The Treasure of the Golden God
By A. Hyatt Verrill
Author of "Bridge of Light" and Others
Illustrated by MOREY
A Serial in 2 parts from Amazing Stories magazine January, February 1933; digital capture December 2007 by Doug Frizzle
We are sure that our readers will be delighted to see the name of A. Hyatt Verrill once more on our pages. This story, like many others by the same author, touches on South America and the Indians and the jungle. It tells of El Dorado and the golden treasures that Sir Walter Raleigh and so many others searched for in the New World in old times.
WHAT do you make of those?" Thornton asked, as he tossed two bits of shining yellow metal upon the table. Belmont, the mining engineer, picked up the objects and examined them curiously. They were obviously gold; thin, crescent-shaped; perhaps two inches in length by an inch in width, and with small eyes or rings at the points of the crescents.
"They're gold of course," he replied. "Indian ornaments of some sort, I should say."
"Yes, you're right both times," laughed Thornton. "But do you realize that you are holding something which no white man since Raleigh's day has ever seen? Those things, Frank, are the 'gold moons' that Sir Walter Raleigh reported having seen in the noses of Guiana Indians."
"Jove, is that so!" exclaimed the other. "Discovered a lost tribe, eh? Bully for you. What were they, freaks, cannibals or Amazons?"
"Neither," declared the explorer, who had recently returned from months in the interior of Guiana and Brazil, and who was dining with his old college chum.
"The people who wore these," he continued, "are quite ordinary in as far as appearances go. But they prove that Raleigh was right, and, this is what may interest you, the tribe that uses the moons has a secret, unlimited supply of gold."
"What?" cried the engineer, instantly interested. "I suppose you mean that they have a rich placer mine. Now you're talking business, old man."
"I thought that would wake you up," laughed the explorer. "I can't say as to the placer. Did you ever hear of El Dorado and the City of Manoa?"
"Can't say I'm familiar with the town," replied Belmont, "but El Dorado was the chap who was supposed to put on a spring suit of gold dust each year, and for whom Raleigh was searching."
"The same," assented Thornton, "and Manoa was the name of the city over which El Dorado was supposed to reign. According to Raleigh, Manoa was as nearly a 'golden city' as can be imagined,—walls, buildings, utensils all gold, and with gold nuggets the 'biggenesse of egges', to use Raleigh's words, to be picked up about the shores of the city's lake front."
"Have they?" queried the other, raising his eyebrows. "So had the 'myth' of the gold moons—until I found these. No, Frank, I don't claim to have located Manoa or El Dorado, but just because they have not been found does not prove they do not or did not exist. Moreover,—" here the explorer lowered his voice and bent towards his companion, "I actually believe the Indians who use these ornaments have found Manoa!"
"Whew!" whistled the engineer. "Now let's get this straight, Ned. Let me have the whole thing in a nutshell. Then I can judge whether it's a pipe dream or is really a hard and cold proposition. Just give me the facts."
"Do you remember that I told you about a vast unknown district in the interior of Guiana which I intended to explore?" asked Thornton.
Belmont nodded. "It’s an area larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut together," he continued, "and I've always wanted to explore it. On this last trip I managed to reach that district. Started in from a Taruma village on the Essequibo, and crossed Savanna country to the Pianoghottos, a tribe no white man had ever visited before.
"They lived on the border of the unknown territory, but I couldn't induce one of them to go with me. Like all Savanna tribes they dreaded the forest and believed it full of devils and fabulous monsters. However, they told me of another tribe called Aurimeonas who were forest people and had a village on the edge of the Savanna. While we were talking, two of these tribesmen arrived. And the instant I saw them, I knew I'd made the discovery of my life. Both wore those gold moons in their noses. I had no trouble in getting the specimens by trade, but I couldn't get much information regarding anything in their district. You see it was a three-sided conversation. I spoke Akawoia to one of my Tarumas, he interpreted to the Pianoghottos, and they had to retell everything to the Aurimeonas. But I did discover that they had plenty of gold. The upshot of it all was that I made arrangements to go with them to their village, but, before we could start, the rains came on, my boat captain came down with fever, and I was forced to turn back."
"So that's all," commented Belmont. "Too bad; but I don't see as you have any very definite information, certainly not enough to warrant going after the supposed source of gold. Just because you find a couple of wild Indians wearing gold nose ornaments you mustn't jump to the conclusion that they've got a bonanza or that you have located Raleigh's mythical city. To finance an expedition on the strength of what you've told me would be the most hare-brained sort of a gamble."
Thornton smiled. "That, as a lawyer might say, is my only direct evidence," he said, "but there's something more. Raleigh, in his 'Discoverie of Guiana' says, 'bye the Wariemetona I hadde knowledge that on the heade of this ruler were three mighty nations which were seated on a great lake from whence this ruler descendeth and that if wee entered the land through the mountains wee should satisfy ourselves with golde'."
"Well, what of it?" demanded the other. "Maybe they told him and maybe they didn't. And if they did they probably lied or exaggerated."
"That's not the point," declared the explorer. "No one since Raleigh's day has ever seen or heard of the Wariemetonas in order to verify his statements. Now cudgel your brains, old man, and see if you catch my drift. Do you notice anything familiar about that name —Wariemetona?"
Belmont wrinkled his brows and thought deeply. "Why, no—" he began, and then suddenly slapped his thigh and jerked upright. "By Jove, yes!" he cried. “Those Indians with the gold moons,—what did you call them?"
"You've guessed it," chuckled Thornton. "The Aurimeonas,—one and the same tribe. The nearest that Raleigh could come to the gutteral Indian sounds was 'Wariemetona.' Not a doubt of it in my mind. I've located the tribe who told Raleigh the story of Manoa."
"Then why the deuce didn't you ask them about it?" demanded Belmont.
"Because I'm wise enough not to," replied Thornton. "As soon as a white man begins asking an Indian about gold, the aborigine shuts up like a clam. Besides, I didn't need to, there were the gold moons,—and there was this."
As he ceased speaking, he drew a package from his pocket and tossed it into his friend's lap.
"Ouch!" ejaculated the engineer. "Go easy! What in thunder's in that, it's as heavy as lead." Then, as he pulled open the wrappings, his eyes widened and he stared incredulously at the contents. "Well, I'll be damned!" he cried. Gleaming dully in his hand was a huge, polished, egg-shaped mass of virgin gold, pierced near one end and threaded with a fibre cord on which were strung a score of smaller nuggets, the whole weighing over ten pounds.
"Yes, I'll be damned!" he reiterated, utterly unable to find other words to express his feelings.
"Just what I said when I saw one of those Indians wearing that gew-gaw," grinned Thornton.
"Ned," said Belmont after a long pause during which his eyes never strayed from the marvellous barbaric necklace. "I may be as big a fool as there is, but no mining man with an atom of gambling spirit in his makeup could see those nuggets and not bite. Nuggets like these don't grow on every bush, and they don't grow alone. El Dorado may be all bunk, but there's nothing mythical about these beauties. I'm with you, old man. When do you start?"
Far up the Essequibo, a spoon-bottomed river boat was being urged against the swift current by four naked Indians. Perched on the prow was the Arekuna bowman, grasping his big paddle and swinging the boat to right or left between jagged huge black rocks. In the stem stood the half-Indian, half-negro captain with his huge steering paddle in its bight of rope, and beneath an arched palm-thatched shelter sat Thornton and Belmont.
New York and civilization seemed very distant. For five weeks Belmont and Thornton had been traveling up the river through unbroken jungle, forcing a way through rapids and cataracts, camping beneath the giant trees at night, and now they were nearing King William's Falls and their boat journey was almost at an end.
Presently, from far ahead, came a low roar, and, rounding a bend, a vast, flashing cataract came into view, barring the river from shore to shore.
"Can't go any further," announced Thornton, "and I for one won't be sorry to stretch my legs ashore. Beyond this place," he explained to Belmont, "the river's one cataract after another. And it's not a long walk to the first Taruma village. This is the route I followed on my last trip."
Rapidly the boat was unloaded and camp was made. The craft was secured in a sheltered cove, and the rest of the afternoon the men busied themselves dividing the cargo into packages which could be carried on their backs. Only the more important and essential things were to be taken, the rest being left until Indian carriers could be sent from the Taruma village.
Early the following morning, camp was broken, the men shouldered their loads in "surianas" or pack baskets, and the party plunged into the forest, following a faint trail. The country was rough and broken, great rocks were piled everywhere and going was difficult. But by noon the worst was over, the trail led across rolling hills through open forest, and late in the afternoon, they reached the edge of the jungle and looked out across a far reaching savanna broken by thickets and clumps of trees, fantastic rock masses and marshy swales, and with a large Indian village in plain sight. Just before sundown they came to a large cleared space in the centre of which was the mud-walled thatched houses of the Tarumas.
Wild and savage as the Indians appeared, naked but for loin-cloths, painted and tattooed, with long black hair falling over their shoulders, yet the Tarumas were friendly and welcomed the white men cordially. Food was brought to them, they were given a vacant hut, and the welcoming calabash of "paiwarrie" was passed around.
"Isn't this the stuff they make by spitting chewed cassava into a trough?" asked Belmont, as he looked disgustedly at the yellowish-gray mess proffered him.
"Right you are," replied Thornton, "but it's not bad." As he spoke, he lifted the calabash to his lips and took a long draught of the liquor.
"I'll be hanged if I touch it!" exclaimed the other, as he started to dash the contents of the calabash on the ground.
Thornton caught his wrist. "You'll be worse than hanged if you don't," he declared in sharp, incisive tones. "It's a deadly insult to refuse. We'll never get beyond this place if you don't drink this paiwarrie. For Heaven's sake, man, don't be so confoundedly squeamish. Take only a sip if you can't stomach any more."
Belmont frowned, made a wry face, and with a muttered curse took a swallow of the ceremonial liquor. "Don't taste as rotten as I expected," he admitted with a grin, as he returned the calabash to the waiting girl.
Then followed the long established custom of the bush; Thornton presenting the chief and the others with gifts of tobacco, beads and cloth, and thus having established good fellowship, he stated his business and requested guides and carriers, speaking with the aid of Joseph, the Arekuna bowman, as interpreter.
Having already visited the Tarumas on his previous trip, Thornton was regarded as something of an old friend, and he had no difficulty in securing women to go back to the boat and bring up the supplies left there. But it was by no means as easy to secure guides and carriers to go into the interior. The old chief was quite willing to supply young men as guides and women as porters, as far as the nearest Pianoghotto village, but beyond that, he declared, no Taruma would venture. But as this was fully as much as Thornton had expected, he was quite satisfied.
At dawn the women, accompanied by the boat-captain, trudged off on the trail leading to the river, and late in the afternoon, they returned, each with her load of one hundred pounds, and carrying it as though it were a mere trifle.
"Some flappers," commented Belmont, as the women came trotting into the village, laughing and joking. "Lucky thing the girls back home haven't adopted Taruma costumes yet. Good Lord, think of seeing Broadway or Fifth Avenue with the girlies decked out in bead aprons and necklaces only! And how in thunder they manage those loads, beats me. Why, they're no bigger than ten year old kids, and what they're toting would stump a burro."
Thornton laughed. "All in getting accustomed to it," he replied. "Same as seeing the ladies going about like Mother Eve."
Daybreak two days later saw the expedition depart. Leaving the four Indian paddlers behind to look after the boat and such of the outfit as would not be needed on the overland journey, the two white men, with the boat-captain, Walters, Joseph the Arekuna interpreter, and a dozen women carriers, filed off along the trail, following two husky Taruma bucks who served as guides.
The march across the savanna was long and dreary. Pollen was dislodged from flowers and coarse, high grass, filled eyes, nostrils and throats. The sun beat down relentlessly from a cloudless sky, and Belmont longed for the cool shade and moist air of the jungles long before noon of the first day.
The noonday halt, however, was scarcely a relief, for the scanty shadow of the low thorny palmettos was like a furnace, the water in the canteens was lukewarm, and Belmont was too thirsty and tired to relish food. He had crossed the western deserts, had climbed mountains, had tramped for days through dense woods and across frozen tundra, but never before had he felt so thoroughly exhausted. Thornton, however, seemed tireless and as fresh as ever. He swung along, keeping pace with the Tarumas, now and then humming a tune or whistling gaily, and Belmont, gritting his teeth, endured and suffered but gave no outward indication of his feelings. At last the sun swung towards the western horizon, camp was made in a sheltered swale, and the Indians quickly built tiny huts of Etah palm and canes.
"Now what in blazes do they need those for?" asked Belmont throwing himself into his hammock. "Gad, it's hotter than the hinges of Hades in the open,—let alone those kennels, and not a sign of rain."
Thornton laughed. "You'll be glad enough to crawl into one of them before long," he declared.
"Not on your life," insisted the engineer, wiping his reeking face. "Me for right here in the open air."
But half an hour later, he changed his mind. As darkness came upon the savanna, a cold wind came sweeping across the plains, a wind that chilled the white men to the bone and sent the Indians, shivering, to huddle about their fires.
"You're right," admitted Belmont, as he rummaged in his pack for coat and blanket. "Me for my kennel."
The second day was a repetition of the first, although Belmont did not feel it so badly, but on the third the savanna became greener, pools and ponds were frequent, and were swarming with teal, ducks, curlew and other wild fowl, and forgetting all else, Belmont spent the noon hour by decimating the teeming game. Then, by mid-afternoon, the party reached open spaces, where the grass had been burned away and where vegetables and cassava were growing.
"Not far to the village now," announced Thornton. "These are the Pianoghottos' gardens."
An hour later, the conical-roofed houses of the village were in sight, showing clearly against a dark background of heavy forest a mile beyond them.
"This is as far as I went, last trip," remarked the explorer, as they approached the village.
"And here's where you got those moons and that Golconda necklace, I suppose," said Belmont.
"Right you are," replied Thornton. "I wish those Aurimeona boys were here now."
Their arrival was announced by the yelping of innumerable half-starved curs, and the Pianoghotto men turned out in full force to see who was visiting them. Thornton was instantly recognized by the villagers, the guides and carriers were well known friends, and the party was welcomed as hospitably as by the Tarumas. This time Belmont did not hesitate to partake liberally of the paiwarrie, which despite its uninviting appearance, he found most refreshing.
In the morning, when the explorer endeavored to secure carriers to continue on his journey, he found as he expected that the Pianoghottos were very loth to accompany the party. The country beyond, they declared, waving their arms indefinitely towards the forest, was the abiding place of devils and evil beings, and they also appeared to have an inherent fear of the Aurimeonas.
For a space it seemed as if the expedition was to prove a dismal failure almost at the start. As he was arguing, coaxing, trying by every means to persuade the Indians to go along, a party of three hunters arrived, carrying a couple of small deer. After listening for a few moments, one of the three stepped forward and offered his services as a guide. He was, it appeared half Aurimeona and while, like the others, he spoke with superstitious dread and evident fear of the forest devils, yet he was in no fear of crossing the savanna to his mother's village. Once he had secured one man, Thornton made progress. Beads, cloth and knives were liberally bestowed, and three Pianoghottos agreed to join his party. But nothing would induce others to go, nor could he persuade the Tarumas to travel farther into the unknown territory.
"It's the best we can do," declared the explorer. "We'll have to cut down on the outfit. We can only take the most essential things and leave the rest here. If we need the stuff later we can send carriers back for it. These Indians are absolutely honest so that nothing will be disturbed."
Accordingly, the loads were divided, everything not absolutely necessary was left with the Pianoghottos, and with the four men, Joseph and Walters each carrying a load as heavy as they could manage, and with the two white men also laden with heavy packs, the little party of eight men started into the unknown. For four days they tramped across unending savannas, but as the grass was fresh and the soil moist there was no particular hardship. This the explorers knew was unmapped territory. No white man had ever before seen it, and as they traveled towards the distant forest, Thornton took copious notes and bearings, made rough sketches and constantly paused to examine vegetation, soil and rock outcrops. Once, during the noonday rest, as he was cracking bits of reddish stone he had collected, the half Aurimeona guide watched him with evident interest. Then, turning to Joseph, he spoke a few words in an Indian dialect.
"He tellum plenty rockstone like so, topside Aurimeona way," the Arekuna translated. "Him say rock-stone all same caracuri."
"Listen to that, Frank," cried Thornton, "I'd like to know exactly what he meant by 'caracuri'. That's their word for gold, but it also means red or yellow. It was that double meaning that fooled Raleigh so often. But these are auriferus rocks, and perhaps this fellow means gold."
"By Jove!" exclaimed Belmont, instantly attentive. "You're right, these rocks are mineralized. Just cross-question the boy, Ned. I guess we're on the right track."
Addressing Joseph, the explorer spoke to him in the strange "talky-talky" used by all the semi-civilized Guiana tribes. "What side he catchum rockstone like so?" he asked. "How long time makeum walk that side?"
Joseph spoke rapidly to the other and the latter replied at length. "He say Aurimeona feller, Peaiman (medicine-man) catchum same kind," he translated. "Peaiman feller make walk in bush, him no 'fraid devil. Him good friend devil. Him makeum fire all some rockstone one kind. Makeum ring, makeum beads all some caracuri. Aurimeona feler no sabby where findum."
Thornton whistled. "There you are!" he exclaimed. "He does mean gold. No doubt about it. He says they make beads and rings of the metal, and as we know, they have the moons and gold beads. But I'm stumped by what he says about their medicine-man making fire with stone. It must be the old fellow's got hold of some iron pyrite and strikes fire with it. Darned funny if he has, though. As far as known, no Indian tribe ever discovered the trick. He's a foxy old beggar I'll bet, and no doubt his people have a holy respect for him. No wonder they think he's a friend of the devils."
"It'll help us more if he's a good friend to us," declared the engineer. "And you were wrong about one thing, Ned. These Indians don't seem to mind talking about gold."
"That's because they've never dealt with white men before," explained the other. "They don't know us yet."
A little later that day the party came to a fair sized stream, and instantly Thornton uttered an exclamation of surprise. "See anything peculiar about this creek?" he asked.
Belmont studied the stream intently. "No," he replied presently. "That is, unless that it's clear and not brown like the rivers. What do you see that's strange ?"
"It flows east," declared the explorer. "That proves we've crossed the divide that separates the Essequibo from the New River valley,—unless this creek swings to the west again."
"I don't see anything very remarkable about crossing the divide," said Belmont. "We'd never have known it, if you hadn't spotted this brook."
"Nothing remarkable, I admit," agreed Thornton. "But we're the first white men who have ever done so, and—" here he paused and swept his arm towards the little stream in mock ceremony, "Behold! You are now gazing upon a new river; are about to cross it in fact. Permit me to christen it in honor of a good sport even if he is lacking in a sense of romance. My friend, gaze upon Belmont River."
The engineer burst into hearty laughter. "Thanks awfully!" he cried, catching the other's bantering spirit. "I'm tremendously honored. Not much of a river, perhaps, but I can imagine that eventually it becomes a raging torrent and well worthy of the distinguished name you have bestowed upon it. Sir, I thank you!"
With a flourish, Belmont bowed low to the explorer. The next instant he and Thornton were fairly roaring with merriment, as they saw the rapt, puzzled expressions on the faces of the Indians, who, apparently, thought the two white men were going through some mystical religious ceremony.
Soon after crossing the stream, the guide broke into a dog trot, declaring that the Aurimeona village was just ahead. Elated, the others hurried after him, and within the hour, the cluster of huts was reached. Instantly, at sight of the strangers, the women and children scurried out of sight, and even the men drew back as if half-afraid and wholly suspicious of the new comers. But the next moment, the two who had traded their ornaments to Thornton, recognized him, and stepping forward, greeted the explorer. At a few words from these two the others gained confidence and welcomed the travelers, though still gazing at the white men as though they were amazing beings from another world. Suddenly Thornton grasped his companion's arm. "Look there!" he exclaimed. "Now will you believe?"
