the defenders stood in such dread.
This, although only a momentary diversion, was immeasurably in favor of the daring attempt of the flying fugitive.
Lest the reader may pronounce the escape of these two white men incredible, we hasten to explain that which, if left unexplained, would warrant such disbelief on the part of our friends.
The individual who gave the wild scheme an ending that otherwise it never could have had, was Ziffak, the head chieftain of the Murhapas. He proved to be the all-potent factor in the terrible problem.
From what has been related about these strange inhabitants of the Matto Grosso, it need not be said that they were too cunning, if left to themselves, to allow a door to stand open for their intended victims to escape, after penning them in such a trap.
Ziffak was the shrewdest member of the Murhapa tribe and much more fitted to be its ruler than King Haffgo. After bidding good-bye to the lovers, he hastened back to the middle of the village, where he arrived after the first disastrous repulse given his people by Professor Grimcke.
It took the fellow but a few moments to grasp the situation. He told no one of the death of Burkhardt, but busied himself in learning precisely how matters stood. Had he dared to do so, he would have ordered a cessation of the attack, but the latter was made by the direct orders of King Haffgo, and Ziffak was not the chieftain to butt his head against a stone wall, by an open defiance of his royal brother's authority.
The assault was under the direction of Waggaman himself. The king from his own door, where he could not be reached by any bullet of the defenders, was watching the futile assault with an impatience and anger that could hardly be restrained. His soul became like a volcano, as he saw his brave warriors fall back, with many of them biting the dust. Had not the traditions of his country forbade such a proceeding, he would have placed himself at the head of the natives and led the decisive charge.
Seeing how it was at the front, Ziffak cautiously made his way to the rear. There were few warriors there, and he instinctively felt that if his white friends were to get off at all, it must be through the rear opening.
While intently debating with himself what he could do to help them, he stealthily slipped down to where the large boat was lying under the bank. No one was near it, for the attention of all was concentrated on the fight under way. Unobserved, he shoved the craft out into the stream and saw it drift with the current.
Returning to the rear of the besieged building again, he formed the plan of getting the warriors to the front and then dashing back and helping them out. This was a wild scheme, and involved great personal risk to himself, for he was sure to be punished for rendering aid whose discovery was inevitable.
At the very moment he was about to make the attempt, Grimcke and Long gave him unexpected help by opening their united fire from the front upon the warriors marshalling for the decisive charge.
This afforded him just the pretext he wanted, to order the Murhapas to hasten to the other side of the building to assist in what was in contemplation there, though, even with such a movement under way, it will be seen that the right place for a portion of the savages was at the rear, in order to head off the very thing that was attempted.
Thus it was, that, while the two explorers were congratulating themselves on the success of their clever scheme, they never suspected that its success was due to their giant friend, who kept himself so well in the background that neither of them caught sight of him.
Having got his men away, Ziffak slipped back with the purpose of carrying out the rest of the plan he had formed; but before he could reach the rear entrance, he caught sight of Professor Grimcke running like a deer toward the woods.
Ziffak was puzzled, not knowing that his friend had preceded him, and he dashed into the building to hurry him out. As he came in at one door, Waggaman and the Murhapas swarmed in at the other, and pandemonium was let loose.
The certainty of another murderous fire from the rifles of the defenders caused some lagging at the threshold, but those in the rear forced those at the front forward, and the next moment the mob was inside.
Still there was no sound of firearms, though, the savages were crowding into both apartments. Some one kicked the ashes from the embers, and the blaze which followed made known the astounding fact that both of the white men had fled.
Ziffak seemed to be in a towering rage because such a blunder had been made, and called upon the fleetest runners to follow him.
Out of the door he went as if shot from the throat of a columbiad, with a procession of sinewy-limbed warriors at his heels. All ran as fast as they could, though none were his equal in fleetness.
It need hardly be said that Ziffak took mighty good care that he did not pursue the course of Professor Grimcke, and presumably that of his companion who preceded him. Instead of aiming for the woods, he diverged toward the river, and seemed to find it necessary to shout and yell every second or two at the top of his voice.
His followers may have imagined he was laboring under uncontrollable rage or deemed it necessary to keep their courage up to the highest point by such means; but the two fugitives who had joined each other in the woods, and were picking their way with the utmost care, held a strong suspicion that the prodigious shouts were intended for their special benefit. At any rate, they accepted them as such, and took pains to continue their flight in a different course from that of the howling Murhapas.
It did not require Ziffak long to find out that the fugitives were irrecoverably gone, and he came back with his report to the king.
There he was met by astounding news. Burkhardt had been slain by a poisoned javelin, and Ariel, the beloved daughter of the ruler, had been seen in full flight toward the enchanted lake in the company of the execrated white man, Ashman. Pursuit was to be organized at once, and, though Ziffak was to take part, yet the chosen warriors were to be led by the king in person.
THE BURNING MOUNTAIN.
The tunnel through which Ashman propelled the canoe containing himself and Ariel, was more than a hundred yards in length. It was only for the smallest distance that the craft was in darkness, when the water began to reflect light and reveal its outlines.
A few minutes later the tunnel was passed, and they debouched into an expansion of the enchanted lake. The second division was similar to the other and almost as large, but its appearance was tenfold more wonderful.
The sheet of water may be said to have been divided into two nearly equal parts by the narrow tunnel running under the mass of rocks described. One division was in the outer air, after the usual fashion of lakes, while the other was wholly underground.
The interior lake was nearly circular in shape, with an arching roof hundreds of feet high. It was surrounded by towering crags, and volcanic masses of stone, which gave it an appearance different from anything on which Fred Ashman had ever looked. Nothing grander, wilder, more picturesque or romantic can be conceived. It was a scene which an explorer could stand for hours and contemplate in rapt admiration.
But the most amazing feature of this underground lake was the way in which it was illuminated, so that every portion stood out in as bold relief as if under the flaming sun of mid-day.
At the western side, the shore, as was the case in nearly all other directions, was a mass of jagged rocks, piled upon each other in the wildest confusion. Beyond these rocks, was a vast chasm above the level of the lake, and extending right and left for a distance of fifty rods. This huge chasm was one mass of crimson light, whose rays pierced every nook and cranny on every side of the lake.
The eye gazing in that direction saw something similar to that which greets the traveller in the far north, when viewing the play of the aurora borealis in the horizon, or when the red sun is rising from its ocean bed.
This enormous opening was so surcharged with light that Ashman, after contemplating it but a minute or two, did not need to ask its source. Beyond the area of illumination was the burning mountain whose blood-red glow covered the entire surface and shores of the underground portion of the enchanted lake. The volcano had been aflame for ages, and was likely to continue to burn for centuries to come.
Such an eternal conflagration must have an outlet for the vast quantity of vapor generated, and Ashman wondered that he had not noticed the ascending smoke on his way thither. He recalled that when he and his friend were coming up the Xingu, far below the last rapids, they observed a dark cloud resting in the western horizon. There was no thought at that time that it was caused by a burning mountain, but such must have been the fact. The most singular fact was, that while on his way across the lake to the tunnel, he had failed to notice and remark it.
There was a steady draft in the direction of the flaming cavern. He had observed it while paddling through the tunnel where it was strong enough to assist in the propulsion of the canoe. It was caused by the ascent of the vapor through the chimney of the fiery mountain, and averted the intolerable heat that otherwise would have been felt over every portion of the lake. As it was, a moderate increase of temperature was perceptible.
Ashman was tempted to paddle the canoe to the black rocks which separated the chasm from the lake, and he timidly moved the blade, restrained by the fear of something in the nature of a "back draft," which might consume them before they could escape.
Ariel assured him that she had never encountered or heard of anything of the kind, though she had often visited this remarkable region in the company of her father. Thereupon Ashman sent the boat ahead faster than before, and a minute later the bow touched the rocky wharf.
