Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Boy Adventurers in the Unknown Land
The Boy Adventurers in the Unknown Land
A. Hyatt Verrill
Author of "In the Forbidden Land," "In the Land of El Dorado," etc.
Illustrated with drawings and photographs by the author
G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York and London
The Knicherbocker Press
By A. Hyatt Verrill
The Boy Adventurers Series
The Boy Adventurers in the Forbidden Land
The Boy Adventurers in the Land of El Dorado
The Boy Adventurers in the Land of the Monkey Men
The Boy Adventurers in the Unknown Land
by A. Hyatt Verrill
Made in the United States of America
II.—FRED HAS AN ADVENTURE ... 28
III.—A DESPERATE CHANCE . . . .41
IV.—THE GUARDIAN OF THE GOD ... 61
VI.—A MIRACULOUS DELIVERANCE . . . 103
VII.—BRAZIL . - . . . . .118
VIII.—DOWN THE RIO TINTO . . . .139
IX.—BAOOT SAVES THE DAY . . . .156
X.—DR. WOODWARD IS CONVINCED . . .173
XI.—A SURPRISING EXPERIENCE . . .190
XIII.—FRIENDS IN NEED ..... 226
XIV.—A REVELATION ...... 242
THK BOYS SEATED THEMSELVES IN ONE OF THE CANOES .... Frontispiece
THE PECCARIES LEAPED UP AND GNASHED THEIR TUSKS......18
THE STRANGE CREATURE KNOCKED FRED HEAD OVER HEELS ...... 32
BESIDE THE FIRE WERE TWO TERRIFYING SAVAGES ....... 46
THE OLD MAN* DASHED PELL MELL FROM THE SPOT.......84
HE SAW AN INDIAN WITH HIS BLOWGUN POINTED AT HIM.....104
THE MAN WAS STANDING ON A PLATFORM SEVERAL FEET ABOVE THE GROUND . . 134
THE CRAFT DASHED THRILLINGLY THROUGH THE RAPIDS ...... 246
In the Unknown Land
CHAPTER I TREED
In the heart of the South American jungles, near where the boundaries of Brazil, Dutch and British Guiana meet, lies a vast unknown country; a wilderness unexplored; a land of tumbled mountains, great plains or savannas, lofty plateaus, impenetrable forests and innumerable rivers. No white man has ever penetrated this wilderness; no civilized man has ever gazed upon its wonders or learned its secrets. No one can say what strange races may dwell within this district; what unknown, unsuspected creatures may roam its untrodden jungles. Weird tales are told by the Indians and Bush Negroes; strange stories of wild fierce tribes of savages, scarcely human, who make this area their home, and of still stranger and more remarkable four-footed denizens of the unknown land. They tell of demoniacal beings with hairy bodies and claw-like hands and feet; of ape-like men who dwell in trees; of giants who devour their fellow human beings. And they relate tales of uncanny dog-like creatures —great beasts with huge fang-like teeth, blazing eyes and foaming jaws—that roam through the forests and over the plains hunting their prey in great packs, irresistible, terrible, ferocious things which no man may conquer. Also, with bated breaths, they whisper stories of great tiger-like animals; higher than a man,—who dwell, solitary, upon jungle covered hills and at dead of night steal down from their lairs and fall upon any human beings they may find. Whether or not there is truth in all these tales no one knows and the red men and the Jakos, superstitious beyond belief, look upon the unknown country with deadly fear and believe its denizens to be supernatural.
Into this strange land Dr. Woodward and our two boy adventurers,—Harry Woodward and his cousin Fred—had wandered in their search for the source of the strange, misshapen idol the boys had bought at an auction in New York. The scientist, a noted authority on the Indians, saw in the little black god the idol of an unknown race and the possible key to unsolved mysteries shrouding the prehistoric people of America, and was most anxious to discover its origin. Moreover, the image was made of a radio-active material—a radium ore which if found in quantities would prove more valuable than diamonds—and the two boys were far more interested in finding the deposit of ore from which the image had been made than in the scientific discoveries.
And the search for "Old Billikins," as they called the little god, had led them far and through many strange experiences and thrilling adventures. They had penetrated the wilds of the forbidden land in Panama and had narrowly escaped death at the hands of the savage Kunas. They had found a lost prehistoric city and had been rescued from certain death by an aviator. They had traveled into the far interior of Guiana, had visited strange tribes, had been made prisoners by wild Bush Negroes and had had countless narrow escapes. But all had been tame in comparison with their latest adventures. Escaping from the savage negroes or Jakos they had been lost in the unknown land and in their wanderings had fallen into the hands of a weird, primitive race, a tribe still in the beginning of the stone age, a people scarcely higher than the apes, whom the boys had called the Monkey Men. Among these remarkable folk the three had dwelt for months, having innumerable adventures and strange experiences. The boys had discovered some valuable emeralds; Dr. Woodward, by a remarkable accident, had become the king of the tribe and eventually all three had escaped from the valley of the Monkey Men at the imminent risk of their lives, only to find themselves hopelessly lost in the heart of the unexplored district. Then, after paddling aimlessly along unknown rivers and through vast labyrinth-like swamps they had, by an amazing coincidence, met their old boat captain, Boters, and their crew of Indians, who like themselves, had become lost in the maze of forests and waterways.
Now once more, all were together, gathered about a camp fire on the banks of the river and telling one another the adventures which had befallen them since they had become separated at the mysterious cave of the skulls. Overjoyed as they were at being once again with their former comrades, and once more in possession of fire arms and the necessities of civilized man, still the scientist and the two boys —as well as Boters and his crew—were little better off than before. Even the Indians,—skilled bush-men as they are—had not the faintest idea where they were and could offer no advice as to how to reach the settlements or friendly Indian villages. Boters, although he had spent a lifetime upon the Guiana rivers, was as hopelessly lost as the boys themselves, and the more Dr. Woodward studied his map of the country the more confused and puzzled he became. To be sure, the boundaries of Guiana and Brazil were plainly shown, there were rivers, mountains and plateaus indicated; but the scientist well knew that all these were pure guesswork and had been filled in merely to avoid leaving a blank space on the map. Even the rivers and other details of the known country were most inaccurate and at last, with an exclamation of disgust and hopelessness, he tossed the useless map aside.
"It's no use," he declared. "That map's as useful as a piece of blank paper. Even the distances are all off. According to that, we could travel from the Essequibo to the Berbice in a few days and yet we have been wandering about for weeks since we left the Wai Woi village and we haven't seen a river that could possibly be the Berbice."
"Perhaps we're beyond the head waters of the Berbice," suggested Fred.
"Of course we are," replied his uncle. "But if the map is right we'd be in Brazil in that case."
"Well, perhaps we are," said Harry. "I don't see how anyone can tell Brazil from Guiana."
"Or maybe we're in Dutch Guiana," added Fred. "And if we keep on we may come out in French Guiana," he continued with a laugh.
Boters had been intently studying the discarded map, following the rivers indicated with his blunt black forefinger and laboriously spelling out the names as he peered through his spectacles. "Eh, eh!" he exclaimed presently, "when I take de fac's of de case in consid'ation I fin' out de wuthlessness of dis map. I spec' we been rangin' 'bout here, dere and all wheres an' I ain't know meself hukkum we fin' ourselfs here 'bout or how we gwine fin' way for come loose of de flustration we in. Dis t'ing am sure. We gwine for to fin' a way out some manner an' dey ain't no call for randin' 'bout it. Wha la! It don’ mek no dif'rence if we fotch de Berbice or de Courantyne, 'cause we boun' for to mek tidewater 'tall events. 'Tain't no use s'archin’ an' I t'ink bes' for keep gwine. Looks laik to me we don' care where we gwine, long's we's gwine some' eres. Yes sir, dat's wha' bes' for to do, chief."
"Exactly," agreed the scientist, smiling at the Boviander's long speech. "We'll keep on the move and sooner or later we'll find a stream that leads to the sea."
"But how will we know when we do?" asked Fred. "This river runs south and the sea is north. Golly, I'm all twisted and everything up here seems topsyturvy."
His uncle laughed. "Then we must he in Dutch Guiana," he declared. "I've often heard it spoken of as topsy-turvy land. But seriously, the fact that this stream flows south means nothing. If you remember, we found many stretches on the Essequibo where the current flowed south. All these rivers twist and turn and within a mile from this spot the river may flow north."
"Or east or west," added Harry. "Gosh! I wonder if we ever will get out of here."
"And we haven't found old Billikins or the radium stuff yet." Fred reminded them. "We don't know any more about those than we did when we started."
"Don't we?" exclaimed the scientist. "That's where you are mightily mistaken, Fred. To be sure we have not found the material from which the god is made, nor have we definitely settled the place of its origin. But we have traced the idol from Darien to Guiana and have found the same god in the lost city of Panama, in that ruined city by the cave of the skulls and back in the city of Manoa among the Jakos. If we discovered nothing more I should be well satisfied. I am sure I have learned a secret of the prehistoric tribes of America and can prove that the people who built the lost city, the city of Manoa, and buried their dead in the cave of the skulls, were all one and the same race. It's an astounding discovery and well worth all we have been through."
"Maybe,—to scientists," agreed Harry. "But I don't see much fun in finding a lot of old gods when the people who made them are all dead. And I'd rather find that radium stuff."
Dr. Woodward chuckled. "Haven't you found enough live people to suit you?" he asked. "And," he added, "what would you do with the 'radium stuff if you found it? It might as well be on the moon as up here."
Harry grinned. "I guess you're right, Dad." he assented. "Even if we'd found the folks that made old Billikins they couldn't have been any stranger than those Jakos or the Monkey Men and we ought to be satisfied with our emeralds. Gosh, won't the boys at home be wild when they hear about our adventures on this trip?"
"And we're not out of the bush yet," put in Fred. "Say, I'll bet we're in for more adventures yet and we may still run across the radium."
"Or some other weird tribes," added Harry. "We may be lost, but who cares as long as we're all together and have guns and everything."
Old Boters peered quizzically over his glasses at the two boys and shook his grizzled wooly head. "Wha la!" he ejaculated. "Looks laik to me jes laik you all time s'archin' for trouble. Yes, sir, you is too e'ga' for 'venture. He come plenty fas' enough for to suit me 'ithout str'atchin' out for to meet he. 'Tall events, when I tek de t'ing in consid'ation I spec' you gwine meet plenty yet. Yes sir, dat what you boun' for do, sir."
"Well, let's get started then," said Fred. "There's no use waiting here."
"No use in starting today," declared his uncle. "A good rest will do us all good and a few hours more or less makes little difference. We'll camp here for the night and get off early in the morning." The Indians and Boters were glad of a chance to rest, for in their anxiety to reach the settlements and report the supposed loss or death of Dr. Woodward and the boys, they had paddled almost ceaselessly for days, while Harry and Fred found, now that the tension of their excitement, and their worries were over, that they were utterly done up. For the rest of the day all lolled about, but towards evening the two boys became restless and Fred suggested they should go on a hunt.
"Don't get lost," Dr. Woodward cautioned them as they prepared to start. "You'd better take one of the Indians with you."
"We can't get any more lost than we are," laughed Harry. "And the Indians are as much lost as any of us. But I guess we'll take one along. We may need him to bring back the game."
So, accompanied by one of the grinning Indians the two boys left the camp and plunged into the forest. Game was abundant, and never having been disturbed by man, was very tame. Trails of deer, capybara, labba and even tapir were everywhere and several times Marudi pheasants, curassows and agoutis offered tempting shots. But the two boys were out for big game and the smaller things were left unmolested. Peering at the ground with his keen eyes, the Indian sought out fresh footprints of deer and tapir and peccary, but so numerous were the trails that for a long time even the Indian was baffled. Wandering aimlessly along in this way the three penetrated farther and farther into the forest, ascending a low hill and at last coming to rocky, broken country full of ridges and gulleys.
"It's funny we don't see any deer or anything," remarked Fred at last. "Their tracks are everywhere and yet we haven't caught a glimpse of anything bigger than a labba."
"I was thinking the same thing," declared Harry. Then, addressing the Indian, he asked, "Why no seeum deer, no seeum maipuri (tapir) ? Seeum plenty track, must for catchum sametime. You sabby why no seeum?"
The Indian glanced about and the boys noticed a half frightened expression on his face. "No sabby," he replied. "Me huntum all time. Seeum plenty track, no seeum for shootum. Mebbe him feller been make 'fraid. Mebbe this place peai. Mebbe Takamu feller come this side. Mebbe Dido this side, how can tell?"
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Fred. "Why you makeum fool like so? You sabby too much no haveum Dido, no haveum Takamu. S'pose haveum him that feller, why no seeum tracks?"
"There, I guess that will hold him for a while," he laughed. "If his old Didoes or those Takamus— whatever they are—are here, let's see him show us their tracks."
"Gee, I don't know," declared Harry, glancing a bit nervously about. "It's mighty funny we haven't seen game and there may be something that's frightened the animals off. Say, what is that Takamu thing anyhow?"
"Search me," replied Fred. "Ask the Buck." But when the query was put to the Indian he could give very little information. He declared that the creature was a gigantic animal, a little like a jaguar but with enormous teeth. That it attacked and killed men and that arrows or bullets were powerless to hurt it. And he added that when one of the beasts was in the neighborhood all other creatures beat a hasty retreat and deserted the country about.
"I guess that's the answer," laughed Fred. "Say, did you ever know anything like the superstitions of these Indians, Harry? He admits he never saw a Takamu, that he doesn't even know anyone who has seen one, and he can't show us a footprint that he can pass off as the track of the thing, and yet he's scared half to death and really believes in his nonsense, just because we don't see any game."
"Yes," admitted Harry a little dubiously. "But just the same I don't know as I'd laugh at it too much. You know we didn't believe in those black cannibals or the Monkey Men, or in lots of other things we heard, and yet they were all true. Maybe there is such a creature as he describes."
"Of course there's something," agreed Fred. "But the Bush Niggers were not cannibals and if there is such a thing as a Takamu, a bullet will kill it just as easily as any other beast."
"Yes, but—" began Harry, when a low exclamation from the Indian interrupted him. Hurrying forward the boys examined the spot he indicated and saw a dozen or more tracks which were different from anything they had hitherto seen.
"Gosh, they look like giant peccaries'," exclaimed Fred and in low tones he asked the Indian what they were. The fellow peered carefully about and replied that the tracks were those of the big, white-lipped peccaries, that the creatures were near and that they were extremely dangerous and would attack a man with blind fury if wounded or excited.
"Come on," whispered Fred. "Who's afraid of a peccary?"
"Well, we'd better be careful," declared Harry. "Boters told us about these big fellows and he said they'd go for a man too. Don't you remember the story he told about being treed by them once? We'd better have trees ready to climb if they come for us."
His cousin nodded, as with the Indian leading, they stole forward on the trail of the wild hogs. Ahead was a thick growth of tangled sawgrass and great ferns and into this the tracks led. Very cautiously the Indian approached the thicket, signalling the boys to be ready and to be silent, and with cocked guns the two crept forward. As they reached the edge of the miniature jungle the three halted and to the boys' delight the sounds of low grunts and moving bodies came faintly to their ears from within the thicket.
Peering through the dense foliage, Fred caught a glimpse of a moving object and raising his gun fired. Instantly at the report pandemonium seemed to break loose. Snorts, squeals and grunts came from the jungle, there was the sound of rushing bodies, cracking twigs and branches, and with a terrified yell the Indian leaped to the nearest tree and swung himself into the branches. Thoroughly frightened, the two boys followed and not a moment too soon. As they gained the lowest limbs of a tree a score of great bristling creatures burst through the sawgrass and ferns, and halting, stared about, their great tusks bared, their upturned snouts sniffing the air, foam dribbling from their mouths and their wicked pig eyes blazing in wrath. Then, catching sight of the boys, they dashed with infuriated squeals at the tree.
Never had the two boys seen anything so demoniacally ferocious as these great black pigs. With grunts of baffled rage they hurled themselves against the tree, leaping high in the air and gnashing their razor-like tusks like castanets and fairly crazed with impotent fury.
"Gee whittaker!" cried Harry. "They are terrors. Say, I'd rather face a jaguar than those fellows."
"Only a jaguar could climb up here and they can't," Fred reminded him. "Come on, let's shoot the beasts. I guess a few gunshots will drive 'em off."
But the reports of the guns and the death of two of the creatures seemed only to increase the fury of the others. Again and again the boys shot, each time bringing down a peccary, but still the remaining beasts dashed at the tree and leaped into the air in their mad efforts to wreak vengeance on their enemies.
"Gosh, I've only one cartridge left," exclaimed Harry at last.
"And I've only two,"' announced Fred. "If those don't finish these beasts we're in a fix."
But when the last three shots had been used the peccaries, now reduced to four, were still masters of the situation and the boys and their Indian friend remained helpless on their precarious perches.
The sun was setting, the shadows were lengthening and the two boys were thoroughly frightened at the prospects of remaining treed for the night.
"Gee, we're in for it!" cried Harry. "If these beasts don't clear out pretty quick it'll be dark, and we're miles from camp."
"Yes and we'll be here all night," agreed Fred.
"And if we fall asleep or get numb—good night!" added Harry.
"Maybe Uncle will get worried and send some of the Indians to find us," suggested Fred hopefully.
"But he won't get worried until it's dark and then they can't find us," objected Harry. "Say, we were all kinds of boobs to tackle those peccaries. Why didn't that Indian warn us?"
"He did," his cousin reminded him. "But we were too cock-sure of ourselves. It serves us right I suppose, but you'll never catch me fooling with these big hogs again."
"Well, at any rate we've got plenty of game," laughed Harry who could still see the humor of their situation. "But it seems to me we're the hunted instead of the hunters now."
"And if any wild beasts come prowling about we haven't any more cartridges and can't shoot them or drive them off," said Fred. "And it would be just like a jaguar to come after those dead peccaries."
"Well, he wouldn't mind us if he had all that meat to eat," retorted Harry confidently. "I'm not afraid of—"
His words died on his lips as through the darkening forest echoed a terrifying, awful sound, a long-drawn, wavering wailing cry that seemed to freeze the blood in the boys’ veins.
"Wha—what is it?" whispered Fred, shaking with terror.
"A—a jaguar I guess," whispered Harry, trying to steady his voice. "I—I guess he's smelled the dead—"
Once more the fearful scream vibrated through the silent air and with loud snorts of mortal terror the peccaries turned and fled madly into the jungle. "Gosh, it scared them, even!" exclaimed Fred. "And it's—it's coming nearer. Gee, don't I wish we had some more cartridges.”
"Maybe it'll just grab a peccary and go off," stammered Harry. "It must be a—"
A roar, so loud and so near that the boys almost tumbled from the tree in fright, interrupted Harry's sentence, the Indian uttered a choking, gurgling cry of terror and with staling, unbelieving eyes the boys saw a huge tawny form leap from the shadows and land with a heavy thud at the base of the tree wherein they cowered. Even in the dusky twilight they could see that it was no jaguar. It was larger by far than even the black jaguar they had killed in Panama; it was almost uniform brownish in color, with indistinct stripes of a darker shade and as it stood below them, its tail lashing back and forth, its hair bristling and its lips drawn back in a savage snarl over enormous, gleaming, white teeth, it looked gigantic—larger than a lion or a tiger, to the two trembling boys.
For an instant the great beast stood there, staring up at the boys as though preparing to leap upon them; its body half crouched, its limbs tense. Then, with a sudden swift motion it turned, seized one of the dead peccaries in its great fangs and with a half-smothered howl of triumph leaped into the shadows and disappeared.
Limp and trembling the boys drew long breaths of relief.
"Whew!" exclaimed Harry in shaking tones, "Wasn't he awful? But he's gone."
"And so can we go," said Fred. "The peccaries have left for good, I'll bet."
"Yes, let's beat it before he comes back," cried Harry.
Still trembling and very shaky the two boys slid to the ground, glancing fearfully about and with ears tense as if expecting each instant to hear the blood-curdling scream and see the strange, terrible creature coming towards them. The Indian too, had scrambled to earth, and even more frightened than the boys, was peering about at the shadows. But despite his terror of the strange beast, made even greater by superstition and his belief that it was supernatural, he could not resist triumphing over the two white boys who had so recently scoffed at his fears.
"Mabbe you feller sabby Takamu for true this time," he remarked with a feeble attempt at a grin.
"You bet we sabby it," agreed Fred heartily.
"And I sabby that we want to get away from here and back to camp double quick," added Harry. "Gosh!" he exclaimed with a shudder. "Do you suppose he'll come after us, Fred?"
"No sabby," replied his cousin, trying to speak lightly as the Indian led the way through the black jungle. "But we'd better beat it while the beating's good and he's busy with the dead peccaries."
CHAPTER II FRED HAS AN ADVENTURE
WITH gripping fear adding speed to their feet the two boys and their Indian companion hurried through the dark forest towards the distant camp. Each moment they expected to hear the fearful scream of the unknown, ferocious beast behind them, and each time some small bird or animal rustled in the bushes their scalps tingled and they uttered low cries of alarm. But no sound of the savage creature's presence reached their ears, and with unerring instinct the Indian led them straight to the camp, which was much nearer than they had thought.
As the welcome light of the fire gleamed through the trees the boys uttered shouts of delight and fairly raced across the intervening space. Panting and exhausted they dashed into camp and Dr. Woodward leaped to his feet.
"Jove, what's wrong?" he exclaimed. "You look as if you'd seen a ghost!"
"Not a ghost, but worse," gasped Harry. "We've seen a Takarnu."
Breathlessly and excitedly the two boys told their story, while the Indian, no less excited, related his version to his tribesman who constantly uttered sharp, indrawn exclamations of wonder and fear as the talk progressed.
Dr. Woodward listened most attentively to the boys. "I'm afraid you’ve becoming imbued with the Indians' superstitious fears," he declared as they ceased speaking. "You were frightened and unstrung from your experience with the peccaries and imagined the creature to be larger and stranger than in reality. I have no doubt it was merely a puma. All this talk of Takamus is ridiculous nonsense. There are no such animals in Guiana."