"Jove! He's a regular walking gold mine!" cried Belmont, as he stared at the Indian whom the explorer had pointed out, and who was fairly loaded down with golden arm and leg bands, necklets of nuggets, and a gold fillet about his thick black hair.
"And every mother's son of them is wearing gold moons!" continued Thornton. "It makes me feel as if—"
His sentence was interrupted by the appearance of a strange figure pushing through the little circle of Indians. He was old and wrinkled, with an enormous head and fat paunch, and his face and body were decorated with a maze of geometrical designs in red, black, yellow and white. On his head he wore a magnificent halo-like leather crown, and to the fringe and strings dangling from it, were attached a score of the gorgeous orange skins of the Cock-of-the-Rock. About his neck and shoulders were string after string of jaguar and peccary teeth, rattling seeds and iridescent beetle wings. About his neck was a collar of parrot feathers, and through the septum of his nose was a bone spindle with the ends decorated with long, bright colored feathers and tufts of scarlet toucan down, while from his lower lip dangled a six inch tassel of red and yellow plumes. In one hand he carried a stout carved staff ornamented with gay leathers, tufts of fur and festoons of seeds, and in the other hand he held a huge calabash rattle.
Even Belmont recognized him as the medicine-man or Peaiman, and both Americans gazed at him fascinated, for a full dozen of the gold crescents were suspended from his nose, lips and ears, while about his wrists and ankles were strings of immense nuggets.
"Talk about El Dorado!" cried Belmont. "That old boy comes as near it as I ever expect to see."
"He's the fellow our guide told about," declared Thornton. "And as crafty as they're made, or I'm no judge of Indians."
With weird glances and contortions, the Peaiman approached the white men, banging his staff on the ground, shaking his rattle, and jabbering away in his own lingo. Turning to Joseph, Thornton directed him to tell the old fellow that they were friends, that they had brought presents for the Peaiman and his people, and that they wished to explore the forest. This of course, the Arekuna was obliged to translate to one of the Pianoghottos, and before he could do so the old medicine-man burst into cackling laughter. Then, to the utter amazement of Thornton and Belmont, he began speaking in talky-talky. "Me tellum plenty good feller," he exclaimed. "Me like-um. Me tellum what him wantum can do. Me tellum Peaiman all same good friend."
As he spoke he extended a claw-like hand, and speechless with surprise to find that this man, whom they had supposed had never seen a white man, understood and used the garbled English dialect, Thornton and Belmont gravely shook hands with him.
At last the explorer recovered sufficiently from his surprise to find his voice. "We good friend, all same Aurimeona," he assured the medicine-man. "Peaiman plenty good feller, Bimeby me say what me wantum. How come Peaiman sabby talky-talky?"
Instantly the Indian's expression changed, and a cunning leer swept over his features. "Peaiman sabby all things," he replied. "S'pose wantum rain, me tellum, he come. S'pose wantum fire, me catchum."
"He's a wily old rascal, all right," chuckled the engineer. "Knows how to chatter talky-talky by occult powers, and claims to be a rain maker. Some nerve!"
The medicine-man meanwhile was fumbling in a leather pouch at his belt, and presently he drew out a bit of rock and a lump of dull gray metal.
"Guess he's going to give a demonstration of his fire-making," said the explorer.
Placing a bit of tinder on the rock, the Peaiman struck the pebble with the metal. A shower of sparks flew off and the tinder glowed and smoked.
A sigh-like murmur of wonder and adoration rose from the assembled Indians at this proof of their Peaiman's supernatural powers, and the old fellow looked triumphantly at the white men as if to say, "Beat that if you can."
"I'll be damned!" ejaculated Belmont. "You were right about his knowing the use of flint and steel, Ned."
"I'll bet he never discovered it," declared the other. "That old fakir has lived among white men. But do you see what he's using for steel? It's a bit of a meteoritel" Then, as he took a box of matches from his pocket, Thornton remarked: "Now watch me give him a jolt" As he spoke, he struck a match and held it up for all to see.
He had expected a look of wonder, if not of abject terror, on the Indians' faces. Instead, they showed no signs of either interest nor surprise. To all outward appearances they might have used safety matches all their lives, and the old medicine-man cackled derisively.
"Aurimeona gottum plenty same kind!" he exclaimed, and from his pouch he produced a box of matches!
"Well, I'll be shot!" ejaculated Thornton. "They have been in contact with civilization."
"But still think flint and steel magical," added Belmont. "Gad, but they are a topsy-turvy lot."
"Wonder what they'll think of this," remarked the explorer, as he took a magnifying-glass from his pocket and held it up for the Indians to see. Then, stooping, he focused it on a wisp of dry grass. Intently the Peaiman and his fellows watched, and as the dry material smoked and burst into flame, a half-frightened veil of surprise and wonder rose from their throats.
"I rather guess that fire eclipses the one of his magic stone," laughed the explorer, as he pocketed the lens. "I'll wager that the old fellow would tell all he knows in exchange for that glass."
It was obvious that the medicine-man was envious. It would never do to have visitors who could perform magic he could not equal, and he fairly fawned upon the white men, muttering flattering and complimentary things, jabbering in a mixture of Aurimeona and talky-talky, but never for an instant taking his beady eyes from the pocket that held the magic glass. At last, leading the two men to a new hut, he informed them it was theirs. Food and paiwarrie passed around, and as the Indians gathered about, Thornton distributed presents.
At once it became evident that even if the Peaiman had been in contact with civilization, his people had not. The Indians were absolutely at a loss as to the use or purpose of many of Thornton's gifts, and the cloth, beads, pins and knives brought forth squeals of amazement and delight.
"If they have never met white men, how the deuce does it happen that they have iron and other things?" asked Belmont. "Their arrows have iron tips, the men have knives and machetes, and there's a cracked porcelain plate over in the corner of the hut."
"Probably traded such things through other tribes," replied Thornton, "or maybe the Peaiman brought them in. On one trip I found a village where the people still used stone implements and yet had breach-loading shotguns."
The distribution of the presents having been completed, the explorer began quizzing the medicine-man regarding the forest and the possibility of securing guides to go into it. The old fellow, however, insisted that to enter the jungle beyond a short distance was impossible. Through it, he declared, there ran a large river, and beyond the stream no man could go, as it was the home of devils and evil spirits. If the white men wished to go to the river's bank his men would guide them; but beyond that, no. Then he naively asked why they desired to enter the forest, and what they sought.
"Same old bunk about the devil-devils." exclaimed Belmont. "Tell him we're looking for his——"
"Hold on, let me handle this, Frank," interrupted the other. Then, turning again to the Peaiman, Thornton assured him that they merely wanted to explore the forest and map the river, and he asked the fellow about the size and flow of the stream. All of this was, to the impatient engineer, a waste of time and of no consequence.
The Indian, however, either could not or would not give the desired information. The river was swift, he said. It was not "too wide," and it might be crossed if it were not for the devils beyond. Also, he declared, it flowed through a "hole in the ground," according to tradition, although he did not know about this personally.
"He's still suspicious," declared Belmont, "and he knows a lot more about that district than he admits. I’ll bet his placer is beyond that river. Why don't you ask him flat? What's the use of beating about the bush?"
"Yes, I think he knows all right," agreed Thornton. "Now I'm going to spring a surprise on him."
Turning to the medicine-man he abruptly demanded to know how, if the woods were full of devils, the Peaiman could go there safely.
A guilty look of surprise swept across the fellow's wrinkled features, he fidgeted, and at last evaded a direct answer by asking why the white man thought he had ever been there. Thornton leaned forward and touched the nuggets about the Peaiman's ankles, pointed to the pouch containing the stone and meteorite, and gazed fixedly into the Indian's eyes. "Me tellum Peaiman catchum caracuri that place," he declared. "Me sabby Peaiman gettum fire rockstone topside river."
The medicine-man drew back, glanced furtively about, and then, as if realizing that he could not hoodwink the white men, he vowed that he was friendly with the devils, that he possessed charms which rendered them powerless to harm him, and then, to cap the climax, he offered to guide the two to the spot where he secured the gold in exchange for the magic moon that made fire.
"Bully for old Billikins!" cried the engineer. "He's no fool. That lens is a better bet for him than all the gold and iron."
"I think I begin to see daylight," mused Thornton. "He keeps up that devil business to prevent his people from following him into the bush; plays on their superstitions for his own ends. And now that the magic of the flint and steel performance is beginning to be an old story, he's anxious to make any sort of a deal in order to get some new magic. I expect the river he talks about is the Belmont River."
"Hang the river!" laughed the other. "Let's get after the gold. Ask the old rascal if we can start tomorrow."
But the Peaiman shook his head at this suggestion. He would hear nothing of such a plan, and insisted that there must be time for preparations; that the Indians must have a feast and must celebrate the visit of the white men and the riches they had acquired, and that, to start off without first propitiating; the evil spirits, would result in disaster.
It was hopeless to argue or to coax. The medicine man was obdurate, and despite Belmont's impatience, Thornton convinced him that the only course to follow was to fall in with the Peaiman's plans.
"He may back out altogether if we don't," he declared. "Although he plays on the Indians' superstitions for his own benefit, he's as superstitious as any of them himself, and we've got to humor him."
At nightfall the celebration began. The Indians, dressed in all their ceremonial finery of feather crowns, mantles of plumes, rattles and dance-sticks, and with bodies and faces hideously painted, pranced and cavorted to the fitful glare of the bonfires and the throbbing booming of drums. Savage as they appeared, yet the Aurimeonas were good natured, happy and full of fun, and presently they insisted that the white men must join in the revels.
Thornton, long familiar with Indian ways, at once assented, donned a feather headdress, seized a dance-stick, and was soon shouting and prancing with the best of them. But Belmont held off. He felt self-conscious. thought the whole affair tom-foolery, and vowed he'd be hanged if he'd make an ass of himself.
"Forget it!" shouted the explorer, as he paused in the dance. "It'll please the Indians. We want to make ourselves as solid as possible with them. Just forget you're a staid and dignified New Yorker and turn savage for a while. It's not one half as ridiculous as the rot and nonsense you put on at your lodge initiations."
Reluctantly the engineer agreed. But he soon entered into the spirit of the fun, until presently everyone,— the half-breed boat captain, Joseph, the two white men and the Pianoghottos were prancing and yelling, while the old Peaiman never seemed to tire, but was the liveliest of his tribe.
It was strenuous work, however, and before long Belmont dropped out of the circle. Thornton followed, and slipping away unnoticed to their hut, they tumbled into their hammocks.
Suddenly Belmont commenced to laugh.
"What's the joke?" asked the explorer.
"I was just wondering," replied the engineer, "what my office force would think if they should see me cavorting about with those savages."
"The answer's easy," chuckled Thornton. "They'd think you were crazy."
"Confound the rascals!" exclaimed Thornton, as he stepped from the hut the following morning. "I was afraid this would happen."
Belmont sprang from his hammock and hurried outside. "What's up now?" he cried. "Anything wrong?"
The explorer pointed to a group of women about a huge wooden trough. All were busily masticating and expectorating into the receptacle.
"Making that filthy paiwarrie, eh," muttered the engineer. "But what of it? If they like it, why should we object? Come on, let's rout up Billikins and start off."
"If we get him started in a week from now, we'll be lucky," declared the other. "They're getting ready for a paiwarrie spree—a good big drunk, and such things often last a week or ten days."
"The devil, you say!" exclaimed Belmont. "Let's get busy and see if we can't argue some sense into their heads. Tell the Peaiman you'll go back on your bargain."
They found the medicine-man dozing in the doorway of his hut, and to all of Thornton's pleas he merely shook his head, insisting that it would be an affront to the spirits and an insult to his guests if the spree were abandoned. Arguments, threats, promises, were all useless. A paiwarrie feast was a part of the programme, and nothing could change the Indians' plans.
At last Thornton gave up in despair. "It's no use," he announced. "We've got to make the best of it. After all, a few days make little difference. If a fight doesn't start between the Aurimeonas and our Pianoghottos it won't be so bad. I think I'll send our guides and carriers back and run no risk of trouble."
The Pianoghottos refused flatly to leave, however. They had no intention of missing the spree, and finding there was nothing he could do in the matter, the explorer seated himself in the shadow of the hut, lit his pipe and morosely watched the preparations of the Indians.
The trough of chewed cassava had now been filled with water and left to ferment until it acquired the desired kick, and the Indians loafed about, lazing and sleeping, and abandoning all occupations as they waited for the day to pass and the spree to begin. Naturally, the two white men were virtual prisoners until the orgy was over, for without guides or carriers they could go nowhere. But there was nothing to prevent them from wandering wherever they desired, and Thornton suggested that they should do a little exploring by themselves. This suited the engineer, and together they started off. Before they had gone a dozen yards, Joseph joined them, declaring that he would take no part in the spree, and explaining that his chief had forbidden the use of paiwarrie by any member of his village, owing to the fact that his people had been nearly exterminated by an orgy in the past.
"Prohibition chap, eh," laughed
"Kenaima," replied Thornton. "If an Indian gets drunk and a fight starts and a man is killed, Indian law demands that the murderer and every member of his family must be destroyed. Moreover, this vengeance must be carried out by the Kenaima, a man who, by certain rites, is believed to be possessed with the Kenaima or blood-avenger spirit. He may be either a tiger Kenaima or a 'camudi' (snake) Kenaima, but in either case he must track down and destroy his victim in certain prescribed ways; by striking with a club if a tiger-Kenaima or by strangulation if a camudi-Kenaima. Also, during the time he is on the man-hunt, he must not see or speak to a living being, for according to Indian belief, if he does so he must kill the unfortunate person he meets. When he at last succeeds in his purpose he must thrust a stick through the body of his victim and lick the blood from it in order to restore himself to the status of an ordinary human being. Otherwise, he believes he will forever be in possession of the Kenaima spirit and will run amuck, killing all he meets."
"Nice, cheerful sort of beggar," commented Belmont. "But I don't see yet how the evening of scores in that way would kill off a whole tribe. And what's to prevent the chasee turning the tables and killing the chaser?"
"Nothing to prevent that, except the superstitions of the Indians, their firm belief in the supernatural character of the Kenaima, and the fact that if one avenger is destroyed another immediately takes up, the chase," replied Thornton. "It's hopeless for an Indian murderer to evade death by a Kenaima. They've been known to trail a victim to Georgetown and kill him in the streets. The reason a village or tribe may be wiped out by a Kenaima is that the relatives of the Kenaima's victim naturally start their Kenaima after the other, and thus a feud is started which may last until every member of a community is destroyed. That's why I was anxious to be rid of our Pianoghottos. If they start fighting with the Aurimeonas when drunk, someone may be killed and a Kenaima started. Then the Lord alone knows where it will end."
"Not any chance of our getting into it, is there?" asked
"Hardly," the other assured him. "I've never heard of a white man being trailed or killed by a Kenaima, and even the Indians could scarcely consider us the relatives of the Pianoghottos or responsible for them. However, I don't really expect there'll be serious trouble. What I fear is that the Indians will be so exhausted and ill after their spree that we'll be delayed for days or even weeks."
As they were talking, the three men had crossed the strip of savanna and had reached the edge of the forest. The moment they entered it they realized how hopeless it would be to attempt a long trip without guides. It was far more dense than any jungle they had hitherto seen; there were no visible trails or paths, and it was next to impossible to proceed in any direction without cutting a way. Nothing could be accomplished here, and retracing their steps, they wandered over the savanna towards the stream which Thornton had facetiously named in honor of his comrade. Reaching this, they followed along its banks and discovered that where it entered the forest it afforded an easy means penetrating the jungle, for the water was low and a fairly wide strip of sand and stones was exposed between the water and the tangle on the banks.
"It would be possible to follow this stream far into the forest," declared the explorer. "It is in all probability the river the Peaiman mentioned and which forms the boundary to the 'devils'’ country. But it must flow in a very circuitous route to be five days' journey from the village back there."
"Why not follow it and find out?" suggested the engineer. "We could pack quite an outfit ourselves, and Joseph could carry a load also. Walters would go with us, too, and we might strike old Billikin's mine without his help."
Thornton shook his head. "We three couldn't carry enough to last us three days, to say nothing of five," he declared. "And as far as Walters is concerned, he'll be drunker than any Indian tonight. Those half-breeds are worse than the pure bloods."
They soon found, however, that even had they been able to carry enough supplies for the journey, traveling by the bed of the stream would not be easy nor feasible. A perpendicular wall of rock barred the way, and the creek, flowing against its base, swung abruptly to the south. On the opposite shore the rocks were broken and rough, however, and it would have been possible to have proceeded farther by crossing the stream higher up. But as it was growing late, and as there was nothing to be gained by going on, the three returned to the savanna and the village.
"I'm satisfied of one thing," remarked Belmont, who had carefully examined the bed of the stream and the rock formations. "The Peaiman does not get his gold out of that river. There's some 'color' there, but I'll stake my reputation as a mining engineer that it doesn't carry any good values or large nuggets."
"I agree with you there," said Thornton. "But I still believe the medicine-man does know the location of the fabulously rich placers which his ancestors described to Raleigh."
"For my part I'm getting disgusted with the whole business," declared the engineer. "I haven't the least faith in that El Dorado or Manoa yarn. Perhaps the Peaiman found a placer or pocket, but he's probably-cleaned up all the nuggets long ago. And for all we know the gold may have been in the tribe for centuries. I'm beginning to realize what a consummate ass I was to have started on such a wild-goose chase."
Thornton laughed. "You needn't kick yourself," he said. "You've got the golden eggs the wild goose laid, at any rate. There's enough in the Aurimeona village to pay for the expedition and a mighty good profit besides. If we don't get anything else we'll trade in all the gold the Indians own."
"A few thousand, perhaps," the other grudgingly agreed. "But no fortune."
By now the sounds of shouting and yelling were audible from the village.
"They've commenced already," announced the explorer. "We'd better make ourselves as inconspicuous as possible. And remember to keep your eyes on Walters and our Pianoghottos. If trouble starts we can grab them and tie them in our hut." Then, turning to Joseph, he cautioned the Arekuna, exacted a promise not to touch the liquor, and warned him not to get into any argument with the other Indians or to take offense at anything they might do or say.
As yet, however, none of the tribesmen had taken enough paiwarrie to cause them to lose control of their senses, while the Pianoghottos and the half-breed, Walters, were standing aloof in a group by themselves.
"I hope they continue to keep together and not mix with the rest," said Thornton. "Then we can watch them more easily and corral them if they do get into trouble. Hello! Where's that half-Aurimeona fellow?"
The man, however, was nowhere in sight, and Thornton ordered Joseph to hunt him and watch him during the spree, and to bring word if he showed any signs of getting quarrelsome.
As the sun set and darkness came on, fires blazed, and hourly the Indians became more boisterous. Soon many of them were unable to walk steadily, or even to keep their feet, and threw themselves in their hammocks or upon the ground where they continued to drink. Others, still steady on their legs, began shouting boastful accounts of their bravery and prowess, and to swagger about, taunting the others and hurling insults. Little heed was given them, however, although once or twice there were half-hearted scuffles between two Indians.
Thornton and Belmont noticed also, that none of the Aurimeonas carried weapons, and were duly thankful. Even the women and children were drinking freely, and soon the entire village was involved in a debasing, disgusting orgy.
The two white men kept in the shadows, trying to follow the movements of the boat-captain and the Pianoghottos, while Joseph slipped silently here and there, watching the half-blood Aurimeona with keen eyes. Several times the women called to the Arequna and pressed him to drink. Each time Joseph craftily accepted, and pretending to drink the liquor, cast it on the ground as soon as the women turned away.
"He's all right," declared Belmont. "On the water-wagon in earnest. And I don't think there'll be any trouble after all. They all seem to be quieting down."
"Getting too drunk even to talk," commented Thornton. "Most of them lying like pigs in their sties, and so many of the women are drunk that not much paiwarrie is being passed around."