Stepping out, he drew the bow upon the rocks, so as to hold it fast, and, extending his hand, assisted her to shore. Then he drew the craft still further up, and, taking her hand again in his own, began picking their way over the jagged bowlders and stones to the edge of the volcano.
From the margin of the lake to the other side of the mass of rocks was a hundred feet. This may be defined as a solid wall, shutting out the water from the burning mountain. The rocks rose to a height of a dozen rods or so, attaining which a spectator found himself half-way across the dividing ridge, where, viewed from the lake, his figure looked as if stamped in ink on the crimson background.
It was here that the lovers paused and viewed the striking picture spread out before their vision.
That which they saw might properly be considered the crater of the volcano. It was four or five acres in extent, irregular in contour, and so filled with gases and vapors that one could not see the bottom, while the jagged boundary on the farther side came out to view only at intervals, when the obstructing smoke was swept aside.
Spiral columns of black vapor twisted swiftly upward from the fiery depths, sometimes side by side, and sometimes they would unite and climb toward the opening above, like a couple of huge serpents struggling together. The air quivered and pulsated in certain portions, as if with fervid heat, and Ashman fancied once or twice that he caught glimpses of a vast mass of molten stuff, far down in the mountain, surging; seething and turning upon itself with terrific violence. But the glare was so dazzling that it was like staring at the sun, and he was compelled to withdraw his gaze.
The opening above, through which all this vapor and gas effected its escape into the clear atmosphere outside, was of irregular outline and no more than twenty feet across. It was at a great height above the spectators, and ought to have been visible many miles in every direction.
Now and then Ashman caught the odor of the sulphurous fumes rising from the naming depth, and he could not help reflecting that if the ascending vapors should swerve toward them only for a minute or two, they would be asphyxiated before they could get away; but he could not shrink, when his lovely companion stood so boldly by his side, unmoved by the impressive scene.
When he had become accustomed in a degree to the sight, the like of which he had never viewed before, he recalled that they could not occupy a more conspicuous position, in the event of being pursued by their enemies to the underground lake.
As we have explained, they were standing on the highest portion of the rocky wall, separating the burning mountain from the subterranean portion of the enchanted lake. In this situation, they were in sight from every portion of the shore; any one entering by the tunnel, as they had done, would descry them almost at once, because of the vivid background against which their figures were thrown.
This fact led Ashman to turn to his love and suggest that they should leave the spot. She nodded her head in acquiescence, and, still clasping hands, they began picking their way down among the bowlders to the spot where they had left their canoe a short time before.
Haffgo, king of the Murhapas, intended to keep his promise to Ziffak, so far as permitting the explorers to remain in his village until the morrow, at which time he intended that the men should be allowed to go in safety.
But the barbarian was very similar to some of us whose resentment grows with reflection. When he recalled the admiring glances of the handsome young member of the company towards his beloved Ariel, his anger became intense, fanned by the strong suspicion that the princess herself felt some interest in the stranger.
At this critical time, Waggaman put in an appearance. The ruffian was shrewd enough to see his opportunity, and it took him but a few minutes to rouse him to the exploding point. He determined that every one of the whites should die, and he ordered the assault which has already been described.
As has been explained, the king kept within his home, while the attack was under way; but since he resided adjoining the structure which was assaulted, he was aware of every phase of the progress.
His rage has been hinted at because of the repulse of his warriors directly under his own eyes; but when he came to learn that the youth against whom his resentment burned so hotly was not within the building; that the two who had fought so bravely had escaped with their native helpers; that his own daughter the princess was absent; that she had been seen fleeing with the white youth in the direction of the enchanted lake:—when all this became known to the ruler, it may be said that his fury was such that no language could do it justice. It is not impossible that the despot felt thus himself, for, without pausing to give utterance to a few of his imaginings, he made instant preparations to follow the couple to the region which he never permitted a white man to look upon.
A native woman had seen the princess pass up the side of the river, followed a few minutes later by the young man. Her curiosity led her to watch them. She saw the two meet and stand for some time in loving converse. Then one of the white men stole behind them and was about to fire his dreadful weapon, when Ziffak hurled his terrible javelin which pinned him to the ground. Then the native woman hastened to the palace to tell the news, but she could not gain the chance for some time.
When the king turned upon his brother for an explanation of what he had done, Ziffak was prepared. It was the intention of Burkhardt to shoot not the white man but the princess herself, because she had refused his love. He heard Burkhardt mutter those words to himself and it was because of those words that Ziffak drove his javelin through his body.
King Haffgo looked sharply at his kinsman when he made this unblushing response, but his doubts if there were any quickly vanished, when he recalled the impetuosity with which he had attacked the defenders in the house and the vigor of his pursuit and his evident indignation and chagrin at the escape of the two white men. No, Ziffak might talk plainly with his royal brother, but when the time for action came he was a true Murhapa, who knew only his duty to his king.
Besides, the little flurry between the two had helped to clear away the fogs of misunderstanding as the lightning often purifies the murky atmosphere. The pursuit of the lovers was quickly organized, for they now occupied the thoughts of the king to the exclusion of everything else. Grimcke and Long could not be far off, and a vigorous hunt was likely to discover one or both of them, but the king gave orders that no attempt of the kind should be made. It was his intention to leave the village for an indefinite time, and he wished every one of his warriors to remain while he was absent. It cannot be said that he was afraid of such an insignificant force, but there was a strong vein of superstition in his nature, which caused a vague fear of the men that had escaped him with such wonderful cleverness. Individuals who could do that sort of thing, were capable of doing things still more marvellous, and to use homely language, King Haffgo was taking no chances.
The party in pursuit numbered just ten persona including the king, Ziffak, Waggaman, and the very pick of the tribe. They were all splendid fellows, fit to be the body-guard of a king, who, when he laid aside the robes of cumbrous dress he was accustomed to wear, and arrayed himself similarly to the warriors, proved himself no mean leader of such a party.
Any one looking upon the little company would have been most impressed by the fact that there were nine dusky barbarians, half naked and as black as Africans, under the guidance of a man as fair as any European; and yet, as the reader knows, the most prominent warrior of the party was the brother of that king, dusky, tall and a giant in stature.
A tribe living in a country as well watered as the Matto Grosso, is sure to be well provided with the means of navigation, though the explorers, when they first reached the neighborhood of the rapids, deemed there was an unusual absence of such craft. A canoe, longer even than that used by our friends in ascending from the Amazon, was carried a short distance down the bank and launched in the Xingu. Five of the warriors seized their long paddles and swung them with the skill of veterans. They were accustomed to that kind of work, and sent the craft up the current with much greater speed than would have been suspected, even by those accustomed to see such work.
Two of the dusky occupants were furnished with bows and arrows, while Waggaman carried his rifle. Thus every species of weapon known to the Murhapas was in the boat.
King Haffgo sat at the stern, his brow dark and threatening, his arms folded and his lips set. His thoughts were too deep for utterance and no one ventured to disturb him. Though the pale countenance was outwardly calm, yet a volcano was raging in that breast, hot and furious enough to burst out and consume the barbarian.
Just in front of him, Ziffak was facing toward the prow, directing the actions of the crew, though for a time little of that was required of him. Waggaman was at the prow, silent, glum, scowling. He did not speak for a long while, but, now and then, glanced at Ziffak. When he did so, he was pretty sure to find the black eyes of the head chieftain fixed upon him.
The two thoroughly distrusted each other. Waggaman knew why that javelin had been driven through the body of his associate and, though the convict felt little sorrow for the loss of his companion, yet he hated the chieftain with a deadly hatred, well aware as he was that the feeling was thoroughly reciprocated by Ziffak.