"Wait until you see one," exclaimed Fred. "Then I'll bet you don't think it's any old puma or imagination, or superstition. Why, Uncle Frank, that beast was twice as big as a jaguar and had teeth as long—as long as my hand,"
The scientist laughed. "So you thought," he said. "But if you'd killed him you would have found his size and his teeth shrunk marvelously. Don't forget about that snake you killed."
"And don't forget about the Kunas and the Monkey Men and a lot of other things you thought were nonsense," Harry reminded his father.
"And why shouldn't there be such beasts?" demanded Fred. "Just because no one's killed one doesn't prove anything. There might be any sort of thing in here. Those birds over in the red valley were not like anything ever seen before, you know."
"That's a very different matter," declared his uncle. "New species of birds are common in unexplored places, for birds are restricted to definite areas, as a rule. But the carnivorous animals—especially the large cats—roam everywhere and over immense areas and would certainly be known."
"Well this one can start roaming any time, as long as it roams away from me," said Fred. "But you can't make me believe it was only a puma."
The scientist laughed. "No use trying to convince you, I see," he remarked. "He had you too well scared. You are great hunters—to run off and leave your game behind you."
"Gosh, I forgot all about that," cried Harry. "But," he added, "even if we'd wanted to, I'll bet we couldn't have made the Indian bring the peccaries in."
''Well it's lucky we had him to bring us in," said Fred.
“And fortunate that we don't really need the meat," added Dr. Woodward. "One of the men killed a wild turkey while you were away, so we won't be obliged to go to bed hungry."
Gradually, as they ate and their excitement left them, the boys overcame their nervousness and when it came time to crawl into their hammocks they dropped off to sleep as quickly as though no unusual events had occurred.
An early start was made the next morning, the Indians paddling swiftly down stream and all confident that their difficulties were over and that they would soon reach an Indian village or an outlying settlement. But as hour after hour passed and the stream—although it twisted and turned— seemed to continue in a general southerly direction, Captain Boters and Dr. Woodward looked troubled.
"Something's wrong," the scientist anuounced at last. "There's no doubt we're going away from the coast. I wonder if it's possible we have really crossed the watershed and are on a tributary of the Amazon."
Harry laughed. "Anything's possible up here," he declared. "And say, wouldn't it be great if we really did come out on the Amazon?"
"I don't know nothin' 'bout that Am'zon," muttered Boters. "But dis river mos' surely is humbuggin' mos' 'strep'rously. Yessir, I ain't never seen he like. Jus' de same we's boun' for to fotch up som'wheres, long as we keeps gwine."
No one could dispute this assertion and there was nothing to be done but keep "gwine" as the Boviander put it and trust to eventually coming out somewhere, as he said.
Hitherto the stream had flowed smoothly and with no bad rapids, and though numerous creeks or small. rivers had been passed, all flowed into the one they were following and none were large enough to tempt the captain or the scientist to change their course. But shortly before noon the current became swifter, the river roared and foamed through a long stretch of rapids and the woodskin, plunging like a mad thing, was swept at express train speed through the churning water. Thrilled with excitement, half fearful that the frail craft would be hurled upon a jutting black rock or would be capsized in the foaming, seething turmoil, the boys clung to the rails with gripping fingers and watched with tense faces and fast beating hearts. But the Indians and their Boviander captain seemed to think nothing of running the bark craft through the seething rapids. With consummate skill they swung the canoe aside from fang-like rocks; through tossing waves they steered it, where to the boys it seemed as if no boat could pass, and through it all they shouted and laughed and yelled as though thoroughly enjoying the excitement and danger, as indeed they were. It was all over in a few moments and even before the boys realized that the rapids were passed they found themselves floating safely upon a broad tranquil area below the falls, while just ahead, the stream divided, one branch flowing east, the other north.
"Hurrah!" shouted Fred. "Now we're all right."
"Yes," agreed his uncle, "I guess we're on the right track at last. As long as we keep traveling north we'll soon reach the coast."
Just below the spot where the two streams joined there was a strip of sandy beach and here the woodskin was run ashore and the Indians made preparations for lunch and a short rest.
As the men lolled about the fire and Dr. Woodward discussed matters with the captain, the two boys loaded their guns and strolled off along the shore in search of possible game. Dr. Woodward could not resist teasing them a bit. "Don't you want an Indian along?" he called after them. "You might see another Takamu, you know."
"If we do we'll bring him back to prove he's no puma," Harry shouted back. "But I don't mind having one of the men. Send Bagot along."
Bagot, a stocky young Macushi, rose and picking up his bow and arrows followed after the two boys.
"You makeum 'fraid Takamu?" asked Fred, as the Indian joined them.
The Macushi grinned. "No makeum 'fraid; him foolishness," he replied. "Seeum him feller me shootum bownarrer all same tiger, all same deer. Me Christian feller, no makeum 'fraid Dido, no makeum 'fraid nothing."
"Fine!" declared Harry laughing. "But just the same I remember you were plenty afraid of that cave full of skulls."
Finding no signs of game along the beach the boys turned into the brush and with Bagot leading, sought for game trails in the soft earth under the big trees. Presently Fred came to a huge rotten log and noticed that it had been recently torn and wrenched apart by some creature. Interested and curious, be stooped to examine the thing when he heard a scratching sound on the other side of the log. Rising, and with gun cocked and ready, he peered over the fallen tree trunk and almost dropped his weapon in amazement at what he saw. There, within a few feet, was an immense creature fully four feet in length and covered with a shining, dull-yellow shell, like a suit of golden armor. The boy could scarcely credit his senses. Never had he heard of any such creature and yet it seemed vaguely familiar. Then he remembered a prehistoric beast he had seen among the fossils in the museum back in New York. Yes, that was it. He was actually looking upon a living fossil, a creature such as no man had ever before seen. And wasn't it a weird beast? It's tiny elongated head was thrust out from its shell like a turtle's, its piglike snout was rooting among the rotten wood and its enormous front claws were tearing the log apart and digging up the dirt, like pickaxes. Evidently it did not suspect his presence and it offered an easy mark.
But even in his excitement the boy realized that that thick scaly armor was proof against anything but a high-powered rifle bullet and he carried only a shot gun. What should he do? Should he try to kill the creature by shooting at its head or should he steal off and summon Harry and the Indian, who were now some distance away?
His mind was quickly made up. If he left the spot the beast might get away. He had no intention of losing such a wonderful find, and he chuckled to himself to think how surprised Dr. Woodward would be when he saw this proof that unknown wild beasts did exist in Guiana.
Raising himself as far as possible above the log, Fred took careful aim at the creature's head and pulled the trigger. But at that instant the rotten wood under his feet gave way, and as the gun roared out and he stumbled backward he knew that he had missed, that his shot had gone wild and that he had lost the chance of his lifetime. Leaping to his feet, he raced around the log, hoping against hope to get a second shot at the creature ere it disappeared. As he cleared the end of the log he uttered a terrified yell and leaped aside, for the great golden-yellow creature was galloping straight at him! The next moment the beast was upon him. With the force of a battering ram it crashed against him, knocking him head over heels, the gun flew from his hands, he caught a glimpse of a slashing, six-inch claws and felt trousers and leggins ripped from knee to ankle as though they had been tissue paper. Terrified half out of his senses, screaming for help, Fred managed to regain his feet and dodge the next rush of the infuriated creature that, to the boy's frightened senses, now seemed absolutely gigantic. All that saved him was the fact that his antagonist was clumsy and incapable of moving quickly or leaping. But even as it was the boy had hard work to escape the ripping, slashing, death-dealing claws. Then came the welcome shouts of Harry and Bagot, there was a sharp report and the great beast rolled over, kicking spasmodically, as Harry's steel-jacketed bullet crashed through its thick bony covering.
"Jiminy Christmas, what is it?" cried Harry. "Say, he did give you some fight, didn't he?"
"I'll say he did!" gasped Fred, seating himself on the log and trying to recover his breath. "I thought I was a goner sure. Just look how he ripped my clothes to bits!"
"Gosh, yes, and Dad said there were no strange beasts up here," exclaimed Harry. "I'd like to know what this thing is."
"Him plenty bad feller," commented Bagot. "Him Yavissi—what you call him, arm'dillo."
"Armadillo nothing!" cried Fred. "Why, armadillos are little bits of things about as big as rabbits and harmless. You can't tell me this thing's an armadillo."
"Him all same," persisted the Indian. "Two, t'ree, kinds. Makum little some kind, makum big some kind. Him feller big kind."
"You bet he's big kind," agreed Fred heartily. "But Gee, if he's an armadillo he's the granddaddy of them all. And I thought he was one of those fossil things—Glypto—something or other,—that they have at the museum."
"Well he ought to be a fossil if he's not," declared Harry who was examining the dead beast. "He's half stone now. Say it's lucky I had a rifle. Look here, you can see where your shots struck his shell. They didn't even dent it."
"And they were double B's too," said Fred as he examined the dull marks of the leaden shot upon the animal's armor.
"Well, let's take him back and show him to Dad," suggested Harry.
Carrying their prize, the three returned to the camp highly elated.
"By Jove!" exclaimed the scientist as they arrived. "Where did you get that creature and what's happened to you, Fred? You look as if you'd been through a train wreck."
"I'd rather go through that than have another fight with this beast," declared Fred. "What is he, Uncle Frank? Bagot says he's an armadillo, but I say he's a Glypto—something—a fossil you know."
"Bagot's right," replied the scientist. "It's a giant armadillo—one of the rarest animals in the world. But you're nearly right also. The creature is a close relative of your Glytogon. We must try to preserve the skin and take it back. There are not a half dozen specimens in all the museums of the world."
"Hurrah, then we've got a trophy worth while," cried Fred. "And I'm going to preserve my trousers and leggins to go with it."
"You're lucky to have preserved your life," laughed his uncle. "One of these fellows can kill a man with a single sweep of his claws. And they don't know enough to be afraid."
"Something like an ant-bear," commented Harry.
"Only worse," added Fred. "A fellow stands some show with an ant-bear, but when a beast puts on armor he's got everything his own way."
Skinning a giant armadillo proved slow work and it was well along in the afternoon when the party again embarked and continued on their way. The stream flowed steadily northward and feeling quite sure that every hour was bringing them nearer to the coast and to civilization they ran the canoe ashore and made camp for the night. They dined on baked armadillo, which the boys found excellent, and as they ate Harry remarked that he'd bet they were the only two boys in the world who had ever eaten such a meal.
The night passed uneventfully and once more at dawn they were up and on their way. The river flowed swiftly, but smoothly, and though they often caught glimpses of distant, towering mountains, the country through which they passed was fairly level and covered with dense forests of lofty trees, broken at intervals by small, grass-covered, park-like savannas.
But to their surprise the river did not increase in size. Rather it became smaller, often narrowing to a few hundred feet in width, and Harry jocularly remarked that it must be flowing backward and they would soon find themselves at the head of the stream.
Indeed, had it not been for the current, all would have thought they were ascending instead of descending the river and even Dr. Woodward could not offer an explanation, while Boters, after deep thought and reflectively scratching his head, declared that, "Takin' de fac's in consid'ation it seem laik dis river jes' str'ach out like a camudi an' de longer he is de thinner he gets."
"If it's the other way about, and the thinner it gets the longer it is, then we must have an awful long journey ahead of us," laughed Fred as the canoe was run ashore for the noonday camp.
"I wonder if we can find another giant armadillo or some other strange beast," remarked Fred as they stepped onto the beach. "Let's take our guns and have a try. And," he added, "Bagot brought good luck, we'll take him along again."
Grinning, the Indian secured his weapons and the three started off. The sandy shore offered a far easier path than the thick jungle, and watching for open space where they could enter the forest, they trolled along the shore. Presently Bagot halted, examined the sand and pointed to some faint imprints his sharp eyes had detected. "Maipuri!" he announced. "Mebbe can catchum, like so."
"Good!" exclaimed Harry. "A tapir will be great, even if he isn't as wonderful as a giant armadillo. Which way did he go?"
But the Indian did not feel at all sure. There were a number of tracks, some leading towards the jungle, others to the water's edge and still others down stream along the shore. All seemed equally fresh, but all were very faint.
"You go down stream," suggested Fred addressing the Indian, "and we'll follow these towards the woods. S'pose you findum gone that side, you callum. S'pose we findum gone this side, we makeum callum you same way."
The Indian nodded in assent and with his eyes on the sand hurried off down stream, while the two boys, less expert at trailing wild animals than their aboriginal companion, busied themselves following the tapir's footprints towards the forest edge.
They had already reached the fringe of jungle and were about to call to Bagot that the tapir had taken to the bush, when they heard the sound of running feet and turned to see the Indian come racing up the beach. Instantly they knew that something had happened to fill the Macushi with abject fear. His eyes were wide with terror, his bronze face was a dull ashen and he shook and trembled as with a chill.
"What's wrong?" demanded Harry as Bagot dashed to them. "Why makeum 'fraid so?"
For answer the Indian flung himself on the boys and clung wildly to Harry's arm. "Dido!" he chattered. "Dido! Hori! Me seeum. Two, free! Wai! Wai! Must for makeum run."
The fellow's terror was too real to leave room for doubt that he had seen something that had frightened him half out of his wits, and the boys glanced apprehensively about and held their guns tighter.
But in the bright sunshine, with the boat and their friends only a few rods distant, the boys did not feel greatly terrified.
"No makeum fool. What for talkum so?" demanded Harry, striving to secure some coherent explanation from the Indian. "You say you Christian feller, no 'fraid Dido. What you see?"
But all to no avail. Bagot merely babbled,
"Hori, me seeum. Dido, me seeum," in a perfect paroxysm of terror.
"What do you suppose he's seen?" cried Fred, who was getting very nervous himself, for the Indian's fear was contagious.
"Something that's scared him silly," replied Harry, "but probably nothing to be afraid of. I vote we go and see. Come on, Bagot. Whereum Dido?"
But at this the Macushi only clung the closer to the boys and fairly sobbed. "No makeum walk so." "Dido eatum, Hori eatum."
"Like fun they will," declared Harry, trying to bolster up his own courage. "There aren't any cannibals here. I'll bet you just saw an old idol or something.”
"Perhaps we'd better go and tell Uncle Frank and have him come along," suggested Fred who did not wholly relish the idea of making an investigation of anything which could so terrify Bagot.
"And have him laugh at us for being 'fraid-cats," snorted Harry. "Come on. If there is anything it didn't hurt Bagot and it won't hurt us. I'll bet it's nothing to be afraid of. I'm going to find out."
With difficulty he loosened the frenzied grasp of the Indian and with Fred beside him he led the way down stream in the direction whence Bagot had come.
But the Indian was even more fearful of being left alone than of again facing whatever it was that had driven him almost mad with terror, and cringing and trembling from head to foot, he kept close to the two boys.
For some distance the three hurried rapidly but cautiously along, the boys with guns cocked and ready for use, and then, coming to a tiny cove, Harry suddenly halted and with a sharp ejaculation leaped back, pointing fixedly at the firm damp sand. And as Fred looked, he too started and uttered a frightened exclamation, while the Indian cowered speechless with dread between the two boys.
CHAPTER III A DESPERATE CHANCE
WHAT the boys saw was enough to fill the stoutest heart with nameless fear. Clearly imprinted upon the soft sand were the impressions of enormous human feet. But were they human? There was no trace of the five toes, but instead, each footmark ended in two deep claw-like indentations! Harry and Fred gazed into each other's faces in speechless terrified amazement and each read in the other's eyes the unspoken thought that was there. They were face to face with the inexplicable, the utterly unbelievable. Before them were marks made by some terrible creature some human-like beast or beast-like human, and near at hand, lurking in the bushes, watching them, perhaps about to spring upon them, was the thing or things themselves. No wonder Bagot had been driven nearly crazy with fear. No wonder he had declared he had seen Didoes or devils. Courageous as the boys were, much as they had scoffed at the Indians' superstitious fears, and notwithstanding all the adventures they had been through they were shaking, actually cold with terror. For a space they stood, rooted to the spot, and then Fred strove to speak, but the words came in a hoarse whisper from his trembling lips.
"Gosh, let's go," he stammered.
The next instant the three were rushing madly towards the camp, never stopping even to look back. More frightened than they had ever been in their lives, they threw themselves upon the surprised scientist, babbling incoherent words, while the Macushi, so weak with fear that he was unable to stand, dropped to the ground and chattered out his tale to the other Indians.
"What are you talking about?" demanded Dr. Woodward, utterly unable to make head or tail of the boys' unintelligible sentences. "What have you seen? Do talk sense for a moment. Nothing's hurt you and there's nothing to fear here."
With an effort the boys controlled themselves sufficiently to give a more or less lucid statement.
"Nonsense!" exclaimed the scientist. "If you saw foot marks they were of Indians. You just imagined the—by jove! I wonder. Yes, if you saw such marks as you describe that's it—they were the tracks of some malformed Trios. Don't you remember I told you of them—how Raleigh described a race of claw-handed Indians and how—a few years ago—an explorer discovered the Trios and found that the medicine men and a few others had but two or three fingers and toes?"
"Yes, I do remember now," admitted Harry, "But—"
"No buts about it," declared his father springing up. "If you saw such footprints then we are in the Trios' district and in Dutch Guiana. Come on, boys. We'll go and find them—no doubt there's a village or a camp near."
But the boys hung back. Those footprints were still fresh in their minds and the scientist's simple explanation did not at all alleviate their fears. Besides, they had had some experiences with strange savages and they did not feel at all sure how the Trios, or whoever the beings were, would receive them.
"Don't be afraid," cried Dr. Woodward. "Or, if you wish, you may stay here and I'll go alone. The Trios are peaceable. Come along, Bagot."
But the Macushi shook his head and flatly refused to budge and every other Indian did likewise. Even Boters shook his head and drew back. But the boys had been "dared" by the scientist and despite their nervousness they rose and stepped forward.
"Come on then," exclaimed Harry. "Who's afraid? I guess after those Monkey Men and the Jakos these Trios or whatever they are won't be much."
"That's the spirit, my boy," cried his father heartily. "We can get on without these Indians I expect."
But despite their brave front the two boys found themselves trembling and their scalps tingling as they neared the spot where they had seen the mysterious and appalling footprints. With furtive glances about, and keeping close to Dr. Woodward, they led the way to the little cove and although they were prepared for it and knew what to expect, still, as they saw the imprints for the second time, they were almost as terrified as when they had first discovered them.
Dr. Woodward examined the marks carefully. "Yes," he announced at last. "I'll admit they are just as you said. But I don't see anything horrifying about them. They're undoubtedly human and probably Trios' as I thought. Come ahead, they lead down stream."
"Please, please don't talk so loud," pleaded Fred as they started on. "Maybe they're not Trios or are hostile and may go for us."
"Hmm, very well," assented his uncle, "it will do no harm to be careful."
Silently and cautiously they crept forward, following the strange footprints which led towards a brush covered point a hundred yards distant.
As they neared the thicket, which extended almost to the water's edge, the smell of pungent smoke was borne to their nostrils.
"A camp—or village," whispered the scientist as he sniffed the air. "And over in that brush somewhere."
A moment later they were close to the tangle of vegetation and from ahead came the faint sound of guttural voices.
"Gee, they're there!" stammered Fred in a frightened whisper. "Let's be mighty careful."
With the utmost caution—for Dr. Woodward realized that it was wise to have a look at the savages before the savages saw them—the three crawled forward to the edge of the growth of low bushes and canes and the boys' breaths came short and fast and every nerve was at a tension, as parting the leaves silently, they gazed through at what might be beyond.
Before them was a little lagoon or backwater, hidden from the main river by the ridge of sand with its rank growths, and from its farther side extended an open grassy glade, reaching to the edge of the forest. But neither of the three gave the least heed to the surroundings, for instantly their gaze was riveted upon the occupants of the spot.
Squatting beside a fire were two huge, naked savages, their skins sky-blue, their heads covered with shocks of bright red hair and with enormous, misshapen lips projecting far beyond their repulsive faces and exposing needle-pointed, fang-like teeth.
Never had the three gazed upon such hideous beings. Compared with them the Monkey Men were beauties and the Jakos veritable Apollos. No wonder Bagot had thought them devils, for they were hardly human in appearance and the boys shook as with ague as they looked upon these ferocious, lowbrowed, awful beings within a few yards of them.
Silently Dr. Woodward touched Harry's arm and drew back, beckoning for the boys to creep away. Only too glad to get off unseen by the fearsome savages by the fire the boys obeyed. But as they moved, Harry's hand struck against a needle-pointed thorn and a low cry of pain rose to his lips before he could check himself. Instantly a wild, terrible yell arose from beyond the thicket, and leaping to their feet Dr. Woodward and the boys took to their heels and raced up the beach. Only once before— when chased by the Kunas in Darien—had the boys seen the matter-of-fact scientist run. But now he was tearing along at top speed and striving to put as much distance as possible between himself and the Indians whom, so short a time before, he had declared were harmless and not to be feared. But at the time the boys failed to see the humor of the situation. All their senses were bent on escaping from the savages whose cries they could hear in the rear and their one hope was to reach the canoe and push the craft into the stream before the terrible beings overtook them. Terror, blind and maddening, speeded their flying feet. Each moment they expected to feel an arrow or a poisoned dart bury itself in their bodies and they dared not look behind. So utterly demoralized were they that both boys had cast aside their guns in order to run the faster and each second the yells of the savages grew nearer. Now the canoe was in sight and to the boys' horror they saw the Indians striving to push the craft into the water, while Boters fought and struggled with them to prevent it. With wild yells the three fugitives put every ounce of their strength into a final burst of speed and then—a bit of wood in the sand caught Harry's foot, he tripped, and with a wild despairing cry plunged headlong onto the beach.
Feeling his last moment had come, shaken, bruised and exhausted, the boy rolled over and tried to regain his feet, glancing back as he did so. And then, at the sight which met his gaze, he burst into a mad peal of laughter. The savages were running as fast as they could go—directly away from him!