"By Jove, I have a scheme!" ejaculated the engineer. "What's to stop us from dumping the rest of the booze from the trough? The rascals are too drunk to notice anything. We can sneak up and empty the stuff and they'll think they've used it themselves."
"Good idea," agreed Thornton. "But if you or I tried it we'd be caught instantly. Well let Joseph try it. He can go to the trough with a calabash as if to help himself, and when no one is looking—Good Lord! Hell's broken loose now!"
From a knot of Indians near one of the fires, there was a chorus of shouts and a piercing scream. Instantly the group was transformed into a struggling fighting mass, and a single glance told the Americans that the Pianoghottos were in trouble.
Instantly the two men dashed forward, but before they could reach the scene of the fight, Joseph rushed to them. "Me tellum plenty bad!" he panted, wild eyed and excited. "Pianoghotto feller killum Aurimeona man. Aurimeona make for killum all Pianoghotto!"
There was no time to ask details. The white men's worst fears were realized, and murder had been done. The all important matter now was to prevent further bloodshed, and to separate the combatants before all the Pianoghottos were slain.
Forcing their way through the struggling, drunken savages, Thornton and Belmont reached the centre of disturbance. Lying on the earth was the dead Aurimeona, his head split open by a machete, and above the body stood the three Pianoghottos, the boat-captain and the half-blood Aurimeona, the latter with blood pouring from a deep cut on his shoulder. It was indeed fortunate that the Aurimeonas had not been armed, and though bent on destroying the other tribesmen, they were so befuddled that they were stupid and slow to act.
On the other hand, the Pianoghottos appeared fairly sober, and were trying to back away, while Walters guarded their retreat with a blood-stained machete in his hand, and in drunken fury was keeping the Aurimeonas at bay.
Shouting to the captain not to strike, Thornton leaped forward followed by Belmont and Joseph. But the words were hardly uttered when the captain swung his weapon on the nearest Indian and stretched him lifeless, beside his fallen tribesman.
For a brief instant the Aurimeonas drew back, and taking advantage of this, the explorer wrenched the machete from Walter's grasp, seized him by the scruff of the neck, and shouting to the others to follow, kicked and cuffed the Pianoghottos into motion, and hurried with the captain from the village. Belmont, following his comrade's example, seized the nearest Pianoghotto, and driving the half-blood Aurimcona before him, ran with Thornton into the darkness beyond the firelight. Joseph, meanwhile, had vanished, but a moment later, he came racing up carrying the engineer's gun and cartridge belt. He had realized the danger they were in without arms, and had risked his life to hurry back to the hut and secure the gun. Belmont fully appreciated the Arekuna's brave and thoughtful act, but there was no time to be lost in expressing gratitude, for even the engineer knew that all were in the deadliest peril.
The village was now in a turmoil. The Aurimeonas were mad for vengeance, and the only hope of safety lay in making the best possible speed across the savanna and trying to reach the distant Pianoghotto village before the Auromeonas had recovered their senses and their legs sufficiently to follow.
It was a desperate measure. The savanna stretched vast, black and limitless as a waveless sea before them. To enter it at night without provisions or supplies was almost suicidal, but still greater danger lay behind in the village. Suddenly, from the village, came a wailing cry, a weird, blood-curdling shout; "Kenaima! Kenaima!" At the awful word the Pianoghottos cringed and trembled, Joseph uttered a low moan and shivered, and even matter-of-fact
Onward through the night they hurried, and as they went the captain and the Pianoghottos wore off the effects of the liquor, and, bit by bit, related how the trouble had started. An Aurimeona had taunted the half-blood with being a renegade. Words had followed. The Pianoghottos had taken the part of their companion. An Aurimeona had struck and wounded him in the shoulder, and the injured man had wrenched the machete from his aggressor and had killed him. Then Walters had arrived; another Aurimeona had been sacrificed, and as a result the relentless Kenaima would follow on the Pianoghottos' trail until full vengeance was meted out.
"Looks like a fond farewell to old Billikins and our gold mine," remarked Belmont, as they stumbled on and the sounds from the village became faint and were lost.
"It will be farewell to us, too, if we don't have everlastingly good luck," said Thornton grimly.
"Then you honestly believe they'll send a Kenaima after us," said the engineer.
"Not a doubt of it," the other declared positively, "there are two deaths to be avenged and the laws of blood vengeance are sacred. I'll wager a Kenaima has already started on our trail."
Involuntarily Belmont glanced behind him and clutched his gun nervously. What Thornton had told him of the Kenaima came vividly to his mind; but the blackness was impenetrable. "Don't suppose he’ll bother us, do you?" he asked as if to reassure himself. "They know we had no part in the killings."
"I wish to heaven I could think he wouldn't," burst out the explorer. "But I can't. According to Kenaima law, not only the murderers but all their families must be wiped out. Both Walters and this wounded man will be direct objects of vengeance, and as the Pianoghottos were involved, and as we helped all to escape, I'm convinced that we're all in the same boat from the Aurimeonas' point of view."
"Damned cheerful thought," growled Belmont.
"If we can reach the Essequibo and our boat, I think we'll be safe," continued Thornton. "I don't imagine the Kenaima will follow any but the actual culprits very far. But until then, death lurks in every thicket, at every turn. And there's another reason for my belief that we'll be included in the vengeance. The old Peaiman would hesitate at nothing to secure my burning glass. Not that he'd steal it, for these Indians are honest. But he knows he's lost his chances of getting it by showing us the gold, and if he can find an excuse for putting us out of the way by means of a Kenaima, he'll do it to get the magic moon, as he calls it. I shouldn't be the least surprised if the old fellow turns Kenaima himself."
"Well, he or any other damned Indian that tries any Kenaima business on me is going to get a charge of buckshot," declared the engineer. "They'll find that tackling a white man isn't like knocking a frightened Indian over the head."
"I hope it won't come to that," said Thornton. "It would only mean that we would be subjects for another avenger. But of course, if you see a Kenaima, you'll have to shoot to save these fellows' lives, or our own."
Several times, as they tramped hurriedly on in the darkness, the guide lost his way, and they wandered about aimlessly, seeking the trail. But with daylight there was less trouble, and at last they reached the little stream.
Their eyes were heavy for want of sleep. They were footsore and weary; the wounded Indian was so weak from loss of blood that he had to be half-carried by his comrades, and it was obvious that a halt must be made for a brief rest.
Carefully concealing their tracks, they turned at right angles, and pressing through the coarse grass and weeds, reached a little patch of trees in a hollow. They had no food, and although there were plenty of birds about, Belmont did not dare to shoot for fear of betraying their hiding place to possible pursuers. Joseph, however, managed to snare a trumpet-bird, and despite the danger, they made a small fire and cooked the creature. Sleep was out of the question, for all were far too nervous, too alive to their peril, to close their eyes. Weak as the wounded man was, he declared he would rather die on the way than starve in the thicket, and so, once more, they resumed their weary march.
A Pianoghotto led the way. Behind him was the wounded man supported by his fellow Indians. Behind these came Belmont, Thornton and Walters, while Joseph brought up the rear. All knew there was little fear of an attack as long as they were on the alert and moving, for the Kenaima, as Thornton had explained to Belmont, must strike his victim down by prescribed methods. Throughout the long, scorching, hot day they kept on. Their heads reeled with the sun, with lack of sleep, with hunger and thirst, and even the tireless Indians stumbled and showed signs of exhaustion. As the sun sank, Thornton insisted that they must camp for the night, for game trails crossed and recrossed the path, and to attempt to proceed in the darkness would merely mean getting hopelessly lost. So once more they turned aside, hoping to find a sheltered spot where there was water, and to obtain a better view of their surroundings, they ascended a low hill.
Joseph was the first at the summit, and as he swept his eyes about the horizon he uttered a startled cry and pointed back towards the east. Stretching across the sea of waving grass was a wall of smoke, and beneath it great tongues of flame gleamed and leaped as they devoured the dry herbage. The savanna was on fire! The wind, blowing strongly from the east, was driving the raging flames directly towards the fugitives, and each moment the dense smoke and darting flames were rushing nearer and nearer.
For a brief moment the party upon the knoll stood spellbound, gazing at this new peril. Then Thornton found voice and shouted orders.
"Tear up the grass," he yelled. "Then set fire to that on the west. It's our only chance. We must make for the forest. The Aurimeonas are trying to burn us out."
Feverishly the men tore and cut the grass and weeds from the knoll, but before it was accomplished, darkness had descended, the roar of the oncoming fire was plainly audible, and the flames illuminated the savanna with a vivid glare, while choking smoke filled the lungs of the fugitives. Lighting the encircling fringe of vegetation, the explorer and his companions crowded back as far as possible from the heat of the fire. The wind had risen, the grass burned rapidly, and before the onrushing conflagration reached within half a mile of the knoll a broad stretch of charred and blackened earth safeguarded the men. It was an old plains trick, and it had served its purpose. There was no time to lose, and though the earth still glowed in spots, and here and there a bush or small tree blazed like a torch above the smoking ground, the party dashed from their refuge and hurried towards the forest. The Indian's bare feet suffered terribly from the heated ground, cinders and sparks fell thick about them, and all were choking and coughing with smoke. Long before they reached the cool protection of the forest the wounded Indian threw himself upon the earth, rested his head upon his knees and prepared to await his end. He could go-no farther, and preferred death to the agony he was enduring.
"We can't go on and leave him here," declared Thornton. "We must manage to find some spot where there's damp earth or water and green foliage, and camp there for the rest of the night."
Joseph at once volunteered to search for a desirable location, and soon returned with the news that he had found a thicket and a small pond a short distance away. Raising the wounded Indian, and half-carrying him along the party stumbled after Joseph, and reached the little copse where the vegetation was untouched by fire. The water in the pool was black with ashes and charred leaves and was thick with mud, but to the smoke-parched throats and burning faces of the fugitives, it was marvelously welcome. A rough bed of leaves was made for the injured man, and the others, famished and weak, seated themselves dejectedly in the shelter of the stunted trees. They had had nothing to eat, with the exception of the skinny trumpet-bird, for twenty-four hours, they had tramped many miles, and had worked feverishly and beyond their strength to save themselves from the flames, but no word of complaint was uttered. If they could only manage to reach the jungle they might yet be safe, for there game could be found, seeds and nuts might serve to keep them from starvation, and provided the Kenaima did not destroy them, they might yet win their way to the Pianoghotto village and safety.
Sleep, however, was imperative, and it was agreed that first one and then another should keep watch while the rest slept. As Joseph, although the youngest of the party, appeared to be the least exhausted, he was given the first watch. Belmont handed his loaded gun to the Arekuna, threw himself on the ground, and the next instant was sound asleep, for, like the others, he was utterly exhausted. He was dimly conscious of hearing Joseph arousing the boat captain when the Indian's watch was over and then, suddenly, he awoke to full consciousness and with an involuntary yell at the sound of a gunshot and a terrifying cry.
Leaping up, he found Thornton and Joseph also aroused, while the captain stood, trembling and wild-eyed, with the still smoking gun in hand.
"Wha-la!" he exclaimed before a question could be asked. "Kenaima come! Me see he kill de sick man. Like tiger he come. Me make to shoot he, but no can do, Wha-la! Kenaima debbil for true!"
The others turned. One glance was enough. The wounded Indian was dead, his skull crushed in by a terrific blow.
"The first victim!" cried Thornton. "But where the devil are the other men?"
Then, for the first time, all realized that the other Indians were missing. There was no sign of them, and the four men stared at one another with frightened, serious faces. Without the Pianoghottos for guides they were hopelessly lost.
"They've deserted!" cried the explorer "Their fear of the Kenaima and the forest was too much for them. But thank God the avenger chose the victim he did. The poor fellow only had his life shortened by a few hours, he could not have lived through another day."
"Damn those cowardly Indians!" burst out the engineer. '"Twill serve them right if the Kenaima gets them."
"He will," declared the other. "No fear he won't. But he'll attend to us first. I'm afraid, we're handier."
"It's one hell of a feeling, this standing here like a flock of sheep waiting to be knocked over the head by that devil any minute." said Belmont.
"There's no danger for the present," Thornton assured him. "Dawn is breaking, and the Kenaima never attacks during daylight. Joseph, light a fire."
Shaking with terror, his bronze skin actually pale with fear, the Arekuna obeyed, and the cheerful blaze did much to restore courage to the four survivors.
"We must get into the bush at once," announced Thornton, as the sun rose. "Even the Kenaima is less to be dreaded than starvation, and there'll be no game on the savanna after the fire. By following the forest's edge towards the west, we may eventually reach the Pianoghotto village. It's going to be a tough job, but it's our only hope."
"Thank the Lord, or rather Joseph, that we've got a gun and plenty of cartridges," said Belmont "We won't starve if there's game to be found."
"Even with plenty of food, we're in a devilish bad fix." Thornton reminded him. "The nearest village is fully seventy-five miles away, by the most direct route. We've no supplies, blankets, hammocks nor any thing but the clothes on our backs, the few articles in our pockets, your gun and ammunition. And there's a relentless, savage, fanatical murderer doing his level best to wipe us out. But we're not done yet. I've been through some pretty tight places before now, and came out all right. Now let's hustle for the forest."
By noon the trees, with their drapery of vines and dark shady depths, were reached, and the four, half-starved, utterly exhausted men pushed their way through the dense vegetation and left the sun-baked, fire-blackened savanna behind.
For a short distance the jungle was impenetrable, and Joseph hacked and hewed a path. But once well within the forest, it was more open, and the party proceeded quietly, eyes and ears alert for any living thing that might serve as food. Birds were high in the trees, but invisible and out of gunshot, and it was not until the men had penetrated fully a mile into the woods that the barking cries of toucans were heard. Creeping forward, Belmont brought down two of the grotesque birds. Joseph rushed forward to secure the welcome game, and as he picked them up, he uttered a glad cry. "Saouri!" he exclaimed, as he exhibited an irregular, rough-shelled, enormous nut.
The Saouri or Paradise nuts, much like Brazil nuts but three times as large, were a most welcome and lucky find. As the toucans sizzled over the fire the ravenous men stayed their first pangs of hunger by devouring all the nuts they could find. They were all too few, however, and even Joseph found it impossible to climb the enormous tree and shake down more. The toucans, too, were woefully small and skinny, the two tough, stringy creatures being scarcely more than mouthfuls for the four men. But even this slender meal of nuts and toucan put new life and strength into the party, and they hurried on, trusting to finding more abundant food ahead.
Following the easiest route between the trees, peering into every thicket and tangle, and craning necks to search the trees for sloths, monkeys, parrots or any other game, they gave little heed to their surroundings. At last they came to a low, damp spot bare of undergrowth, and an agouti scuttled across the opening. At the report of the engineer's gun, the creature tumbled head over heels, and a good dinner was assured. Sunset was near, the forest was becoming dusky and dim, and as the swampy spot was no place in which to camp, they turned and made their way towards higher ground. Presently they reached a low ridge with an immense mora tree upon the summit. The base of the tree spread out in enormous slab-like buttresses extending nearly twenty feet on every side of the trunk, and between these walls of living wood a fire was built and the men prepared to spend the night. In many ways it was an ideal spot for their purpose. The tree itself provided protection on three sides, and an enemy would be forced to approach by the narrow opening between the buttresses. To be sure, there was cover which could conceal the Kenaima or anyone else, until within a few feet of the camp, but it was all small growth, and while the agouti was roasting, everyone worked, clearing a large open space about the tree. Palm leaves were spread upon the earth for beds, and the dense foliage of the mora tree provided a roof which would keep out any ordinary rain. With appetites fully satisfied for the first time in three days, the men felt quite secure, and congratulated themselves upon the way fortune had favored them since entering the forest, All realized that they must be constantly on guard, for the gunshots had most certainly betrayed their where-abouts, and arrangements were made to keep fires blazing brightly throughout the night in order to illuminate a wide area about the tree.
Thornton took the first watch, but the night passed without incident or alarm, and after breakfasting on the remains of the agouti, the party again set out. It was still very early; cries of parrots and the notes of birds filled the forest, and within ten minutes after leaving their camp, Belmont shot a pair of big green Amazons and a pheasant-like Marudi which rose with a whir from underfoot. Joseph declared it had a nest near by, and a search soon revealed its four large, blue-green eggs. Still hungry, the men stopped by a stream and ate a meal of roasted parrot and eggs, saving the pheasant for their noonday lunch. With far lighter hearts than at anytime since they had fled from the Aurimeona village, they trudged on for hour after hour. But no bright light among the trees marked the edge of the forest bordering the savanna, and at last Thornton halted. He glanced about, examined the trees and, turning to Joseph, asked him if he was sure they were headed in the right direction. Reluctantly the Arekuna admitted that he was not, and a question to the boat-captain brought the same reply.
"The devil!" exclaimed the explorer impatiently. "We're in a nice fix. We've been so intent on game that we've missed our way and are as good as lost. I should have known better and should have kept my bearings."
"It's a blamed sight better getting lost here than on the savanna," declared Belmont. "We won't starve to death here at any rate. But how in thunder can we be lost, all we've got to do is to go west? We're bound to strike the savanna in that direction."
"Surely," replied Thornton, sarcasm in his tones, "But which way is west?"
Belmont glanced about. "I'll be hanged if I know," he confessed. "Not a glimmer of sunshine; no shadows. How about moss on the trees?"
"That old scheme doesn't work in the tropics," Thornton informed him. "No, we'll have to trust to the Indian's instinct until the sun sets, we can perhaps tell by the light falling on the upper parts of the tree trunks. Meanwhile, we might as well be going one way as another, as long as we move in a straight line."
Presently Joseph announced that he thought he knew which direction was west, and following his lead, with Walters blazing the trees as they proceeded, the party went on. An hour later, the explorer again stopped them.
"We're going deeper into the bush every minute," he declared. "The sun has passed the meridian, and you can see by the light in the little opening there that we're traveling southeast. We must face about at once."
Weary and discouraged, the four retraced their way, guided by the blazed tree trunks, until the increasing dusk warned them it was time to camp. A few rods from the knoll on which they stood, there was a small brook. Several more trees were near, and feeling they might not find a better spot, preparations were at once made for passing another night. Belmont and Joseph wandered off in search of game, and near the stream secured a paca. Nothing alarming happened during the night, but rain fell towards morning and added to their discomforts, forcing them to huddle, sleepless, over the fire.
At last the faint light of dawn appeared, and as the remnants of the evening meal were being warmed over the fire, the captain rose, remarked that he was going to the stream for a drink, and stepped from sight beyond the edge of the ridge. It was but a short distance to the brook, it was almost daylight, and no one dreamed that Walters ran the least risk of danger.
Ten minutes passed. No sounds but the twittering of birds, the patter of rain drops and the subdued voices of the men broke the silence of the forest. Suddenly— soul-piercing, blood-curdling, a scream of mortal terror ripped through the still air. The three men leaped to their feet, shaking with nameless dread, speechless, frozen to the spot at the awful sound. Again and yet again the agonized shrieks rang out; each fainter than the last, to end in a long-drawn, quavering wail—the wild, hair-raising cry of the jaguar. Then silence.
Barely five seconds had passed since the first terrible scream, but to the three men it had seemed minutes. Thornton was the first to recover his senses and to act. "Jaguar!" he cried, as he raced in the direction the captain had taken. "He's attacked Walters. Come on!"
Close at his heels came Belmont with ready gun, and at the engineer's side was Joseph with drawn machete. At the edge of the brook they stopped, amazed. There was no sign of the captain, no trace of a struggle. Utterly at a loss, they stood, searching for some mark, listening for some sound that would betray the presence of the giant cat or the injured or dead man. Then, from a distance, the jaguar screamed again, and turning, they hurried in the direction of the sound.
Suddenly Joseph uttered a frightened yell and stood shaking and trembling, pointing at the soft earth. "Kenaima!" he whispered. "Tiger Kenaima!"
Clearly visible in the damp soil were the imprints of human feet.