Whether King Haffgo suspected the truth cannot be known, nor is it of importance to know. All the energy of his nature was concentrated in the emotion of fury against Fred Ashman, who had committed the unparalleled presumption of robbing him of his daughter; and even against that lovely maiden he was so incensed that he stood ready to bury his spear in her snowy bosom.
Though it may have seemed strange to Ashman that Ziffak had ordered him to make all haste to the enchanted lake, instead of starting on a direct flight through the woods, returning to the Xingu at a lower point, yet the sagacious chieftain had the best of reasons for his course, as will soon appear.
Had Ashman fled through the forest, the fact would have been discovered at daybreak, if not before, and such a vigorous pursuit would have been pressed as to render escape out of the question. There was a possibility of outwitting Haffgo by the flight to the lake, though it was remote enough to cause the giant warrior to shudder when he reflected upon it.
That which caused Ziffak regret was, that he had not paused long enough before parting from the couple, to arrange a better understanding with them. As it was, he was mostly in the dark concerning their movements, and greatly handicapped by the necessity of appearing to be the devoted ally of his royal brother.
Under the powerful propulsion of the five paddles, the long narrow canoe sped swiftly up the Xingu, and, sooner than even Ziffak anticipated, it turned into the narrow stream leading to the enchanted lake. Along this it sped like a swallow until the huge rock with its sentinel came in sight.
It was here that King Haffgo, for the first time, showed some interest in his surroundings. He scanned the massive rock closely and manifestly was surprised that the guard did not rise to his feet and challenge them.
Observing that the figure remained motionless, he commanded the craft to approach the rock. This was silently done, the boat halting with the prow touching the mass of black stone.
Still the sentinel moved not, all unaware of his peril. One keen glance showed he was committing the unpardonable sin of sleeping at his post.
Rising quickly to his feet, the king stood upright for an instant, and then, with a furious exclamation, drove the javelin which he snatched from the hands of one of the warriors through the breast of the unfaithful servant, who uttered but a single groan as he perished by the hands of his master and sovereign.
Then Haffgo commanded one of his men to take his place. The fellow instantly sprang from the boat and took his station on the rock, as the successor of him who had died so ignominiously. Little fear of his falling asleep on his post.
A minute later the boat shot out upon the moonlit surface of the enchanted lake. There the occupants used their eyes for all they were worth, the craft making a partial circuit of the sheet of water. There was a possibility that the fugitives were there, though it was slight. Many places afforded a landing, where they might have found temporary shelter, but nothing was seen of the boat, and Haffgo ordered the oarsmen to pass through the tunnel leading to the underground lake.
This was speedily effected, and the large boat debouched into the wonderful body of water, so brilliantly illuminated by the glare from the burning mountain on the western side.
Instinctively every eye was cast in that direction, but nothing rewarded the scrutiny. Then the vision swept along the shores, every portion of which, as will be remembered, was in plain view.
Almost at the same moment; Ziffak uttered an excited exclamation, and pointed to the northern shore. As the gaze of every one was directed thither, they caught sight of the craft for which they were so eagerly hunting.
WATCHING AND WAITING.
When Professor Ernest Grimcke realized that his desperate flight from the besieged building had been attended with complete success, and that he was standing among the dense shadows of the forest, with no enemy near, he devoutly uncovered his head, and, looking upward, uttered his fervent thanks to heaven for its amazing mercy.
"If ever a man was snatched from the jaws of death," he said, "I am that man."
"And I am another," added Jared Long, who approached in the gloom. "It seems to me like a veritable miracle."
The New Englander explained that, after his furious dash for shelter from the building, he did not believe his chances were any better than those of the man he left behind him. He started, with the intention of making his way by a circuitous course to the river, but had not gone far when he was struck by the baseness of his desertion of his friend. He, therefore, turned about with the resolve to try to do something for him, but had no more than caught sight of the structure again when he descried the Professor coming like a whirlwind for the trees.
Long moved to the point at which he saw he was aiming, and held his Winchester ready to open on any pursuers that might try to follow him. He would have picked off a dozen or so, for he was cool and collected, and fully determined to stand by his friend to the death.
Fortunately, however, for all parties concerned, none of the Murhapas pursued the Professor, though, as has been told, a number under the leadership of Ziffak dashed off in another direction, without endangering the fugitives in the least.
It was a marvellous deliverance, indeed, for our friends, and they understood the part the giant head chieftain had taken in extricating them from the peril. Their hearts glowed with gratitude to the savage, whose friendship for them they could not understand, but who had proven it in such a striking manner.
But it could not be said that they were yet free from danger; and there was much to do before they could breathe freely.
It needed but a brief consultation to agree that after what had taken place, it was the height of madness to attempt to push on to the enchanted lake and burning mountain. King Haffgo was so roused that there was not the slightest chance of escape. The only earthly probability of accomplishing anything in that direction, was by bringing a force strong enough to sweep the warlike Murhapas from their path.
Thankful would the little party of explorers be if they were permitted to get out of the Matto Grosso with their lives.
They waited in the margin of the wood until the return of Ziffak and his baffled company. It was easy to understand the clever trick played by the chieftain upon his followers, and Grimcke and Long were convinced that no further attempt, at least for a time, would be made to capture them.
But being free to attend to their own safety, their thoughts naturally turned to the missing members of the company, especially to Ashman, who unquestionably was involved in the most imminent peril.
It was clear that his two friends could do nothing in his behalf. They did not know where to look for him, and such an attempt was sure to be followed by disastrous consequences to themselves.
It was a singular conclusion to which Grimcke and Long arrived and yet perhaps it was natural. They believed that Ashman had escaped before they did themselves, and that he was probably waiting at some point down the Xingu for them. They decided to pass in the same direction and strive to open communication with him.
How little did they suspect that though he was for the time out of the power of his enemies, yet the Princess Ariel was his companion, and that instead of seeking to flee from the dangerous country, he had actually penetrated farther into it.
After carefully reconnoitering their surroundings, therefore, the Professor and Long approached the Xingu at a point a third of a mile below the Murhapa village. Everything seemed to be quiet and motionless around them, with the exception of the river, yet they were given precious little time for wonderment or speculation.
The first amazing sight on which their eyes rested was their own large canoe drifting down stream. They stood a moment, not knowing what to make of it, but speedily reached the right conclusion: Ziffak had set it free for their special benefit.
It was floating sideways near the middle of the Xingu, and showed there was no one on board.
It was too invaluable to be allowed to get away from them, or to run the risk of a passage through the rapids below. Long decided to swim out to it, but, before he could enter the water, the Professor showed him that some one had anticipated them. A short distance up the bank, a native was in the act of entering the Xingu, while his companion stood on the bank, evidently about to follow him.
The clear moonlight enabled the explorers to identify them as Bippo and Pedros, the former being the one already in the water.
"Let them go," whispered the Professor, "they may as well do it for us."
Pedros was but a few strokes behind his friend, and the two were seen to clamber over the side of the craft at the moment it came opposite where the delighted white men were standing.
At this juncture, the Professor called to them in a guarded voice. Their expressions of amazement were ludicrous, and it was only after they had stared for several minutes and the call was repeated that they comprehended that their friends were near.
Then the two showed their extravagant delight by leaping up and down like a couple of children, and uttering cries that, to say the least, were imprudent.
The Professor sternly ordered them to hold their peace and paddle the boat to shore. They set to work with a will and brought the craft to land, only a short distance below, where the white men had reached the river. Instantly, they stepped on board, and with the exception of the single absent member, our friends stood in the same situation as a short time before.
It was Jared Long that in his flight from the beleaguered building took the extra Winchester with him, so that the little party could not have been better armed. Luckily, too, there was an abundant supply of ammunition on board, so that the old feeling of confidence came back to the party when they once more felt they were masters of the boat and all it contained.