At Harry's wild hysterical laugh the others turned and gazed with surprised, almost incredulous expressions, at the fleeing forms of the two beings.
"Gosh!" panted Harry as he rose to his feet. "They're more afraid of us than we were of them."
"By jove, you're right!" agreed his father
Fred grinned, "Who was scared that time?" he asked.
"I admit it," replied his uncle, "but come on. Let’s try to find their camp and talk with them, now we know they're not hostile and are timid."
"Not much, I won't," announced Harry. "They may be Trios and gentle as kittens and they may cut and run from us. But they can't run too far or too fast to suit me. I don't like their looks and they certainly started after us as if they meant business."
"You bet," assented Fred. "I'm going back to get our guns and no farther. I vote we get away from here. Maybe they're just gone back to get more of their friends."
"Hmm, I don't know but you're right," agreed the scientist. "And they're not Trios. At least, if they are, they're far different from the descriptions of that tribe—more like the Botacudos of Brazil. Did you notice how their lips were distended by wooden disks?"
"I noticed they were the downright ugliest things I ever saw or want to see," replied Harry as he and Fred reached their guns, and picking them up, turned hurriedly back towards the boat.
"Yes, ugly enough, I admit," said Dr. Woodward. "But that does not necessarily mean they are cruel or bloodthirsty. I should like very much to get better acquainted with them. I imagine they are a wholly unknown tribe."
"Gee, I don't want to get any better acquainted," declared Fred. "And they can stay unknown as far as I care."
Dr. Woodward glanced regretfully in the direction in which the savages had disappeared as the three hurried towards the canoe which the Indians were now holding ready to launch, the men having overcome their first mad terror at sight of the strange and inhuman looking savages.
"Well, I suppose it would be taking a risk to attempt it," sighed the scientist. "And I can't afford to take any chances with you boys. But I feel I'm losing a splendid opportunity."
"And I feel we're losing valuable time by not getting off," declared Fred. "I'll bet those rascals just turned tail when they saw the men here by the boat and they'll be back in force at any time."
"And, Gosh! perhaps they've got boats," exclaimed Harry. ''Then they'll get after us."
"Don't make mountains out of mole-hills," cried his father rather impatiently as he and the boys climbed into the canoe and the Indians pushed it from the shore. "You are needlessly frightened. There is no real reason to think those people are hostile or intend to harm us."
"I noticed you thought there was good reason to cut and run when they started for us," remarked Harry dryly.
Dr. Woodward flushed. "Yes, but they ran from us just as fast," he replied. "I doubt if they ever saw white people before."
"And they'll never see these white people again, if I can help it," declared Fred as the men plied their paddles and the woodskin darted down stream.
"Wha la!" exclaimed Boters. "Dey cert'nly is mos' coinc'den'ly like Didoes. I ain't mos' desir'ous of meetin' up wif he more closer dan what I done. No, sir, I ain't like he looks nor he manners, no, sir. An' dese Buck boys cert'nly was mos' obstrep'lous. Jus' so soon's dey cotches dey eyes to dem Horis dey meks break for shove dis woodskin in de watah. Yes, sir, dey boun' for mek haste for get clean away from here 'bouts an’ it don't been for me dey been rangin’ down dis river long time gone an' leavin' we all to lone wif dem blue-colored folks."
"Thanks for keeping the Indians in hand," said the scientist. "But—"
His sentence was interrupted-by a sharp cry from Bagot and a startled exclamation from Fred.
"Oh, oh, gee!" he moaned. "There they are—a whole gang of them!"
The canoe had swept around a point, and just ahead, a reef of rocks jutted from the shores across the stream. Between the dam-like ledges the water boiled white and foaming save in one spot, midway between the shores, where the river poured smoothly but with tremendous speed between the rocky barriers.
All this the occupants of the canoe took in at a single glance, but it was not the narrow opening, the churning water or the jutting rocks that fixed their attention. Leaping from rock to rock, yelling like fiends, were more than a dozen of the great, redheaded, repulsive-faced savages. Some were sky-blue, like those the boys had first seen, others were flaming red, others bright yellow and a few their natural dark brown. But one and all were the most terrifying, ferocious-looking human beings that could be imagined and there was no doubt, even in the scientist's mind, that they were hostile. All were armed; some with heavy wooden bludgeons, others with stone-headed mauls or axes, while still others bore short spears; but only a few carried bows. No canoes could be seen, but this was little comfort, for it was evident that the savages were racing towards the narrow passage between the reefs where they would be close to the woodskin as it swept past. The boys' blood ran cold as they realized this and that they must pass within a few yards of the ferocious-looking beings. There was no alternative. To check the craft in the current was impossible; if they ran the woodskin ashore the savages would be upon them in an instant, and the only chance, slim as it was, lay in running the rapids and risking death in the torrent as well as at the hands of the horrible two-toed wild men.
Already Boters had headed the canoe for the only opening among the rocks and foaming, upflung waves. The next second they were sucked into the racing waters and shot forward at dizzying speed.
Had Boters or the Indians lost their heads for a second, had the old Boviander's hands trembled or his nerves failed him, disaster would have been swift and sure. But Boters was no coward and he knew that the lives of all in the tiny craft depended upon his nerve, strength, and unerring skill. And even the Indians, though at first terrified out of all common sense at sight of the two weird beings in chase of Dr. Woodward and the boys, never faltered, now that real peril faced them. They had been terribly wrought up by Bagot's tale of the strange, supernatural footprints and the two savages he had seen, and their superstitions had been aroused. But now that they knew the unnatural beings were merely men like themselves and were enemies, they no longer feared them any more than they would have dreaded a deadly serpent, a wounded jaguar or any other dangerous antagonist.
So, with the consummate craft of the born river-man, Boters guided his little cockle-shell straight into the unknown, unchartered rapids, all his thoughts upon the rocks and whirlpools ahead and giving no heed to the horde of fierce, yelling, advancing savages on either side. His muscles were as steel and bulged upon his black arms and shoulders, his deepset watery eyes were narrowed to mere points and never strayed from the swirl of waters ahead and his gnarled black fingers gripped his paddle until the knuckle-joints were white. And like one man the Indians worked in unison. Without missing a stroke their paddles flashed and rose and fell as they urged the woodskin to even greater speed, their muscles rippled like coiled serpents under their bronze skins and while their keen black eyes took in everything and swept from side to side as the savages came nearer and nearer, still there was no trace of terror on their broad features.
By the time the canoe dashed past the first rocks, the nearest savage—one of the blue fellows—was within a dozen yards and with a blood curdling howl of rage he lifted his heavy club as if about to hurl it at the passing boat. But the heavy weapon never left his hand. With a sudden inspiration— scarcely realizing what he was doing—Harry seized his gun, and risking a capsize by his act, fired at the savage. The boy had used a shot gun and at the sting of the lead pellets in his naked hide the fellow dropped his club and tumbled, screaming with pain and terror, into the stream. And the flash of the gun and the roar of the report had a marvelous effect upon the rest of the savages. With one accord they uttered piercing cries of deadly fear, and turning about, fled madly towards the shore.
The next instant the woodskin had shot through the rapids and had swept forth upon a broad, calm pool and its occupants drew deep sighs of relief and thankfulness for their narrow escape.
"Thank heaven you shot that fellow!" cried the scientist. "You saved our lives, my boy."
"Gosh, I hardly knew I did it," exclaimed Harry. "But I'm rather glad they were only bird shot. I'd hate to kill a man, even if he was as ugly and beastly as those fellows."
'I’ll bet he's sore, even at that," chuckled Fred. "Say, didn't he flop and squirm though! He'll be tattooed in a new way for the rest of his life."
Harry laughed. "Maybe he'll become a big chief on that account," he said. "Start a new style that no one else can follow."
But the boys' good humor and relief were soon over. They had thought their perils past and the savages left behind, but now, with renewed alarm, they saw that their enemies had not abandoned the chase. The creatures had fled to shore in terrified amazement at the sound of the gun shot. But now they had regained their courage and were racing down the river banks more intent than ever on killing or capturing the strangers who had entered their domain.
But without canoes they had little chance of injuring these in the woodskin and the boys watched them with curiosity rather than fear.
"Golly, can't they run!" cried Fred. "Do you suppose they're going to attack us again? They are boobs. They can't hurt us at this distance and we can pepper them if they come near."
Dr. Woodward looked troubled. "I'm afraid they have more sense than you give them credit for," he replied very gravely. "They're no fools. They wouldn't tear after us in that way unless they had some object, in it. There may be other falls ahead or they may have boats hidden down river. By the way, did you notice that most of them had normal hands and feet?"
"Not much, I didn't," declared Harry. "I wasn't looking at hands or feet, but at faces and clubs and spears."
"Nevertheless they did," continued his father. "Only two that I saw—one of the blue fellows and a brown one—had malformed toes and fingers. They are merely monstrosities like the Trios."
"They're monstrosities all right—in every way," said Fred. "Gee, Harry, talk about Zip the what-is-it! If we could only take one of those savages to Coney Island we'd make a fortune with him in a side-show."
"I wish they weren't so everlastingly unfriendly," mused the scientist. "They'd prove most fascinating subjects for study. Too bad."
A cry from Boters interrupted his words and instantly all saw the reason for the Boviander's half frightened shout.
The canoe had been carried around an S-shaped bend and now, directly ahead, rose a precipitous wall of rock towering for hundreds of feet above the stream. Straight towards the cliff flowed the river to where it disappeared in a narrow cleft, a yawning rift in the solid rock, and which cut the precipice from base to summit.
Already the foremost savages were scrambling over the rocks towards the stream and all in the wood-skin realized that as they entered that chasm in the cliff they would be at their enemies' mercy. They might shoot some of the beings, but they could not destroy them all while from their elevated vantage point upon the rocks the savages could hurl their weapons with case and deadly effect into the canoe as it passed beneath them.
"Lord!" moaned the scientist. "That's what they were counting on. We've either got to land where they can get us or else run the gauntlet into that chasm. What a choice!"
"Eh eh! Now I fin' out de cunni'ness of de scamps," exclaimed Boters. "Dey got us sure 'nough. He been plottin' an' complottin' 'gainst we all. Jes so we t'inks we safe—bam!—come club on we haid. I t'ink bes’ we says we prayers. Yessir dat what we boun' for do, chief."
But the Boviander's words carried no semblance of fear. He spoke only in a matter-of-fact way, stating an indisputable truth, and even the Indians seemed to look upon their rapidly approaching fate with stoical indifference. But the two boys were absolutely numb and paralyzed with mortal fear. Each second they were being rushed nearer to death, and helpless and hopeless they sat there in the speeding woodskin with wide eyes fixed upon the rocky cliffs and the naked, yelling, demoniacal savages gloating over their intended victims. And as they gazed, Fred's eyes suddenly noticed something which had escaped the others.
"Jiminy!" he stammered in shaking voice, "Look! Look, there—on the rocks. There's Billikins again!"
On either side of the cleft in the precipice, carved deeply into the gray rock and forming pillar-like portals to the opening, were the gigantic semblances of the radium god.
Scarcely had the others glimpsed the great carvings when the canoe was seized as by unseen hands and was shot forward with terrific speed. Straight towards the narrow rift between the great statues it sped while on either side, and clinging to the rough stone above, waited the fiendish savages.
In an instant, as it seemed, they were close to the foremost of their enemies. Each moment they expected a shower of missiles and weapons to strike them down and destroy their craft and the boys seized their guns prepared to wreck vengeance ere they died. And then a strange and inexplicable thing happened.
As the canoe sped into the chasm the repulsive awful savages dropped their crude weapons, their savage yells gave way to a mournful dismal wail and throwing themselves, faces down, they grovelled on the rocks as though the occupants of the canoe were deities to whom they gave obeisance.
CHAPTER IV THE GUARDIAN OF THE GOD
AMAZED, uncomprehending, scarcely able to believe they had escaped, the occupants of the wood-skin gazed, silent and speechless, as unharmed and unmolested they were swept between the carved gods that guarded the entrance to the chasm. An instant later they were shut in by towering frowning precipices with the savages far behind.
"Impressive sort of farewell," shouted Dr. Woodward, raising his voice to make himself heard above the noise of the water.
"But—but I don't understand—" commenced Fred. His words were drowned in a deafening roar as the craft shot forward into terrific rapids whose noise was echoed and re-echoed from the rocky walls with the sound of thunder.
All the rapids they had seen hitherto were nothing compared with these. The river seemed actually to have gone mad and by the grim, set faces of the Indians and the Boviander the boys knew that terrible danger beset them. They could see the captain's lips move and they knew he was shouting orders, and yet not the faintest sound of words reached their ears through the din and turmoil. The canoe leaped and swung and lurched like a wounded, terrified thing. Water foamed above the low gunwales and poured over the rails and sweat stood on the foreheads of Boters and the Indians as they exerted every ounce of their strength to keep the tiny woodskin on its course and to swing it from the jutting rocks. That any boat could survive such a passage, let alone a thing of bark, seemed impossible, and the boys felt sure that they had escaped death or torture at the hands of the savages only to meet their end here in this wild, black cañon and the seething torrent. How long they dashed onward none of them ever knew. To their strained senses it seemed hours, as they crouched in the canoe, carried at dizzying speed on the flood, fearful lest each moment they would hear their craft ripped to bits upon a rock or would be carried over the brink of a cataract.
But minute after minute passed and nothing happened. Then at last, the roar of the raging waters grew less, the speed of the woodskin seemed to slacken and Boter's glad shout came faintly above the thunder of the river.
Raising themselves slightly, but still trembling with fear, the boys looked about. The cañon had widened, the walls were no longer perpendicular but sloped away, exposing a broad expanse of blue sky overhead, and the river, though still swift and filled with rapids, was no longer the raging, fearful torrent through which they had passed. At another time the boys would have been thrilled and excited at dashing through the foaming, rock-strewn stream, but now it seemed tame and they felt not the least trepidation as the craft shot onward between the rocky sides of the chasm. Presently narrow strips of rock-strewn shore showed between the water and the cliffs that were wonderfully colored in strata of crimson, yellow, purple and vivid blues and greens. Dr. Woodward and the boys uttered exclamations of wonder as each moment the grandeur and marvels of the place increased. On every side the walls of the cañon were worn and carved by wind and water into strange fantastic forms. Great spire-like pinnacles, fluted and ornate columns, battlements and enormous grottoes were everywhere. Slender needlelike pillars bore titanic slabs and boulders balanced upon their summits; huge rocks were poised at the verges of precipices as if about to crash thundering down at a breath, and slender arches spanned deep rifts black with shadows and through which flashing rivulets swirled and tumbled. Straight from the riverside the weird, vivid-hued rock forms rose, sometimes almost overhanging the water, sometimes receding in terraces like stupendous flights of stairs, or again fading into the hazy distance. But not a tree was visible. Here and there, in crevices of the rocks grew great fleshy, gay flowered cacti. Night blooming cereus sprawled over the ledges, vines draped the cliffs, needle-pointed agaves reared their twenty-foot flower stalks, like giant candelabra, above the rocks, and where the water trickled down the clefts and crevices, were strange and brilliant orchids.
"Gosh, isn't it wonderful!" cried Harry. "I never imagined anything like this. It's like the Grand Cañon and the Garden of the Gods combined."
"Marvelous," agreed Dr. Woodward. "No such place has ever been described in Guiana. We're undoubtedly the first white men to look upon it."
"It's fine all right," declared Fred, "but what I've been thinking about is why those savages didn't go for us. Why do you suppose they acted in that way?"
"Hmm, it's hard to say," replied his uncle. "But I think I can offer a solution. My idea is that they are superstitious about the entrance to the cañon on account of those images cut in the rock. They may think it the entrance to another world or the spirit land—perhaps the abode of gods or devils. They have no boats apparently and hence have never come in here. Then their wonder and amazement at seeing such strange beings as ourselves and hearing guns convinced them that we were supernatural. When they saw us about to enter the mysterious place with its idols at the entrance, they were firmly convinced we were either immortal or sacred and fell down and worshipped us, or begged forgiveness for attacking us perhaps."
"Yes I guess that's it," assented Fred. "And in that case we're safe in here and that's a comfort. But I wish they'd discovered their mistake and had kowtowed to us sooner. I'm still weak as a cat from fright."
"I'm sure we are safe here," declared the scientist. Even if the savages had canoes they would never dare follow us here and no sane man would attempt to run those rapids. I never dreamed there could be such a place."
"Or that we'd live to get through it," put in Harry.
"Or that red-headed, sky-blue, two-toed savages dwelt here," laughed Fred.
"True enough," agreed his uncle. "But those fellows are not red-headed—at least naturally. Their hair is dyed or bleached. But do you know, those people troubled me. I've been thinking about them constantly."
"They troubled me a lot more while they were after us than they do now," declared Harry. "I never want to see one of the crowd again.”
"That's not what I mean," said his father. "What bothers me is who they are. They're different from any Indians I've ever seen. In fact I'm not sure they are Indians. Their features are so distorted by their lip disks and they are so outrageously painted that it's hard to say."
"I don't care who they are," cried Fred. "As long as they stay back there they can dye their old hair and pull out their lips and paint themselves to their hearts' content and I won't object."
"But it's of scientific importance," argued Dr. Woodward. "I'd like to know more about them— where they came from originally—and what their relationships are."
"Maybe they're relatives of the Monkey Men or some sort of Bush Niggers," suggested Harry.
His father shook his head. "No, they are certainly not negroes and they have no beards like the Monkey Men. I'm not sure but they may be the real aborigines of this country—perhaps even more ancient than the Monkey Men, as you call them. They offer a wonderful field for study."
"Well scientists are welcome to study them all they wish," said Fred. "But in my opinion they'd better wear armor and carry machine guns when they begin their studies. If those brutes are the pure one hundred percent Americans then they're less for the country to boast of than the Monkey Men, and they were bad enough."
His uncle laughed. "You're hopeless, Fred," he declared. "Why," he added banteringly, "can't you imagine the missionaries rushing to these benighted people and grave scientific men studying their language and getting phonographic records?"
"I can imagine missionaries and scientists rushing away from them," replied Fred, "I'll bet the savages would be a lot more anxious to study the white men than the missionaries and that bunch would be to study them,"
"I confess I didn't appreciate their ethnological interest as they chased us or came leaping out over the rocks," admitted the scientist. "You're quite right, Fred. It would take a most fanatical missionary or a most ardent scientist to attempt to deal with those rascals."
"Beggin' yo' pardon for int'ruptin' yo’ disco'se, chief," remarked Boters, "but I spec' we mos’ better be mekkin' to camp. We been gwine mos' 'speditiously for some time back, sir, an' dese Bucks and meself's right weary, chief. An' de sun's settin' an' night comin' 'long."
"Righto," replied Dr. Woodward. "Stop whenever you find a good spot, captain. You and the men must be done up."
Already, as Boters said, the sun had disappeared behind the cañon's walls, deep shadows were filling the gorge and it was imperative that camp should be made without delay. Presently Boters spied a tiny sand beach and running the woodskin ashore the tired men hurried about, gathering bits of driftwood and dried agave stalks, and as darkness fell upon the river a blazing fire was going and supper was being cooked.
There were no trees or large bushes which would serve to stretch the canvas boat-cover for a shelter, but near at hand was a good sized hollow under an overhanging ledge of rock, and spreading their hammocks for beds, all curled up within this cave-like spot, and tired out with the day's adventures and excitement were soon sleeping soundly.
The rising sun was glowing upon the lofty pinnacles of the crags and painting the rocks with gold and rose when the boys were aroused by Boter's cry of ''Fireside!" and the great orb of light was still behind the cañon walls when breakfast was over and the voyage down the stream was resumed.
There was now very little current in the river and the Indians plied their paddles steadily. The stream wound and twisted in a bewildering way through the cañon, often dividing and flowing on either side of great rocky islands or lofty water-worn columns, and at every turn revealing new and more fantastic forms of nature's carvings.
For hour after hour they paddled through this scenic wonderland. Once or twice they saw immense cataracts plunging downward from the summits of the cliffs; several times the stream broadened into lake-like expanses dotted with countless rock pillars rising above the surface like the ruined columns of some half-submerged city, and once they passed beneath a vast natural bridge that spanned the stream in a majestic arch.
Noon passed and they lunched on fish that the Indians had caught; through the afternoon they traveled on and sundown found them still within the cañon. But the mountains were far less precipitous than before, a few trees and considerable scrub grew in the hollows and the river banks wore a mantle of soft green. Once more they camped for the night beside the river and the boys succeeded in securing several pigeons which made a most satisfying meal.
Before the sun was above the mountaintops they were once more on their way and though the stream was now flowing east instead of north, they were confident that they were on some stream that led eventually to the sea.
"We can't be very far from mapped and known country," declared Dr. Woodward. "We have been traveling northward for several days and we moved with terrific speed for miles yesterday. I should not be surprised to find villages of friendly Indians at almost any time now."
"Seems to me we've come far enough to be at the ocean by now," said Fred. "We must have come down stream as far as we went up the Essequibo."
His uncle smiled. "You forget that we traveled a long distance after we left the Essequibo," he replied. "And that we have no idea how far or in what direction we wandered before and after we reached the valley with the red trees. Then we moved away from the coast for a long time after we met the boat again. No, I do not think we can expect to reach tide water for some days yet, but there should be Indian villages or even balata gatherers' camps somewhere near."
As the scientist ceased speaking the canoe swept about a jutting point, the sound of falling water came to their ears and ahead the river ended in an abrupt line, clear cut against the sky beyond.
"Wha la! Dey's another cat'ract for to humbug us, yander," cried Boters. "I t'ink bes' we runs de woodskin ashore 'fore it's too late, an' we teks a squint at dis obst'uction."
As he spoke he swung the canoe aside and presently it grated on the rocky beach. Leaping out, the boys and the scientist hurried down the bank with Boters accompanying them, and eager to examine the falls that barred their further progress.