"Nonsense!" cried Thornton, as he carefully examined the tracks. "Those may be yours or the captain's. We've been wandering about here before."
But the Arekuna could not be convinced. "Me tellum, him Kenaima," he insisted. "Tiger no killum Walters. Tiger Kenaima catchum, me sabby."
Once more Belmont felt that tingling of his scalp, that odd sensation along his spine which had swept over him when, on the savanna, they had found the injured Indian killed by the avenger, by his mysterious, invisible uncanny enemy.
"Perhaps you're right, Joseph," said the explorer, breaking the oppressive silence. "I never heard of a jaguar attacking a man unless wounded. We’ll follow these footprints and see where they lead."
Carefully parting the foliage, and keeping the tracks in view, the three crept forward, Thornton leading, Belmont with cocked gun ready for instant use, and the Arekuna, evidently expecting swift and sudden death at every turn, striving to keep as close to the protecting gun as possible.
For some distance they followed the trail to where it disappeared in a thicket so dense that it seemed impossible a human being could have forced a way through.
"Strange," muttered Thornton. "Walters had no reason to go here, and if there's an enemy lurking in there it's too dangerous to enter. We'll go around and see if the footprints come out on the other side."
The tangle, however, was larger than they had thought, and when they had skirted its edge for some distance, they came again to the brook. For a moment they hesitated, glancing about. Then Thornton uttered an ejaculation of surprise and hurried towards a brownish object half-hidden among some broad-leaved plants.
"My God!" cried Belmont, as he realized what it was, and at the sight a sickly feeling of unspeakable dread possessed him. Huddled among the plants, with an expression of awful, indescribable horror on the distorted features, lay the dead body of the captain, his head crushed to a pulp by the Kenaima's club.
One swift glance was enough for Joseph. With a piercing scream, he leaped back and ran madly, blindly, from the accursed spot.
Thornton and Belmont shouted after him, commanding. threatening, but he gave no heed. Plunging into the stream, he splashed across, and without a backward glance, dashed into the forest on the farther bank.
"Come on, we musn't lose him!" yelled the explorer, and followed by the engineer, he rushed after the terror-stricken fleeing Indian.
Calling the Arekuna as they ran, they crossed the brook, and guided by the sounds of the fleeing Indian, sped through the jungle in pursuit.
Fortunately for all, it was impossible for even an Indian to make great speed through the forest, and the noise of Joseph's flight told of the struggles he was having with the dense growth. By the sounds also, the two men knew they were gaining on the Indian, but they were panting, spent, torn and scratched by thorns, when at last Joseph ceased his mad flight and they reached his side. His physical exhaustion had, however, driven away his insane terror, and he appeared thoroughly ashamed of himself for deserting his companions.
All three fully realized the terrible plight they were now in. In their mad chase they had completely lost all sense of direction. The rain still pattered down, and not a glimmer of light could be seen among the tree tops. Their only food had been abandoned, roasting over the fire, when they had dashed off at the sound of the captain's screams. They did not even know where the poor fellow's body lay, and, somewhere in the dim forest, lurking in the thickets or the impenetrable shadows, was the Kenaima with his blood-stained club, awaiting his chance to strike down another victim of his vengeance.
Food was the least of their worries. They still had the gun and ammunition, and the forest abounded with game. Even the presence of the Kenaima did not fill the white men with the abject, superstitious panic of the Indian. The one greatest peril, to their minds, lay in being lost.
"Our best chance is to find that stream,—the Belmont River as we called it," declared Thornton, when they had regained their breaths and could think calmly. As he spoke, a flicker of a smile crossed his troubled countenance as he remembered the light-hearted, boyish tomfoolery with which they had christened the stream such a short time previously. "If we can reach that," he continued, "we can follow it back to the savanna. But personally, I haven't the remotest idea where the river is."
"If we strike out in any direction, and continue to go in a straight line, we must eventually come to some river," said Belmont. "Then, by following it, we'll certainly come out somewhere. All these streams lead to rivers, and all rivers flow to the sea.
"True," agreed the explorer. "But, Frank, you don't realize what this means. Even by following a good sized stream or river it might take weeks to reach the nearest village or settlement. Our clothing would be in shreds, our shoes worn through and your last cartridge used, long before we reached a human habitation. There's only one faint hope for us. If we don't strike the stream we want, we may find one that will float a raft or a woodskin, and we might reach settlements in that way. We'd run terrific chances of destruction in falls and rapids, but we'll have to take the chance. But first of all we must eat. Our lives depend upon our health and strength."
An hour's hunt resulted in a curassow or "powi," and having dined on this, they marched in single file through the forest, marking their trail as they went, striving to keep a straight course, and buoying themselves up with the hopes of finding a stream which would lead them to the savanna, or would carry them to civilization and safety.
As is always the case in the tropical bush, little game was about during the day, but towards sundown Belmont shot a monkey. A few moments later, Joseph gave a glad shout. To their ears came the welcome sound of running water, a brighter light showed between the trees ahead, and hurrying forward, they came to the bank of a good-sized stream flowing swiftly over its pebbly bed. It was not deep, and as there was a fairly open space on the opposite bank, Thornton suggested crossing over in order to camp in the open.
"I've been thinking over matters while we walked," he announced, as they splashed through the rivulet. "I've come to the conclusion that we needn't fear the Kenaima. That jaguar cry signifies triumph. The avenger is never supposed to utter a sound until his mission is completed. I'm sure he has returned to his people, fully satisfied that the blood debt of his tribesmen has been wiped out. Moreover, I feel certain that this stream is the river the Peaiman referred to. In the first place, it's hardly probable that there are two large streams in the forest within the area we've covered; and if it is the stream, no one but the Peaiman himself would dare cross it for fear of evil beings and devils."
"Maybe you're right, Ned," agreed Belmont. "And I hope you are, especially in respect to the identity of this stream. I feel a lot easier over here in the 'devils' country than back in the bush with that damnable Kenaima."
As Joseph built a fire and roasted the monkey, the two men discussed the possibilities of descending the stream.
"If it's the one you think it is, then it's probably the one you named for me," argued Belmont. "So why not turn about and follow it back to the savanna?"
"Several reasons," replied the other. "If it's that stream, and I only assumed that it might be when I spoke of it before, it must travel a long distance through the forest to increase to such proportions. Neither our clothes, our strength, nor your ammunition would last until we could get back to the savanna and the Pianoghottos by that route. No, our best chance is to drift down the current. Our clothes will be saved, we will conserve our strength, there is doubtless plenty of fish further down, and unless we are wrecked in some unexpected rapid or cataract we'll reach some settlement eventually."
"We'll have to foot it for a long way yet," declared Belmont, glancing at the stream. "This creek wouldn't float a skiff, let alone a raft."
"It will float a woodskin, however," replied the explorer, "and that's better than a raft, especially in case we come to bad rapids or falls. Joseph can make a woodskin in a day, and meanwhile we can rest. There's plenty of game hereabouts, and there may be fish. Altogether I think we're in luck."
"Yes, I suppose we are," agreed the engineer. "But it's the devil of a windup for our expedition,—and not even a nugget to show for it all."
Nothing disturbed them that night, and at daybreak Joseph started to work on the woodskin which all hoped would carry them to safety.
A large purple-heart tree was found, and the Indian cut a perpendicular slit through the thick smooth bark with horizontal cuts around the trunk, eighteen feet apart. Wedges were then driven under the edges of the cut, and in an hour's time, he had forced off a great cylinder of bark eighteen feet long and nearly four feet in diameter. In the meantime, Belmont had shot a curassow, and Thornton had caught a mess of crawfish in the river. There was no danger of starving, and while the roll of bark was soaking in the shallow water, Joseph busied himself making a bow and arrows. The weapons, to be sure, were somewhat crude, and lacked the beautiful finish and symmetry of the Guiana Indians' weapons. But the Arekuna found everything he required provided by a bountiful nature and accustomed as he was to working with few and simple tools, he turned out very efficient weapons. The leaves of a palm supplied fibre for string. Arrow-canes by the riverside furnished shafts. The arrow heads were made from hard wood and bones, and a dead, seasoned limb of a letter-wood tree was hewn, whittled and shaped into a six-foot bow. Belmont, however, was rather skeptical as to Joseph's ability to secure game with the primitive weapons. But the Indian merely grinned, and, as soon as his bow and arrows were completed, he rose and went towards the river. Wading cautiously, he approached a deep pool among the rocks. Then, fitting an arrow to the string, he drew the bow quickly, the long shaft flashed into the water, and leaping forward, the Indian retrieved his missile with a ten-pound fish struggling on the barbed point.
Belmont was convinced. There was no longer any fear of running short of food, even if his ammunition gave out, and at Thornton's suggestion, it was decided to let the Arekuna do the hunting and thus conserve the cartridges for possible emergencies.
In the afternoon, the roll of bark was taken from the water, Joseph bent the ends together, secured them with tough vines, forced hard wood spreaders between the sides, and the light buoyant canoe was complete.
"Some boat builder," commented Belmont approvingly, "But it's a devilish cranky-looking craft. And how about those open ends? If we hit rough water it will fill."
Thornton laughed. "If water comes in one end it can ran out the other," he said. "But all joking aside, there's no danger. You'll find a woodskin is steadier than a birch bark canoe, and the open ends are well above the water line."
Joseph now was busy getting paddles, and again the engineer's admiration was aroused at the Arckuna's knowledge of natural resources. To have hewn paddles from tough wood with only a machete, would have been a long, hard job. The Indian, however, had no intention of attempting such labor. He picked out a small tree with deeply fluted trunk, the ridges on which were as thin and flat as boards. Splitting these off, he had only to chop them into shape and the paddles were ready.
The explorer chuckled at Belmont's freely expressed surprise. "The Indians always use that species of tree for paddles," he explained. "It's native name is 'yaruri' or 'massara,’ both of which mean the same thing— paddle-wood."
"If I stay in this bush much longer, I'll be looking for trees bearing guns, and with pods full of powder and shot," laughed the engineer. "And it's too bad there isn't a salt plant or a cigar bush, somewhere about. I'm dying for a smoke, and salt would be a blessing on this meat."
Thornton grinned. "I'm afraid you'll have to forego salt, Frank," he said, "but you needn't go without your smoke. Joseph, 'spose can catchum pipa?"
The Arekuna nodded. "Sure, me sabby catchum," he replied, and stepped into the bush.
"Jove, you don't mean to tell me there's tobacco here!" exclaimed Belmont.
Thornton, however, merely smiled, and presently the Indian returned. Without a word, he handed each of the men a bulky, cheroot-like affair of delicate paper-like bark filled with some finely shredded material.
"Light up, it won't bite," laughed the explorer, as Belmont sniffed suspiciously at the thing.
"I'll try anything once," he declared, and lighting the cheroot, he took a tentative whiff.
"Well, I'll be damned!" he ejaculated, inhaling a cloud of the fragrant smoke. "Next best thing to a real
"Well fed, refreshed, and feeling strangely secure and at ease, the three rested throughout the day. They slept undisturbed, and arose at dawn prepared to set out on their trip down the unknown river. Joseph, who had lost all fear of the Kenaima, slipped into the jungle, and soon returned with several birds and a large land tortoise, and thus provided with food for the next two meals, the men launched their woodskin and embarked. With Thornton in the bow, Belmont amidships, and Joseph in the stern, the craft was pushed from shore, and with a stroke of his paddle, the Indian drove the canoe into midstream. Light as a leaf, it floated; the current seized it; and the next instant the three men were being borne swiftly down the river.
For mile after mile they sped on without effort. The stream increased in size rapidly, numerous creeks flowed into it, and always, above the banks, towered the forest. North, south, east and west the river wound, and at each sharp bend, the woodskin's speed was checked and it was paddled slowly close to the shore, while its occupants listened intently, for they never knew when a rapid or cataract might be expected. No falls or bad rapids were met that day, however, and by mid-afternoon, a range of distant blue mountains loomed above the forest. As these presaged cataracts and rapids, it was decided to make camp and not attempt to go farther. They landed on a sandy strip of beach, the canoe was drawn well up from the water, and while the two white men gathered palm leaves for a shelter and wood for a fire, Joseph strolled down the stream with his bow and arrow, searching for fish. All were elated at the distance they had safely covered. No longer was there any fear of the Kenaima, for he and the Aurimeonas were many miles astern, the three felt sure. Although still hemmed in by forest, yet, if no accident occurred, their craft could carry them safely to the settlements, and there was no fear of going hungry. Barring some unforeseen and unexpected mishap, they were practically at the end of their troubles. Engrossed in these thoughts, the two men were busily erecting their rude shelter when Joseph dashed into view, tearing madly up the beach as if the Kenaima were at his heels. Instantly they knew something serious and alarming had occurred, for the Indian's eyes were wide with terror, his face was ashen and he shook as if with a chill.
"What's wrong ?" cried
For answer Joseph flung himself on the explorer and clung to him wildly.
"Didoes!" he chattered. "Devils! Me seeum! Two, t’ree devils! Wai-Wai!"
Thornton vainly endeavored to obtain some intelligible statement from the terrified Indian. But to all his queries, Joseph merely reiterated: "Devils! Me seeum devils!"
"What in blazes has he seen, do you suppose?" exclaimed Belmont.
"I don't know, but something that's frightened him half out of his wits," replied the explorer. "We’ll have to investigate. Come on, Joseph, where's your devil?"
The Arekuna only clung the tighter to
"Shut up," ordered Thornton, losing patience and quite forgetting to speak in talky-talky. "I don't know what you saw, but you're a blithering idiot. There's no devil. Either come along or stay here. We're going to find what scared you."
With difficulty, he loosened the frenzied grasp of the Indian, and with Belmont, started down stream in the direction whence Joseph had come. The Indian, however, was more fearful of being left alone than of facing whatever he had seen, and cringing and trembling, he kept close to the white men.
A short distance down the beach they came to a tiny cove and Thornton abruptly halted with a surprised ejaculation, gazing fixedly at the damp sand.
And as the other saw what had attracted his attention, he too, drew a sharp quick breath, while the Indian cowered with abject terror between the two. Plainly impressed upon the sand were immense human footprints. The two Americans exchanged quick glances, and each read in the other's eyes his unspoken thoughts. What manner of men had left those footprints on the sand? Were they hostile savages or was the dread Kenaima still lurking close at hand? Neither, however, saw anything incomprehensible or supernatural about the telltale impressions which would account for Joseph's terror. Whoever might be near, they were determined to learn his identity, and they crept cautiously forward, following the tracks that led towards a brushy point a hundred yards distant.
As they reached the thicket, which extended almost to the river's edge, a whiff of smoke was borne to their nostrils, and from beyond the barrier of brush, came sounds of low guttural voices. With the utmost caution, they crawled to the edge of the growth and peered through the leaves and branches.
Beyond the strip of brush was a little lagoon or backwater, landlocked by a sandbar overgrown with canes, and from its farther side a small grassy area extended to the edge of the forest. But neither of the men gave any heed to the surroundings of the spot. Their gaze was rivetted in fascinated horror upon the scene before them. Squatting upon the grass about a fire, were three gigantic, naked beings. Their skins were as black as ebony, their heads were covered with tangled manes of coarse red hair, and their thick lips and their ears were distended and made hideous by great disks of wood inserted in them. But even more terrifying than these monstrous, repulsive beings was the other sight that held the gaze of the three men. Spitted like a fowl upon a stout stake, and roasting over the fire, was the flayed and disemboweled body of a human being! Then their glance fell upon another object lying upon the grass, and instantly they realized whose corpse was being cooked to provide a cannibal feast. Leering hideously at the sky was the severed head of the Aurimeona medicine-man!
The next instant the spell was broken. Joseph had seen the ghastly head and spitted body, and emitting a horrified shriek, he leaped up and dashed madly from the scene.
His cry was echoed by a wild, demoniacal yell from the cannibals. The two white men, knowing they were discovered, raced after the fleeing Indian as they had never run before. Their only hope lay in reaching the canoe and taking to the river before their pursuers overtook them, and abject terror lent speed to their flying feet. Nearer and nearer came the horrible cries of the cannibals. The canoe was in sight, and Belmont caught a glimpse of Joseph trying to push the craft to the water's edge. The race might yet be won and then. . . a bit of driftwood buried in the sand caught
"Whew, that was a close shave!" gasped Belmont. "No wonder Joseph thought them devils."
"It would have been all up with us if it hadn't been for you," declared Thornton. "God grant they haven't boats farther downstream."
"Did you see who they'd killed?" asked the engineer.
The explorer nodded. "Yes," he replied. "Well never know how the Peaiman met such a fate. His charms must have failed to work for once. Poor rascal! He wasn't far from the truth when he said this place was full of devils."
"You don't catch me ever doubting an Indian's yarn again, no matter how nonsensical it sounds," announced Belmont. Then, with a new note of terror in his tones, he yelled: "My God! We're done for! Look, there are more of them!"
The woodskin had swung around a bend, and, just beyond, a dyke of rock extended across the river like a natural dam. Between the ledges the water foamed and boiled, but at one point, midway between the banks, was an open space where the stream poured smoothly, but with terrific speed, between the barriers. Upon the dyke, leaping from rock to rock, and yelling like fiends, was a score of the monstrous black cannibals. It was impossible to check the canoe already in the drag of the current and to run it ashore would mean instant capture and death. There was no alternative but to go on, and Belmont's blood ran cold at thought of passing within a few yards, perhaps a few feet, of the blood-thirsty savages. To fall into their hands would be worse than death in the rapids, which death to his mind, appeared inevitable.
Already, Joseph had headed the woodskin for the narrow opening between the rocks, and the next instant, the craft shot forward with dizzy speed. Had the Arekuna lost his head, had his hands trembled or his nerves failed him, disaster for all would have been certain. But Joseph was no coward. He had been terrified when he had first seen the cannibals, for he had thought them supernatural beings—the devils of Indian superstition. But once he had realized they were mortal, and had seen that they could be killed like any other men, he had no more fear of them than of any other enemy, a wounded jaguar or a venomous snake.
With the consummate skill of a born riverman, perfect master of his frail craft, and looking neither to right nor left at the howling cannibals, he guided the woodskin through the unknown rapids with mind and eyes centered on the rocks and whirlpools to the exclusion of all else. As the canoe swept by the first rocks, the nearest savage was within a dozen yards, and with a howl of rage he lifted his club and swung it as if about to hurl it at the passing boat. But the missile never left his hand. Risking a capsize by his action, Belmont fired at the fellow as the canoe swept past, and dropping club and spear the cannibal fell screaming into the churning water.
At the flash of the gun and the roar of the report, the others seemed panic stricken, and turning about, rushed madly for the shore. The next moment the canoe had passed the rapids and shot forth upon the tranquil waters below the dyke. But the perils of the three were not yet over. The cannibals had fled to the shore in terror at the report of Belmont's gun and at the death of their comrade, but they had now regained some of their brute courage and were racing downstream along the banks.
"They're after us again!" cried the engineer. "But we're gaining on them. Jove! Can't the beggars run, though?"
"I'm worried," declared Thornton. "They seem too darned cock-sure of getting us. There may be falls or rapids that we can't run or they may have boats somewhere ahead."
Hardly had he ceased speaking when a cry from Joseph drew the attention of the two men to the river ahead. They had been swept around an S-shaped bend, and directly ahead of them a precipitous wall of rock towered for over one hundred feet above the river. Straight towards the cliff the water flowed, to disappear in a black rift in the granite, a cleft that reached from base to summit of the precipice, a cañon with overhanging sides which almost met to form a natural tunnel.
"It's the Peaiman's 'hole in the ground'," cried Thornton.
"And what those black devils are counting on," exclaimed Belmont. "Look, they're gathering where the river narrows. We've got to land where they can't get us or else go into that damned hole!"
"Even if we take to the tunnel, they'll get us," shouted the explorer. "They're climbing up the rocks above the opening."