Their desire now was to increase the distance between themselves and the Murhapa village, from which all had had such a narrow escape. When Bippo timidly asked his masters whether they meant to return or attempt to go any farther up the Xingu, they were assured that no such thought was in the mind of either of the explorers. They would only be thankful if they could get back to the Amazon without ever meeting another Murhapa.
This was enough for the natives, who were willing to jump overboard and tow the boat faster than it was already going. That, however, was unnecessary, and they were told that they had only to obey orders as cheerfully as they had done from the beginning and that undoubtedly everything would come out well.
It was past midnight, when the roaring just below, which was increasing every minute, warned them they were approaching the dangerous rapids. Possibly the craft might have passed safely through but it would have been imprudent to make the attempt for which no necessity existed.
Accordingly, the boat was once more run ashore and drawn against the bank, with the view of raising it upon their shoulders to be transported to the calmer waters below.
The four men were in the very act of lifting the craft, when to their terror, fully a score of Aryks suddenly emerged from the wood and surrounded them. All were armed with the frightful javelins, a prick from one of which was enough to cause almost instant death.
The whites could not have been caught at greater disadvantage, and Bippo and Pedros were so overcome that they were unable to move. Long was on the point of opening a fusillade, when Professor Grimcke was struck by the fact that no one of the Aryks offered to harm them. They chattered like a lot of magpies, and gathering round them made a movement as if to take possession of their boat.
The New Englander would have showed fight, had not his companion said in a low tone:
"They are friendly! They mean to do us no harm!"
Such was the astounding truth, and it was easily explained. Ziffak on his way up the Xingu with his new friends had warned the Aryks that they must do the whites no harm: they were on their way at that time to the Murhapa village as friends, and the head chieftain told his allies that any further hostility would be visited with the punishment of death.
The Aryks were not likely to forget such a notice. They had seen the boat approaching; and, being totally unsuspicious of what had occurred during the earlier part of the evening, were anxious to manifest their good will by carrying the canoe around the rapids.
Jared Long could hardly credit the truth, and held himself ready for a desperate fight; but, when the boat was lifted upon the shoulders of a half dozen stalwart warriors who started down the shore with it, he smiled grimly and admitted that the Professor was right.
The load was quite burdensome, but the carriers stepped off, highly pleased with the privilege, while the rest of their party straggled after them, the whites and their servants bringing up the rear.
Bippo and Pedros were not quite able to comprehend the extraordinary condition of affairs, and kept close to the heels of their masters like a couple of frightened dogs.
At the base of the rapids, the Aryks set down the boat, with great care, saluted in their rude way, and turning about, disappeared in the forest from which they had emerged.
"If they only knew," said Long when they were drifting down stream once more.
"But they don't," replied the Professor, "and yet they will learn the truth before long."
The boat was allowed to drift a half mile further, when, convinced they had gone far enough, they ran into land, disembarked and carried it in among the trees, where it was out of the sight of any one passing up or down the Xingu. Then they prepared to await the coming of Fred Ashman, doubtful, however, whether he ever would come.
THE CAVERN OF DIAMONDS.
Fred Ashman was greatly relieved when he had assisted Ariel down from the high, rocky wall, and they had picked their way to the spot where the little canoe had been left but a short time before.
He had felt a singular misgiving from the first about the boat, fearful that in this region of enchantment, as it seemed to him, something would cause it to disappear, and he and his lovely companion be left in a most exposed and dangerous situation.
But it was found just where it had been left, and helping her in it, he shoved it clear and then looked to her for directions as to what was to be the next step.
The maiden now made a singular statement. She said that some weeks before, she had visited this place with no companion but her father. They landed at a point which she indicated, and he ordered her to stay on the shore until his return. He was gone so long, however, that she undertook a little exploration on her own account, and made a discovery which she now hoped to turn to account.
The canoe touched at the spot she pointed out, and they stepped ashore. She said that her parent strolled off to the left, toward a passage which she showed, and which she had entered with him several times before, but from which he seemed desirous to exclude her on the occasion named.
It was while he was absent at that time, that Ariel walked some distance to the right. She clambered up the rocks a little way to a clump of bushes. She was examining a species of crimson berry, growing upon them, when she observed a passage, which she followed far enough to find that it led into a large cavern, whose full extent she did not attempt to learn. She withdrew, and, fearful of offending the king, told him nothing about it when he returned and found her with the boat.
Ariel was confident that neither her parent nor any of her people knew of her discovery, and she now proposed to Ashman that they should enter the strange cavern, and remain until the present danger was over. She believed that if her friends or enemies, as they might be considered, did not discover them soon, they would conclude that they had voluntarily met death together, and would give up the hunt.
Ashman was struck with the sagacity of the lady, and eagerly agreed to her suggestion. It would never do to leave the canoe as a tell-tale, and he gave it a shove which carried it far out on the lake. Discovered in that situation, no one could tell what point on the shore it had touched, and, being adrift, near the middle of the lake, it would suggest the theory of suicide, which they were anxious to impress upon their pursuers.
Carefully picking their way through the mass of brush and undergrowth which showed remarkable vigor, considering that the revivifying sunlight never touched it, Ashman readily found the opening described by his companion.
It was just broad enough to allow the passage of their bodies, its height being such that they could move by stooping slightly. Holding his Winchester in hand, he led the way with Ariel pressing him close.
The same fact was noticeable that struck him when paddling through the tunnel connecting the outer and the underground lake. The light increased as they progressed until everything was seen with a distinctness hardly less than that shown in the water they had just left behind them.
Suddenly Ashman paused with an expression of amazement. He had entered a cavern so striking in appearance that it almost took away his wreath.
It was several acres in extent, with an arching, dome-like roof rising fully two hundred feet above their heads. Stalactites and stalagmites dozens of feet in length were visible hanging from the roof and obtruding from the floor, the latter being broken by chasms and ravines, many of which seemed to have a depth that was fathomless.
No water was visible, but the proximity of the lake rendered it likely that some of the abysses were filled at the bottom with the element. It looked impossible for the lovers to advance beyond the entrance, and yet while Ashman was standing motionless he observed that a ledge put out on their right, along which they could make their way indefinitely, its course being hidden by scores of intervening obstacles.
It looked like a scene of enchantment indeed, the wonderful cavern illumined by the flood of crimson light, which was on every hand, while the radiating point was invisible.
Ariel stood silent and waited for her companion to recover from his astonishment. She had viewed all this before and had witnessed so many similar scenes that they produced less effect upon her imagination than upon his.
By and by he looked around, and she smilingly nodded her head. He began picking his way along the ledge, carefully feeling his way, for a misstep or a treacherous support was liable to precipitate him to the fathomless depths below with the inevitable certainty of instant death.
It was while the young American was working forward in this guarded manner, that he particularly noticed that the roof overhead, and all parts of the walls were dotted with what seemed points of living fire. While some were small, others were larger and gave out a light that was dazzling to the point of blindness.
He supposed they were composed of a species of quartz or mineral, but observing one of them within reach at his side, he reached upward with his knife and extracted it from the shale in which it was imbedded.
Taking it in his hand he turned it over several times with increasing curiosity. It appeared to be a rough pebble, from which he brushed away a portion of the dirt, so as to permit it to shine with a splendor that would have been tenfold greater in the full light of the sun.
"Don't you know what it is?" asked Ariel with another smile at his perplexed expression.
"I do not; can you tell me?"
"It is a diamond!"
"And," he asked, with a sweep of his arm, "are all those diamonds?"
"Great heavens!" gasped the astounded Ashman; "we have entered a cavern of diamonds."
"There can be no doubt of that," she calmly replied; "there are plenty of them among the rocks along other portions of the lake, for that is where the king has obtained them for years. There is gold there too. You know now the reason why he guards the approaches of the lake so jealously. I have seen our men digging for diamonds and they looked just like what these seem around us."