The brush was thick—a veritable jungle—and there were many tall trees towering above the lower palms and shrubbery. The ground also was rough and broken and covered with tangled vines and very soon the four were forced to leave the bank of the stream and hew a way through the bush. Ever guiding themselves by the increasing roar of water ahead, they proceeded along the narrow pathway the Boviander cut with his machete, and at last broke through the final screen of foliage. They were standing upon a narrow shelf of rock and at their feet a cataract plunged downward for at least one hundred feet. But they gave no heed to this. Below them, and wonderfully green, was a level plain stretching away to far distant mountains, while bordering the river that wound across the plain were groves of trees. And faintly visible beneath these; houses.
"Hurrah!" shouted Harry. "We've come to a settlement at last."
"And real houses," added Fred.
The old Boviander was peering intently at the faint outlines of walls and roofs in the distance. "Eh, eh!" he ejaculated presently. "Dey houses right 'nough, but dey ain't Bushman's house, no, sir. 'Tall 'vents I ain't never seed Bucks mekkin' use of house like dem, no, sir. An dey ain't white folks houses nor nigger folks. An' where's de 'hab'tants dat owns dem? De bush plenty thick yander, chief, an' it too easy for man to hide heself. But I ain't see sign of field or garden, an' dey ain't smoke. Takin' de fac's in consid'ation I t'ink he hab'tants gone clean out. I spec dey ain't no one livin' yander, 'tall. Yes, sir, dat's de fac's of de case, sir."
"I believe you're right," agreed Dr. Woodward. "The place looks deserted. However, it proves people have dwelt here and hence we are in explored and known country. It may be an old Dutch estate that has been deserted—there are many such in Surinam—and we may be in Dutch Guiana for all we know. At any rate we must get down there in order to go on. How will we manage it, captain?"
The Boviander scrutinized the falls, the cliffs and the surroundings. "I spec' we boun' for to climb down dere," he announced at last. "Wha, la, dey ain't no manner of use tryin' to fin' way for to get de woodskin down yander. No, sir, dey's no contending dat. An' dey's plenty tree yander to mek woodskin. Yes, sir, we boun' carry de t'ings down an' met other woodskin yander 'fore we proceedin' on our way. Dat hukkum we gwine do it, chief."
"Yes I guess that's the only way," agreed the scientist. "We might as well get to work."
Retracing their way to the canoe, Boters gave the Indians instructions and immediately the men began unloading the craft and carrying the contents to the verge of the cliff beside the cataract. A wide path was cut through the jungle, Bagot discovered a narrow winding cleft, or rather ledge, that afforded a possible, though somewhat perilous, descent, and very soon the last of the load was piled at the upper end of this and the men were ready to begin toting their burdens to the valley below.
"We might as well have lunch here before they start," suggested Dr. Woodward. "There will be that much less to carry and the men will work better on full stomachs."
Lunch over, the men picked up their loads, securing them by broad strips of bark across their foreheads, and commenced clambering down the rocky trail. Anxious as they were to descend, the boys followed the scientist's advice and remained above until they had seen the Indians reach the bottom in safety and start back for a second load.
"All right," said Dr. Woodward as the men again reached the summit where he and the boys stood. "We can go down now. It's safe I guess."
Suiting his actions to his words, Dr. Woodward commenced climbing down, closely followed by the two boys. It was a hard and hazardous descent, for the rock was soft and crumbling, the narrow ledge formed a most precarious foothold and although the Indians had had no trouble in moving over the trail with their bare, almost prehensile, feet the boys and their companion found their shoes slipped and slid and at each step masses of loose rock went crashing down to the vegetation below.
A dozen times the three came within a hair's breadth of being hurled to death as they made their way downward, but at last the foot of the cliff was reached in safety.
"Golly, that's some climb!" exclaimed Fred as they stood upon the level plain in the shade of great trees and regained their breaths while mopping their perspiring faces. "If anyone lives here they must know we're coming. We made enough noise to be heard five miles away."
Although the valley had appeared so level and lawn-like when viewed from the summit of the cliff beside the cataract, the three found it very different, now they were upon it. The ground was rolling, the apparent grass proved to be tough, tall weeds, and thickets of sharp thorned plants, stretches of giant canes and patches of jungle were everywhere. Even along the river bank it was hard walking and as they pushed on, anxious to get a closer view of the buildings by the stream, they were hot, scratched and perspiring and long before they came within sight of the first building the two boys were panting and out of breath.
"Gosh!" exclaimed Harry. "I thought it was only a few steps from the falls to those houses and we've walked miles."
His father laughed. "About three miles," he replied. "Distances are very deceptive in this air— especially when looking down. However, we are near the buildings now. I wonder if it's a Dutch or English settlement."
A few moments later Fred caught a glimpse of some grayish stones showing between the trees ahead. "Here's the first one," he cried hurrying forward. "It looks like—Jiminy Crickets! Just see who's here!"
"The idol!" exclaimed Dr. Woodward as he hurried to the boy's side and saw the object Fred had discovered.
"Billikins!" shouted Harry. "And the grand-daddy of them all!"
Half hidden by the trees and covered with clinging vines, with air plants and orchids growing from the crevices and deeply cut carving in the stone, sagging drunkenly to one side, cracked, weather beaten and chipped, a colossal statue stood before the wondering three. Dilapidated as it was, there was no doubt it was the same misshapen god with which the boys and the scientist were so familiar. The Radium God beyond doubt, with its immense stone crown, its leering, repulsive features, its horn-like ears and elaborate decorations; but by far the largest of the idols the boys had seen.
"Gosh, he's an old timer!" declared Fred as they stood gazing at the idol. "I'll bet he was here before the flood."
"Thousands of years before, I should say," agreed
Dr. Woodward stepping closer. "It's far older than anything we've seen hitherto."
Fred burst into a merry laugh, "Say, he looks to me as if he'd been on a paiwarrie spree," he exclaimed. "And— Oh gee! Jiminy Christmas! he's moving!"
"Moving!" repeated his uncle. "Impossible, I— Jove, what on earth?"
"He is!" almost screamed Harry. "Look, look there—See, he's moving his arm!"
A roar of laughter burst from Dr. Woodward's lips. "Not he," he cried. "But a companion who's been keeping him company. Look, don't you see it now, boys? It had me guessing for a moment—the illusion was perfect,—but it's only a snake—a huge boa or anaconda that was coiled about the idol's arm."
"Golly, that's so," agreed Fred as the great serpent slowly uncoiled and moved upward over the statue's arm and body. "And say, isn't he a corker?"
"I'll bet he's forty or fifty feet long," cried Harry. "Let's shoot him."
"No," advised his father. "Let him live. You have one fine snake's skin and you cannot add anything more to our load. You forget we are still in the unknown country, or on its verge—and have our woodskin already loaded to the limit. And he isn't forty feet long by any means—about twenty-five, I should say. To kill him without reason would be a pity—why, boys, that snake may have been here when that idol was built."
"You mean to say,—Oh, Dad, you're joking," exclaimed Harry. "Why, that idol's thousands of years old."
"And how do you know that snake is not?" asked the scientist. "No one knows how long it takes for one of these giant snakes to reach such a size and after they have attained maturity they may live hundreds of years for all anyone can say to the contrary."
Harry grabbed off his broad felt hat and bowed low. "Glad to meet you, old fellow," he exclaimed laughing. "And I wish you a long life and a merry one. Although," he added, "I shouldn't think it would be very merry, just hanging about that dissipated-looking old Billikins."
Evidently the snake had a den somewhere in the statue for the long, gleaming, iridescent body was rapidly disappearing. But as Harry spoke the big triangular head suddenly appeared beside the face of the idol—rising into view from behind the ear— and peering with bright fixed eyes at the boys it slowly moved up and down above the god's shoulder, exactly as if nodding to the three human beings.
"Gee, he understood you," cried Fred gaily. "Isn't he a wise old bird?"
"He ought to be, if age means wisdom," chuckled the scientist as he stepped close to the statue to examine it more closely. Reaching the base of the idol he stooped to part the brush and weeds.
The next instant he leaped back at a startled cry from Fred. "Oh, look out!" cried the boy. "He's coming for you!"
An instant more and Fred's warning would have been too late. A few feet above the scientist's head the great, flat head of the serpent had suddenly appeared, its eyes gleaming, its mouth open, and as Dr. Woodward sprang back the creature struck with the speed of light.
"Lord!" ejaculated the scientist, and wrenching Harry's gun from the surprised boy's hand he raised it and fired at the great head with its unwinking baleful eyes.
For a second the head swung slowly back and forth, then it dropped limply, and with a convulsive shudder yard after yard of orange and black coils slid from the statue into the weeds about the idol's base.
"But, but—what on earth!" commenced Harry. "I thought you said—"
"Yes, I know," interrupted his father. "But I didn't realize. Boys, that's the narrowest escape from an awful death we've had yet. That's no boa. It's a gigantic bushmaster!"
"Bushmaster!" cried the boys, unconsciously stepping farther away.
"Yes, the deadliest of snakes," affirmed the scientist. "And the biggest of his kind."
"Gee, let's get away from here!" exclaimed Fred glancing nervously about. "There may be others."
"Not likely," declared his uncle. "Fortunately they are not common. Let's have a look at the monster, now he's harmless."
Very cautiously and with ready guns they stepped forward, but there was no need to fear the snake. It was quite dead, lying in what seemed endless coils among the bits of stone that had dropped from the idol, and the boys shuddered and felt faint as the scientist pried open the mucus-filled mouth and showed them the needle-pointed four-inch, venom-filled fangs.
"One prick of those and death would be certain," commented Dr. Woodward.
"Well, my wish for a long life to his snakeship was wasted," remarked Harry.
"And I'll say old Billikins had a mighty good guardian," declared Fred. "Gee, there might have been a million dollars hidden in Billikins and no one could have touched it while the bushmaster was there."
"Great Scott, perhaps there is—treasure I mean," cried Harry excitedly. "Say, there's a hole somewhere—the snake went into it. Maybe there's gold or something in it."
"Nonsense," declared his father. "Whoever built this idol made it to worship—not to use as a safe."
"Well, old Billikins over in Darien had treasure under him," argued Fred. "Perhaps this chap's arm moves and there's a vault under him or something."
"If there is it will stay there," asserted Dr. Woodward decisively. "You are not going poking about on that old pile of stone. It might fall to pieces or there may be other snakes in it. It's built of masonry and not from a single block of stone like the others."
At this moment Boters' shout interrupted them, and a moment later, the Boviander and the Indians appeared.
"Wha la!" cried the captain as the Indians halted and lowered their burdens and the old negro caught sight of the idol. "Seem like to me dis ain't no Dutch place. No, sir. De Dutch ain't never mek mon'ment laik dat. An, beggin' of you pardon, chief, ain't dis he perzac' likeness to dat leedle image what you tryin' to fin'?"
Dr. Woodward nodded. "Yes," he replied. "And the same as others we found at the Jako town and the cave of skulls. But here's something you will also recognize."
Beckoning to the Boviander, the scientist led him to the base of the idol and pointed to the dead bushmaster.
The old man gave one startled glance, uttered a terrified yell and dashed pell-mell from the spot. The boys roars of laughter reached his ears, and halting, he came shamefacedly back,
"Dat ain't fair," he declared, shaking his grizzled head, readjusting his spectacles and looking at the boys severely. "Why you don't say he daid? Huk-kum I goin' comprehen' de auspiciousness of de 'casion if you don't tell? No, sir, I ent humbuggin' 'bout where dat gent'man lives, no, sir."
CHAPTER V MYSTERIES
THAT the place was not a Dutch settlement was evident as soon as the party reached the first buildings. Only a glance was needed to see that they were very ancient. They were covered with weeds, vines and air plants, half hidden in the trees that had grown up about them and which had even pushed through the masonry, forcing the stones apart, and all were in various stages of ruin. And yet, so solidly had they been built, that despite the countless ages that had passed since they had been occupied still many were habitable and Dr. Woodward uttered exclamations of delight as he examined them.
"This is older than anything yet," he declared as they stood before the piles of gray masonry with their intricately carved façades of massive stone. "And look, boys," he continued. "The carving is identical with that of the city we found over in Darien."
"Maybe the same people built the two," suggested Harry.
"Exactly," assented his father. "And this find has put an entirely new light on the matter. I feel sure now that the race migrated from Guiana to Panama."
"Then we're on the trail of old Billikins," commented Fred.
"At the end of the trail, I should say," declared the scientist. "The god yonder is probably the oldest idol we shall find."
"Gee, then maybe that radium stuff is right here!" cried Harry excitedly. "Say, it may be lucky we got lost and everything, after all."
"Beggin' you' pardon, chief," put in Boters. "Ain't you t'ink we bes' be mekkin for to go rangin' 'long 'bout we way? Dese Buck boys ain't like dis place too much. Dey says how it's peai an' dey don't like humbuggin' 'bout where dey's dead folks, chief."
"Nonsense," exclaimed Dr. Woodward impatiently. "If they're so foolish they can camp yonder in the woods by the stream. I intend to remain here for a day or two. In the meantime they can busy themselves making a woodskin."
"Yes, sir, very well, chief," replied the Boviander. "I 'spec' dey'll nec'tate mos' a day for to mek dose woodskin an' dey'll be a bit rested 'fore startin' on. Yes, sir, we'll mek we camp yander by de river."
"Let the Indians make camp and you come with us," ordered Dr. Woodward. "We'll need you to cut away the brush. That is, if you are not afraid."
"Wha la! what for you mek dat say—so?" exclaimed the old man. "Why, chief, I ain't Buckman to mek no flustration over all such foolishness. No, sir, I don't mek 'fraid, no, sir."
"Not even of bushmasters?" chuckled Fred mischievously.
The Boviander grinned, "Da's a dif'rent proposition," he replied. "He de gent'man what is reason for mek fraid of. You t'ink you see me run, but I assures you you ain't see what runnin' is till you all sees what I mek to do when I sees a live bushmaster. No, sir, dere ain't no two ways 'bout it."
Sending the Indians to find a spot for the camp, and instructing them to begin work on a woodskin, Boters joined Dr. Woodward and the boys and though he kept a sharp watch for possible bushmasters he showed no signs of nervousness over the ruins as he hacked away the vegetation and cleared a pathway among the old buildings.
The first ruins were scattered about among the trees and were small sized buildings, but as they advanced into the woods they found the structures increased in size and numbers and were arranged in regular rows with paved streets between them. Presently too, the boys noticed that the buildings appeared in a better state of preservation, while the brush and weeds diminished and the streets were almost free of growths.
Suddenly Dr. Woodward halted and looked about with a curious half-puzzled, half-wondering expression on his face.
"What's the trouble, Dad?" asked Harry. "Made a new discovery?"
"Yes and no," replied his father. "Do you notice anything strange here?"
The boys peered about but shook their heads.
"See here, then," ejaculated Dr. Woodward, pointing to the ground before him.
"I don't see anything there," declared Harry.
"Except some wilted grass and weeds," added Fred.
"That's just it," declared his uncle. "Those weeds have been pulled up. And don't you notice that this street is clear and free of brush and vegetation?"
"Pulled up!" exclaimed Harry, glancing about nervously. "Then you mean—"
"That someone or something has weeded this pavement. Ghosts or spirits or wild animals don't do such things. There must have been human beings here not long ago. But there's no reason to be frightened. They may have been friendly Indians or balata gatherers who camped here."
"Dey ain't no Bucks what mek to come dis side," declared Boters, peering somewhat apprehensively about. "An' I don't spec' dey been balata bleeders here 'bout. Takin' de fac's in consid'ation, seems laik dey been some manners of peai here 'bout. Yes, sir, I t'ink we all better be rangin’ back, sir."
"You're as superstitious as the Indians, captain," declared the scientist. "I admit it's a surprise to find traces of human beings here, but it's nothing to cause fear. Come on, maybe we'll find something more tangible ahead."
But despite the scientist's words the boys felt a strange nervousness as they walked slowly along this street of a dead and forgotten prehistoric city with its untenanted buildings and which, though as silent as a tomb, bore signs of recent occupants.
The highway or street—once smoothly paved— was uneven, cracked, full of holes and chasms and in many places half choked by the fallen stones from the houses on either side. The buildings, many of which had once been large and magnificent, were now askew, their walls cracked and crumbled and their roofs fallen in, while the carved cornices and ornate columns lay scattered on the pavement. Indeed, as Harry remarked, the place looked as if it had been shelled by heavy artillery. As the four strolled along the avenue they peered into the various buildings, but the dim interiors were empty, save for crumbled masonry and debris. Some, however, were far better preserved than others and over and over again the scientist stopped and exclaimed with delight at the beautiful carvings and elaborate decorations which covered the stonework.
"It's marvelous," he declared. "See that building"—he indicated a huge edifice that filled an entire square—"the walls lean outward like some of the ruins in Yucatan and in that lost city of Darien."
The boys examined the building with interest. "Well, the fellows who built it were mighty fine masons," announced Fred. "All the stones are dovetailed together."
"Yes, and no mortar used with them," said his uncle. "It was the same in Darien. Yes, I feel sure this was built and occupied by the same race as the other and the same who built Manoa. Jove, boys, my report on our discoveries will astound the scientific world."
"Let's go inside the old place," suggested Harry. "It hasn't fallen in much and there may be treasure or something inside."
Entering the wide doorway, flanked by weird carvings among which the boys at once recognized the radium god, and followed by the Boviander who hung back a bit, the three peered about. They were in a large room or court, open to the sky and very similar to the rooms in the city where they had been held prisoners by the Jakos. From the main room or court, numerous dark openings indicated doorways to other chambers and with Dr. Woodward leading the way, the three entered one after the other of these, or gazed within. But all seemed empty except for little piles of dust and bits of highly decorated pottery scattered about and half-hidden in the dust heaps.
"Say, what do you suppose made those piles of dirt?" asked Harry, stooping to examine one of the heaps. "It couldn't have blown in and it looks as if it had been swept up into piles."
"Hmm, I believe they're all that remain of wooden furniture," replied his father, poking about in the dust with his finger. "Yes, that's it," he continued. "These broken pots and jars once stood on stools or tables which have slowly crumbled to dust letting the dishes fall and break. It shows how extremely ancient the place is."
"Well I don't see anything interesting in this," declared Fred. "There doesn't seem to be any treasure or anything. These people must have been awfully poor—not to have left any money or jewelry around on their tables. Gee whittaker! What's that?"
From a dark aperture near them came a short, half-smothered cough.
Uncanny, startling in this silent ancient room, the sound came to them and straightening up all listened with straining ears while Boters drew back with his eyes rolling and his mouth agape.
Then, once again, the cough broke the awed silence and with a hoarse, half-inarticulate ejaculation, Fred grasped his uncle's arm convulsively.
"There! Oh, look, I see it—wha—what is it?"
With shaking finger he was pointing into the dark chamber and the others could see a dim shadowy something crouched close to the wall and moving stealthily forward.
"Yes I see," whispered Dr. Woodward, far more nervous himself than he would have cared to admit. "I don't know what it is—perhaps it's—"
"Tiger!" exclaimed Boters, so suddenly and unexpectedly that the others jumped. "Ain't you see he eyes?"
In the blackness gleamed two greenish, luminous spots and Harry, without stopping to think, swung his rifle to shoulder and fired.
There was a deafening roar as the empty building echoed to the explosion, bits of masonry came rattling down, there was a fearful, ear-piercing scream and the next instant the boys were knocked head over heels as something leaped upon them, while from the Boviander came a shriek of terror.
Yelling with fright, the two boys rolled over and scrambled to their feet. Dr. Woodward was just rising from where he had fallen and Boters was seated on the floor gazing wildly about with such a strange expression of mingled fear, surprise and puzzlement on his wrinkled face that the boys burst into laughter.
The nest instant Harry caught sight of a dark body stretched upon the stone floor near the entrance to the building. "I got him!" he shouted and sprang forward to where an immense black jaguar was lying.
"Gee, what a beauty!" cried Fred as the two boys gloated over the fallen creature. "Say, you are lucky! That's the second black jaguar you've killed."
"For heaven's sake don't do that again," commanded Dr. Woodward as he brushed the dust from his hands and clothes. "You frightened me half to death, Harry. You might have brought the whole place tumbling about our ears by shooting in here."
"Golly, I never thought of that," admitted Harry, crestfallen. "I'd forgotten where we were and fired before I stopped to think. Gee, let's get out of here."
"I don't know if jaguar is edible," commented the scientist as the three turned to leave the building while Boters dragged the dead animal to the door. "But unless we find some other game here we may have to try dining on jaguar steak."
"Beggin' you’ pardon, chief," put in Boters. "I ain't never hear how tiger fit for eat, and dis an'mal ain't got meat on he bones 'nough to mek food for a dog. He mos' drefful mowger, chief. Yes, sir, he lean laik he not been eatin' for long time."
"Golly, he is thin," agreed Fred examining the beast. "And say," he went on, "look at his teeth— they are worn down to stubs."
"Yes, sir, he mos' older dan mesself," grinned Boters.
"One of the original inhabitants, I guess," laughed Harry. "Maybe he and the bushmaster were old chums."
"And his skin's not worth saving," declared Dr. Woodward. "He's as mangy as an old dog."
Reluctantly the boys abandoned their prize and following the scientist continued on their way along the street. They had gone but a short distance when a flock of quail fluttered up from a small patch of weeds and Fred secured two of them.
"Well, we won't go hungry anyway," he announced as he picked up the birds. "We can get quail and there must be other game about. Let's go—gee, look here, Uncle Frank!"
Fred was gazing at a low bush, growing from a broken-down wall, and his uncle uttered a surprised exclamation as he saw the reason for the boy's interest. From among the leaves projected a stout stem which had been cut cleanly off.
"Gosh, it's been chopped down!" cried Harry as he too saw the object that had attracted Fred's attention.
"As sure as fate," assented his father, "and recently too. Not longer than a few weeks at any rate. Some human beings have been here before us."