The occupants of the canoe had no choice, however. Even had they decided to run their craft ashore and take their chances with the cannibals, they would have been powerless to do so. The woodskin was seized as if by an invisible hand, it was rushed forward by the force of the irresistible current sweeping toward the yawning opening in the cliff, and the canoe sped, straight as an arrow, for the tunnel. In an instant, it seemed, the three men were close to the first of the cannibals. Each second they expected a shower of rocks and missiles to strike them down and destroy their frail canoe. And then a strange, amazing, inexplicable thing happened.
With one accord, the black savages dropped their crude weapons, their savage triumphant cries changed to a mournful, dismal wail, and prostrating themselves they grovelled on the ground, as though the occupants of the canoe were deities to whom they gave obeisance.
"Devilish impressive farewell!" yelled Thornton, raising his voice to make it audible above the roar of water and the dirge-like wail of the cannibals.
"It sounds like a funeral to me—our funeral. Hold tight, Frank. Trust to Providence and—good bye, old man, if we never get through here."
Belmont turned shouting at the top of his lungs. "Guess those devils knew it was all up with us, Ned. Good bye, old friend. I—"
His words were drowned in the deafening roar as the canoe shot into the black hole and semi-darkness, while from the rocky walls, the rushing waters echoed and reverberated with a noise like thunder.
"Duck your heads!" screamed
His warning came just in time. As they crouched low, Belmont felt his back scraped by the jutting overhanging rocks, and he threw himself flat in the bottom of the woodskin. How long they sped onward through the Stygian blackness of that awful hole, they never knew. But to them, lying in the fragile craft, carried by the will of the mad waters, bobbing, tossing, spinning like a top; bumping against the rocks; fearful that at any moment they would plunge over a cataract or that the canoe would be ground to pieces, they seemed to be hours within the bowels of the mountain.
That they would ever come through alive, none dared hope. It seemed utterly impossible that the tiny woodskin could survive and all had given themselves up for lost when there was a glad shout from Thornton in the bow. "Sunlight ahead!” he yelled, "We're almost through."
Belmont raised his head and peered about. In the distance, a mere pinpoint of bright light showed in the blackness. Rapidly it increased in size; the current became less terrific, and Joseph seized his paddle to steer the canoe on a straight course. In the light beyond the opening they could see the surface of the river dancing and sparkling in the sun, and in a moment more they were swept out of darkness into daylight, into the clear, sweet, blessed air with blue sky arching overhead, and. all glorious with the golden glow of the sun in the west.
They stared about in wonder. Behind them rose the towering cliffs with the gaping cleft through which they had been borne, and before them stretched the gently flowing river. But where were the dense forests, the impenetrable jungles, the broad savannas? On every hand rose precipices and cliffs of red and yellow rock, their strata worn and carved by the elements into fantastic shapes. Great spire-like pinnacles, fluted and ornate columns, battlements and enormous grottoes were on every side. Slender pillars bore titanic boulders balanced on their tips. Huge rocks were poised on the brinks of sheer cliffs, as if about to crash thundering down at a breath, and slender arches of rock spanned deep rifts, through which plunged flashing streams.
Straight from the river's side the strange rock forms rose; sometimes receding in terrace after terrace; again overhanging and leaving a mere thread of sky between their beetling brows. Not a tree was visible. Here and there in crevices among the rocks, were sharp-pointed fleshy-leaved Agaves. Climbing cacti draped many of the cliffs, and wherever water trickled over the stones, strange and brilliant flowered orchids grew in profusion.
"Jove, it's a marvelous sight!" exclaimed the engineer. "It beats the Grand Cañon.”
"And 'the Garden of the Gods', too," declared Thornton. "Lord, but this is a wonderful discovery!"
Fascinated as they were by the wonder of their surroundings, yet the men could spare little time in idle admiration. The sun was already dropping towards the summit of the cliffs, shadows were filling the ravines, and it was imperative that they should hurry on and find some place in which to pass the fast approaching night. Presently they found a tiny strip of sand between the jutting cliffs, and running the canoe ashore, they hurried to gather fragments of driftwood and start a fire. Fortunately, their game had been left in the canoe, when they had stopped before, and, as they ate their welcome meal, the two Americans discussed their adventures and their almost miraculous escape.
"Why do you imagine those brutes gave us that funeral send off?" asked Belmont. "Just when we were within their reach they quit cold, and seemed overcome with emotion at our leaving them. They're a rum lot of beggars."
"I don't know, but I can make a good guess," replied Thornton. "They probably consider the tunnel the entrance to another world. Perhaps the abode of spirits. Evidently they don't possess boats and of course they have never before seen a white man or heard a gun shot. Such things must have seemed almost supernatural to them, and when they saw us heading straight for the opening they were convinced that we were supernatural beings, and consequently fell down to worship us, or perhaps to implore our forgiveness for having attacked us."
"Yes, that must be the explanation," agreed the engineer. "But why in thunder couldn't they have caught the idea and kow-towed to us sooner? I tell you, I was scared, and I don't mind admitting it. But I suppose we're safe enough here."
"Undoubtedly as far as the cannibals are concerned," the other assured him. "And no more fear of the Kenaima, that's certain. I expect the old medicine-man was playing the Kenaima part and lying in wait for us when he met his fate. But of course there may be rapids or cataracts ahead."
"I hope the exit from this place isn't via another black hole," said Belmont. "I wonder if old Billikins knew about this spot."
"If he did, I'll wager that he never visited it by the route we took," replied Thornton. "I doubt if any human being ever before set foot here. It's totally unlike anything else in Guiana. And those cannibals are as totally unlike any other race in South America. I've been thinking about them ever since we first saw them."
"You don't imagine you're the only one who's had them in mind, do you?" exclaimed the engineer. "Great Scott! do you suppose I thought they were nice, jolly boys anxious to play tag with us?"
"You don't understand what I mean," explained the explorer. "What troubles me is who or what they are. They're not like Indians,—too black, and their features are different."
"Not to mention their hair," added the other. "Who ever heard of a red headed Indian?"
"That's of no consequence," declared Thornton. "They may dye or bleach their hair,—I noticed that several had black hair. I'd like to know where they came from, originally."
"I'll be hanged if I care," said Belmont. "But if you ask me, I'll say they came straight from Hades. Honestly, though, couldn't they be descendants or runaway slaves—like the Bush Niggers over in Surinam?" Joseph, who had been listening intently and trying to catch the meaning of the conversation, suddenly spoke up. "Him feller paintum black," he announced. "Him no gottum black skin like so."
The Indian grinned. "Me sabby," he declared. "Me seeum him dead feller in river. Plenty paint wash off when water catchum."
"Well I'll be dashed!" ejaculated Thornton. "And I thought them really negroid. Well, that shows how keenly observant these Indians are. But if they're Indians, they're an unknown race. There's a wonderful field for study and investigation here."
"You're welcome to investigate them all you wish," remarked Belmont. "But if you take my advice you'll wear armor and carry a machine gun when you come back to study your cannibal friends. If those beasts are real one hundred per cent Americans, they're nothing for the country to be proud of."
Thornton laughed heartily at Belmont's serious tones. "Why," he exclaimed, "Think of the opportunities for the march of civilization. Can't you picture the rush of missionaries to these benighted heathens, once their presence is known? And think of their value to science!"
"I can easily picture missionaries being rushed into the heathens' stomachs," declared the engineer, grimly. "And I'll bet they'll never be as valuable to science as scientists will be to them,—if they try to study the beggars. No, I can't see much glory or value in being skinned and eaten."
Thornton chuckled. "I don't know but you're right," he admitted. "I confess that I failed to appreciate their ethnological features, when they chased us up the beach. For once, Frank, I'm willing to admit that even scientific interest has its limits. Thank Heaven, whoever they are, they're the other side of the mountain. And now let's get a good night's rest."
The summits of the peaks were a-gleam with golden light when the three in the cañon opened their eyes the next morning. But the sun had not yet risen above the encircling barriers or cliffs when breakfast was over, the canoe was launched and the journey downstream was resumed.
There was practically no current, and for hour after hour they drifted along, paddling easily and listening for the sound of possible rapids ahead. They were traveling through a wonderland with the stream twisting and turning in a bewildering manner, and often dividing the flowing on either side of lofty water-worn columns of rock, and once it broadened into a lake-like expanse dotted with numerous columns, standing above the surface like the ruins of a submerged city. Sundown still found them in the vast cañon, hemmed in by stupendous cliffs. But the mountains were less precipitous, and trees and other vegetation clothed the hollows and river banks with green. Again they camped by the riverside, eating the last of their smoked game together with several fish which Joseph shot in the stream. By dawn they were up again, and about an hour after embarking as they passed an outjuting point, the roar of falling water reached their ears, and they saw that the river ended in an abrupt line clear-cut against the sky beyond.
"Cataract," announced Thornton.
Instantly the woodskin was run ashore, and the three occupants disembarked and made their way along the shore to examine the falls that barred their progress.
The brush here was thick; numerous large trees towered above the shorter palms and bushes, and the ground was rough and broken. Steadily they pushed on, cutting a narrow path as they advanced, guiding their footsteps by the roar of the cataract which was now close at hand.
At last forcing their way through the final barrier, they came out upon a narrow rock shelf, and exclamations of wonder came from their lips. Almost at their feet the waterfall plunged for fully two hundred feet, —a magnificent spectacle in itself. But they gave little heed to it, for their gaze was fixed upon the marvelous scene spread before them.
Surrounded by low, forest-covered hills, was a broad, green valley, and in its centre,—like a bowl of quicksilver, gleamed a circular lake a mile or more in diameter. The likeness to a gigantic bowl was still further heightened by a bare ridge of white that completely encircled the shimmering sheet of water and stood forth, sharp and clear, against the surrounding greenery. Across the plain from the cataract the river wound to the lake, and, from the opposite side, flowed on to disappear in two glistening ribbons in the distant forest. But the fair valley, the placid lake in its crater-like hollow, and the river, were merely accessories,—a lovely setting, for that which held the men spellbound upon the cliff.
Close to the border of the lake, and spreading like a huge fan across the plain, were the broad streets and countless buildings of a great city. And striking through a rift in the hills above the waterfall, the rays of the rising sun fell full upon the city by the lake, and the massive buildings gleamed in the light like burnished gold.
"Manoa! The city of El Dorado!" exclaimed Belmont in awed tones.
"But in ruins," said Thornton.
There could be no doubt of it. The three were looking upon that wondrous, supposedly mythical city, that had lured
But no sign of life was there. No moving figures thronged the silent streets, and even from where Thornton and Belmont stood they could see that many of the once magnificent buildings were now shapeless piles of crumbled masonry.
"Wake me up," cried Belmont. "I must be dreaming."
"Then we all are," declared the explorer. "Hello! Look at Joseph."
The Indian was prostrate, his forehead bowed to the rocks, as if in adoration of the valley and the ruined city.
"He's worshipping the gods of his ancestors," said Thornton, lowering his voice. "But he has no more idea of what he's doing, or why he does it, than you have. It's a case of unconscious reversion to long forgotten ancestral belief."
Presently the Indian rose, a rather puzzled expression on his features which, as Belmont said, looked as if he had just waked up from a dream.
"It's no use trying to get the woodskin down there," announced the explorer. "We'll have to climb down and build another canoe on the river below the falls. Come on, I'm anxious to get a closer view of that city."
"Do you know," cried the engineer, as the three commenced clambering down the mountain side, "I understand that old 'Golden City' story now. The sun makes it look like gold. If old El Dorado wasn't any more genuine gold than his city was he wouldn't be worth a whoop."
To descend the cliff was a difficult and dangerous undertaking. The rock was little more than tufa, soft and crumbling, and at every step, masses of the material were dislodged and went crashing down to the vegetation far below. The Indian's bare feet found little trouble in securing a grip on the steep slope, but the soles of the white men's shoes slipped and slid, and a dozen times both men came within an ace of falling down to their deaths.
The descent was finally accomplished in safety, however, and panting and breathless, the three stood upon the plain and gazed about. When they had looked down upon the valley from above, it had appeared as level as a floor and seemed carpeted with short soft grass. But they now found that it was far from being a level plain, and overgrown with long wiry grass and rank thorny weeds, which formed a tangled jungle through which it was practically impossible to force a way. The shores of the stream were fairly open, however, and afforded a pathway, and following along the winding stream, they hurried towards the distant city. It was farther than they had thought, but finally they saw the white rim of the lake before them, with a deep cleft, through which the river flowed. Here there was no space to walk beside the stream, and turning aside, they started to climb the bank. From a distance the ridge had looked as if composed of white sand and pebbles, but they now found that it was a tumbled mass of broken stone, great boulders, pebbles and gravel; bare of all vegetation; scintillating with the reflected heat of the sun, and as steep as the roof of a house. Panting and perspiring, crawling over the rocks, slipping on loose stones, sinking ankle deep in the powdery sand, they struggled on. Suddenly Thornton stopped, reached down and picked up a dark colored, rock-like object. "Here's the solution to some of the puzzles," he announced, tossing the thing to the engineer. "Meteorite. Same as the Peaiman fire-stone. It accounts for the lake, for this pile of broken rock and for a lot of other things."
"By Jove, you're right!" exclaimed Belmont. "But you'll have to elucidate about it being the key to the mysteries. I don't see what this bit of some celestial body has to do with the lake or this ridge."
"Simple," panted the explorer. "Ever hear of Meteor Crater or Devil's Mountain in far-off, remote Arizona.
"Sure," replied Belmont. Then, a sudden light dawning on him, he cried: "Great Scott, of course! You mean this lake is in a crater made by a gigantic meteor?"
"No doubt about it," declared the other. "This ridge is identical with the rim of the Arizona crater—the same crushed quartz, pulverized gravel and all. The only difference is that this one is full of water."
"Blamed interesting," commented Belmont, glancing about. The next second he gave a shout, and leaping forward, picked up a dull yellow pebble. "Gold, by Jove!" he cried. "Damned if we haven't struck old Billikin's gold mine!"
Thornton chuckled. "Remember what Raleigh said: 'Peeces of golde the bignesse of egges on the shores of the lake'? Perhaps he wasn't exaggerating after all.”
Belmont scarcely heard the other's words. On his hands and knees, he was feverishly scraping among the sand and pebbles, and uttering surprised and delighted cries as nugget after nugget was disclosed.
"I wonder if that blessed meteor brought down the gold," he exclaimed, as he stopped long enough to wipe his streaming face.
"Scarcely," replied Thornton, "but it's easy to understand that the meteor was responsible for its presence. There was undoubtedly a rich vein, and the force of the striking meteorite split and pulverized the rock and exposed the gold. But come along, Frank. This gold has been here for ages, and it's not going to vanish at once. It's hotter than Hades here, I want to see the city."
"Blast the city!" burst out the engineer. But, realizing the truth of his friend's words, he rose reluctantly and resumed his way toward the summit of the ridge. They were now within half a mile of the vast ruin, and filled with curiosity and interest, they hurried toward the nearest buildings, while behind, ill at ease and with frightened eyes, came the Indian.
"Me no likeum," he exclaimed, as they approached the ruins. "Me sabby him plenty peai (magic)."
"Don't make for 'fraid," said Thornton. "Why you no likeum? House all same dead. Him feller what liveum this place all same dead."
"Me tellum same place peai," reasserted the Arekuna. "Long time peai. All feller Buckmans (Indians) sabby for long time him peai place."
"Ha!" ejaculated the explorer. "So the Indians all know of this place. Why you no tellum you sabby this place?"
Joseph cast down his eyes, dug his toes into the sand and hesitated. "Me no sabby what side this place," he I declared at last. "Buckmans sabby him some place. No sabby more."
"Hmm, perhaps that's true," muttered Thornton, "Maybe the Indians merely know the same old story of Manoa without knowing its location."
"I'll bet old Billikins sabbyed it at any rate," laughed Belmont, as he strode forward. "And I'll bet its bad reputation is what kept those black devils from coming down here."
They were now close to the buildings, and found the city even more desolate and ruined than they had thought. The streets, which had appeared wide and straight for a distance, were uneven, full of holes and chasms, and in places were choked by debris which had fallen from the buildings. The edifices, that had seemed impressive from afar, were sagging, their walls cracked and crumbling, their roofs fallen in, and their carved cornices and ornate columns lay shattered on the pavements.
"Looks like one of those shelled towns in France," commented the engineer. "See that, Ned. Look at those houses across the street. They're half-buried under the ridge—I've seen buildings half-covered by a shell crater rim in just that way."
"Gad, yes!" ejaculated the other. "I believe that explains everything. I've been wondering what destroyed the place. But now I understand. The city was shelled. It's been bombarded by a more destructive shell than anything fired from modern guns. The city was destroyed by the same gigantic meteor, or by the concentrated shower of meteors, that threw up that ridge."
"Tell that to the marines!" scoffed the engineer. "Maybe these houses may have been a bit peppered or shaken, but no meteorite could have wiped out a city of this size. Why, some of the buildings are a mile from the ridge"
Thornton laughed drily. "Can you conceive of the shock which must have resulted when such a meteor struck?" he asked, "It had force enough to dig a pit a mile in diameter, and Lord knows how deep, in solid rock, and to throw up a ridge of pulverized granite and quartz nearly one hundred feet high. Just stop to recall to your mind the concussion and shock made by those big shells during the war—missiles only a few inches in diameter, and then try to imagine a white hot mass of metal weighing hundreds of thousands of tons, and perhaps one thousand feet in diameter, striking with even greater force than any shell. Why, man alive, if a meteor like that hit the earth somewhere near New York it would destroy every vestige of life within a radius of several hundred miles! Think of the gases and heat it must have generated. I'm amazed that a trace of the city remains. Undoubtedly the greater part of it was pulverized and forms part of the ridge."
"By Jove, I guess you're right, at that," admitted Belmont. "Just the same, as Raleigh's yarn had Manoa beside a lake, it must have been the same way clear back in his day. And in that case what became of old El Dorado and his folks?"
"Probably there has always been a lake here," replied Thornton. "And I'd wager that the city was destroyed ages before the first Europeans came to America. The story of El Dorado has probably been handed down from the days before the place was wiped out."
"Don't know as I give a whoop, whether 'twas or not," declared the engineer, "provided I can get the gold old El Dorado left. Come on, Ned, let's take a stroll up
"Funny thing, that the place isn't overgrown with jungle," remarked Belmont, as they reached the nearest pavement. "It looks as if a street-cleaning gang had been at work—hardly any grass in the streets, and only a few small trees among the ruins.’
"Yes, that's a puzzle to me, also," admitted the other. "Probably something about the soil—same reason the ridge is still bare."
Despite Belmont's flippant manner, he admitted that he felt awed and impressed at standing in this dead city of a bygone past, and as they sauntered along, the explorer was constantly uttering enthusiastic comments regarding the archeological treasures and wonders revealed.
"Frank!" he exclaimed. "I'd go through all we have a dozen times over, just for this. It's the greatest discovery ever made in America. I'm beginning to believe it's the most ancient city of the New World. No one has ever before seen similar carvings and architecture."
"I wonder what the people were like," said Belmont. "They were darned good architects, I'll admit those buildings ahead are fine, and they don't appear to be in bad shape."
As the two proceeded farther and farther from the lake, the buildings appeared more and more intact, and they also appeared to be of a better class, with more ornate and beautiful carvings decorating the stone work.
"Look at that building!" cried the explorer, gripping his friend's arm. "The walls lean outward like those of some Mayan buildings, but in every other detail it's wholly different."
"By Jove, they didn't use mortar, either," exclaimed the engineer, who was examining the walls. "And I'd like to know what sort of tools they used. This stone is diorite and harder than Pharaoh's heart. Come on, let's go inside. There's no one to take our cards, but the door's wide open."
The two entered the wide portal, flanked by weirdly-carved columns, while Joseph followed at their heels looking, "like a dog with his tail between his legs," as Belmont expressed it.
"Funny that the roof has fallen in and yet there are no signs of it on the floor," commented Belmont, as they glanced curiously about.