Ashman had paused again and his eyes roved around the magnificent scene, whose splendors were enough to turn the head of Solomon himself. Thousands of the points were gleaming from all portions of the roof, walls, and even on the ledge along which they were walking. There was enough wealth within his gaze to pay the national debt of his country and to effect a revolution in any nation.
"I would be a fool," he reflected, "not to gather some of these while the chance is mine, even though I may never live to carry them away."
PURSUERS AND PURSUED.
It may be doubted whether the most cool-headed of men could find himself in such a situation as that of Fred Ashman, without being overwhelmed by the bewildering wealth surrounding him. He forgot for the time that the lives of himself and lovely companion were at stake, and that, despite her assurance that they were the first persons who had ever entered the wonderful cavern of diamonds, its existence might be known or discovered by their vengeful pursuers.
With the aid of his hunting knife, he set himself to work picking out the precious gems that were within his reach at all times.
Now and then, when some one of unusual size fell into his palm he uttered an exclamation of delight, and turned and held it up for Ariel to admire. She smiled at his pleasure, and showed her sympathy by assisting in the excavation of the marvellous pebbles.
As they toiled, they advanced, sometimes a step at a time, and then for several paces. Conscious that he could carry away only an infinitely small portion of the riches, Ashman found himself in the unparalleled situation of casting aside the smaller gems and taking only those that were large and of the first water.
Who before was compelled to fling away diamonds worth hundreds of dollars apiece, simply because they were of too insignificant value to be carried with him? Ariel, who was a much better expert than he, carefully selected the choicest until she was burdened with all she could conveniently carry. He filled his pockets and thrust others into every receptacle at command. The partially emptied cartridge-belt was made to do duty as a casket, and it is safe to say that no similar contrivance was ever laden with a tithe of the riches that particular one held.
"Ah," reflected the young man again and again, "if only the Professor and Long were here to help me!"
But there came the time, all too soon, when he was forced to admit that it was useless to attempt to carry more. He had the wealth of a prince about his person, and yet the storehouse showed no diminution of its boundless supply, which was enough to burden a regiment of soldiers.
Gold, the most precious of all metals, for which men delve and starve and toil and die, still lies hidden in immeasurable masses, in unsuspected places, screened perhaps by a thin sheeting of earth, over which thousands have tramped, never dreaming of the boundless riches just beneath their feet. And rubies and diamonds strew the bottom of the ocean or scintillate within caverns and caves, as they have shone and gleamed through ages, still waiting for the fortunate miner or explorer to bring them to light and the gaze of an admiring world.
"If I ever live to get away from this spot," added Ashman, when he ceased his wonderful garnering, "I will bring a force here; I can afford to make it irresistible by King Haffgo, for every one of the men can take away a fortune and leave more than enough for these barbarians."
"I can take no more," he said, turning his flushed face upon the radiant countenance just behind him; "King Haffgo will never miss these, but when I carry you to my distant home, Ariel, where I shall cherish and love you forever, these diamonds will bring us such wealth that we shall never know the meaning of want; every luxury that affection can dream of, or heart can crave, shall be yours."
"The greatest luxury my heart yearns for," said she softly, "is your love."
"And that you have now," he replied catching her in his arms and straining her to his heart.
"I am sure of it," replied the happy maiden, resisting no longer the ardent embrace of him whose affection seemed to grow with every passing hour.
"All that I pray heaven to grant is the opportunity to prove to you that you are not mistaken. I do not want to leave here or ever see my home again unless you are with me. I shall live or die with you, for death with you is preferable to life without you, my cherished, my own Ariel."
The radiant countenance was illumined by a light such as only the divine passion can impart. She did not speak, for there are some emotions of the soul beyond the power of language.
The hunt for the diamonds had taken the lovers to a point almost opposite the entrance. They observed what they had not noticed during their absorbing work,—the ledge along which they advanced, steadily ascended until it carried them to a point half-way to the top of the mighty dome. Standing there, they could look back on the awful chasms spread below their feet, the crimsoned walls, sparkling and scintillating with innumerable gems, with the craggy roof seemingly almost within their reach.
Looking over the wild, dazzling, unapproachable scene, the American was considering the practical question of what was next to be done, when Ariel at his side abruptly seized his arm with an intensity which startled and caused him to ask,
"What has frightened you, dearest?"
With a gasp, she pointed to the other side of the cavern, where they had entered this region of enchantment and wonders.
A procession of figures was moving along the ledge, over which they had just made their way. The intervening objects shut them partly out of sight, but the heads and shoulders of several were always in view and they were moving with the utmost haste possible.
The foremost figure was a white man; the next was a dusky giant, and the third was of fair complexion, while all the others were of the hue of native Africans.
There could be no mistaking the identity of the leaders: the foremost was Waggaman, the second, Ziffak, and the third, King Haffgo. Those who followed were the pick of the Murhapa warriors.
It mattered not whether Ariel was right in her belief that the existence of the cavern of diamonds was unknown to every one else, or that some fateful good fortune had directed the party to the entrance. It was enough that they had found it, and were now pressing forward along the very ridge on which they had halted, and stood gazing back in amazement and horror, unable for the moment to divine what could be done to help themselves.
But Ashman needed but a few seconds to decide his course. He held his Winchester and revolver and was ready to die in the defence of the idol of his heart.
"Have courage," he said; "all is not yet lost."
The ledge on which they stood was so narrow that there was no room for two to walk beside each other. Lifting the gentle form in one arm, he swung her over the abyss at his feet and placed her on the ledge in front of him.
The danger was at the rear, and that was the place for him.
"Now advance," he added; "we may find a better spot than this for defence."
He feared that his pursuers might divide, and some of them start around the other way, so as to come upon him from the opposite side. If that were done, he would be caught between two fires; and, since one of the party possessed a gun, the advantage would be preponderatingly against him.
There was subject, too, for perplexing thought in the situation. He had no wish to shoot King Haffgo, and would not do it if any possible way of avoiding it should present itself. He determined that he should be spared until the last one, when he could probably be handled, without resorting to the last extremity.
Then, too, he felt no doubt about the presence of the giant Ziffak. He was the friend of himself and Ariel, though for politic reasons he had assumed the guise of an enemy. His situation was a most delicate one, and, even in his bewilderment and anxiety, Ashman could not help wondering how he would conduct himself in the crisis at hand.
Inasmuch as the American was resolved to avoid injuring the dusky Hercules, it will be observed that there were two of the company of pursuers whom he was much more anxious to spare than he was to inflict harm upon the rest.
He was hopeful for a moment that he and his companion had not been detected, but a resounding shout echoed through the cavern of diamonds—a shout of such amazing power that he knew it had come from the throat of Ziffak himself, who, as if to make sure his meaning was not misunderstood, brandished his mighty javelin over his prodigious head and shoulders, as he almost pushed his leader from the path in front of him.
Ariel flitted so rapidly along the ledge that her lover felt obliged to ask her to desist, as he found it difficult to keep pace with her.
The narrow path ascended more rapidly than before, and he saw they were steadily climbing toward the top of the roof. The shelly support to their feet, too, became less substantial, crumbling and giving way at a rate that threatened the most serious consequences.
He again cautioned the maiden, who seemed to dart over the rocky ground with the graceful ease of a bird, and without producing any more effect, with her dainty sandals.
Suddenly she paused. She had reached the margin or break in the ledge. A chasm, whose black depths the eye could not fathom, yawned between her and the support on the opposite side.
"We will make our stand here," said he; "keep behind me—"
He checked himself in astonishment; for, at that moment, she bounded as lightly across as a fawn. He never would have permitted it had he dreamed of her intention; but it was done.
He could only follow, and, gathering his muscles, he ran rapidly the slight distance and bounded from the support.
It was a tremendous leap, and, for one instant, he believed he would fail; but he cleared the chasm of breathless darkness and landed on the edge, where, for a single second, he tottered between life and death.