"Golly, then let's get out," cried Harry. "They may be—"
"What nonsense," interrupted his father. "It merely proves we are near civilization or some Indian village. But I'm disappointed. It proves we are not the first to have found this ruined city."
"If they were Indians you needn't be jealous," laughed Fred, regaining confidence. "They won't report it."
"Well I'm nervous," announced Harry. "They may be some of those wild, red-headed rascals or Jakos, or some other sort of savages. I vote we get away from the place."
"What do you think, captain?" asked the scientist addressing the Boviander. "Can you tell who cut this bush or how long ago it was done?"
Boters examined the cut stem carefully. "I can't perzac'ly tek oath to de fac's of de case," he announced at last. "But it seem laik to me it been did by Buckman. Yes, sir, dat wha' he boun' to be, chief. Black folks an' white gent'mans dey cuts down wif he machete; but dis been cut up in de manner of Bucks. I spec' he been cut long 'bout a week gone, chief. De leaf he daid an' dry where he been cut. An' dey ain't Bucks livin' here 'bout, I spec' dey ben rangin' roun' dis side fo' a fac', though."
"They're not here now at all events," declared the scientist. "Probably a hunting party or some Indians traveling who just passed through here,— though I confess I can't understand why they should pull up the weeds and cut down bushes. It's a puzzle: but then everything about the Indians and their ways are puzzles. Probably a simple explanation if we knew it."
"Beggin’ you' pardon, chief," began Boters who had been searching about. "I t'ink bes' for 'quaint you wif de fac's of de case, sir. De Buck boys says how dis place peai, an' I spec’ dey knows mo' 'bout de case dan dey says. I mek up me min' mebbe some of the Bucks comes dis side now an' ag'in for to care for de place, laik it was dey charch, chief."
"Hmm, maybe that is it," agreed the scientist. "It may not be impossible that certain tribes still reverence or worship the old idol or these ruins—have a lingering belief in the gods of their ancestors perhaps—and consider it a sort of duty to prevent this place from being overwhelmed with jungle. They may even make pilgrimages here at certain times. We really know little of the Indians' ways or ideas beneath the surface—they only let us know what they wish us to know and keep their inner thoughts to themselves."
"But wouldn't they have told about the city—if they knew of it?" asked Fred. "And why should they say it's peai?"
"Peai means sacred, as well as magic," replied his uncle, "and they would be the last to mention anything about the place to white men. No, I think Boters' explanation is the right one. But there is not the least cause for fear, even so."
"Hello, there's the end of the avenue!" exclaimed Harry as they turned a corner and saw the street ending at a massive building a few rods ahead.
"Yes, and it leads directly into that edifice," agreed his father. "I believe it's a temple of some sort. Maybe there is something of interest within it."
Before them a flight of immense stone steps led from the roadway to the enormous doorway, which was wider at top than bottom, while the walls of the building leaned outward like the others they had seen which had so excited Dr. Woodward's interest.
"Hurrah he's here!" yelled Fred as they gained the upper step and glanced inside. "See, old Billikins is on the job here."
Sure enough. In the centre of the vast roofless room was another of the misshapen ugly idols.
"Just like the one in Darien," cried Harry. "Golly, I wonder if his arm moves too!"
Hurrying forward, the boy scrambled up on the stone god and the next instant leaped back with a surprised cry. Upon the idol's lap were a number of fruits and flowers, wilted, rotten, and shrivelled.
"That settles it," declared Dr. Woodward as he examined the objects. "They are offerings left by the same chaps who chopped the bush and cleaned the streets. Hello, here's something else!"
Searching about among the flowers, he drew out an elaborately carved wooden club.
"Now if we knew what tribe made this we would have a key to the puzzle," remarked the scientist. "Can you tell us anything about it, Boters?"
But the Boviander could give no information, merely declaring the club was the property of some tribe unknown to him.
The boys were far more interested in testing the idol's arms than in clubs or the mysterious visitors to the city.
To all their efforts the idol's limbs refused to respond, however, and at last, convinced that it contained no secret mechanism, they abandoned their attempts, and leaving the scientist studying the carvings and architecture of the building, they strolled off into the surrounding jungle searching for game. In this they were successful and presently returned, carrying a brace of fat curassow-like birds as large as turkeys.
"Here's dinner," announced Fred, as the two boys met Dr. Woodward and the Boviander just emerging from the temple. "And I'm as hungry as a hawk. Let's go back and have grub."
Retracing their way through the ruins they gained the riverside and found the Indians busily working on a large woodskin. A comfortable camp had been made and soon all were dining on the broiled game.
"That beats jaguar steak," laughed Harry, as the meal over, the boy's lolled about. "And we'll be on our way tomorrow by the looks of that woodskin. It's nearly done."
All were tired and went to bed early, and although the Indians had been nervous when among the ruins they had apparently fully recovered their composure and felt perfectly at ease, here beside the river.
As was their custom, the men had a separate shelter and swung their hammocks under it at some distance from the camp of Dr. Woodward and the two boys, the Indians having selected a spot close to the brink of the stream while the boys and the scientist were near the edge of the forest on a little knoll; but within sight and easy call of the men's camp.
While the boys had been somewhat nervous when they had first discovered signs of human beings in the ancient town, still, when they were assured that the visitors had been merely Indians and had not been in the vicinity for some time, they gave no further thought to the matter. Moreover, Boters had talked to the men about it and had even shown them the club found at the idol, and the red men had evinced no fear, but all declaring the weapon to belong to some tribe unknown to them.
"That's not surprising," announced Dr. Woodward as he and the boys rolled themselves in their hammocks. "These fellows are from a distant part of the country and are absolutely unfamiliar with this district and its inhabitants. I should not be surprised if we found ourselves in Dutch Guiana, and of course these Indians know nothing of the Surinam tribes."
"Let's hope they are peaceable, whoever they are," said Fred sleepily. "I've had enough of adventures for a time."
"Will wonders never cease!" exclaimed his uncle with a chuckle. "I did not think that possible."
"Enough's as good as a feast," Harry reminded him sagely and with a prodigious yawn. "But just the same, I'll bet we're in for more before we're through."
"Well, anyhow, I'm more interested in a good sleep than anything else," mumbled Fred.
CHAPTER VI A MIRACULOUS DELIVERANCE
IT seemed to Harry as if he had barely closed his eyes when he was aroused by some slight noise. Still terribly sleepy, he lay, silent and motionless, wondering vaguely what had awakened him. Drowsy and only half awake as he was, still he felt a strange sensation of danger, of imminent peril, and cautiously he turned his eyes towards the black forest. Instantly his heart seemed to cease beating and he felt paralyzed with gripping fear at what he saw.
Within twenty yards of his hammock was a painted, naked Indian, his blow-gun resting across a small tree and pointed directly at the boy's breast! Beyond him, like shadows creeping along the forest edge, were four other savages, each with a blow-gun and bow in hands, and all silently, stealthily approaching Fred and Dr. Woodward, who, sound asleep, were wholly unconscious of the enemies so near them.
Harry felt actually sick with terror. To move or utter a sound meant instant death for him. And death equally swift and sure would be the fate of his father and his cousin. He well knew that at the first cry of alarm the Indians would spring upon their victims and either kill them at once or seize them, for Harry knew instinctively that these armed savages were hostile and were intent on destroying the white men. Perhaps, he thought, they had already killed Boters and the Indians. Possibly it had been their smothered cries that had awakened him. His gun was within easy reach; perhaps, with a quick motion, he might seize it and fire, but he could not hope to kill more than one Indian before he was overpowered or shot and his act would not save the others.
Moreover, he was too frightened to lift a hand to grasp his weapon, too frightened even to move. And it was lucky for him that he was. The slightest motion, even the flicker of an eyelid, would seal his doom and each second he expected that the nearest Indian would see his open eyes and that the deadly poisoned dart would speed from the long blow-gun and bury itself in his flesh. Nearer and nearer the hammocks crept the other Indians. The seconds appeared like hours and the sound of his heart beats seemed to Harry's tense nerves to echo through the silence of the night and to shake his hammock. Sweat stood on his skin, chills ran over him, and he feared that at any moment he might lose control of himself, that his nerves would give way and that he must scream.
Then a strange thing happened. Suddenly the Indian who was near him turned his head and glanced down at his own legs. The next second, with a low cry of terror, he leaped back, dropping his weapon as he did so.
At the sound the four shadows halted and wheeled in time to see—as Harry saw—the first savage dashing madly into the forest. Before he had covered a dozen yards panic seized the others and they too turned and fled.
Scarcely had they started to run when their comrade stumbled and fell, uttering a fearful, bloodcurdling shriek. The next moment he was up again and in the moonlight Harry saw with horror that from the feet to waist his copper-hued skin was hidden by a moving, swarming, black mass. For an instant the boy could not understand, could not grasp the meaning of the Indians' flight and the things upon the fellow's skin. And then suddenly it came to him. The savages were surrounded, attacked by the most terrible of jungle creatures, the awful army-ants! Many stories had Harry and Fred heard Boters and their Indian friends tell of these all devouring terrible creatures, but never had they fully believed the tales. But now, before Harry's horrified eyes, the tiny but irresistible insects were overwhelming the five Indians.
Dr. Woodward and Fred, aroused by the Indian's screams, had started up and had called out in alarm. Just in time, Harry's senses returned to him; he found voice at last and in a hoarse terrified shout warned the others.
"What is it? What's wrong?" cried the scientist, only knowing that there was danger, that Harry had told them not to leave their hammocks.
"It's ants!" Harry cried in reply. "Army-ants. There were—were Indians, but they've run off and —Oh, it makes me sick to look! The ants are killing them!"
There was no need to fear the savages now, and rapidly and in half incoherent, broken sentences Harry told what had occurred. And as he talked the eyes of all three were fixed upon the awful scene taking place so near them. Despite the gruesome horror of it they could not withdraw their fascinated gaze, and wide-eyed, pale-faced and speechless they watched the Indians. Frantically but vainly the savages were struggling against the resistless millions of hungry ants which, on every side, surrounded and overwhelmed them, covering the ground with a living, undulating carpet that pushed ever onward like a mighty torrent and devouring all in its path. Over the Indians they swarmed and as the shrieks of the savages echoed through the night Boters and the boatmen came hurrying towards the camp. With a shout of warning Dr. Woodward ordered them back to their hammocks, but his cry was not needed. The outermost columns of the ant army had invaded the camp and as the scattered insect scouts bit viciously into the Boviander's bare feet he uttered a frightened "Wha la! De Army-ants he come!" and faced pell-mell for the security of his hammock followed by the men. Even when they reached their own camp they did not halt, but dashing to the river tumbled into the canoe, pushed the craft from shore and safe in midstream sat waiting for the army to pass or day to dawn.
In the meantime the vast horde of ants was swarming under the hammocks of Dr. Woodward and the boys. The sound of their moving bodies and hungry jaws came from every side, like the rustle of a wind among dry leaves and the boys shuddered, as glancing about, they saw the black millions covering the earth below them, swarming up the trees and over everything. But the scientist reassured them. "We are safe in the hammocks," he declared. "They'll not cross a rope."
Now the Indians' cries had ceased; all that marked their presence were formless motionless mounds of ants, and trembling and nauseated the three in their hammocks watched the teeming, seemingly endless army of insects as it passed hurriedly on its devastating way.
For hour after hour they lay with staring eyes, not daring to stir from their hammocks, until at last day dawned and by the welcome light they saw the last stragglers of the ant-army scurrying over the ground and disappearing in the forest.
A short distance away five piles of white bones and five grinning skulls were all that remained of the fierce savages from whom the three had been so miraculously saved.
"Wasn't it terrible?" gasped Harry with a shudder. "I never knew anything could be so awful and —and so gruesome."
His father nodded. "Yes, a fearful tragedy," he replied, "but not half as terrible as our fate, had we been left at the mercy of the Indians. I can't imagine who they were, but there is no question that they were hostile and intended to kill us."
As Dr. Woodward spoke he approached the clean-picked skeletons of the Indians, and stooping, lifted some object from the ground.
"Jove!" he cried. "This explains it. Look, boys; see this club? It's the same as the one we found on the idol. These were the chaps who were caring for the city and worshipping the ancient god. They no doubt were intent on destroying us for daring to enter the place."
"Golly, you're right," assented Fred as he and Harry drew near—but keeping well away from the bones of the dead savages.
"Eh eh!" exclaimed Boters who had approached unseen. "I don't know hukkum it, but I 'spec dey's been flustrations here 'bout. How dis t'ing happen, chief? I lis'n good for de story, sir. Wha’ dew Bucks doin' here?"
In a few words Dr. Woodward explained, while the Boviander and the men listened with wondering, half-frightened expressions on their faces.
"Wha la!" exclaimed Boters as the scientist ended. "Now I fin’ out de usefullness of dese ant. Yessir, when I tek dis t'ing in consid'ation it seem like de Lord jes' stratch out he han’ and save we. Yessir, chief, dat's what 'tis, a mi'acle an' dats de truf. An’ I ain't never gwine moles' a army-ant ag'in, long's I live in dis vale of tears. No, sir, dat I ain't, an I gwine walk clean 'roun' every ant of dis specie what I sees, yessir."
As Boters delivered this speech the Indians had gathered close and were intently examining the skulls, the bows and arrows and the blow-guns of the dead savages. They were evidently discussing some matter, for they were talking excitedly in their own tongue. Presently Theophilus turned to Dr. Woodward. "Me sabby must for makeum walk topside dis place plenty quick," he announced. "Me sabby mebbe other feller came this side for killum. Dis feller plenty bad mans—him Myagong."
"Myagongs!" exclaimed Dr. Woodward. "Jove, we had better get out of here. Boters, get ready to start immediately. Don't even stop for breakfast."
"Wha la!" replied the Boviander. "Dat I won't, sir. No, sir, I ain't waitin' for not'ing now. We be a gwine lessen no time, chief."
"But, Dad, who are Myagongs and why are you in such a hurry?" asked Harry as Boters and his men hurried to the canoe and commenced to load it with feverish haste.
"The fiercest of savages in South America," replied his father. "Implacable enemies of all men save their own tribe."
"But I thought none of the Guiana Indians were hostile," persisted Fred, as the three hurried after Boters and the men.
"The Myagongs are not Guiana Indians," his uncle answered. "They belong—Great Scott! it cannot be possible. Theophilus must be wrong. The Myagongs dwell in Venezuela."
"Golly, then we must be there!" exclaimed Harry. "Nonsense," cried his father. "We could not reach Venezuela from the Essequibo without going west and crossing several well known and large rivers. The country in that direction is not unexplored."
"Then how do you explain it?" demanded Harry.
"The Indians are mistaken," declared the scientist. "These savages could not have been Myagongs."
"Maybe not," agreed Fred. "But whatever they were I say we'd better beat it. And I'm for trusting to what Theophilus says. He warned us about that beast he called a Takamu and we didn't believe him."
"And maybe there are Myagongs here too," averred Harry. "Who knows what tribes might be up here? Gosh I wish we were out of this country!"
By the time they reached the riverside the woodskin was ready and no sooner were Dr. Woodward and the boys in the craft than the Indians bent to their paddles and the canoe shot into midstream.
But when the scientist questioned Theophilus he stoutly maintained that the dead savages had been Myagongs, and in this he was supported by his fellows.
"It's impossible," declared Dr. Woodward positively. "The Myagongs belong in Venezuela. How can they be clear over here, either in Dutch Guiana or near it?"
Theophilus talked rapidly with Boters in his native tongue. When he ceased the Boviander turned to Dr. Woodward.
"Dey ain't a bit of use contendin’ 'bout it," he declared. "Dis boy Theophilus he say de Myagongs rangin' all 'bout in de bush where folks ain't gwine. He say he ain't mek mistake, no, sir. He say he one time been see Myagongs when he come to he village to mek trade wurali, an’ he know de pattern of de Myagong bow 'n arrer an' ain't mistook, I ain't know me self hukkum dese Myagong here 'bout, but I ain't gwine conten' wif Bucks when dey mek assertion 'bout de specie of Buck, 'cause I knows dey knows de subjec' of de matter better'n what I do, yes, sir."
"Hmm," muttered Dr. Woodward. "Well, possibly the Myagongs exist in various remote portions of Guiana-—or Brazil—and Theophilus may be right. It's an interesting ethnological discovery, if true. Now let's see, where are we going, I wonder."
"South," replied Harry promptly. "Seems to me we're on the wrong track still."
But soon after, the river swung east and then north and all felt that they were headed towards the coast. No signs of Indians were seen and after several hours the canoe was run upon a small islet in mid-river and the famished boys and men ate their long delayed breakfast. The boys were still a bit unnerved after their terrible experience of the night and they could not mention the matter without shuddering, while Boters seemed to take delight in regaling them with most awful stories of the army-ants, despite the scientist's efforts to stop his chatter.
Throughout the forenoon and until late afternoon the woodskin sped on its way, the river trending mainly northward, and at sunset the scientist and Boters felt that they were well beyond all danger from the Myagongs, or whoever they might be.
But no one wanted to take any chances and it was at last decided to continue paddling all night, the men taking turns at sleeping A stop was made to cook the evening meal and then, through the black night the canoe again slipped down the river, guided by the stars and the dim outline of the forests that loomed gigantic on either hand. Fred and Harry managed to curl themselves up in the canoe and were soon asleep, despite their cramped positions. But when the men moved about to change places the two boys were aroused, and rubbing their eyes, sat up to find the moon had risen and the river was flooded with silvery light. It was chilly and damp and as neither boy felt at all sleepy after their nap they offered to take paddles and thus relieve two of the tired Indians. This exercise soon warmed them up and they thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the moonlit river as they swept along. From the forest came the calls of countless frogs, innumerable insects and an occasional nightbird or prowling beast; fish leaped and flashed from the water ahead; otters swam across the stream leaving silver wakes behind them and great red and green fireflies flitted among the shadows of the banks looking, as Fred said, like "Christmas tree lights gone astray."
Dr. Woodward was snoring soundly; old Boters in the stem was nodding with his head on his breast and his eyes fast shut, although be still grasped his steering paddle and unconsciously guided the craft, and only the splash of paddles and the ripple of the water alongside told of the woodskin's presence on the jungle river.
Suddenly Harry ceased paddling and peered intently ahead. At the same instant Thcophilus muttered: "Fire, me seeum."
"It is," cried Harry excitedly as he again caught the ruddy glow of a fire far ahead.
"Golly, perhaps it's Myagongs!" exclaimed Fred. "Say, let's wake Uncle Frank and Captain Boters."
But there was no need to awaken the two men.
The boys’ voices had already aroused them and both had seen the ruddy glow.
"Mebbe dat fire b'long to Buckman, an’ mebbe he don't," remarked Bolers sagely. "He look a mite too bright for Buck fire, but I can't spandulate who he b'long to if he ain't Buckman's."
"Hmm, I think we'd better go cautiously." declared the scientist. "No use in running blindly into trouble."
"Me sabby no Buckman makeum," announced Theophilus decidedly. "Me sabby him black man, mebbe white man, fire."
"Hurrah!" yelled the two boys. "Then we're at the settlements at last!"
"Not so fast, boys," Dr. Woodward cautioned them. "Theophilus may be right, but it may be only a camp of balata bleeders and hundreds of miles from the settlements."
Each moment the glow was getting plainer and nearer and now those in the woodskin could see that the fire itself was hidden from view by a low wooded point. With expectant hearts and thrilling with excitement they peered ahead as the canoe slipped by the point, and the next instant the fire came into view.
“A house!" exclaimed Fred. "Gosh, we are at the settlements."
"A shack or camp," corrected his uncle.
Upon a low bluff clear of trees stood a small building, plainly outlined in the glow of a blazing pile of logs. Whoever had built the fire, whoever dwelt in the thatched hut were certainly not Indians —or at least wild ones—and with redoubled speed the woodskin was urged forward until it grated upon the shore beside a dug out canoe.
"Wha la!" cried Boters as he peered at the other craft. "Dat de mos' cur'oustcst coorial ever I have see. Yessir, I ain't never met one perzactly like dis 'fore dis minute. I ain't—"
His words were interrupted by Fred. "Hurrah, it's a white man!" he yelled, as a figure appeared upon the summit of the high bank.
CHAPTER VII BRAZIL
CLEARLY outlined in the lurid light of the fire he stood there, and instantly all in the woodskin knew that Harry was right. He was a white man beyond doubt.
And all felt a great sense of relief and were convinced that their wanderings were over, for the presence of a white man in a clearing and with a house—even though the house was a frail affair of thatch—could only mean that they had reached the outlying settlements and that civilization and the coast were near at hand.
For a space the man stood motionless, staring down at the new arrivals as though as greatly surprised to see them as they were to find him. Then, as Dr. Woodward and the boys stepped ashore, the man waved his hand and called a greeting. The scientist stopped, surprise written upon his features. The man had spoken in Portuguese!
"Jove!" exclaimed Dr. Woodward, "Can it be possible?" Then as he started up the steep bank along a winding pathway he called back in the same tongue. At sound of his voice, and now sure that the strangers were white, the fellow uttered a cry of surprise and delight and hurried forward. He was tall and heavily built, his clothes were rough, faded and patched, his skin was bronzed to the color of an Indian and his face was half hidden in a bushy red beard. All this the boys took in at a glance as the man reached them, and extending his hand welcomed them in a rapid flow of Portuguese which was, of course, utterly unintelligible to the two boys.
In a few words Dr. Woodward explained their plight, asked if they could find accommodations for the night and ended by inquiring where they were.
As the fellow replied the boys caught one word they understood: "Brazil."
"Gosh!" exclaimed Fred. "Hear that, Harry. We're in Brazil, I'll bet."
At the boy's words the man wheeled, stared at Fred a moment and then burst into a roar of laughter.
"Glory be!" he cried. " 'Tis English yez be after spakin'."