Thornton looked up at the summits of the high walls. "If it ever had a roof it was of thatch, or merely an awning," he declared. "The edges of the walls are smooth—not crumbled or broken except in one spot That's where a stone came tumbling through. See it, lying over there?" He pointed to an irregular boulder in one corner of the immense room.
"Probably ricocheted in here when the meteor struck," remarked the other, as he approached it. "Great Scott, Ned, it's a meteor itself!"
"Now perhaps you can realize the force of the meteorite," said Thornton. "This is a small fragment, but it weighs over a dozen tons and has gone three feet deep into the solid stone flooring."
"I'm sorry for the folks who were here when that baby came in," was Belmont's comment.
From the room where the three men stood, several doorways opened, and the two white men entered one after another, Belmont searching for possible treasure, while Thornton was engrossed in archeological studies. But every room appeared to be empty except for piles of dust and bits of highly decorated pottery lying cracked and broken on the floors.
"What do you suppose made these dust heaps?" asked the engineer, as he poked one with his toe. "They look as though some chambermaid had swept them into piles ready to take out"
"They're all that remains of wooden furniture, I think," replied the explorer. "These jars once stood on tables or benches, and when the wood rotted away they fell down and smashed."
"Wish they'd left a few chairs or a good bed," laughed Belmont. "They were an inhospitable bunch, not to think of some stranger dropping in."
As he spoke, they were passing a low, dark opening in the wall. The next instant the engineer sprang back with a sharp ejaculation, Joseph uttered a frightened cry, and even Thornton was startled. From within the black and shadowy recesses of the chamber came a short, half-smothered cough!
(To be continued)
Editor's Note: The term El Dorado, the Spanish words meaning the gilded one, is applied to a king or high priest who was supposed to appear sometimes before his people with robes sprinkled with gold dust. This is the mythical being alluded to often in this story. It was then applied to the city and afterwards to the country that this gilded being was supposed to belong to and rule over. Sir Walter Raleigh, in the days of Queen Elizabeth, was one of the most celebrated of the searchers for the suppositious treasure, implied.
The Treasure of the Golden God by A. Hyatt Verrill
THE second part of this serial brings it to a conclusion in this number. It is a wonderful detail of the experience of our explorers in the
What Went Before:
Two friends, one an archeologist and the other a mining engineer, determined to take a trip into the jungles of the north of
PART II Conclusion
ALL three stood transfixed, listening, filled with a strange sensation of superstitious dread. Then, once again, the cough sounded from the darkness, and
In the blackness two greenish luminous spots glowed, and without stopping to think of consequences,
"What the—" began
"And you came blamed near getting all of us, too," growled
"Hanged if I thought of that," said
Joseph dragged the big cat to the door, and was busy skinning the beast while the two white men went in search of fuel.
"We'll have to go outside the city for firewood," said
"There are trees over beside the river” said
The three men were not, however, compelled to test the edible qualities of jaguar flesh. As they entered the thicket a flock of tinamous* whirred up, and three of the birds fell to
An edible, highly appreciated game bird, resembling the partridge and sometimes called by that name. It is closely related to the gallinaceous bird (chickens).
"We won't starve, at any rate," he remarked, as he retrieved the birds. "I'll bet this valley is full of game, and plenty of fish in the river and lake. Not a bad place to stop in for a while. There may be treasure in the city, and there is a fortune in gold over the ridge to be had for the picking. I'm for staying right here for the present."
"It suits me," assented
"I'm coming back to make a grand clean-up," declared the engineer. "That meteor opened up a vein that's a regular bonanza. Ned, old man, I'll take back all I ever said about this expedition being a failure. We've struck it rich."
With their lunch over, the three returned to the city, and once more wandered about the streets and buildings.
"There's plenty of good material lying about," remarked the engineer, "and a lot of these houses could be repaired and used. Won't the old fellows, who built this place, turn over in their graves, if they should see it made over into an up-to-date mining camp?"
"I object," declared
The other laughed. "Oh, all right," he agreed. "You're welcome to the old place. I expect it'll be cheaper to build corrugated iron and wooden shacks, anyway. These buildings are too blamed well put together to tear down."
"Hmm, what do you make of that?"
"I'll be damned!" he ejaculated. "Someone has chopped it off. But of course that's impossible."
"Is it?" said
"I don't know what to think," confessed the other.
"But whatever happens or whoever we see, don't shoot, unless to save our lives. Hold on! What's this?"
Again he halted, knelt down, and examined the stone pavement. "Here's more proof," he announced, pointing to a crack between the blocks where fresh earth showed. "Believe it or not, Frank, this street has been weeded. Look, there's the dry grass that was pulled from between the stones. No wonder the city is not overrun with jungle. The vegetation has been destroyed as fast as it grew. Ghosts or spirits don't chop down bushes nor pull up weeds. Men of some kind are caring for this city. It's darned mysterious, but an indisputable fact."
"Peai!" exclaimed Joseph, who had remained silently gazing at the evidences of human beings' presence. "Me tellum this place plenty peai."
The Indian's eyes shifted uneasily, and he shuffled first one foot and then the other on the pavement. "No sabby long time," he replied at last. "All same, him peai. Me C'riht'an Buckman. Me fadder same way. All same, me fadder say long time gone this place peai. Long time gone one feller gold-man liveum this side. He same like God for Buckmen that time. Me sabby mebbe plenty Buckmen mebbe still likeum gold-man for god all this time. Gold-man plenty peai this place, one time. Where he liveum plenty peai same way."
"I'm not so sure about that," declared the other. "It seems to me that talky-talky is kind of a limited lingo; but I think I get Joseph's idea. He means that some of the heathen Indians still think this place holy or sacred or taboo or something of the sort, and that some of them may hang around, kow-towing to El Dorado's home town just because he lived in it once."
"Of course that's what he means," agreed the explorer. "But that doesn't tell us who have been taking care of it. And it doesn't explain why, if Indians care for it and worship here, there are none here now. The only solution I can think of is that they don't live in this valley, but come here at certain definite periods to worship and clean things up."
"Perhaps old Billikins was the lad who weeded the place," suggested the engineer.
"I'll wager he wasn't the only peaiman who knew of it," declared
"Likely as not," agreed the other. "I said I'd swallow anything after what I've seen. Hello, here's the end of
They had come to the end of the avenue, and were facing a massive building just ahead.
"And the road leads straight into the 'Town Hall' as you call it," observed the explorer. "You're not so far off either, old man. That building is a temple of some sort. There may be interesting things inside."
A short flight of huge stone steps led from the end of the street to an enormous doorway, and
"Looks bottom-side up," commented the engineer.
"It has some significance," explained the explorer. "The walls also lean out, as did those of the building back there where you shot the jaguar. But all the others have perpendicular walls. Probably it's symbolic of sacred buildings."
They had now entered the doorway and found themselves in a short passage ending in a second flight of steps. Mounting these, they reached the top and halted, thunderstruck at the sight which greeted them.
They stood upon the threshold of an enormous room, the walls and floors of which were of dark-green polished stone, and illuminated only by a single slit-like window in the eastern wall. The chamber was in the form of a gigantic swastika,* and in its centre, facing the door and window, seated upon a throne of black stone, sat a gigantic human figure of burnished gold.
*The swastika is a very ancient symbol of uncertain significance. It is traced back to the bronze age. It is detected in the remains of ancient
"Yes, the Gilded One in very truth!" assented
Joseph, however, said not a word. He was prostrate on the floor in adoration.
"Lord, what a chunk of gold!" gasped
"No doubt of that," declared
Stepping across the temple floor, the two approached the golden idol. At first glance it had appeared human in form, but as they took in the details they discovered that it was a grotesque combination of man and beast. The head was that of a jaguar; but instead of the felines teeth, the opened mouth seemed to threaten us with its cavernous expanse. In one hand the image held a carved staff, the other grasped a golden club, while a third arm, sprouting from the breast, supported a golden swastika. The body and legs were human, although curiously distorted and decorated.
The Indian, who had now risen and had followed the white men, edged away to one side instead of approaching the idol from the front, and stood awed and silent in the farthest alcove or arm of the swastika-shaped room. Once they had recovered from their first amazement, Thornton and Belmont began to examine the gold god that towered for a dozen feet above their heads.
Suddenly the explorer caught sight of some objects resting upon the black throne at the idol's feet.
"Look at these!" he cried excitedly. "Flowers and fruits. Offerings to the god. They're wilted and rotten, but they have not been here long. Hello, here's something else!"
Poking among the decayed flowers, he drew out an elaborately carved wooden club. "I don't know what tribe it belongs to," he muttered, examining the weapon. "But I'd like to know. It might solve the mystery of the identity of those who visit this place."
"Here, Joseph," he continued, as he stepped from the throne and started towards the motionless Indian. "You sabby what Buckmen makeum this?"
Meanwhile, Belmont, who had no interest whatever in ethnological problems, had clambered up on the throne and was tapping and examining the metal surface of the idol trying to determine if it was solid gold, the while mentally appraising its bullion value.
"Isn't he the ugly old boy?" he exclaimed, as at close quarters he looked at the repulsive features of the image. "Talk about those black cannibals! This chap's got them beat a mile for downright, cussed ugliness."
Then the third arm with its shield-like swastika attracted his attention, and reaching up, he grasped the superfluous limb. "Shake," old top," he cried humorously. "Glad to meet you' I'm—" The next instant he dropped the arm as though he had received an electric shock. The massive metal limb had swung downwards at his touch.
"By Jove!" he shouted, "Look here, Ned. This extra arm is loose." As he spoke, he peered around the idol to catch a glimpse of his companions. His foot slipped, he clutched wildly at the projecting arm, and the limb swung down and outward with his weight. As it did so, an incredible thing happened. Thornton and Joseph, together with the floor whereon they stood, shot swiftly to one side and vanished! Only a blank dark-green wall was visible where the two had been but a moment before.
Amazed, stunned, uncomprehending,
But no answer, no sound, no reply came from the massive blocks of green stone. Only the echoes of his own voice mocked him. His friends were gone. They had been swallowed up, wiped out of existence in some weird, inexplicable, mysterious manner, and he was alone. Alone with that awful, hideous image in the ruined city of the dead.
With full realization of his overwhelming loss and absolute helplessness, came an overpowering insane, terrible hatred of the golden idol, and a ghastly, superstitious terror of the bestial thing. Cursing, he turned and rushed madly for the temple door, his one thought to reach the open air and escape from the dismal tomblike place. But the next second, he uttered a mad despairing yell. There was no door. The walls rose smooth and unbroken from floor to summit. No crevice, no crack gave a hint as to where the door had been. He was caged, trapped, imprisoned, and he flung himself upon the stone floor, utterly hopeless and beaten.
"Hello, Frank," came in muffled, far away words "We're all right. Can you see me? I'm looking straight at you." A merry laugh followed.
"Hell, no!" he cried impatiently, "I can't see you. Where in thunder are you? What's happened?"
"We're here," came the answer with a chuckle of amusement. "inside of
"Great Scott!" he cried, as
"That's it," declared
"I'll be hanged!" cried the engineer. "The door's half open, and there's a hole in the back of the room."
"Will the arm stay where it is?" queried
"Good," said the explorer. "We'll come out. Better hold that arm though and don't let it move. It might slip, and I don't fancy being nipped by those moving walls."
The words ceased, and
"It took us longer to get out than to get in," replied the explorer. "There are several passages down there and we had trouble in finding the right one. It's too bad you had such a beastly scare, old man."
“It was more than beastly," declared
"I don't blame you," said
Climbing upon the throne,
"It's devilish interesting," declared
The explorer hesitated. "We'll have to wedge that arm in place before we try it," he said. "A jar or jolt might shut the place up forever with us inside like rats in a trap."
"And how about those chaps who put the bouquet at old
"No danger of that," declared
By means of Joseph's bowstring, the arm was tied securely in place so that the secret aperture was partly open and permitted the men to pass through.
"It's a sort of Spanish-windlass arrangement," he explained, "but in combination with duplex levers carefully balanced and adjusted by counter-weights and a toggle. I wonder what the metal is. It looks like bronze."
"No!" cried the engineer, unable to believe that
"When pure, yes," assented the other. "But this is some alloy. I examined the chain when I was in here before, and I'll swear that it's gold. You're a fine metallurgist, Frank, not to remember that gold alloyed with certain metals—iridium for example, perhaps with platinum, can be made almost as hard as iron."
"Well, I'll be hanged!" he cried out suddenly. "Don't tell me those old heathens didn't know a thing or two. No wonder the walls slid easily. They run on ball bearings!"
He had crawled through the tunnel into a fair sized, dimly-lit room, hewn in the solid rock, and as the others joined him, all saw that the moving sections of walls rested on runners of yellow metal, which in turn bore on metal spheres resting in metal grooves.
"Marvelous!" cried the explorer. "This city was built by an undreamed-of race, a race that was familiar with many of our most modern mechanical principles and discoveries. It outdoes anything ever before discovered in the entire world."
"I'll say it does," the other agreed. "Why, man, there are millions in bullion in these alone."
"And worth far more as archeological specimens," said
"Archeology be damned!" exploded
"On raw gold, yes," replied the explorer. "But the bargain was that I was to have all gold ornaments and other manufactured articles for specimens."
As they had been speaking, they had retraced their way to the main passage and had entered the first opening they came to. It was a narrow hallway ending in a large vault or chamber, and piled high around the sides of the room were countless irregular objects gleaming faintly in the dim light.
"Holy Moses!" fairly shouted
"I haven't a doubt of it," assented
"Not a gol-darned bit more than I'm gloating," declared the engineer. "Whew! it makes my head swim. And, hang it all, we can't carry it off either."
"We can return for it, however,"
"Yes, I guess that's so," admitted
Turning, they entered the next room. This was smaller, and while no ingots were stored within it, there were several open stone chests along the walls. Hurrying to the nearest,
"Moons!" he cried. "Here's your loot, Ned. This chest is filled to the brim with the gold crescents the Indians wore in their noses. This place must have been the headquarters for the jewelry trade in the old days."
Every chest was, they found, filled with the gold moons and other golden ornaments, and
"I can carry these off, anyway," he muttered. "They're as good as double-eagles and easier to gather than nuggets. I guess there are enough of them, so you won't mind."
"Better wait until we're ready to leave the city," suggested
"Right you are," agreed the engineer, as he began dumping all but a few of the moons out of his pockets. "But the sight of all this gold has nearly driven me crazy."
The next vault was empty, and only one more doorway could be seen along the passage. Passing through this, they were surprised to find that instead of a room there was a narrow winding passageway leading into stygian blackness.
"I wonder where this goes," muttered
"It would be the devil of a place in which to get lost," rumbled
"No danger of that," the other assured him. "The wall is unbroken, and we can readily feel our way back."
Presently a glimmer of light showed ahead. "We're coming out somewhere," remarked
The stairs were narrow and steep, and as the men ascended them towards the light, which came from above, they paused frequently to rest and regain their breaths. Once, as they paused,
Then, as he realized what it was, he burst out laughing. "By Jove, it's one of those gold-bricks!" he cried. "He seems to have been cured of his fear of the place being peai."
The Indian, catching the engineer's meaning, grinned sheepishly. "Me tellum mebbe peai," he explained "Mebbe peai, how can tell? All same, me sabby this feller catchum plenty money bimeby."
The two white men fairly roared with laughter. "Bully for you, Joseph!" shouted
“Talk about the Scotch," exclaimed
Resuming their climb, they at last reached the head of the stairs and found themselves in a small room into which the sunlight was streaming through a rough hole broken in the masonry.
"Well, I'll be hanged!" he ejaculated. "I never would have guessed it, I'll wager you anything you wish that you don't know where we are, Frank."
"It's darned funny and interesting, but devilishly disappointing," declared the engineer. "Who'd have thought that after all that long hard climb we'd just come out here? The fellows who made that tunnel were either crazy or practical jokers. I'll take back what I said about their having brains. What's the use of such a fool idea?"
"I presume this building was a sort of annex to the temple," replied the explorer. "Probably the priests would disappear from the temple and reappear mysteriously here, or vice-versa. Or it may be that they kept watch of what was going on from peep-holes up here and from the idol's mouth. Or again, they may have worked an oracle stunt, much as did the old Greeks and Romans. Odd, though, that there doesn't appear to be any means of descending directly from here. We'll have to retrace our way. It's getting late so we'd better hustle and find a place to camp."
Back down the long stairway and through the dark tunnel the three made their way. They reached the passage beneath the idol; once more came out in the temple, and
"Now for a hunt, a fine dinner and a quiet night." he said. "I've seen enough to call it the end of a perfect day."
Leaving the streets, they hunted through the thickets. But it was some time before they found game in the shape of several quail, which
*A food fish confined to Africa and
"I suppose we're foolish, not to sleep in one of the buildings," remarked
"Nix on the ruins for me," declared the engineer. "I'm not nervous and I'm 'not afraid of ghosts, but somehow, I'd feel as if I were sleeping in a graveyard or a tomb if I slept in that city."
"I feel a bit that way myself," confessed the other. "It's strange that I should, too. I've slept in ruins before, and I've never felt the same sensations. I presume it's the mystery of those human beings having been here. Well, if we keep a good fire going, we can manage. It isn't the first time we have slept in the open, and it won't be the last."
Joseph had gathered palm leaves and had constructed a rude shelter which would serve to keep off possible showers, and a layer of the same leaves had been spread upon the earth. The tired men stretched themselves out and in a moment
Suddenly he jerked upright. Something had aroused him again. Vaguely in his mind he seemed to have heard a strange humming sound. Then, before he had fully regained his senses, there was a deafening crash from the distance, followed by a faint, far-away scream.
"For God's sake, Ned, wake up!" he shouted, shaking the explorer.
"Wha-what's the matter?" demanded the other sleepily, as he sat up rubbing his eyes.
"Damned if I know," replied
"And you rouse me out of a fine sleep for that!" exclaimed
"But some one screamed," persisted the engineer, "and there was a darned queer humming noise, too."
"Just the crackling of branches as the tree fell," yawned
"Me sabby tree makeum fall," muttered Joseph, who had also been aroused. "Me hearum."
Chagrined that he had let his nerves get the best of him,
Grasping his gun, he listened, ready for action. Then another sound issued from the darkness—the panting, labored breath of some creature, and hurried footsteps seemingly close at hand. Not knowing what to expect,
Belmont stood gaping, round eyed, with sagging jaw, trembling from head to foot at thought of how near he had been to shooting. Before him stood a human being. It was no Indian, for it was clad in khaki shirt and breeches, the garments torn and ragged. The gun dropped from the engineer's nerveless hands, and as the strange figure lurched towards him, he uttered a strange astounded, inarticulate cry. The face, white in the moonlight, was ghastly with blood, and long fair hair streamed over the shoulders. It was a woman—and white!
"Oh, thank God you're white!" gasped the girl, as she fell fainting in his arms.
Thornton and Joseph, aroused by the voices, sprang to their feet. "What the—" the explorer's words ended abruptly, as he caught sight of the limp figure in the other's arms. Then, as he saw the long blonde hair and the pale, blood-streaked face, "Lord!" he gasped, "It's a girl!"
"I'll be hanged if I know what to think," replied Thornton, who had been standing gazing at the girl as if in a dream. "All I know is that she's a white woman, but the Lord alone knows who she is or how she got here."
"She talks English, too," announced the engineer. "By Jove, perhaps she was a prisoner of the Indians."
"Mysteries on mysteries," exclaimed
The girl's chest heaved as a deep breath shook her, her eyelids fluttered open, and her clear-blue eyes opened in wide amazement as she stared, half-frightened, into the bronzed, bearded faces of the two men. Slowly a look of comprehension and relief swept across her face, and her lips parted in a smile. With an effort she tried to sit up, but
"Don't exert yourself," he cautioned her. "Let me bandage this cut first."
"I'm—I'm all right now," she murmured, and the sound of a woman's voice thrilled the two men strangely. "I was terribly frightened," she continued, "and—and I think I must have lost my head. You're English, aren't you?"