But, at the critical instant, a tiny hand was outstretched, and, seizing one of the fluttering arms, his poise was restored, and he stood firmly by her side.
Even then, as he stepped forward, the ground crumbled and gave way for fully two feet, the debris rattling down the abyss as long as the ear could detect the sound, growing fainter and fainter as it hastened toward the far-away bottom.
"There is no one in that party except Ziffak who can leap it now," said Ashman, gazing with a shudder behind him.
By this time the pursuers were close at hand and gaining fast.
The ledge led straight away and upward for a hundred feet, when it terminated at a point in the dome as high as the middle portion. There the rocks were piled in irregular masses, and, knowing they could go no further, Ashman resolved that the last stand should be made there.
As he hurried onward, another shout fell upon his ear. It was a different voice, and he recognized it as Waggaman's, who was leading the advance.
The fugitive glanced backward, while toiling up the slope, and saw that the white man in his eagerness was fully a rod ahead of the herculean Ziffak, while the rest were stringing along behind him.
He might have wondered how the chieftain contrived to lose so much ground had he not seen him clambering to his feet. It followed that he must have fallen in his hurry to get forward.
"We have them!" shouted the exultant convict; "there is no escape; they are cornered!"
The words were yet ringing in his mouth, when he came to a stop.
He had reached the edge of the abyss and might well pause before trying to leap across.
The fierce king called to him to make the jump. It had been done not only by the man, but by the girl who preceded him; why should he hesitate?
Spurred by the taunt, the white man withdrew a few paces, and, like Ashman, ran swiftly, the next instant his body rising in air, as he made the fatal effort.
The American stood coolly watching the result. If the miscreant succeeded, where it looked impossible, he meant to shoot him. Thus the prospect before the convict could not have been worse.
It was a tremendous leap indeed, and the fellow struck the opposite ledge with his chest, his feet dropping below.
In his furious efforts to save himself, he let go of his weapon, which went ringing down the chasm, and seized the ledge with both hands.
Even then, had the ground been firm, he might have succeeded, but it gave way like rotten ice, and, with a shriek of agony, he vanished forever from the sight of men.
The frightful occurrence brought the pursuers to a halt and gave the fugitives a minute or two in which to prepare for the end.
Ariel, by command of her lover, placed herself behind the rocks and bowlders, where she was secure against any of the missiles, that were sure to be soon flying through the air. Ashman also placed himself so that all of his body was hidden, except his head and shoulders, but his Winchester was thrust out, ready for instant use. He was resolved that no one of the party should leap that chasm and live after reaching the other side.
There were two exceptions, be it remembered, to this resolution.
Ziffak, being next to Waggaman, approached the chasm, where he also stopped and peered into the impenetrable depth, his dusky face showing a horrified expression at the awful fate that had befallen the foremost of the little party.
Ashman, who was closely watching the chieftain with a natural wonder us to how he would conduct himself (for he did not waver in his faith that the giant was still loyal to him), saw him suddenly raise his eyes and gaze at the opposite ledge, which was fully two feet above that upon which he was standing.
Haffgo was immediately behind him, and peering under his arms at the opening. There being no room for the two to stand beside each other, this was the nearest position he could secure.
Beyond him the other figures could be partly discerned, all standing motionless until some way should present itself for their advance.
Ashman observed the chieftain, as his eyes followed the ledge until they rested upon him, crouching behind one of the bowlders with his rifle leveled at the war party.
The two looked into each other's eyes for a single instant, when Ziffak, knowing he could not be seen by any of those behind, contracted his brows and moved his lips.
He did not speak, for that would have "given the whole thing away," but his dusky mouth was contorted with such vigorous care that the words were understood, as readily as if shouted aloud.
They formed the single sentence,
"I am your friend!"
No need of saying that, for, as we have stated, Fred Ashman had never doubted it.
Haffgo now began urging his brother to make the leap, which had proven the death of Waggaman, saying, with reason, that the strength and activity of the head chieftain of the Murhapas were sure to carry him over where no one else could succeed.
The two talked in their native tongue, but their meaning was so clear that the American needed no one to interpret the words.
Ziffak replied that he would gladly do so, but for the treacherous character of the other side of the ledge. He showed that considerable had fallen away, and intimated that the fugitives had loosened it for the purpose of entrapping all the party just as Waggaman had been entrapped.
Then the king took another look at the chasm. It so happened that while he was doing this, a large slice of the ledge sloughed off and went down the abyss, after the miserable wretch who must have been lying at that moment a shapeless mass far down the fearful gorge.
Haffgo could not gainsay such testimony, and, for the first time, his face showed an expression of disappointment. It was not the look of a baffled man, but of one forced to see a sweet pleasure deferred.
He had only to peer up the ledge, as it led toward the roof, to realize that the fugitives were as safely caged as if bound and secured in his own home.
They had penetrated as far as possible in the cavern of diamonds. If the pursuers could not reach them, neither could they return over the chasm by which they had attained the spot where they still defied him.
The most athletic man living could not leap across that chasm, nor could it be passed until it was bridged artificially, and that could only be accomplished from below, where the pursuers were glaring across. They might erect a structure, if, the king so willed, which would open a way of advance; but he was in no mood to care for or think of anything of the kind.
Haffgo now talked earnestly for a few minutes to his head chieftain. The latter listened respectfully, nodding his head several times in acquiescence. Then he suddenly looked up the ledge again, steadied himself for an instant, and hurled his javelin with terrific force at the head of Ashman.
It was done with such incredible deftness that the American had no time in which to dodge the fearful missile. Had it been accurately aimed, it would have been driven straight through his skull!
But it missed by a hair's breadth, shooting up to the roof, where it struck the rock with such violence that the head was shattered and the remaining portion fell uselessly down among the rocks.
It was a close call, but Ashman was not frightened; he knew why it missed him.
He now sighted along the barrel, as if he meant to shoot the chieftain, who instantly ducked his head, and began crowding backward. It was the first time King Haffgo had been placed in such a grave situation, and he was panic-stricken. He turned so suddenly and began crowding to the rear so hard, that he came within a hair of precipitating himself and those immediately behind him from the ledge.
But Ashman did not pull trigger. He could not do so without endangering the lives of Ziffak and the king, and as yet the other warriors had made no demonstration against him.
But, seeing that the white man did not fire, Ziffak seemed to gather courage and straightened up again. The king passed his own javelin to him, and he glared up the ledge as if looking for another favorable chance to launch, it with greater effect than before.
Ashman, who was narrowly watching every movement of his enemies, now observed that the warrior directly behind the king, carried a bow and arrow, and he was in the act of fitting a missile to the string, with the evident intention of trying his hand at the business in which the head chieftain had failed only a minute before.
THE POISONED ARROW.
Such being the case, Ashman concluded that the time had arrived when he should also take a hand.
Ziffak and King Haffgo placed their backs against the face of the rocks, along which the ledge ran, so as to open a clear course for the archer. The latter fitted his arrow with great care and then straightening up drew back the string and slowly levelled, the missile at the head and breast of the American.
"Does that fool imagine I am going to keep still and let him practice on me?" the latter asked himself, an instant before discharging his rifle, whose bullet went straight through the dusky miscreant and sent him toppling off the side of the ledge as dead as dead could be.
Not only that, but the ball wounded the warrior directly behind him, causing him to utter a howl which rang with piercing force from side to side of the cavern of diamonds.
This prompt act caused something like a panic, Ziffak seemed the most terrified of any. Facing about, he flung his arms aloft and shouted to the rest to hurry away before the white man killed them all.
They lost no time in obeying, and it was noticeable that King Haffgo, being well at the rear, added his frenzied commands for his warriors to lose no time in leaving the fatal spot.