It was the boys' turn to be amazed. "Why—why of course," exclaimed Harry. "Did you think— Oh gee! That's rich. We thought you were Portuguese and you thought we were and you're—"
"Oirish as Pat Murphy's pig!" interrupted the other. "Shure was it a Portugee or a Brazilian ye was after thinkin' Oi was?"
"Quite naturally," chuckled Dr. Woodward, "when you addressed us in that tongue. But did I understand you to say we are in Brazil?"
" ‘Tis that yez arre," replied the other, "Sthandin' on the soil av' thot great an' glorious republic—bad cess to it—an' sp'akin' wid a son of ould Oirland thot was scatter-brained enough to be afther tryin' for to make a home an' a forrtune for himself by the soide av the Rio Blanco."
As he spoke they were approaching the hut and as they reached it the Irishman swept his long arms about in a semicircle.
"Welcome to me grrand estate!" he cried jovially, with a merry laugh and a twinkle in his blue eyes. " ‘Tis not much to offer the likes av yez gintlemen, but such as 'tis yez arre welcome an' more. There's shelter at anny rate an' food to ate an' plinty av fine air and no gossipy neighbors to throuble yez."
"Do you dwell all alone here, Mr.—?" asked the scientist as they entered the house.
"O'Rourke's me name," supplied their host. "And," he added, "save for a crowd av haythen Indians an' a thaivin' son av Brazil, Oi'm by mesilf an' monarch av all Oi survey."
Dr. Woodward introduced himself and the boys as the Irishman lit a lamp and drew out benches as seats for his guests. Then Boters appeared with the men and O'Rourke left to show the Boviander and the Indians to a long, low, thatched shed where they could sling their hammocks.
"Say, who'd ever have expected to find an Irishman way up here?" cried Harry as their host stepped from the hut.
"Didn't I tell you we might be in Brazil?" demanded Fred triumphantly.
"And on the Rio Blanco!" exclaimed his uncle. "Why we're hundreds of miles from our destination."
"Well we're at civilization anyway," said Harry. "Here's a house with furniture and a lamp and everything. What do you suppose Mr. O'Rourke's doing up here all alone?"
"Trading, I expect," replied his father. "And possibly gathering balata and gums and raising coffee or some other crop."
At this moment the Irishman returned and the boys noticed that he was quite lame.
" 'Tis a bit late for dinner yez arre," he announced as he bustled about and produced cold meat, bread and other edibles from hanging shelves and baskets. "But," he continued, " 'tis a foine appetite Oi do have an' Oi'm afther kapin' a bit av food in me cupboard forninst bein' took with hunger afther hours, or the arrival av visitors loike yes-selves,—though 'tis the furst in sivin long months yez do be."
Then, as the hungry boys ate, they chatted and Dr. Woodward told briefly of their adventures. O'Rourke listened attentively, now and then asking some question, until the scientist had ended.
"By the Saints!" he exclaimed. " 'Tis a wonderful tale yez arre afther tellin', Docthor. Glory be, but 'tis a wonder yez survived at all, at all! An' to think yez found the ould city av Manoa an' the other wan! Faith: 'tis a bit av explorin' Oi've done in mc day, aiven if Oi do say it meself what shouldn't be boastin' av it. But 'tis a rank amatoor Oi am beside av yez. But beggin' av your pardon, sor, 'thim hathan savages what was afther yez,—an' b' the mercy av God was killed by the ants,—was no Myagongs. No, sor, there be none av thot brade in Brazil. 'Twas the Tockamuras they was—head-hunters, bad cess to thim. Shure Oi know thim too well. But 'tis far from here they do be cursin' the country wid their prisince."
"Ah, then I was right," ejaculated the scientist. "I was positive they could not be Myagongs, even though our Indians insisted that they were. So they were Tockamuras, you think! I've heard of those head hunters—a strange tribe, little known or studied."
O'Rourke laughed. "Be jabbers, 'tis not meself would be afther wishin' to study thim," he declared. " 'Tis a case av distance lindin' enchantment to the view, Oi be afther thinkin'. An' by the same token, 'tis no wonther they be little known. Faith, 'tis not companionable folks they do be, an' thim thot knows thim best are the poor b'ys whose heads are hangin', smoked and dried, in the benabs av the rascals."
"Gee, we were lucky to escape them," cried Fred. "Hereafter I'm going to follow Boters' example and never harm an army-ant."
"Shure, if yez dwelt here yea would foind yez would be afther havin' to," declared O'Rourke. "Beloike 'tis thankful yez should be to the craytures, but 'tis a pest they do be to me, what wid 'atin' av ivery blessed thing within reach, an' all."
Then the conversation turned to the future course of the travelers.
"I suppose we could reach Manaos or some other Brazilian town easily," said Dr. Woodward. "But I should much prefer to return to the Guiana coast. Can that be done, Mr. O'Rourke?"
"Shure an' 'tis as aisy to go through to the say by way av Surinam as to travel to Manaos," he replied. "To-morrer Oi'll give yez the directions so yez can't go asthray. But 'tis weary yez must be an' yez'll not be afther gettin' your beauty slape if yez don't turrn in soon."
All were only too glad of a chance to sleep, and safe from worry and feeling that hardships and dangers were at an end, the boys tumbled into the hammocks slung in the comfortable house. Hardly had they done so when a torrential shower pounded upon the thatched roof above their heads and with heartfelt thanks that they were not camping in the jungle and were dry and comfortable, they dropped off to sleep.
The morning dawned clear and the boys found that the house was surrounded with a large clearing. Portions were evidently under cultivation, while other parts had been recently cleared and burned and Harry and Fred realized that it was these burning trees and stumps that they had seen the previous evening. Near the house were several low, thatched shed-like structures, in one of which Boters and the Indians had passed the night while from the others half-clad, slouchy-looking men were issuing. They were very evidently laborers and if O'Rourke had not mentioned that they were Indians the boys never would have guessed it, for they were very different from any of the Guiana redmen they had seen. All were short and stocky to be sure, but their skins were as dark as mulattos', their hair was matted and they looked far from clean. They gazed at the boys with stupid, animal-like interest and Harry and Fred noticed that several had lips and ears horribly deformed or mutilated. In fact their ears hung in loose loops of flesh almost to their shoulders and their lips drooped over their chins, while a few had empty tin cans thrust into the apertures in their ears and one wore an old tobacco can in his lower lip.
"Golly, aren't they ugly!" exclaimed Fred. "Say, Harry, they look like those red-headed savages we ran from. Gosh, I wonder if they're not the same tribe—they have their lips and ears stretched the same way."
"Maybe they are," replied Harry. "Let's ask Mr. O'Rourke. But anyway these are tame—or half tame."
A little later, as the two boys were eating breakfast, they asked their jovial host about the laborers and were told that the men were mainly Botacudos.
"Isn't that what you said those red-headed savages were like?" Harry asked his father.
"Yes, but I expect they were a different tribe," replied Dr. Woodward.
"Not a bit av it," declared O'Rourke. "Shure, the woild Botacudos do be as bad as the worrst. Yis, an' they do be afther makin' av their hair red wid lye, b'gorra,—imatatin' av the Oirrish beloike. Tis the tame wans I do be havin' here an' a lazy lot of haythens they do be."
Then, in answer to the boys' queries, he told them that he was raising cacao, that he had several hundred acres set out to Para rubber, that during the season he and his men made long trips into the forest gathering wild rubber and balata and that he carried on a large trade with the Indians and with the rubber gatherers who visited this section of the country. Why he had first come to that remote portion of the world, or what his previous history had been, he did not offer to explain, and of course no one asked. All however, took a great liking for the jolly, hospitable Irishman, and as soon as the meal was over, Dr. Woodward questioned him about the route to be followed if they were to reach the Atlantic through Dutch Guiana.
"Faith, Oi'm thinkin' yez be anxious to be travelin' home," he declared as he lit his blackened pipe and prepared to sketch a route on Dr. Woodward's map. "An 'tis little Oi can blame yez afther all yez have been through. But b'gorra, 'twill be lonesome Oi'll be, afther yez have gone. Tis rare visitors do be here, an' by the same token, Oi'd be pl'ased entoirely to have yez sthop wid me for a toime."
"We'll be glad to remain for a few days," Dr. Woodward assured him. "The men need a good rest and if you can spare us a dug-out I will gladly purchase it. I rather dislike the idea of attempting a long: journey in a woodskin."
But the Irishman would not listen to the scientist's offer to buy a dug-out canoe. He insisted upon making the other a present of one and expressed his delight at being able to do anything to make their way easier and at Dr. Woodward's decision to remain with him for a few days,
"Is it dangerous-going this way?" asked Harry, as the boys watched him tracing the route on the map.
O'Rourke laughed. “Shure 'tis always dangerous—in the bush," he replied. "But go on wid yez, me b'y; yez don't be afther bein' afraid av dangers, Oi'm guessin'. Shure 'tis not the fursst toime yez have run falls an' met woild bastes."
"Oh, I didn't mean such things," grinned Harry. "I meant savages,—wild Indians, you know."
" ‘Tis not me as can tell yez thot," replied O'Rourke. "Oi've niver been thot side meself an' all Oi knows av it is what the b'ys that do be passin' have tould me. Beloikc yez'll see Indians a plenty— the Trios live beyant—but 'tis p'aceable they do be, Oi'm thinkin'. But, b'gorra, kape an eye liftin' for the deportés—the convicts from Cayenne, yez know.
Shure if iver death walked on two fate 'tis them chaps. Poor divvils! Oi fale a bit sorry for them, but they do be inimies av all they meet an' think nothin' av slittin' a lad's throat or knockin' him over the head for the sake av st'alin' what he has."
"Gee, those were the fellows that old Bush Nigger king spoke about. He thought we were deportés."
"Faith yis, the Jakos do be the worrst inimies av the convicts. Kill thim at sight," declared the Irishman.
"And will we find Bush Niggers—Jakos—?" asked Fred.
"Plinty av them an' to sphare," O'Rourke assured him. "Shure the bush is filled with thim—along the rivers. But yez needn't fear thim. They do be a good lot, aiven if they arre haythens and go cavortin' about naked as the day they was borrn."
"The ones we met weren't a good lot, I tell you," said Harry. "They were as savage as anything. Gosh, I'd rather be captured by wild Indians than by them."
"Shure that same is beyant me understhandin' entoirely," declared the Irishman. "Faith, they must be av a dif'rent brade altogihter, yander in Demerary. But yez may take the worrd av Denny O'Rourke thot the Jakos av Surinam arre a foine lot, an' fri'ndly."
"According to you our route leads down the Blanco to the Tinto," said Dr. Woodward, returning to the subject of greatest importance.
"Right yez arre," assented the other. "Thin through this itabu to the hid-wathcrs av the Paruni. Thin follow your nose—or the currint rather—to the sphot where yez see a needle-loike av red rock. To the north av thot yez'll turn lift—up a crake thot yez'll know by the color av the wather—rid as blood 'tis—thin up thot to the falls. Turn aste below thim an' take the itabu to the hid-wathers av the Maroni an' straight down thot to Paramaribo, an' there yess arre, safe an' sound, wid ortymobils an’ railroads an' all, b'gorra."
"Are you sure we can get through these creeks and itabus?" asked the scientist. "Or will it be necessary to portage?"
"Shure, the lads tell me thot at this toime av year there do be wather a-plinty," the Irishman assured them. "An' now," he continued, rising, " 'tis the rounds av me kingdom Oi must be afther takin'. Shure, me b'ys, would yez be carin’ to hav a look at me foine estate?"
"You bet we will, cried Harry as he and Fred jumped up. "Shall we take our guns? Is there game here?"
"Yez moight be afther takin' a shot-gun," replied O'Rourke. "There do be marudi an' powi, an' be-loike a quail or two."
So, with Fred carrying his shot-gun, the two boys set out with the Irishman, Dr. Woodward remaining at the house to continue his study of the map and to write up his long neglected journal.
The boys were greatly interested in the rubber groves and cacao orchards and as they strolled along, O'Rourke explained all about the various processes of curing and preparing the rubber.
"Whew, I never knew it was so much trouble," declared Fred. "I thought they just tapped the trees and got the sap or whatever they call it, and let it harden and that was rubber. And you say it has to be smoked and curdled and lots of things done to it."
"And to think it's as white as milk at first and so black when it's done," said Harry. "Is balata just the same as rubber?"
O'Rourke laughed and explained that balata and rubber were obtained from different trees and that balata was used mainly for making belting and gutta-percha and was quite different from real rubber.
Then he went on to describe the various kinds of rubber and their relative values and added that Chicle, from which chewing gum is made, was also a product of a forest tree.
"Well, we've learned a lot," declared Harry as they left the grove of young rubber trees and turned towards a patch of jungle where the Irishman said there might be game.
Very soon after entering the bush, they flushed a pair of tinamou and Fred got both birds with splendid right and left shots.
"B'gorra 'tis a foine dinner we'll be bavin'," remarked O'Rourke as he picked up the two birds. "Now if ye're not afther moindin' the jaunt we'll have a look at them spalpeens av moine what arre clearing a bit av land beyant."
Emerging from the jungle the Irishman led the way across freshly cleared land towards a spot whence came the ringing sound of axes on wood.
Everywhere, felled trees and branches littered the ground and over and over again the two boys stopped to examine the strange air plants, orchids and other growths which covered the trunks and limbs and which had been brought from their former lofty, inaccessible places to within reach of human hands. Several of the ugly Botacudos were busily cutting away the trash and limbs and gathering them in piles ready for burning.
"Isn't this timber good for anything?" asked Harry. "It seems an awful shame just to burn it up."
O'Rourke assured them that it was the only way to dispose of it, that while much of the timber was excellent hard wood and would be worth a fortune in the markets of the world, it was valueless here, so far from civilization.
"Shure," he exclaimed, " 'tis the same with ev'rything—worrth nixt to nothin' here in the back of beyant as ye might say. Faith, aven a man's loife is chape here an' 'tis small profits Oi can be afther makin' with all me throuble. But 'tis a foine free loife afther all, an' what more does a lad want?"
They were now at the farther edge of the clearing and just ahead they saw the man who was felling the trees. He was lighter than the Indians they had seen, and splendidly built with huge muscles on arms and shoulders and was, O'Rourke told the boys, a half-caste Brazilian or "Sambo." To the boy’s surprise he was perched on a frail platform of sticks ten feet above the earth and was making the great chips of dark wood fly from the doomed tree at a point far above the ground. As the boys watched him wield his double-edged long-handled axe they could not understand how he managed to maintain his balance on the shaky support and Harry asked their host why he did not stand upon the earth and chop down the tree nearer the roots,
O'Rourke called the boys' attention to the wide spreading buttress-like hips of the tree, that extended for several yards on every side and upward for five or six feet, and explained that to hew through these would require a vast amount of labor and time and that to avoid this the men cut the trees where the true trunk commenced.
As he spoke he approached close to the tree. Suddenly there was an ominous, ripping, cracking sound from above, a hoarse shout of warning, and a rending, crashing, tearing sound from overhead. Scarcely realizing what had happened, but startled by the man's yell, the two boys leaped back as the great tree came unexpectedly thundering to earth. The man upon the platform had bounded far to one side and had escaped, the boys were safe, although the falling trunk swept down within a few feet of their faces, but where was O'Rourke? For a moment the boys looked into each other's eyes with blanched faces. The Irishman had been directly under the tree as it fell. He was nowhere to be seen and both boys felt that he had met a sudden and terrible fate—had been crushed beneath the descending tree and they were speechless with horror at thought of the awful tragedy. Shaking and filled with dread at the sight they might see they approached the spot where O'Rourke had stood, expecting to find the mangled, crushed body of the Irishman pinned under the giant tree trunk. The next instant Fred gave a shout of unutterable joy and relief. Lying beside the fallen tree, silent and motionless but apparently merely stunned, lay the Irishman. But the boys' delight at finding him alive was short lived, and as they saw that one of O'Rourke's legs was pinned between the tree and a boulder, groans rose to their lips. Even if the man had escaped death he was terribly injured,—crippled for life, for they well knew that his leg must be crushed to pulp. And how could they manage to free him? Even with the aid of the Brazilian wood chopper they could not hope to lift that immense log and the boys fairly shuddered at the thought of the agonies their friend must endure ere they could summon help to extricate him.
"We—we must hurry and get the men," stammered Fred. "He's unconscious now and not suffering, but he may come to at any moment and—and he may be bleeding to death. Oh, isn't it terrible! I—"
At this instant O'Rourke opened his eyes, looked about in a dazed manner, rubbed his head and the next moment burst into a peal of laughter.
That he could laugh with his leg crushed under the tree convinced the boys that he was delirious and as they hesitated, hardly knowing what to do or say, the Irishman raised his shoulders and sat up, still shaking with his maniacal merriment.
"Saints presarve us!" he guffawed, "Now ain't thot the luck av a O'Rourke?"
"Luck!" exclaimed Harry, hurrying forward to the injured man's side. "It's terrible! Can you stand it just a moment till we run and get the men?"
Again the Irishman roared hilariously. "Men?" he cried. "Shure now, me b'y's, don't be afther troublin' av yerselves. Shure the loss av me lig's av little consequence. B'gorra 'tis thankful Oi should be 'twas not me hid—though by the same token, be loike thot would be small loss. 'Twas knocked daffy Oi was by the fall, but 'tis a thick skull Oi do be bavin'—the saints be praised."
Still thinking he must be raving, the boys stood, undecided, when to their utter amazement, O'Rourke whipped out a huge knife and commenced hacking at his leg below the knee. Dumbfounded at such a display of indomitable nerve and stoicism the boys watched spellbound. Then, wild peals of hysterical laughter came from their lips and helpless they sank upon the log and roared with merriment until their sides ached. O'Rourke had risen, balancing himself on one leg, while from underneath the log projected the socket and cut straps of an artificial limb!
"Oh oh!" fairly screamed Fred. "That was one on us! Oh, gosh,—we were scared to death and thought—"
"Glory be!" exclaimed O'Rourke as he cut a stout staff and hobbled towards the boys. "Oi'd clane forgot yez didn't know 'twas a fake lig Oi did have. Wurra now, 'twas a shame yez was worried at all, at all." Then, with a humorous twinkle in his eyes, he added. "But 'tis a timber lig Oi'll have to be makin' for meself. Faith, a bit av the wood will be coming' in handy now—some av it will not be wasted afther all. And"—he cast a regretful glance at the splintered, crushed artificial limb protruding from beneath the tree trunk—" 'Twas a foine handy lig entoirely. Shurc 'tis most as sorry Oi am to lose it as Oi was whin the Huns took me own av flesh an' blood."
"Then you lost your leg in the war!" exclaimed Fred.
"Thot Oi did," declared O'Rourke. "An 'tis luck has been with me twoice now. Fursst whin the shell took me lig instead av me hid or me arrms, and now whin the tree has the good taste to selict the same."
Then, as with his extemporized crutch and helped by the boys, the Irishman started towards the clearing and the house, he burst into a rollicking song.
"Shore me name it is O'Rourke
An' Oi've trouble wid me ligs.
Me lift wan sets me crazy, it is worrse than twinty pigs.
Oi'll tell yez all me troubles and the raysons yez may sift.
Me right lig is a daisy but—the divvil's in me lift!"
CHAPTER VIII DOWN THE RIO TINTO
O'ROURKE'S humor was irrepressible and even the loss of his precious left leg could not worry him for a moment. As he walked along he told the boys much of his history. How he had been wounded and discharged from the British army. How he had longed to get as far from civilization and the memories of the war as possible and how, having been in Brazil before, he had taken what little money he had and had wandered to the Rio Blanco and had started to carve out an estate from the heart of the wilderness. He was a born adventurer and for the next few days that the boys and Dr. Woodward remained at his home in the wilderness he recounted innumerable anecdotes of his life and experiences in the wilds of Brazil, in India and in other out-of-the-way parts of the world. When at last the time came for them to leave and start on their long journey through Dutch Guiana, all felt truly sorry to say farewell to the light-hearted, good natured Irish veteran. He gave them a packet of letters which he wished mailed, asked the boys to send him some magazines and newspapers when they reached civilization, and insisted upon loading them down with provisions and giving them a large, brand new dug-out canoe.
Dr. Woodward expostulated in vain. "It's really too much," he declared, as he thanked O'Rourke for his kindness and hospitality. "There is no reason why I should not pay you for the canoe and these supplies. And no reason why you should hesitate to accept compensation for them. You've been more than a true friend in need and I wish there was some way in which I might partially repay your kindnesses. I should feel much more at ease if I could."
O'Rourke's eyes twinkled as he shook hands in good-bye. "Shure thin, Docthor," he said, "if 'tis thot way yez do feel, thin there do be a bit av a favor Oi'd be askin' av yez. Faith an' whin yez r'aches New Yorrk yez moight be afther sindin' av me a new lift lig. Here be the specifications, Docthor, an' yez moight tell thim thot makes the lig thot 'tis for a Oirish lad what is the broth av a b'y wid red hair, an' to make the lig double strong, for be-loike trees will be fallin' on it."
"Indeed I will!" laughed the scientist as he placed the paper containing the measurements for the limb in his wallet. "And I'll send on two legs to make assurance doubly sure in case another accident befalls your limb. Shall I make it a right and left or two lefts?"
"B'gorra, make it two lifts!" cried the Irishman roaring at Dr. Woodward's joke. "Faith, an' if Oi had a sphare roight wan Oi might be temptin' av Fate to smash me good wan just for the sake av symmetry as yez moight say!"
A few moments later the big dug-out rounded a point and looking back, the occupants saw O'Rourke standing upon a fallen tree and waving his battered slouch hat in farewell. Shouting and waving in return those in the dug-out slipped from sight as the craft swung around the bend and commenced its long trip towards the distant seacoast.
Dr. Woodward had repeated O'Rourke's directions to Boters and had traced the route on the map for the Boviander's benefit until the old riverman declared he now knew it by heart. The current of the Blanco was fairly swift, the new canoe was steady, buoyant and comfortable, and Boters and the Indians had rigged an arched shelter or hut of palm leaves over the after portion of the craft. Under this the boys and the scientist were shaded from the sun and protected from the rains, which were now frequent, and compared to their tiny woodskin the craft appeared luxurious.