"No, Americans," replied the engineer, as he bandaged the wound with a strip of cloth which he nonchalantly tore from the girl's own garments.
"Americans!" she exclaimed in evident surprise, "Oh, that's all the better. I'm American, too."
"But where on earth—how did you get here? What happened?" queried
"In the plane," was the girl's astounding reply. "It crashed—"
She shook her head. "No, I was alone," she smiled. "It's over by the lake. You see—"
"You're a fine pair of bushmen," exclaimed
"Lee," the girl supplied. "It was my brother's plane —or rather the Bauxite Company's. Ted was taken with fever at Akyma and couldn't fly. They wanted some important papers from
"But this place is miles from Akyma or the Marowyne," said
"I didn't," smiled the girl. "I reached the Marowyne safely and started back. Then I had motor trouble and was forced down at Berbice. By the time I could hop off again it was nearly dark, but I thought I could make Akyma before it was too dark to see—it's light so much longer at an altitude, you know. But I must have lost my way, somehow. The country didn't look familiar, and then I saw a town. I knew it wasn't Akyma, and I'd never heard of any large town in the bush, and I was puzzled because there were no lights in the houses. But I knew I was lost and must come down. Then I saw your fire and the lake seemed a nice place to land, and I came down. But something was wrong. I saw a big white wall before me, and the next minute the plane crashed. When I came to I was dazed and my face was covered with blood, and I was horribly frightened, because everything was so still and sort of dead and mysterious. Then I remembered the fire and knew someone must be here, and I ran towards it. But I never dreamed I would find white men. And, Oh, I'm so glad it's you and that you are Americans."
"You poor little thing!" exclaimed
"Are you hungry?" asked the matter-of-fact explorer.
"Perhaps I am," she confessed. "But really I'm so shaken that I hardly know."
"It's not much," apologized
Miss Lee, however, was not finicky. She had eaten nothing for many hours, and she declared that the food was delicious and ate heartily.
"Now, please tell me where I am and all about yourselves," she begged, as with a satisfied sigh she finished her impromptu meal. "I can't sleep, and I know there is something strange and mysterious here. I can just feel it."
"Go ahead, spin the yarn, Ned," urged
The girl listened with wide eyes and parted lips as
"It's simply wonderful!" she cried, as he ended. "And to think that this is really that fabulous city! I've heard about it—Ted used to joke about searching for it with the plane someday, and now I've tumbled right into it. Won't he be envious!"
"Thank the Lord you were not killed," exclaimed
"We'll start building a woodskin today," declared
"By Jove!" ejaculated the engineer. "I've an idea. Do you think the plane is wrecked beyond repair, Miss Lee?"
"I really don't know," she assured him. "I didn't stop to examine it. But I know the propeller is smashed and probably the motor is ruined. It was a Wright Whirlwind, and must have hit the bank."
"Possibly the hull is uninjured," suggested
As they had been talking, Joseph had slipped off with his bow and arrows, and he now returned with several fish. Breakfast was soon over, and the four then made their way to the wrecked plane, which they found with its nose buried deeply in the side of the lake's rim. The forward portion was a hopeless wreck, and
"Now that I see the wreck I'm convinced that it was by a miracle that you escaped death, Miss Lee," de-cleared the explorer. "Only the fact that you were thrown clear of the machine saved your life."
"Please don't call me Miss Lee," laughed the girl. "It sounds horribly formal and unfriendly. I'd much rather be called Kathryn, or Kitty or Kit—anything as long as it's not Kate."
"And I'm crazy over Kitty," added
"Name or girl?" queried the other.
"Both," declared the engineer, looking straight into the girl's blue eyes.
She laughed merrily. "You are both awfully nice," she declared, "and I'm so glad you are not terribly severe and serious—the way I thought all explorers were. And I'm going to reciprocate and call you Frank and Ned— if you don't mind."
"Not a bit," replied the two in chorus.
"Perhaps there's something in the plane that we might use," she reminded them, a moment later. "There's a tool-kit and compass and the instruments and a thermos bottle and some other things."
"And the papers also," said
The plane yielded a great deal that would prove of inestimable value to the party, both while in the valley and on their proposed journey towards civilization. Joseph was loaded down as he made trip after trip back and forth from the plane to the camp, but at last everything of value had been salvaged.
Then, as the Indian prepared to commence making a woodskin,
"Sure—let's go over to the National Bank," laughed
As they strolled along,
"I'll give a demonstration," announced
As he spoke, he climbed upon the throne, and the next instant leaped back, staring at the base of the idol. "Well I'll be—" he burst out and checked himself. "Look here, Ned!"
The others hurried to him and
The explorer emitted a long whistle and glanced suspiciously about. "Those things were not here yesterday," he declared. "Someone has been here during the night."
"I'll say he has," agreed
"You mean Indians have been here?" asked the girl, with a startled glance about the temple, and drawing closer to the two men.
"It looks that way," admitted
"The deuce they are," interrupted
"It's blamed spooky and mysterious, anyway," declared the engineer with a forced laugh. "I don't like the idea of some chap sneaking about in the night. But I guess you're right about his being harmless. He has had plenty of chances to get us in the night if he wanted to. Anyway, we should worry. Now watch, Kitty, and I'll show you the combination to
Once more climbing upon the throne, the engineer pulled down the arm, the door closed, and the wall opened as before.
"It's simply marvelous!" cried the girl. "And no one can get in here while we are down below. Oh, I'm so glad I crashed and found you. It's a wonderful adventure."
Descending the stairs, the three reached the space below the idol, and Kathryn clapped her hands with delight as she peered through the god's mouth. Then she was shown the treasure, and she begged Belmont and Thornton to take her through the tunnel to the building where the jaguar had been killed. This time they were equipped with an electric torch salvaged from the plane, and their progress through the dark passageway was easy and rapid.
"What is it?" What did you see?" asked the girl in a whisper.
Very cautiously the engineer approached the aperture and peered through a crack. Then he beckoned to Kathryn. Stooping, she looked through the crevice and could scarcely suppress a cry at what he saw. Below, and examining the jaguar skin, was a painted naked Indian!
As they burst into the temple,
"There's an Indian out there," he exclaimed. "He was looking at the jaguar's skin. He must be the one who left the flowers and things. Come along and look at him. He didn't see us and I don't know whether or not he's a savage."
Before he had ceased, the three were hurrying along the tunnel, but when they at last reached the broken cornice the room below was deserted.
"If Kathryn hadn't seen him, I should think you had been seeing things," declared the explorer. "What did he look like?"
"Like an out-and-out savage," replied the engineer. "I'm afraid I can't describe him very well. He was light colored—sort of yellow, painted like a barber's pole, and wore a sort of skirt about his middle."
"And he had on tooth necklaces and gold bracelets and a feather crown," added Kathryn.
"That description might fit any Guiana Indian," commented
"Hold on," exclaimed
Climbing up the stonework, the engineer reached the top of the building and swept valley and city with searching eyes. But there was nothing suspicious, nothing to cause alarm. Down by the river he could see Joseph busy at the woodskin, but not another living being was in sight.
"No one but Joseph about," he announced, as he clambered back and joined the others. "I'm beginning to think we saw a ghost. Seems to me, if that Indian had been flesh and blood, he would have gone over for a pow-wow with Joseph.”
"Not if he was a peaiman and didn't wish to be seen,"
This new mystery of the lone Indian had driven all thoughts of treasure from the minds of the three, and they hurried through the passages to the temple. Then the idol's arm was swung up, the door opened, and they started up the avenue, towards the building where the Indian had been seen.
But no trace of his presence could be found, and as it was almost noon, they made their way towards camp.
"We'll get off tomorrow," declared
Kathryn broke the silence. "Ned," she whispered, rising to a sitting posture, "take this, you are unarmed."
Forgetting talky-talky in his excitement, the Indian ripped out a rapid string of Arekuna words.
"There's a couple of dozen of them," cried
Turning, the four rushed towards the city, dashed up the avenue, and reached the temple steps. As they bounded through the open door, they turned and looked back. Rushing after them yelling like fiends, came a crowd of painted savages, brandishing bows and clubs, with gaudy feather-crowns waving above their heads, with the sun glinting on golden necklets, nose ornaments and arm-bands.
Seizing the girl and lifting her from her feet,
"Whew!" exclaimed the engineer, as he leaped down from the idol. "That was a close shave. Say, Ned, I thought you said the Guiana Indians were peaceful. A dashed peaceful looking lot those fellows are."
"Don't hit a man when he's down," muttered the explorer with a wry grin. "But get a bandage around this arm of mine. It's bleeding like a stuck pig."
"It's only a flesh wound," declared the explorer, as she worked. "And I don't think those arrows were poisoned."
"Lucky dog," growled
The girl blushed furiously. "Fran—Mr. Belmont, you're perfectly horrid," she declared, but the expression of her eyes belied her words. Then, "Did you shoot one of them?" she asked.
"I don't know, but I hope so," replied the engineer. "I had a glimpse of something moving and let drive with both barrels."
"Me tellum you all same one damn fool," burst out Joseph, so suddenly and explosively that all jumped. "Me tellum you make for shootum me."
"Wha—what the—" began
"Great Scott!" cried
The Indian grinned, as
"It's lucky he was far enough away so the shot scattered," said
"I'll never forgive myself," declared
"Him feller arrow," muttered Joseph, as if an arrow wound was of no consequence. "Him no do for kill. Him arrow no gotum poison."
"That relieves my mind," said
"I was a bit afraid that those rascals might have used poisoned arrows."
"Who the deuce are those rascals, anyway?" asked
"It's just one more mystery added to the others," replied the explorer. "I think probably they resented our presence here. I confess I don't know who they are. Possibly Joseph recognized them."
But the Arekuna declared the enemies were tribes-men such as he had never seen before, and insisted sullenly that they were "peai."
"We're snug and safe enough here, at all events," said
"Yes, we're safe enough—from our enemies," agreed
"I'd forgotten that," confessed
"Oh, how lucky!" cried Kathryn. "I just remembered that I left the thermos bottle full of water up there where we saw the Indian this morning. I was so excited I forgot all about it."
"You careless kid," laughed
"You'd better not try," retorted the girl. "And you can't talk about being careless. Just look at Joseph's back when you need a reminder."
"I guess that will hold me for a while," said the engineer, pretending to look crestfallen. "But all joking aside, this water business is serious. The thermos bottle won't last us over twenty-four hours at the most."
"Well, don't let's begin crossing bridges before we come to them," said Kathryn. "We're here, and those bloodthirsty Indians are outside. And somehow I have a feeling that it will all come out right, and—and if it doesn't, we have done our best."
"You're right, Kit," declared
"Of course we will," the explorer assured them. "While there is life there is not only hope but no need to give a thought to death. And we're a mighty live crowd yet."
"I'm off to get that thermos bottle," said
"I'm going along, too," declared Kathryn.
"We might as well make it unanimous," laughed
Only waiting long enough to fasten the idol's arm in place, the party descended to the underground passage and hurried along the tunnel and up the stairs to the other building.
As they reached the vantage point in the broken cornice, the sound of low voices came from below. Very cautiously they peered down. Gathered about the jaguar skin, and talking excitedly, were more than a dozen Indians.
Obviously the savages were tremendously excited and wrought up. They were gesticulating, talking earnestly, and were constantly stopping to examine the skin as though they had never seen a jaguar before.
"I can't make it out," whispered
They're not like any Indians I've ever seen, either. Their decorations are different and they're lighter colored. In fact, I'm not sure that they are Indians. Some of them have brown hair and beards."
"You're right, and they're strapping big rascals, too," muttered Belmont, "twice as husky as any Indians I've seen in this country."
"Me tellum that feller plenty peai," grunted Joseph. !"Him feller peai, all same gold mans."
"Say, it's a bully chance to scare that bunch out of their wits," exclaimed the engineer. "I can fire a charge of shot into them, and they'll think all the ghosts in the place are after them."
"And bring this whole place crashing down," said the explorer drily. "You seem to have forgotten what happened when you shot the jaguar."
"What will we do then?" demanded the other. "Let them keep us shut up until we starve to death?"
"If they're a party that came here to make offerings they'll soon leave and will take back wonderful tales of the strangers who vanished in the temple and were under the protection of their god," declared
"And—Gad, I believe I'm beginning to see daylight. That jaguar you shot was a sacred beast, I'll wager. Probably half domesticated and lived in this building which is sacred. The idol has a jaguar's head, you know. And jaguars appear everywhere in the carvings. No wonder they're mad. That's why they went for us."
"Shouldn't wonder if you're right," growled
"Hmm, my theory is that they have only just arrived," replied
"Well, there's no use hanging about here," declared the engineer. "It's getting dark. Let's go back to the temple and eat."
Retracing their steps to the temple, they squatted beside the great golden idol and dined on the fruits and game so providentially left by the worshippers of the ancient deity.
"If I only had a rifle, instead of a shotgun, I could stand off the whole bunch," remarked
"We don't want to kill any of them if we can avoid it," declared
"And really, they haven't done anything to warrant their being shot," said Kathryn. "Perhaps they mistook us for enemies and would be friendly if we could only make them understand.”
For a time they continued to discuss and devise various plans for escaping from their predicament, but without result, and finally they prepared to sleep. Despite their plight, all slept well and when they arose the sun was shining through the high window and flashing with dazzling brilliancy on the gold idol. The remains of the evening meal provided a meagre breakfast, and half the water in the thermos bottle remained, when they had finished their all too simple morning meal.
As there was nothing else to occupy their time, they decided to investigate the subterranean chambers, and as they descended,
Kathyn's delight at the chests of gold moons and the piles of ingots, and her wonder at the massive gold machinery, was enough to satisfy even
Presently Joseph returned and reported that the Indians had left the building, that the jaguar skin had disappeared, and that, by climbing to the wall-top, he had seen the savages gathered in the street before the temple as if waiting for the door to open.
"Like a crowd waiting for a show to begin," commented
The explorer was thinking deeply. "I don't know," he said slowly at last, "but what it might be a wise plan to open the doors. If they came in and saw no signs of us, it might fill them with such superstitious terror that they would clear out. The only trouble is, we can't open the door without going up in the temple ourselves."
"Not much, do we let them in," declared
"I don't believe they know about the arm," said
"We might just as well find out," said Belmont, and the two made their way towards the ponderous machinery with Kathryn beside them.
For a time they could find nothing that appeared to be a lever or handle for operating the mechanism from below. As they studied the chains and toggles, the girl wandered about and entered the room containing the chests of gold ornaments. As she passed one of these her foot tripped on some object in the dark shadows, she plunged forward and uttered a startled cry.
Instantly the two men came racing towards her. "What's wrong?" cried Thornton who was the first to reach the spot.
"Nothing serious," she assured him, picking herself up. "I tripped over something and fell. I was startled, but I'm not hurt."
"Thank heaven," exclaimed
Gleaming dully in the shadows was a heavy metal bar, and, as the engineer tried to lift it, he gave a surprised exclamation. The bar was fastened to the stone.
"It's a handle or a lever," declared
"Here goes to find out," said
Slowly he heaved upward on the bar. There was a slight rumbling sound, the bar rose to a perpendicular position, but the walls of the room remained as before.
"Didn't do anything," declared the engineer in disappointed tones.
"I'm not so sure of that," said the explorer. "Something certainly moved. Perhaps it operates something outside."
Leaving the room, the three entered the outer passage and glanced curiously about. "Well, I'll be everlastingly hanged!" cried
There was no doubt of it. The entrance to the passage was closed, and faintly from above came the sounds of voices.
With the others at his heels, the explorer silently climbed into the giant god and peered out through the opening in the mouth. Standing in the doorway of the temple, and with one or two of the more courageous with in the vast chamber, were the savages; half-frightened, half-wondering expressions on their faces, and staring intently at the idol.
Presently one of their number, whose ornaments and head dress marked him as a chief or medicine-man, prostrated himself before the god, and instantly the others did likewise. Then he arose and very cautiously approached the idol. As he saw that the offerings of fruit and game had vanished, his eyes fairly bulged, and his jaw sagged in incredible wonder. Then, recovering himself, he commenced to gesticulate and to speak in awed tones. At his words every member of the band turned and with the medicine-man, dashed from the temple.
"Bully, then we can clear out of here," cried
The other shook his head. "Wait a bit," he counseled. "They may still be near. We must be sure they have gone for good and all. There is no sense in walking right into their clutches."
"That's so," agreed
As the engineer peered from the idols mouth he could scarcely suppress a cry of delight and surprise. The savages had returned and, leading the others, two men were carrying a huge basket of fruit, a pile of cassava cakes and a haunch of meat. Bowing and chanting, they placed these offerings reverently on the throne, and backed away through the doorway.
"Hurrah, we're in luck!" he announced. "They've left a regular table-d'hote meal for old gold-bug. They think he's just getting up a good appetite. We can shut the door, go up, get the grub, and whenever we need food all we'll have to do is to open the door and they'll bring in another meal. Talk about service!"
"Hold on!" cried
But there was no sign of an enemy in the vast hall, and the explorer gave the word for
"I wish to goodness they'd leave a few jars of water," said
"I wish I could speak their dialect," mused Thornton "In that case I could play oracle, and suggest that they include liquid refreshments with their offerings and then betake themselves to their own homes."
"By Jove, that's a darned good scheme!" cried
"Unfortunately, I don't know a word of their language," the explorer reminded him. "While they were conversing I listened, but I could not understand a word."
"But you speak Akawoia," said Kathryn. "They might understand that. Ted has some Akawoia boys working for him, and he says their language is understood by every Guiana Indian."
"Not quite all,"
"Go to it, old man," said
"I don't think it wise to try it now," declared the explorer. "We have enough water for the rest of the day, and we can open the door in the morning. If we do it too often it will soon lose its impressive effect. Besides, there is a possibility that they will have left the vicinity by morning."
"Very well, you know best," agreed
"That is a possibility," exclaimed
The closest search, however, failed to reveal another entrance or any lever or mechanism which might operate a secret door. There was nothing new to be investigated, and after a visit to the other building, whence no sign of the Indians could be seen, the four gathered in the temple and passed the long hours in talking and telling stories.
"If they are still here then they will bring more offerings" declared the explorer. "And if they do not appear we may be reasonably sure that they have left the city."
"Isn't it strange that they do not suspect we are here and have taken the food?" asked the girl. "They saw us go in here."
"They are superstitious and attribute everything they do not understand to magic,"
The time dragged slowly, but the light faded at last and the four dined well on the haunch of venison and the remaining fruits. All, however, were suffering from thirst. The sugary fruit did not quench their thirst in the least, and they were conserving every drop of water. Both men merely pretended to drink, in order that the girl might not suffer, and Joseph, realizing the state of affairs, insisted he was not thirsty.
As soon as it was broad daylight, the four went below, the door was opened, and
As they approached the idol with their daily offerings,
"Confound it," cried the explorer, as he descended to the others. "Why was I such an ass not to have known they'd be frightened half to death? Now we're worse off than before. They won't come back to bring food."
"Perhaps they may, when they have recovered from their first fright," said Kathryn hopefully.
"Or better yet, they may be so blamed scared that they'll clear out of the city and valley," said
This was a good plan, and
For a dozen paces she raced along the passage, until her flashing light glinted upon a tiny stream burbling from a crevice and tumbling in a miniature cascade to a basin-like hollow of the rock. With a little cry she dropped to her knees and drank deeply of the cold, crystal-clear liquid. No longer need she and the others fear thirst. She had indeed made a discovery, and elated, she sprang up and hurried back to carry the good news to her friends. As she reached the first chamber, and again saw the scattered vessels, another idea flashed through her mind. She would not return empty-handed, but would bring water with her. Glancing about, she seized a pitcher and hurried back to the spring.