Ashman could have sent a succession of shots along the ridge, as the party scrambled away, which would have toppled the dusky barbarians off like so many ten-pins; but he had no desire to inflict needless slaughter, and, in answer to the appeal of the shrinking Ariel, he had promised her that, so far as he was concerned, her parent should receive no harm.
He therefore contented himself with watching them, until a bend in the ledge hid them from sight, with the exception of their heads, and they, too, soon disappeared; because the frightened warriors, glancing back, and seeing their peril, crouched low to escape the bullets which they seemed to expect would come whistling about their crowns.
As long as the natives kept at such a distance, they could do no harm to the defenders; for they were too far off to make use of their javelins, and the single archer left was not likely to attempt to bring his weapon into play.
Naturally, Ashman and Ariel, finding they were left to themselves for a time, fell to speculating upon what was likely to be the next move of their enemies. He believed they would make an attempt to bridge the chasm separating them, a task which, as will be seen, was comparatively easy of accomplishment.
But should such a structure be laid, it must be so strait that only one could pass at a time, and the American could pick them off as often as they presented themselves. There were now no firearms at the command of the Murhapas, unless some one recovered the weapon of Burkhardt, and even then, Ashman would feel little fear of harm from the savages.
Ariel thought her parent and his little company would simply keep guard at the entrance of the cavern, in order to intercept them, if they discovered some way of re-crossing the chasm and attempted to leave.
But both were wrong.
The young man was resolved that no march should be stolen upon him. It was impossible for the Murhapas to pass far enough around to leave the place, without being seen, provided he kept unremitting watch, which he felt competent to do for a number of hours to come.
If the siege was prolonged, he could take turns with Ariel, whose bright eyes were quicker of perception than his.
In the cavern of diamonds, there was no means of telling when it was day or night on the earth outside. Lit by the eternal fires of the volcano, it was always day; but he carried a watch, which told him that the night was far advanced, and that the bright sun would soon shine upon mountain, forest, and river again, though his heart sank at the faint prospect of it ever being his privilege to greet the orb again.
The incidents of the next hour mystified both Ashman and Ariel.
The first movement which attracted their notice, was Ziffak, who, rising to the upright posture, so that his immense shoulders were in plain sight, was seen picking his way along the ledge, until he reached the opening on the other side. Through this he passed and was seen no more.
It was useless to speculate as to the meaning of this proceeding, which could not be explained until made clear by occurrences themselves. It was safe to assume, however, that it was ostensibly in the interests of King Haffgo, and therefore against those of the fugitive lovers.
Probably a half-hour after the disappearance of the chieftain, two of the party were seen stealing along the ledge in the direction of the entrance to the cavern. These, however, were of such slight stature, when compared with Ziffak, and they made such efforts to conceal their movements, that it was hard to follow or identify them. Ashman thought that Haffgo was one of the number, but he could not make certain, and, since Ariel did not catch as favoring a glimpse as he, she could give no help in solving the question.
The best solution of the singular acts was that while the Murhapas seemed to try to hide themselves from the lovers, they still took pains to allow enough to be disclosed to reveal the movements, which they wished the couple to observe.
And here again, both Ashman and Ariel were in error.
Strange that a possibility which had once been thought of by the two did not occur again to them.
King Haffgo, despite his confidence in Ziffak, began to feel some distrust of him. His refusal to attempt the leap of the chasm, and his former friendship for the explorers, might have been reasonably explained, but his failure to drive his javelin through the white man, who was so near and who never stirred from his position, could not be an accident. He knew the marvellous skill of the head chieftain, who could have had but one cause for missing Ashman: that was an intentional deviation of his weapon, which, slight though it was, proved as effective as if hurled in the opposite direction.
And yet, shrewd as was Ziffak; he really believed he had deceived his royal brother. No suspicion of the distrust in the mind of the king came to the chieftain, when he was directed to return to the village and bring ten more warriors with him.
But this errand secured the absence of Ziffak for a couple of hours at least, and that was the sole purpose of Haffgo in sending him out of the cavern of diamonds.
When the chieftain was gone, the archer was directed to ascertain how far he could steal around the cavern, by taking the opposite course. Haffgo followed, directing the others to stay where they were until further orders were given them.
The archer set out at once, ahead of the king, both doing their best to avoid detection.
Fortune favored them in an unexpected manner. The ledge was found easier of travel than they expected, and, by using great care, they worked their way to a point less than two hundred feet from where the fugitives were standing on guard. They had traversed the whole distance, too, without detection.
When King Haffgo peered carefully over the shoulders of the crouching bowman, he saw the couple standing with their backs toward him, as they faced the chasm which had been found impassable for the Murhapas.
The slumbering anger in the parent's breast was kindled to a white heat, when he observed the white man holding the hand of his daughter, and he saw him lean over and touch his lips to hers. He whispered to the warrior to lose no time.
The latter quickly examined his arrows, and picked out the one which not only seemed the best, but was most plentifully provided with the deadly poison. This was speedily fitted to the string, and he deliberately took aim, his nerves like steel, for the king had whispered to him that he must not fail.
At the instant the string twanged, something caused Ariel to look behind them.
She uttered a faint scream as she caught sight of the two crouching figures. She descried a flitting shadow which she knew was the approaching missile on its deadly mission.
Knowing that it was aimed at her lover, she threw both her arms around his neck and interposed her body to protect him while he stood bewildered, not comprehending what it all meant.
Her figure was too slight to serve the purpose of a shield. The poisoned arrow whizzed straight at the breast of Ashman, who had turned about, but instead of entering his body, the point, surcharged with venom, was imbedded in the snowy arm of Ariel herself!
The horrified Fred Ashman saw that the poisoned arrow, aimed at his own heart had buried itself in the fair arm of Ariel, as she clasped him about the neck anxious to shield him from harm at the expense of her own life.
She had saved him, but at what a fearful cost! The agonized lover realized it all, as he tenderly placed her on the rock beside which they were standing. Then, like the man who, knowing he has been fatally struck by the rattlesnake or cobra, turns to stamp the life out of the reptile, before looking after his own wound, he faced about and brought his rifle to his shoulder. The dusky miscreant cowered low, but he could not save himself, for the bullet which left the Winchester, entering at the skull, ranged through the length of his body, and he rolled off the ledge like a rotten log and went down the yawning abyss that afforded a fit sepulture for such as he.
King Haffgo was standing erect, as if defying the white man to fire at him. He had seen the result of the shot and he did not regret it.
"Die the death you deserve!" he called out in English; "for you are not the daughter of Haffgo!"
Then he turned about and moved along the ledge, while Ashman stood for an instant, with weapon levelled, feeling that the awful occurrence had absolved him from the pledge made a short time before.
He was aiming, when a faint voice at his side said:
"No, hurt him not; I shall get well!"
Letting the rifle fall from his grasp, he wheeled around as if he had been shot himself.
What did he see?
The brave Ariel had drawn the arrow from her arm, and was sitting erect. In her right hand, was a small earthen bottle such as was in common use among the Murhapas.
"Great heaven! what does this mean?" demanded her lover, uncertain whether he was awake or dreaming.
She smiled faintly, and said:
"I feel a little faint, but the danger is past."
"But,—but,"—he added, "the arrow was poisoned!"
"Yes, but the poison has a remedy; it is in that," she added, holding up the bottle; "my parent always carried it; I brought it with me when I left home."
The overjoyed lover could not repress a shout of joy,—a shout which penetrated every portion of the cavern of diamonds, but whose meaning, fortunately for the couple, was not understood by the ears on which it fell.
He knelt beside her, so that the bowlders shut both from the view of any prowlers who might seek to reach them. He kissed the happy face again and again; he called her the sweetest names that ever mortal uttered, and he assured her that they should both live and be happy forever.