"This is sometlung like comfort," declared Fred as they stretched themselves out and reclined on the seats with their hammocks for cushions. "I don't mind if we're a month on the way now. All plain sailing, no more savages to fear and plenty of food, not to mention a fine boat."
"Only we haven't found that radium stuff yet," objected Harry.
"Aren't you ever satisfied?" laughed his father. "You've been through enough, I should think, to last you the rest of your lives."
"But we started out to find the ore, or whatever it is," argued Harry, "and we ought not to give up until we find it."
"I guess you'll have to go unsatisfied then," declared Dr. Woodward. "My search for the god and the material he's made from is over. I'm convinced there is nothing more to be learned in Guiana and it is useless to search for what may be a very small deposit of ore in a country like this."
Fred laughed merrily. "Do you know," he said, "I've a hunch that we're not through yet and that we'll find out a lot more about old Billikins and that stuff before we are done."
"Hunches or no hunches, you're mistaken," announced his uncle with finality. "And I'm afraid that you'll both be disappointed if you are counting on any more adventures. Thank goodness there's no great chance of you boys getting into any more scrapes. We're in known country and we should be in Paramaribo within ten days."
"A lot can happen in ten days," remarked Harry. "And seems to me, Dad, we're not the only ones who have gotten into 'scrapes' as you call them."
"I admit a lot can happen in ten minutes,—where you two boys are concerned," replied his father with a smile. "But without savage Indians, dangerous falls, unknown country and similar things I really cannot foresee great opportunities for your activities."
"You forget about those deportés," Fred reminded him with a grin. "We've had adventures with all sorts of red and black savages. Now if we have trouble with white savages it will make the list complete."
"I haven't any more faith in those stories of escaped convicts than—"
"In wild Kunas or savage Jakos or red-headed Rotacudos or Tockamuras," put in Harry mischievously.
"Or in Takamus," added Fred.
The scientist threw up his hands. "That's right, rub it in!" he cried good naturedly. "But," he continued, "I have no more faith than ever in your weird Takamu beast. Not until you kill one will I change my views on that subject."
"Very well," assented Harry, "but if bullets can't kill the creature how are we to make you believe?"
"Might put salt on his tail or knock him over the head," suggested Dr. Woodward sarcastically.
"All right we will next time we see one," declared Fred with a laugh.
Then the conversation turned to other matters and as they talked the hours and the miles sped by, until at noon, they stopped for lunch.
"We should reach the Rio Tinto before dark at this rate," said Dr. Woodward, as, the meal over, he studied the map. "We've made even better time than Mr. O'Rourke thought we would."
"Dat's good news, chief," declared Boters. "De fas'er we gwine de more bes', sir. De rainy season comin' on an' dey boun' be plenty too much water in dese rivers right soon."
"Yes," assented the scientist. "A month from now these streams would be raging torrents. See there, boys, notice those marks on the rocks. Those show the high-water mark—fully twenty feet above the present level."
"Gosh, and look at that big log clear up on that boulder," cried Harry. "Was that carried there by the river?"
"Yes and you can imagine what the river would be like at a time when it rises twenty feet and racing towards the sea carries great logs, like matchsticks, upon its swollen crest."
"I don't care to imagine what would happen to us at such a time," declared Harry. "I'm mighty glad we'll be out of here before the rains come on."
Throughout the next few hours the Indians paddled swiftly down stream, until an hour before sunset the river widened and divided.
"The Tinto!" exclaimed Dr. Woodward. "Here's where we turn off."
"But which is the Tinto?" asked Fred. "Both streams seem to be about the same size."
"The one that runs north," replied liis uncle glancing at the map.
"But neither flows north," objected Harry. "One goes east and the other south."
"Hmm, that's so," agreed his father. "Probably the Tinto turns to the north after a short distance and O'Rourke forgot to mention it."
"But still I don't see how we know which it is," objected Harry.
It did indeed seem a puzzle. The Irishman, who was perfectly familiar with the rivers, had apparently forgotten to tell Dr. Woodward of any landmark by which the right stream could be known and for a time they were in a quandary. As they discussed the matter the canoe was drifting with the current and Fred glancing over the side noticed that the water had taken on a peculiar blackish color very different from the pale muddy-brown of the river along which they had been traveling all day.
"Oh, Uncle Frank, look at the water!" he cried. "What makes it so black?"
"Jove it's funny I hadn't noticed it," exclaimed his uncle as he looked at the surface of the stream. "Our difficulty is solved. This is the Tinto—Spanish for ink or colored—we're on the right river."
Half an hour later the river swung to the north and feeling sure they were right the canoe was run ashore and camp was made. Morning found them again upon their way, navigating the winding, inky-black Rio Tinto through a dense forest of enormous trees. Never in all their wanderings had the boys seen jungles so impenetrable, or so teeming with wild life. As Harry remarked, it was like the fanciful pictures in the geographies. Macaws—red and yellow, blue and yellow, green and crimson, screamed raucously from the tree tops and in great flocks flew laboriously, with slowly flapping wings and long streaming tails, overhead. Once they saw a flock of the giant dazzling blue hyacinth macaws—rarest of their family—and parrots of every imaginable size and combination of gaudy coloring were everywhere.
Hardly a moment passed that toucans were not in sight and the boys never tired of watching their grotesque, awkward antics as they climbed and hopped about, clattering their enormous beaks, barking and yelping like a lot of puppies and acting in every way like so many feathered clowns. Then there were the great yellow-tailed caziques or "oropendulas,"—velvety brown or black with dagger-like bills, whose yard-long, purse-like nests hung by hundreds from the great trees and whose odd, gurgling, half-choking notes sounded, as Fred said, as if the creatures had hot potatoes in their mouths. Many other interesting and beautiful birds there were also; Cotingas of sky blue and vivid crimson; of orange and black, vermilion and snowy-white; Troopials and orioles, multi-colored flaming tanagers and multitudes of smaller birds. Upon dead branches, screaming carrion-hawks perched and uttered their complaining cries, like hungry children. Buzzards and enormous king-vultures swung on motionless wings in great circles far up in the blue sky and several times the lordly harpy eagles spread ten-foot pinions and soared from their lofty lookouts as the canoe approached. And four-footed denizens of the endless, untrodden forest were there too. White-faced monkej's raced through the foliage, and chattering, gazed quizzically at the humans. Red and black spider-monkeys swung, like gigantic prototypes of their insect namesake, from lianas and tree limbs and stared silently, and with wondering eyes, at the invaders of their solitudes while from the fastnesses of the dark forest came the reverberating roars of the big howling baboons, rising and falling in weird cadence—enough to make one's blood run cold did one not know what creatures caused the awful sounds. Often too, they saw sloths quietly feeding upon tender leaf buds, hanging upside down on branches outjutting above the stream. Deer dashed from the riverside and sped into the shelter of the jungle; great crocodiles slid with startling splashes from their basking places on the rocks and half submerged logs and the boys could not glance in any direction without seeing ibis, herons, giant jabiru storks or some other species of wading or water birds, while thousands of azure-blue, flashing yellow or parti-colored butterflies flitted ceaselessly back and forth above the water.
As the boat proceeded and the river became wider the country along the shores grew more broken; bare rocks showed among the trees; the hills gave way to mountains and before noon they were speeding down stream through a great defile with the lofty mountain peaks frowning down above the forests from among the clouds.
As they were seeking for a spot to land for the midday meal Fred's ears caught a most surprising sound, a soft silvery note so out of place here in the wilderness that for a moment he could not believe his senses. Then, once again, it came, floating across the forest-covered mountains.
"Jiminy, hear that!" he cried excitedly. "It's a bell ringing—there must be a church near here."
His uncle burst into a merry laugh. "You'd have a long hunt to find that church," he replied. "That's a bell bird, Fred."
"Bird!" repeated the boy incredulously, "I don't—”
"Dat what he is, sure 'nough chief," interrupted Boters with a broad grin on his face. "He gwine trick you plenty easy. I dunno mesself hukkum he mek holler so perzae'ly sim'lar to de soun' of bell, no, sir, it one of de mys'ries of de bush. De folks in Ven'zuela, dey says de bird, what dey calls Campanero, is de spi'its of de priests what been kill by de Bucks long time gone an' dey gwine rangin’ de bush a ringin' de bell of de ol' mission jes for to call de spirits of de other daid folks to sarvice. Yes, sir, dat wha' dey says, chief. 'Course I ain't know if he true sto'y, but it do seem laik it mos' cu'ous he de on'iest bird wha' ring bell thisaway."
"Well, if it's a bird he must be whopper of a big fellow," declared Fred, as once again the ringing silvery chimes were borne to the boys' ears.
"No, sir, he leedle bird," replied the Boviander. "Look yander, chief, over cross dere. See de daid tree wha' stand'in 'bove dat red rock. Search well, chief, an' you boun' see a leedle white spec' near he top. Dat he, chief, yes, sir, dat de bell-bird."
Hurriedly Harry and Fred rummaged about and securing their glasses focussed them on the minute white speck plainly visible against the dark background of foliage and rocks.
"Gosh, you're right," cried Fred, as through the lenses he saw a snowy spotless bird scarcely larger than a robin. "I can see his throat move when that sound comes to us."
"And there's another!" exclaimed Harry, as he caught sight of a second white speck. "And another and another."
Then, while the men busied themselves making a fire and preparing lunch, the boys passed the time searching for the strange birds whose remarkable notes now seemed to issue from every part of the jungle.
"Keep your eyes open," warned Dr. Woodward, as the meal over they again headed down, stream. "And watch the left-hand shores for the itabu that leads to the Paruni. We may see it this afternoon."
"Beggin' you pardon, chief," remarked Boters, "Dey ain't gwine be itabu 'bout here, sir. No, sir, long's dey's mountings an’ high lan', itabus don't be foun’. Soon's de lan' mek more low we gwine fin' he."
"Possibly you're right," mused the scientist. "But O'Rourke seemed to think we'd reach it before to-night. Better keep a lookout for it anyway."
But despite the sharp watch that was maintained, there was no sign of the itabu or creek they were to follow. Several small streams were seen; but all came purling and splashing down narrow canyons or ravines from the mountain sides and not one bore the least resemblance to the silent, almost stagnant, waterways that connect the rivers in Guiana and Brazil,—natural canals, dark mysterious and shadowy, that lead through the damp steaming jungles and foetid swamps that separate the larger streams and that, during the rainy season, form a labyrinth of waterways through the country and make it possible to travel by canoe from the Atlantic coast of Guiana to the tributaries of the mighty Amazon.
The sun sank low in the west and they were still in the mountainous country, and abandoning all expectations of reaching the itabu, that day, camp was made on a low point of land.
Anxious to secure fresh meat, the boys suggested going on a hunt, and accompanied by Bagot, started off as soon as the boat touched shore.
"Look out for a Takamu!" Dr. Woodward shouted after them with a laugh. "This country should be a fine place for such fabulous beasts."
"Golly, yes, I guess we'd better take along some salt," replied Fred, grinning wide. "We may want some to put on his tail."
"Me gottum," remarked Bagot in matter-of-fact tones. "Me t'ink mebbe wantum. Me sabby all same you tellum chief mebbe catchum Takamu same way."
"Oh, oh, gosh!" roared Harry, doubling up with merriment. "Isn't that the best yet!"
"I'll say 'tis," choked Fred between peals of laughter. "He thought we were in earnest about the salt. Oh golly, I'll bet he thinks it's some sort of magic! Say, what a yarn to tell the boys at home!"
But the Indian could see nothing humorous in the situation. He had heard the white man suggest that if they could not kill the semi-supernatural Takamu with bullets, they might secure the creature by placing salt on its tail, and with the red-man's implicit and unquestioning faith in the superior intelligence of the white race, he had provided himself with a supply of salt with absolute confidence that the stuff contained some potent power to bring down the dreaded terrible Takamu.
Noticing the hurt expression on his face, the two boys controlled themselves with an effort.
"That's fine, Bagot," declared Fred, choking back a laugh and trying to look serious. "Maybe we needum salt for catchum."
But the Indian was not to be so easily appeased. He was a keen student of nature—including human nature—like all his race, and he was convinced that he had made some stupid blunder or had made himself the laughing stock of the white boys, and there is nothing the Guiana redman detests or fears more than being laughed at.
So, as they walked into the forest, Bagot was silent and morose and was plotting a means to turn the laugh on the boys. His plan was very simple. When he had the chance he would throw away the salt and then when the boys again mentioned the matter, he would declare that he had no salt and had merely been fooling them and would laugh at them for believing he had been in earnest. That he could retain the salt and still say he had been joking, never occurred to him, for the Guiana Indians—who have not been spoiled by civilization—do not know what it is to lie. But with strange logic quite incomprehensible to the Caucasian mind, it was to him quite right and truthful to deny possession of the salt, once he had disposed of it, even though he had had it when they started forth.
And as such thoughts went through his mind Bagot's features widened in a broad grin and his usual good humor returned.
CHAPTER IX BAGOT SAVES THE DAY
FOR some time the three climbed up the rocky slope through the jungle without finding signs of game. Indeed, it was evident that Bagot did not expect to find anything worth hunting, for he scarcely glanced at the ground but hurried along at a half trot. But when they reached the summit of the first ridge, and descending the farther side came to a swale or valley among the hills, he began examining the earth intently and proceeded more cautiously and slowly. Then, as they came near a small stream, he pointed silently to the soft moist earth and the boys, who had become skilled as trackers during their long life in the bush, recognized the trail of a deer.
Following the imprints, the three pushed silently forward, ready at any instant for the game which they expected momentarily to see. But the deer led them farther and farther into the bush. Then, as the trail was joined by others and appeared fresher, Bagot beckoned for the boys to go ahead. This was his opportunity to rid himself of the salt and as he followed after them he drew the material from his wallet of monkey skin and scattered it in pinches as he walked on, for with savage caution he took no chances of the boys noticing the salt, as they might have done had he thrown it all out at one time.
Most of the salt had been disposed of, and Bagot was thinking what a good joke he would have on the boys, when there was the crackling of twigs and a big, red-deer leaped from a thicket a few yards ahead. Both boys instantly fired, but with a tremendous leap the creature dashed off, apparently unhurt.
"Missed him!" cried Fred as the three hurried forward.
"No, we hit him," declared Harry as he saw drops of blood upon the ground. "We'll have to follow him. We can't leave him wounded."
With the Indian again in the lead and quite forgetting about the salt as he followed the deer's trail the three pushed rapidly on, urged forward by the increasing size and frequency of the blood stains. It was soon evident, however, that the creature had not been badly wounded, and the boys began to wonder, if after all, they had not better give up the idea of following him and return to camp.
The sun was behind the mountains and although there was still an hour or more of daylight left they had a long tramp back to the river, and both boys were tired and hungry. Bagot, however, insisted that the deer could not be much farther ahead, and with the Indian's almost superstitious feeling that game shot at must be secured, he urged the boys to continue the chase.
They were now on a plateau or elevated plain, covered with coarse low-growing bushes, clumps of giant ferns or brakes, a few stunted trees and little thickets of palmettoes and saw-grass, while everywhere, huge boulders and ledges jutted from the vegetation. As they neared one of these the deer suddenly leaped up and at the report of the guns fell to earth.
"Hurrah, we got him at last!" shouted Fred as they reached the side of the dead buck. "Gee, but he's a fine one. We'll have plenty of fresh venison now."
Bagot drew his knife, and stooping, prepared to dress the carcass. Then a terrified look overspread his face, the knife remained poised, his hands shook and slowly, almost as if in a trance, he straightened up, trembling from head to foot. From somewhere in the jungle through which they had passed came a strange, uncanny, terrible cry. Never had the boys heard anything like it. The wailing howl of a jaguar was bad enough, the booming roar of the howling monkeys was terrifying when first heard, and the awful screams of the beast which had pounced upon the slain peccaries had made the boys' blood run cold; but this was worse than all and Harry and Fred quaked with nameless dread and seemed powerless to move. It was neither howl, roar, wail or scream, but an eerie baying, rising and falling in fearful cadence, seeming to come from several places at once.
"Wha—what—" commenced Fred, barely able to articulate the words.
Again the fearful, terrifying sounds were borne to them, this time much louder as if the creature, whatever it might be, were rapidly approaching the spot where they stood.
"Waracabra tiger!" exclaimed Bagot, finding voice at last. "Must for run. Must for climbum tree,"
Forgetting everything but flight, filled with mortal terror, the Indian turned and fled with the boys at his heels.
"There, there aren't trees to climb," panted Harry, "Gosh, what will we do?"
Almost bereft of his senses as the Indian was, still with savage instinct and presence of mind, he was taking note of his surroundings. As Harry had said, there was no tree near that afforded refuge from wild beasts, but ahead, arising above the low growths, was a cliff-like ledge of rock and as Bagot rushed on through the thorny growth his eyes studied the rock, seeking a spot where the three might clamber up. But despite every effort, neither he nor the boys could make rapid headway. The nearer they came to the cliff the thicker became the tangle of vegetation. Vines tripped their feet, thorns tore at flesh and garments, interlaced branches held them back and the scattered stones underfoot made speed impossible. It was like a nightmare, like some terrible dream in which one exerts every effort to escape some fearful fate and finds oneself unable to move faster than a snail's pace.
And now, filling the air about them, close at hand, came the mournful, hair-raising, inexpressibly terrible baying. With wide, frightened eyes Harry glanced back and at what he saw a piercing cry of dread came from his parched lips. Out from the forest were racing a dozen or more great creatures and even in his hurried glimpse of them the boy knew they were like nothing that he or the others had ever seen or dreamed of before. Long-legged, lank-bodied, grizzly-gray in color, with great sharp-pointed ears, deep chests, heavy jaws and lolling red tongues they looked more like hyenas or enormous wolves than anything else. In prodigious bounds they leaped or galloped into the open plateau, their lips drawn back over immense teeth, foam slathering from their tongues, small reddish eyes gleaming and filling the air with their blood-curdling cries.
Barely one hundred yards separated the fleeing boys and their Indian guide from the fearsome oncoming creatures. Could they gain the rock and possible safety before the beasts were upon them?
It seemed hardly possible, and screaming with frenzied terror Harry strove madly to make greater speed. Once more he glanced back and to his inexpressible joy he saw that the awful creatures had stopped. Growls, yelps and howls came from them and in a tumbled writhing, fighting mass they were gathered about the dead deer, snapping, struggling among themselves over the carcass, and for the moment abandoning the chase of the boys. But the respite was short. To the ravenous beasts the deer was scarcely a mouthful and in an instant more they were once again in full cry, rushing after the fugitives. Now the cliff was near at hand. A dozen yards more and they would reach its base and might, by almost superhuman efforts, draw themselves to safety. But it was a mad struggle to make headway through the low jungle, while to the onrushing implacable creatures in the rear the growths offered no impediment.
Across Harry's mind flashed the idea of shooting at them, but he dared not stop to take aim. A moment lost in that way might be fatal and he could not hope to stem the advancing pack by a single shot. But as the baying beasts could be heard crashing through the bushes close behind him, Harry took the desperate chance, and without stopping, turned partly about, raised his gun half way to his shoulder and fired both barrels loaded with heavy charges of double-B shot. At the terrific report, howls and yelps of pain arose from the blood-mad beasts and through the veil of powder smoke the boy caught a momentary glimpse of the creatures, milling and fighting, as they tore their wounded fellows to bits. Once more a moment's time had been gained and now they were almost within reach of safety.
But an unexpected, unlooked for obstacle appeared before them. Below the cliff rose a steep slope of fallen rock, a pile of loose, razor-sharp fragments of flinty stone. Spent, out of breath and with their last ounce of remaining strength, the boys stumbled up the declivity, while once more on their trail came the terrible creatures, more savage than ever from their taste of blood.
Slipping, stumbling; the loose debris giving way beneath their feet and threatening each instant to send them sliding back to the very jaws of the maddened beasts now at the foot of the slope, the three clawed their way towards the cliff and safety.
And then the catastrophe they had feared occurred. Bagot had gained the summit of the rock pile; above him rose the cliff face with a precarious foothold leading upward upon it, and rising, he sprang forward for the ledge. With a rattle of the loose stone his feet shot from beneath him; he uttered a piercing cry and came sliding, rolling, yelling like mad down the slope towards the two boys. An instant more and he would have plunged into them and all three would have gone tumbling down to an awful fate,—to be torn limb from limb, devoured alive, by the creatures who were now scrambling over the loose stones. But at the last second the Indian recovered himself. The surface of the debris held and still yelling he again scrambled towards the cliff. He had thrown aside bow and arrows in his flight, his knife had been left beside the deer where it had dropped from his nerveless grasp, and as he had fallen down the slope his skin wallet had been torn from his shoulders and was lying where it fell.
With rare presence of mind the boys, however, had retained their weapons. Instinctively they had held onto their guns and now, as they strove to gain the ledge above them, they used their weapons as staffs. But neither boy had the least hope of escaping from the ferocious creatures so near them. Even if they reached the base of the cliff before the beasts were upon them, could they draw themselves to safety? They felt weak, utterly spent and done up and each breath they drew racked their bodies and came as wheezing gasps. Their only chance they thought, their one last slim chance, would be to back against the wall of rock and shoot into the mass of beasts, thus keeping the creatures at bay until they had regained enough strength to climb the cliff. But could they make the summit, could they reach the cliff before their pursuers surrounded them?
And then, to the boys' reeling senses, came the realization that the fiendish things were no longer rushing at their heels. The snarling, savage yelps of the animals came to their ears, but grew no nearer, and as utterly exhausted they gained the cliff side, they gazed back to see the pack of great bristling, rough-haired beasts tumbling, rolling, leaping about half way down the slope and paying not the least heed to the boys.