Filling the receptacle to the brim, she again started back, humming gaily, filled with happiness at her discovery. Suddenly she halted, a frightened look in her eyes, her ears straining. From ahead had come a faint rumble, a dull grating sound. Filled with vague terror, her hands shaking so that the water slopped and spilled, she peered into the darkness, shaking in every limb. But once more all was silence. With a little laugh at her own nervousness, and summoning her courage, she stepped forward once more, flashing the light before her. A cry of gripping fear was wrung from her lips. The passageway ended in a solid wall. Shaking, terrified, she dropped her burden and searched the walls, here, there, everywhere. But not a crevice that hinted of an opening was visible.
Dazed, despairing, Kathryn leaned weakly against the wall. She was trapped, shut off, alone in the dark underground passage that led, no one knew where. It was enough to stun anyone, much more a girl, and, now that it was too late, she realized how foolhardy and reckless she had been. Tears filled her eyes, she felt sick and faint as she thought of the awful lingering death awaiting her—death by starvation in the blackness. Then her thoughts turned to the others. What would Belmont and Thornton think when they missed her, when they found that she had mysteriously vanished? They would go almost mad, she knew, especially
She must keep up, must be on the alert, must not give in. She had water, she was not hungry—not terribly hungry—but her nerves were shaken, she was weak from the shock of her predicament, and she was deadly afraid that she might faint. She clenched her fists, bit her lips until they bled, exerted all her will power, and repeating "I won't give up, I won't give up," over and over again, she sat there waiting, waiting in the darkness with the golden pitcher of water by her side. Hours seemed to pass, but still, with wide eyes, forcing herself to be calm and patient, battling against her desire to shriek, to go utterly to pieces, she gazed fixedly at the dark space she knew to be the hidden door. Then, so suddenly, so unexpectedly that she did scream, a grating noise broke the awful silence. With wildly beating heart she flashed on her light and leaped to her feet. Before her a section of the wall was moving aside. She was saved! Already the opening was a foot wide. Forgetting the jug of water, in her mad relief, she squeezed her body through the opening, raced across the chamber, and throwing herself upon the floor, wriggled like a snake through the tiny aperture into the main passage.
"They came back," he announced, as he pushed the lever to close the doors. "At least, the old peaiman did. He left food but no water, confound him. Come on, let's eat. Where is Kathryn?"
The explorer glanced about. "Why, she was here a moment ago," he declared.
"Me tellum she go walk that side," asserted Joseph, waving his hand in the direction of the main passage.
"Hello! Oh, Kitty!" shouted
"Perhaps she went through the tunnel," suggested
"Sure, that must be where she is," agreed the engineer. "I'll run along and find her. I expect she wanted to see if any Indians were in sight."
But when he reached the other building and found no trace of the girl, a terrible dread swept over him. He could think of but one explanation for her disappearance. Shaking with fear of what he might see, convinced that Kathryn must have fallen to the pavement below,
"Good God!" he cried. "She's not there. She's nowhere in the passage. Nowhere."
Too stunned to speak, utterly dazed at the girl's disappearance, the two white men stood, staring at each other, motionless and silent. It was terrible, incredible, utterly beyond reason to think that the girl could have vanished, leaving no trace, here in the narrow passage and the tiny rooms where there was not a corner nor a spot where she could be hidden, where every inch of the floors and walls was in plain sight.
Joseph's voice broke the silence of the despairing, stunned men. "Me tellum this place plenty peai," he croaked.
"Shut up, you idiot!" commanded
"Here, here," said
"Hell, it's beyond reason!" moaned
The sound of running feet followed, and the girl threw herself into
"Thank God!" he almost sobbed. "I thought—Oh, my darling, you don't know—" he stammered, his voice breaking, as his arms closed tightly about her and she buried her face on his breast.
She lifted her head and with starry eyes and smiling happy face, looked up. "Yes, I do know—dearest," she whispered. "I love—" his lips smothered the rest of the sentence.
"Some fast worker," chuckled
Very gently, Kathryn released herself from
In rapid words she told her story as she snuggled close to the engineer's side.
"You poor, poor little girl!" he whispered, and then told her of what had taken place during her absence, and of how he and Thornton had suffered.
"You can't go in there again," he declared with finality, when she again spoke of returning for the water. "No, not even if I do know the confounded doors will stay open."
"That's silly, dear," replied the girl, "We must have water and the opening is too small for you or Ned to get in."
"Joseph might manage it," suggested the explorer. "Let's have a try."
But when they reached the aperture revealed by the opening of the temple door, it was obvious that even the Arekuna could not force his way through.
"And she is not going to," insisted the engineer. "I'd go mad, thinking of her in there, where she spent such a terrible time."
"It will be different now, darling," argued Kathryn. "You know the doors cannot close, and it's only a few steps. It won't take me a minute, and we can talk back and forth all the time. I'm not the least nervous now. And you know, Frank, we must have water."
"Kathryn is right," declared
Throwing himself on his stomach,
"There," she exclaimed triumphantly. "You see, dear, it was perfectly all right. How foolish it would have been—"
She was interrupted by an exclamation from
The others hurried to his side. In the bright light from the torch they could see a heavy gold ring resting in a circular depression cut into the rock wall.
"There must be a door somewhere," declared
But although the two men exerted all their strength, and Joseph tugged with them at the ring, it remained as immovable as the solid rock.
"Hang it all!" cried
Possibly it slides or has to be pushed or lifted," suggested the explorer. But despite every effort to move it in any direction, it remained fast.
As he spoke, he searched carefully over the walls from ceiling to floor. "Ha!" he exclaimed suddenly, "There's another ring on this side. It's so overgrown with lichens that I overlooked it."
Once more the three men strained, pushed, pulled and twisted; but the second ring gave no more indication of yielding than the first.
"I give up," declared
"Never give up,"
At the third count the two men pulled. There was a slight creaking, grating sound and the solid wall opened before their amazed eyes.
"Well, I'll be—" began
"Yet very simple," added the other. "Just two doors with their edges so dove-tailed and so pivoted that each locks the other and one cannot be opened by itself. And look here," he continued, as he knelt on the floor. "They cannot be opened when the door of the temple is closed and this small aperture is shut. The block of stone that closes this hole also bolts these doors."
"It's the cleverest thing I've seen yet," agreed the engineer. "But I'm a darned sight more interested in getting out of here than in examining their burglar-proof locks."
"There's plenty of time,"
"Great Scott, yes!" ejaculated
Closing the doors, and with Joseph carrying the jar of water, they hurried back along the passage.
"If they were near they assuredly would have come here when the door was open for such a long time," he explained. "And if they had been here, and had seen the food still on the floor and untouched, they would have reasoned that their god was displeased and would have placed the basket on the throne."
"Maybe," muttered the engineer, "but I'm not taking any chances with Kitty. We'll explore the new passage and see where it comes out. If it leads to the air at any distance from the temple we can lure the Indians here by opening the door, and then run down there and make our escape while they're kow-towing to their old idol."
Feeling greatly refreshed by their meal, the four rose, and made their way to the newly-discovered tunnel. Once more Belmont and Thornton pulled in unison on the metal rings. Then they looked at each other in amazement. The doors remained immovable!
"Hang it!" cried
Hurrying back, he swung the lever and the doors swung as readily as before. As they passed through the room containing the golden vessels,
Instantly all halted in their tracks, listening with tense ears. The next moment
"Yes," replied the other. "Either the arm of the idol or the lever slipped, or else the Indians have discovered the secret of the god's arm. The way back is sealed."
For a time the three stood silent. Then
"Let us hope it was an accident," said the explorer. "If those fellows have learned the secret of the idol, we'll be worse off than with the place irretrievably shut. If they don't get into the passage and follow us, I'll be satisfied."
"Confound the luck!" cried
"I don't think there is any danger," the other assured them. "Even if the Indians descended to the passage —assuming that they operated the levers, which I doubt, and found the outer doors open, the inner entrance to this place is shut and can only be opened from the idol or the secret lever. No, I feel we are safe enough from them. But we're compelled to get out now. We have no food."
"Don't let's worry yet," pleaded the girl. "We really don't know anything about what is behind us or before us. We are just worrying ourselves over theories and possibilities."
"You're right, darling," declared
For an interminable distance they walked along the passage. The walls were slimy and wet, the floor became uneven, and the tunnel twisted and turned. At last, far ahead, they saw a glimmer of light.
"We're nearing the end," announced the explorer. "Now we must be cautious. We don't know where we are, nor whether or not the exit is guarded."
Silently they approached the opening, until within a few yards of it, when they halted. The aperture was small, irregular and partly choked with masses of loose rock and boulders, and was screened by vines, brush and vegetation.
"Our best plan will be to let Joseph sneak out and look around," declared
A moment later the Arekuna slipped like a lizard among the rocks and was lost to view. Patiently and silently the three waited. But at last the bushes, silhouetted against the light, swayed gently, and on noiseless feet Joseph stepped towards them.
"He says the entrance is close to the river," announced the explorer, as the Arekuna finished speaking in his native dialect. "And no Indians are in sight. Moreover, several canoes are drawn upon the bank a few rods from this entrance. Evidently the Indians came in their craft by way of the stream. The entrance is well hidden among a pile of rocks overgrown with a thicket. I think our best plan is to wait here until dark. Then we will send Joseph out again, and if he finds the way clear, we'll make a dash for the canoes and get away."
"A fine plan, provided the rascals aren't camped alongside their canoes," agreed
"Joseph says there is no sign of a camp,"
The explorer's plan appeared feasible to all, and with Joseph hidden among the brush at the tunnel's mouth as a guard, the three seated themselves on some fragments of stone, and conversing in low voices, prepared to wait for nightfall.
Every move they were to make was carefully planned, and provided that the savages were not near, there seemed no reason to apprehend discovery.
"There are six canoes," said
"Thunderation, no!" exclaimed
"Never mind, dear," said Kathryn. "You had only three cartridges anyway. Joseph can always get fish, and perhaps we'll find food in the canoes."
"Too bad," commented the explorer. "But it's no use worrying about it now. I'm afraid I'm not sufficiently expert to shoot game with the automatic, but we'll manage somehow."
Gradually, as they talked, the entrance to the tunnel grew dim. The outlines of the vines and branches became invisible, and at last the final glimmer of line was gone and the opening was as black as the interior of the passage.
Presently Joseph approached and reported that he had seen no signs of their enemies, and that no fire was visible.
"All right, let's go," said
With Joseph in the lead, and each member of the party touching the one in advance, they crept from the passage into the open air. Although it had appeared quite dark from within the tunnel, yet the night was clear, and the faint glow of starlight made it possible to distinguish nearby objects. Once away from the pile of rocks, it was easy going, and Joseph led the way unerringly. All about them were small trees, forming, as Joseph had said, a dense thicket. Passing through this, they came out on a weed-grown open space with the river flowing swiftly and with a musical gurgle a few rods distant. Against the silvery sheen of the water they could see the dark outlines of the canoes, and for a moment they halted, listening and waiting for any possible sound or sign of their enemies.
"We'll let Joseph go forward and make sure," whispered
Like a shadow the Indian vanished into the night, and patiently the three waited, crouching motionless at the edge of the thicket.
Suddenly, from the direction of the canoes, came a faint, half-smothered sound, and a rattle as of some object striking wood.
In that case, they were doomed to a terrible fate indeed, and
Better by far had they remained in the underground chambers of the temple. But it was now too late for vain regrets. The very worst had befallen them; the end had come. All these thoughts flashed through
Where were they taking him? Were the others there also? It was impossible for him to know, for he could not see, could not speak, and could not move hand or foot. One thing, however, was certain. He was not being carried to the temple, so the chances were that the others were not. This was a slight relief, but then again, it might indicate an even worse fate if that were possible. In all probability they were being taken to the Indians' village, and death, perhaps torture, would follow. For himself he cared little. He had faced death daily for years, and had been in so many tight places from which he had escaped by a hair's breadth, that he had ceased to worry over the future. In fact he had become more or less of a fatalist, and as he lay there in the rocking, speeding canoe, his thoughts were all of the others, and his one great regret for his own fate was that, if he were killed, he could never report the astounding discoveries he had made.
For hours the canoe sped on. Several times the sounds of rushing water, the erratic, bounding, leaping motions of the craft, and the excited voices of his captors, told
At last, by the light that filtered through the covering over his eyes, he knew that day had dawned. He was now gasping for breath, his throat was dry and parched, the thongs cut into his wrists, arms and ankles, and every bone and muscle ached and pained as if he had been pounded. Would they never stop? Would his captors never remove the stifling gag and give him a drop of blessed water? He began to wish they had made away with him in the first place, for his sufferings were almost beyond human endurance. Then he felt the canoe being run ashore. Once more he was lifted and carried for a short distance; he was placed on the ground, and without warning, the covering was jerked from his head and the gag taken from his mouth.
What had become of his companions? Had they been left behind to provide human sacrifices, while he alone had been carried away? He opened his lips to speak, in the faint hope that the savages might understand some Indian dialect and might reply.
But instantly one of the fellows made a warning gesture, and held up the gag suggestively, and the words died on
They could have killed him and his companions without a sound, without the least warning, and without betraying their own presence, and yet they had used bows and arrows instead. The only reasonable explanation he could think of was that the Indians had wished to take the white men prisoners, that they had planned sacrifice or torture from the start. But the savages' behavior had been most mysterious throughout. Even their identity was a puzzle, a mystery. It was hopeless to try to solve it all or to formulate a plan to gain his freedom, and at last
No sooner had he finished eating and had taken his fill of water, than he was again bound and the covering drawn over his head. But this time, to his intense relief, the gag was not used, although his captors made it very plain, by means of signs and unintelligible words, that any outcry or sound would instantly bring the terrible gag into use.
Once more he was carried to the canoe, the craft was shoved from the shore, and steadily, for hour after hour, they swept on down the stream. Sometimes the sun beat down upon them with terrific heat. At other times they were in semi-darkness, and the dank, cool air told of passing through dense forests. Again and again, they ran rapids; and three times
He awoke, cramped, shivering with the chill night air, and realized that the canoe was motionless. A moment later he was lifted and carried ashore, placed in a hammock and his bonds loosened. His first thought was that he had reached the journey's end, that he was at the Indians' village. But as he gratefully stretched his cramped limbs and looked about he knew this was not the case. The same two savages squatted near, huddling over a small fire, and there was no sign of other human beings or of huts. The hammock, after the hard, wet bottom of the canoe, was a luxury, and with a wonderful sensation of comfort he once more slumbered.
It was broad daylight when he opened his eyes. Water and food were given him and then, although once more he was blindfolded and the head covering was tied about his neck, his hands were left free. But he was far more comfortable than hitherto, even if he could not see. He could sit up, could shift his position from time to time, and he was no longer cramped and numb. He even considered locating the position of his captors by sound, drawing his automatic and shooting at them. But he quickly abandoned the idea. In the first place, one sat at the bow and the other at the stern of the dugout, and he was between them. Even if he shot one the other could kill him. And in the second place his soul revolted at thought of killing the fellows. They had treated him decently so far, and, for all he knew, Belmont, Kathryn and Joseph might have been shown the same consideration. And after all, as he thought it all over, the savages had behaved pretty well. They had resented the white men's desecration of their temple and their god, but that was only natural and he could not blame them. And, had the Indians so desired, they easily could have killed every member of the party without endangering themselves. No, until his captors gave him more cause, he would not attempt their lives, even to escape.
All day they continued to travel. Stops were made and
For a time he could distinguish nothing. But as his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he saw three figures seated before him in the large dugout. Oddly enough, they were motionless, were not paddling. He peered intently at them, gasped, rubbed his eyes, utterly unable to believe his senses. Was he dreaming? Was he suffering from some strange delusion? Surely it could not be, and yet it must be, it must—yes, there was no question. The figures before him were not his captors, were not savages—they wore clothes. It was incredible, utterly amazing. Then he knew. The dark, huddled forms were those of Kathryn, Belmont and Joseph!
From his lips came a sharp, joyous, surprised cry. Instantly the nearest figure swung about. "Ned!" came in amazed tones from the darkness. "I'll be—"
"Wa-la!" interrupted the guttural voice of the Arekuna. "Me tellum plenty peai!"
"Oh, I can't believe it!" came Kathryn's voice. "It's too wonderful! Where are we? What has happened?"
Scarcely had he spoken when the canoe grated against the bank. Thornton grasped the branch of an overhanging tree, and a moment later, the four, so mysteriously and strangely reunited, were on dry land, talking, laughing and, as Belmont put it, "acting like a bunch of kids."
Behind them towered the black shadowy forest; before them lay the dark river. They had no idea where they were, they were without shelter, food or fire, but they were heedless of their plight. It was enough that they were again together, safe, alive and unhurt. Seated there, upon the muddy bank, between the jungle and the river, they waited for the coming day and told one another what had occurred to each one since they had been surprised and captured. Every story was much the same, for all had undergone almost identical experiences. Not one of the four had seen any of the others until they had found themselves here, together in the big canoe, and all laughed as they described how each had mistaken the others for Indians until
"But why did they do it?" queried the girl. "Why did they take us prisoners and carry us all this distance and then let us go? And where are we now?"
"I've spent most of my time trying to puzzle out an answer to those very questions," replied the explorer. "Only one theory seems plausible. Their one idea must have been to get us away from the city and their idol. They had no intention or desire to injure us, probably because they thought us peai or in favor with the god, for they had blow-guns and poisoned darts and could have killed us at any time if they had wished. And they had no intention of letting us ever find our way back, and prohably brought each of us by a separate route. I guess they've succeeded pretty well, too. As nearly as I can make up, they have been doubling on their course, going down one stream and then another, crossing overland at times, paddling through creeks, and threading a maze of waterways. We may be in British or Dutch Guiana, even in
"Maybe," conceded the engineer. "But how about the arrows they fired at us? They nicked you and Joseph. Not a very peaceable act, I'd say."
"Don't ask me," said
"No more than I did over you, dear," whispered the girl. "But I felt sure it would all come out well in the end."
"Thank the good Lord that it did," declared
"Great Scott, that's so!" cried
Joseph patted his leather pouch significantly. "Me tellum me catchum this time," he grinned. "Him fellers no likeum. Him sabby peai, no touchutn." As he spoke the Arekuna reached in his pouch and drew out a golden ingot.
"Foxy boy!" cried
"It looks as if I'm the only one who didn't make good," laughed
"Well, I'll be—" commenced
"Or a unique wedding present," suggested the other with a grin. "Hello, it's nearly daylight. Look, we can see the opposite shore."
Dawn came rapidly, and as the canoe became visible, Joseph rose and went to it. A moment later he turned. "All same gottum grub.” he announced.
The others hurried to him. In the dugout were paddles, a bow and arrows and several cassava cakes wrapped in palm leaves.
"We won't starve at any rate," announced the explorer. "Mighty thoughtful of them. And if we follow the current we're bound to strike the coast or a settlement."
"Sure," assented the engineer. "But which way is the current? Seems to me there isn't any."
When their frugal breakfast was over and they again went to the canoe,
"Gad, he's right!" cried the explorer. "We're within reach of tide-water. We are below all the rapids and within one hundred miles of the coast!"
Elated, excited, the four piled into the canoe, and plying paddles with all their strength, the men drove their craft down the creek towards the west.
Dodging sunken logs and snags, crouching low as they swept beneath fallen trees, ploughing through masses of the giant Victoria Regia lily leaves, they sped on. Rapidly the narrow jungle stream widened, and presently a wider creek was seen ahead. Into this they swung, but by now the tide was flowing swiftly against them, and the canoe moved slowly. The creek turned and twisted and gradually it broadened. The jungle gave way to muddy shores covered with mangroves, and as they rounded a sharp bend, the gleam of open water lay before them.
A moment later, and the creek was left astern and they floated on the surface of a broad river. And at the sight which greeted them, a shout rose from all four throats. Across the river, scarcely half a mile distant, was a town! Beside the wooden dock a river steamer was moored; wooden houses shone in the sun; and a tiny locomotive puffed and snorted as it hauled a freight train along the bank.