In his overflowing bliss, he could not realize that they were still walled in on every hand. All that he could know and feel, was, that she was spared from a dreadful death,—that she had interposed her own precious body to protect him from harm.
Enwrapped in his arms, she was obliged to confess that the bringing of the potent remedy was an inspiration, when she stole out of her father's house, for she never dreamed of the use to which it would be put.
She had forgotten all about it, until the sharp twinge in her arm apprised her that she was struck by the fearful missile. Then, as she was about to swoon, she recalled that she carried the remedy in her bosom.
Drawing it quickly forth, while her lover's face was turned away, she drank the whole contents, which were sufficient to save the lives of three or four persons. Not a drop, however, was left; and she remarked in her own peculiar manner, that they must be careful not to be struck by any more such missiles, since the remedy was gone, and it would be hard to secure more.
With a full realization of the remarkable deliverance of his beloved, Ashman was roused to a stronger resolution than before of making a desperate effort to extricate themselves from their perilous situation, which looked indeed as if without hope.
Rising to his feet, but screening his body as he could, he carefully peered around the cavern of diamonds. He cautioned Ariel to keep out of sight, for, if it should become know that her life was saved, her father and his warriors would doubtless make another attempt to reach them.
Looking in the direction of the opening on the other side, he saw Haffgo pass out, followed the next minute or two by the rest of the Murhapas. To Ashman this was proof that the party had decided to withdraw from the cavern, but would keep watch of the egress to make sure that the white man did not get away by some freak of fortune.
Since they were sure he was caught in a trap from which there was no escape, he had his choice of remaining and starving to death, of coming forth and giving himself up, or of ending it all by precipitating himself down the rocks.
A terrible punishment indeed for the white man that had dared to defy the king of the Murhapas, and had been the cause of the death of the beloved princess!
Ashman was still studying the insoluble problem, when a strange impulse led him to look aloft. It will be remembered that he was near the roof of the cavern, among a mass of bowlders and rocks which touched the dome.
Several times it had seemed to him that a felt a slight, upward draught, as though a portion of the air found vent in that direction. When he mentioned it to Ariel she admitted that she had noticed the same thing, and urged him to investigate.
Leaving his Winchester with her, he began a cautious ascent of the rugged stairs. He had about twenty feet to climb, and the greatest care was necessary. Not until at the very top, did he pass from the sight of the maiden who was attentively watching his movements.
Five minutes later, he let go his hold and dropped, down beside her. His face was flushed and his eyes glowing with excitement.
"Thank heaven!" he exclaimed, greatly agitated; "there is an opening by which we can reach the outer world."
"I was sure of it," she replied with a happy smile.
During his brief absence, she had bandaged her arm as best she could by tearing a slip from her dress. The wound bled less than would be supposed, and caused her little pain.
Taking her other hand, Ashman began helping her up among the rocks and bowlders. She needed little aid, however, for she was lighter and more graceful on her feet than he.
Sure enough, when they arrived at the top, they came upon a broader opening than that by which they had entered the cavern. It was hidden from sight by a projecting table of rock, and when they came to pass through, the outer opening was seen to be so covered by bushes that it never could have been found except by the accident which first showed Ariel the way into the cavern.
But with hearts overflowing with gratitude to heaven, they found themselves on the earth again, with the sun shining and the pure air of heaven fanning their fevered faces.
They had emerged at the crest of the mountainous mass, which covered a portion of the enchanted lake and the cavern of diamonds. Fortunately, too, they were among the woods, where they could not see far in any direction. This rendered them less liable to discovery by their enemies in the neighborhood.
Ashman held his position until the two could study their location and gain an idea of the points of the compass. The rising sun helped them to do this, and, by moving carefully about until they gained sight of the lake and the Upper Xingu, they soon ascertained in what direction the Murhapa village lay, and the course necessary to take in order to avoid it.
It was decided to put back in the forest and thread their way through the dense wilderness, striking the Xingu at a point below the rapids. There, if they found nothing of their friends, they would manage to secure a boat in which they could press their flight in the direction of the Amazon.
The forests abounded with wild animals and huge serpents, but the ardent lover was admirably armed and confident that he could protect his beloved from all harm, provided they could escape discovery by the Murhapas and Aryks.
If Haffgo should venture on an approach to the rocks, where the fugitives made their stand, he could not fail to find out the extraordinary manner in which they had eluded him, and he would be certain to organize instant pursuit.
But this was not likely to take place for a considerable time, though the possibility led Ashman to push forward with all vigor, often pausing to listen for sounds of pursuit.
The extreme caution of the lovers led them to trend much further into the woods than was really necessary, and they were a long time, therefore, in reaching the Xingu.
Neither had eaten food for an unusual while, but they cared nothing for that. They were too anxious for any thought except that of getting forward as fast as possible.
As they progressed, startled now and then by the prowling wild beasts which threatened attack more than once, and by the sight of enormous serpents, some in trees and some on the ground, Fred Ashman's thoughts naturally went forward, and he speculated as to what was the result of the attack on his friends the preceding night in the village.
He could comprehend the frightful situation in which they were placed by the enmity of the king, and it seemed incredible that any, or at least all of them, could have extricated themselves from their peril. Gladly would he have risked everything in their defence, but, as has been shown, that was beyond his power at any time.
The young American shrank from firing his gun, through fear of the report reaching the ears of the Murhapas. If that should take place, it would be sure to excite their suspicions, and prompt an investigation which the fugitives dreaded.
Once a jaguar became so threatening, that he leveled his weapon convinced that he must fire or be attacked, but the snarling beast finally withdrew, after sneaking behind them for a long distance.
The sun had passed the meridian when the wanderers caught the gleam of water among the trees in front. They hastened forward, and a moment's survey of the stream convinced them that they had reached the Xingu beyond all question.
Ashman recognized several features along the banks which he had noticed on his way up the river. Ariel was equally positive, so they dismissed the question from their minds.
Both were nearly exhausted, for they had had a tiresome tramp, during all of which they were under a severe mental strain. They felt that, at last, they could sit down and rest themselves before resuming their journey.
"The next thing to be done," said Ashman as he imprisoned the hand of Ariel and drew her head upon his shoulder, "is to find some boat in which we can float down stream. It will be less work than we had in ascending it."
"I suppose," she replied, "that there are people all the way along the river until you reach the end of it."
"There are; but we found most of them unfriendly long before we struck the region of the Aryks."
"Are they likely to attack us?" she asked, raising her head and looking at her lover with an alarmed expression.
"We had little difficulty, so long as we kept in the middle of the stream, and one discharge from our guns was generally enough to drive them away."
"And for how far does this prevail?"
"Two or three days ought to take us out of the danger. Then it will be plain sailing all the rest of the way. The river is long, but, dearest, we shall be with each other, and it will seem brief."
She parted her lips to make a suitable reply, when a startled expression came upon her lovely countenance and she whispered:
"They must have followed us through the woods."
"What do you mean?" he asked, grasping his rifle.
"I hear some one moving behind us."
"It is a wild animal——"
He checked himself, for, to his unspeakable amazement, Professor Grimcke at that instant stepped to view.
The two men caught sight of each other at the same moment. They stared as if in doubt, and then, with exclamations of delight, clasped hands.
By great good fortune, the lovers had emerged from the forest within a stone's throw of the point where Grimcke, Long, Bippo, and Pedros were waiting with the canoe hidden among the trees.
After this reunion they set out for home.
A few days carried them beyond danger, and in good time the Amazon was reached. Bippo and Pedros were left at Marcapa, at which port the explorers secured passage for home, where they arrived in safety. And in that land, so strange to the beauteous Ariel, daughter of Haffgo, king of the Murhapas, we bid good-by to our friends. But to her, Ashman was all the world; and in the sunshine of their mutual love they dwell to-day, happy, grateful, contented, and envying no one, assured, as they are, that none can be more blessed than they.