What had kept them there the boys neither knew nor cared. For the moment they were safe. Bagot was crouching against the rock over their heads and reaching out his hand for the guns. Summoning all their remaining strength the boys waited only to take a few deep breaths and then slowly, painfully, with dizzy whirling brains, drew their exhausted, thorn-torn limbs up the cliff and flung themselves upon the narrow ledge beside the Indian.
They had never stopped to think whether or not the creatures from whom they had escaped by a hair's breadth could climb the rock. Bagot had led the way; the boys had trusted blindly to him and he had appeared confident that they were safe, either in a tree or on the ledge of the cliff. And even if the beasts could climb the rock the boys, spent as they were, realized that from their own vantage place they could shoot the creatures down as they scrambled up and that the whole pack could not ascend together. Still the wolf-like animals were milling about the spot on the slope and half dazed, but rapidly recovering themselves, the two boys watched with fascinated eyes, utterly unable to understand what had caused the beasts to abandon the chase and to fight and struggle among themselves on the bare rock pile.
"Whew, aren't they awful things?" Fred exclaimed at last as his breath came back to his heaving, straining lungs. "Wha—what are they?"
"I—I don't know," panted Harry. "They look like,—like hyenas or, or police dogs crossed with jaguars."
"Him feller, waracabra tiger," declared Bagot, who now seemed to have recovered from his terror and was regarding the beasts calmly. "Him plenty much bad feller. Killum man, killum an'mal,—all kind."
"But what are they doing?" demanded Harry as the beasts still continued to roll and struggle on the slope. "They look as if they'd found something to eat, but there's nothing there."
"Me sabby," announced Bagot calmly. "Him findum my waisu. Me looseum same time me fallum."
"Your wallet!" cried Fred. "Why, they wouldn't stop for that—they'd gobble that at one gulp—if they'd eat it. What was in it—anything to eat?"
The Indian looked confused and remained silent for a moment. "Haveum fish hook, haveum 'bacco, haveum string, haveum plenty thing," he said at last.
"Those wouldn't interest those beasts," declared Fred. "Didn't you have meat or cassava or anything else?"
A sickly grin spread over Bagot's face. He could not lie and there was no way out of it. "Me haveum salt," he replied, lowering his eyes.
"Salt!" almost shouted Harry. "Jiminy crickets, that's it! They're crazy over it. I'll bet they never tasted salt before. Gosh, Bagot, you saved our lives, taking the salt along!"
Relieved at finding the boys did not laugh at him and not quite grasping the situation, the Indian rather hesitatingly confessed to his disposition of the salt.
Fred and Harry glanced at each other. "Gee whittaker!" ejaculated Fred. "That's what brought those beasts after us. They found the salt and picked up our trail. Say, perhaps that was all they wanted and they weren't after us at all."
"Don't you think they weren't," replied Harry. "They'd have torn us to bits and gobbled us up just as they did that deer. And won't Dad be surprised at this? He'll have to believe in these beasts when we get back."
"First we've got to get back," Fred reminded him. "And look, here they come again! Say, I hope they can't get up here."
"Gee, they are ferocious things," cried Harry as the pack came galloping up the slope. "But there aren't such a lot of them. Perhaps we can kill them all."
Whether the boys had imagined more of the beasts than there were in reality when they had first seen them, or whether Harry's shots and the fights among themselves had reduced the pack, the boys could not say. But there were now only seven of the animals left and dangerous and ferocious as they appeared, still from their ledge on the cliff the two boys and Bagot felt little fear. And as the creatures reached the summit of the slope, and with yelps of baffled rage leaped against the rock wall, snapping their long sharp teeth, their eyes blazing and the long manes on their shoulders bristling, Harry and Fred raised their guns, and taking careful aim, fired.
Two of the beasts fell and instantly the others sprang upon them, devouring the quivering carcasses ravenously.
"At that rate we'll soon kill them all," announced Fred jubilantly.
"And there won't be any to take back to Dad to prove we saw them," added Harry.
"There will be, one—unless he eats himself up or runs off," laughed Fred. "Let's give them another shot."
This time, however, only one of the savage creatures was killed and the four remaining became wary and drew off out of shot-gun range. They had no intention of making off entirely, however, and settled down in a clump of thick brambles with their eyes fixed hungrily upon the boys.
"Watchful waiting," remarked Fred as he rested his rifle on the rock and took careful aim.
At the report, one of the beasts slumped down and the three still living instantly fell upon him.
"Jiminy, I never saw such hungry things," declared Harry. "I wonder if they ever get enough to eat."
"I'm going to find out," replied Fred as he again levelled his weapon. "We'll soon see if the last two eat up this one I'm going to kill."
"If they do and you kill another and the last one eats him, then the survivor will have six of his mates inside him," cried Harry.
"Six!" repeated Fred. "You're way off. He'll have all the rest of the pack in his stomach. Say, if I can shoot him I will have something to brag about—killing a whole pack of those beasts with one shot!"
But Fred was doomed never to be able to boast of such a feat. Either the insatiable appetites of the beasts had at last been satisfied or else they had decided that the spot was no longer healthy for them, for when another had been brought down the two remaining merely sniffed at his body and then, with final defiant howls at the boys, turned tail and went loping out of sight into the shrubbery.
"Hurrah, they've given up!" cried Harry. "Come on, let's go. It's getting dark and we must hurry."
"Me sabby two feller no die," objected Bagot as the boys rose.
"Forget it!" commanded Fred without stopping to think that the Indian could not grasp his meaning. "Who's afraid of two of those curs when we have guns? Let's pick up that last one and carry him to camp."
Scrambling down the cliffside, with Bagot rather hesitatingly following, the boys hurried to the dead animal. But he was far larger and heavier than they had imagined.
"We'll never get to camp before it's black dark if we carry him," declared Harry. "Let's take his skin."
"If we stop to do that it'll be dark too," objected Fred. "It's a shame to leave his hide—it would be a fine trophy—but we'll have to."
"But we must take something, to prove there are such things," argued Harry.
"Well, let's cut off his head and tail then," suggested Fred.
This seemed the only way out of the difficulty and so, with the ferocious looking head, the stiff-haired bushy tail and one great hairy paw as grewsome souvenirs of their adventure, the boys hurried through the shadowy forest towards the river.
CHAPTER X DR. WOODWARD IS CONVINCED
"LET'S fool Dad," exclaimed Harry as the two boys caught a glimpse of the river through the trees ahead and saw the ruddy glow of the camp fire. "We'll just walk into camp quietly and say we shot at a deer and not mention those waracabra-tiger beasts. Then we'll show him the head and tail and ask him what they are."
"Fine!" agreed Fred. "We won't let him know we were scared or anything. I'll bet he'll be some surprised."
"We'll have to look out that Bagot don't spill the beans," said Harry.
Then he warned the Indian not to mention their experience until they gave the word.
"I don't know if he understands," said Harry as the redman grinned and nodded. "But I guess he gets the idea."
Then, the two boys strolled nonchalantly into camp and dropped down beside the scientist.
"Hello, where's your game?" he asked. "I thought I heard you doing a lot of shooting."
"Oh, we shot at a deer and wounded him," replied Harry trying hard to speak casually. "There isn't much game in here."
"Well, it's lucky we don't really need food," remarked the scientist. "But it's the first time you haven't brought in something. You must be losing interest in hunting, I guess. However, as long as you didn't get into trouble I shall not complain. Didn't see the Takamu, did you?"
This was the boy's chance. "No," replied Harry. "We didn't see him. Did you ever hear of a beast called a waracabra-tiger, Dad?"
His father glanced up from the journal he was writing. "Waracabra-tiger?" he reiterated, "What new imaginary beast is that? Waracabra is the Indian name for the trumpet-bird and they call jaguars tigers as you know; but I can't see how the two combined mean anything. Why do you ask?"
"Bagot said that was their name," replied Harry, with the utmost difficulty keeping a straight face.
"Sort of big beasts, like wolves, and go hunting in packs and kill everything they meet, including people. Terrible things, he says."
"Fiddlesticks!" exclaimed Dr. Woodward. "About as much truth in that yarn as in the Takamus and Didoes. Will you boys ever learn to take these Indians' yarns for what they are worth?"
"Beggin' your pardon, chief," put in the Boviander before Harry could reply. "Dey ain't no contendin' dey's waracabra-tigers rangin' de bush. Ycssir, I ain't never see he meself, but I been talk wit plenty men wha' see he an' he plenty bad. Yes-sir, he gwine rampin' an' ragin' 'bout an' eatin' eve'y-t'ing wha' come he way. I hear he mek howlin' one time, 'long back, chief. Yes, sir, an’ dc fac’ is if he bad as he voice soundin’ he plenty bad, yes, sir."
"You're as bad as the Indians," laughed the scientist. "You've never seen any such beast and just because you heard some sound that you could not account for you believe in the creatures. When I see one I'll admit their existence, but not until then. And I guess I'm perfectly safe in saying I'll never have to admit it."
"Pride goeth before a fall," chuckled Harry. "Now, what do you say?"
As he spoke he took the head of the beast from his game bag and tossed it at his father's feet.
With an incredulous surprised expression on his face, the scientist gazed, speechless, at the great, shaggy, heavy-jawed head with its long, white fangs, sharp erect ears and savage, though glazed, eyes.
Never had the boys been more elated or self satisfied. The effect upon Dr. Woodward was worth all they had gone through and Harry and Fred shouted with jubilant glee, while Boters and the men stood, awed and dumbfounded, as they peered, half-fearfully at the head of a beast they had regarded with superstitious, deadly fear.
"And what do you say to this?" demanded Fred, as he tossed the tail and foot of the creature beside the head.
"You win!" cried his uncle. "You've played the trump card, boys! Whatever this beast is, or was, he's something unknown to the world of science, if I'm not mistaken. But it's no tiger—no member of the cat tribe. More like a wild dog—the hunting dogs of Africa. Where on earth did you get it?"
Exultantly the boys told their story.
"And that's another one on you—and on us," cried Fred, as they ended. "We laughed at Bagot taking the salt, but it was the luckiest thing he ever did. We may not have got a Takamu by putting salt on his tail, but Bagot saved our lives and we got this beast by putting salt on his tongue."
"And now do you believe in the Takamu?" demanded Harry.
The scientist held up his hands in surrender. "Absolutely!" he declared. "And in anything else within the bounds of reason," he added.
"And you thought we couldn't have any more adventures," Fred reminded him with a laugh. "Didn't I tell you we would?"
"As adventurers you are certainly winners," chuckled his uncle. "You have acquired the habit and even when we get to New York I shall always be expecting to hear that you have met with astounding adventures in the midst of civilization."
"Well it's a long long way to New York yet," remarked Harry as they commenced to eat.
But if the boys had astounded the scientist and were overjoyed at the sensation they had caused, it was nothing compared to the triumph of Bagot and the amazement his tale produced upon the other Indians and the Boviander.
Not one of them had ever caught a glimpse of the almost mythical wild dogs of Guiana, and Boters was the only one who even laid claim to having heard the beasts. Never before had any of the redmen met a man who had viewed the waracabra-tigers and had lived to tell of it, and Bagot, by his adventure, had leaped in a moment from an ordinary, hard working member of the crew to a veritable hero and the envy of all the others. No doubt he grossly exaggerated his part in the afternoon's adventure and very possibly he forgot to mention his mad flight or the fact that he had dropped his weapons as he took to his heels. But he did not forget to dwell upon the fact that his salt had saved the lives of himself and the boys and he stoutly maintained that he had known the salt would be worth more than arrows or bullets in case Takamus or other semi-supernatural beasts were met, for hadn't he and the others heard the great white chief tell the two young chiefs to place salt on the tail of a Takamu in order to conquer the terrible creature? There was no denying this, and as Indians always reason from results to cause, and as the waracabra-tigers had been worsted—and even the head and tail of one brought in—the simple Indians gathered about the fire were convinced that salt held some unsuspected magical properties known only to white men hitherto.
Their thoughts were fully expressed by Theophilus, who, in his own tongue, remarked: "That is it, brothers. No wonder the white men have no fear of such beasts or of Didoes and Horis. No doubt they always carry a beena (charm) of the salt. It is well we have learned their secret. Hereafter let us all carry the salt with us and we too shall be safe from devils and devil-beasts and shall be famed as brave men and great hunters, for when one knows one is safe one may be afraid of nothing. I for one shall this very moment place salt in my wallet and who knows but perchance I may not meet the Takamu or the waracabra-tigers and bring their heads to camp and become a great chief, or mayhap a peaiman, by so doing?"
Rising, Theophilus secured a handful of salt and very gravely placed it on the raw-hide wallet slung over his shoulder.
As he did so each of the Indians followed his example, and even old Boters, after a quick glance about to be sure Dr. Woodward and the boys were not watching him, secured a supply of the white crystals and deposited it in his pocket.
But the men's actions had not passed unseen by the scientist. Nudging the boys and whispering a caution for silence, he called their attention to the men’s doings, and hardly able to restrain their amusement, the boys watched.
"There's an example of Indian psychology," remarked Dr. Woodward in lowered tones. "They feel perfectly safe now. I'll warrant that hereafter, nothing short of a cataclysm can frighten them. They feel as confident with the salt in their possession as a southern negro with the foot of a rabbit, killed in a graveyard, in his pocket."
"It's great!" declared Harry. "Only I wish they'd had salt in their wallets long ago. Say do you suppose they'll tell about it and start a new custom among the other Indians?"
"You'll have to ask me something easier," chuckled the scientist. "But come, boys, time to sleep. Tomorrow night at this time we should be in the Paruni."
"And in the Trio country," yawned Fred as they crawled into their hammocks. "Say, don't you think we'd better put some salt in our pockets—in case we meet deportés or anything?"
Despite their thrilling adventure of the afternoon the boys slept fairly well. To be sure, they woke once or twice, trembling and perspiring, from vivid dreams of being chased by monstrous hounds provided with wings that enabled them to swoop down from the sky, or creatures half-wolf and half-man that were terrible to see. But aside from their nightmares nothing interrupted their slumbers and they were aroused by Boters' cheery "Fireside!" feeling thoroughly rested and ready for what the coming day might have in store.
As they again swept down the Tinto all eyes searched for the itabu and as the hills and mountains receded and the banks became lower the canoe was run close to the western bank of the river and was paddled slowly along, for as Boters explained, the entrance to the itabu might be concealed by drooping vegetation. But it was nearly noon when the bowman called back, "Itabu!" and in the wall of foliage a small, dark opening appeared. It seemed scarcely large enough to admit the dug-out and the boys could not believe that this was the right waterway, or that such a tiny creek could lead anywhere. But as the craft was swung around and was forced through the screen of leaves and branches they found themselves upon a good sized stream winding away through the dense jungle.
"It's just like that river in the Kuna country in Darien," declared Fred. "Golly, if we'd been in the middle of the river we'd have missed it."
"Are you sure this is the right one?" asked Harry of Dr. Woodward.
"Unquestionably," his father assured him. "Mr. O'Rourke said we were to turn to the west by the first itabu we found, and this runs west and is the first."
"Doesn't look as if anyone ever went through here before," remarked Harry. "Whew, isn't it dark and mysterious though? And talk about black water! Say, this beats the Rio Tinto all to pieces."
"I imagine it's the same color—only being in the shadow it looks darker," said his father. "But do you notice, despite its color, it's clear? You can easily see the bottom through it."
"That's so," said Fred looking over the canoe's side. "What makes it so dark?"
"Vegetable juices from the trees and iron in the water, probably," replied Dr. Woodward. "You know that copperas—sulphate of iron—and nut galls or tannin will make real ink. Well, here nature combines the iron held in solution in the water with the astringent juices from tree roots and bark and produces a natural ink."
"Is that the reason the rivers back in British Guiana are brown?" asked Harry.
"Yes and no," responded his father. "In some cases the brownish color is purely vegetable stain, in others it is due to fine clay or mud held in suspension, while in others no doubt it is a combination of iron and tannin in the water, as it is here. The shade is quite distinct and the water clear where stains cause the color, whereas in the case of clay or mud the water is opaque."
"Good!" exclaimed Harry. "But what makes red water? Didn't I hear Mr. O'Rourke say we would come to a creek that was 'rid as blood ?'"
"You did," his father assured him. "But what causes the color I cannot say. Perhaps when we reach it we'll find out. I imagine it's iron stain, however."
As they had been talking, the canoe had progressed rapidly along the itabu, which had so little current that it appeared perfectly stagnant, while the silence of the forest was actually oppressive. For another hour they paddled on and noon found them still upon the dismal waterway in the heart of the jungle. Even birds and insects seemed to be absent and not a sound, save their own voices and the noise of their movements, broke the stillness as they ate their lunch.
"I'll be glad to get out of here," declared Harry as they once more embarked and proceeded on their way. "It gives me the creeps. Why, there isn't even a ray of sunlight to be seen."
Hardly had he spoken when there was a roar from just ahead, a prodigious splashing and hoarse, cackling cries, and as the boys, startled at the sudden noises, grasped guns and peered from under the palm leaf shelter, they caught a glimpse of two immense white birds with long black necks just disappearing from view beyond a turn in the itabu.
"Golly, they scared me!" exclaimed Fred. "What were they?"
"Swans," replied his uncle. "Black necked swans. Rare birds here, but common in parts of Brazil."
"I didn't know they had swans here," said Fred. "Are they good to eat?"
"Certainly," said his uncle. "You see this place isn't as deserted as you imagined. I'll warrant there's plenty of game in the bush here."
"Well, they won't get away next time," declared Harry positively, as he crawled out from the shelter, gun in hand. "I'm going to sit up in the bow and be ready for anything that shows up. We haven't had fresh meat for three days and I'm hungry for some."
But for some time it did not appear as if Harry's desire for a change of menu would be gratified. No animal dashed from the water into the bush, no curassows or other birds showed themselves in the trees and no duck or waterfowl rose before the dug-out. Harry had about given up, when, once more, so unexpectedly that the boy almost forgot to shoot, the huge swans rose from the surface of the itabu. Harry collected his wits just in time and as his gun roared out in thunderous echoes through the silent jungle, one of the splendid big birds plunged headlong in mid flight and fell, with a terrific splash into the water.
"There's a fine meal!" cried the delighted boy as they approached the enormous white and black bird lying upon the surface of the itabu. "Isn't he a beauty?"
Laying his gun aside, Harry reached out his hand to seize his game, when to his utter amazement the swan vanished as if by magic before his eyes.
His expression of incredulous wonder, as he leaned over the bow, one hand still outstretched, was so comical that everyone burst into laughter.
"Gee whittaker!" he ejaculated. "It—it's gone!"
"Cayman," remarked the nearest Indian, "Croc' dile!"
"Crocodile!" cried Harry, sinking back upon the thwart. "Confound the beast; he's got our dinner."
"Too bad," commented his father. "But it can't be helped."
"Well, it's no use shooting anything if it's going to be gobbled up by crocodiles," declared Harry. "I guess—"
His sentence remained unfinished as one of the Indians touched the boy's arm, "Look, seeuin?" he whispered pointing a lean brown finger towards a huge tree ahead.
Harry peered intently at the spot, but for a moment could see nothing. Then he noticed a slight movement among the leaves and without knowing what it was, raised his gun and fired. The thrashing that followed fairly astonished the boy. He had expected to see a marudi pheasant, or possibly a curassow, fall, and instead, some big body was dropping, hurtling, towards the earth in a shower of broken twigs and leaves. With a tremendous thud it struck the ground and the next instant the prow of the canoe grated on the bank and Harry leaped ashore. Lying under the tree was a second swan and with a cry of delight Harry lifted the great thirty-pound bird and hurried back to the dugout in triumph.
"This time we’ve got our dinner all right," he announced as he entered the canoe. "Gee, don't I wish I could take his skin back home!"
"You might take his wings," suggested his father. "I'm afraid you'll have to be satisfied with that."
Perfectly content, now that a meal of fresh game was assured, Harry joined his companions under the shelter at the stern of the canoe.
"How much longer are we going to be on this itabu?" asked Fred presently. "It seems endless."
"O'Rourke said about six hours," replied his uncle. "Hello, there's another creek ahead."
As the canoe reached the spot where the itabu divided, the Indians ceased paddling and awaited orders, not knowing which way to turn.
"Now where do we go?" asked Harry.
Dr. Woodward was busily studying the map. "We've been on this itabu for over five hours," he announced, "and O'Rourke did not mention any branches large enough to confuse us. I can't understand it."
"Look laik to me we gwine astray an' we ain't mos’ circumspec'ious," remarked Boters. "He sure did say to follow dis itabu to de Paruni, but how we gwine follow which is which, sir?"
"We'll have to trust to luck, I fear," replied Dr. Woodward. "The channel to the left appears to be the more direct. I think that's the one to take."
"Ve'y well, chief," assented the Boviander, and once more the paddles splashed and the canoe slipped forward.
But when two hours more had passed and they were still upon the dark silent itabu, Dr. Woodward began to have misgivings. "Something is wrong,'' he declared. "We must have taken the wrong creek. There is nothing to do but try the other, but we might as well keep on for an hour more and make sure."
"Golly, I hope we're not lost again!" cried Harry. "I thought Mr. O'Rourke said it was easy to go this way. I think it's mighty hard, myself."
"We won't get lost," his father assured him. "If we don't come to the Paruni soon—only half an hour now—we can turn back and take the other branch which is bound to be right if this is wrong."
"And you must not blame Mr. O'Rourke," he continued. "He said he had no personal knowledge of the route and only repeated directions which had been given to him by others. No doubt they forgot to mention the branch to the itabu. I—"
"Riber ahaid!" shouted Boters.
CHAPTER XI A SURPRISING EXPERIENCE
THERE was no doubt of it. Beyond the screen of foliage that draped above the itabu, they could see light and the shimmer of open, rippling water.
"We were right," announced the scientist. "That must be the Paruni. No doubt we made slower time than the men accustomed to the route. It's taken us nearer eight hours than six. I think we'd better make camp soon, captain."
A moment later, the canoe shot out from the itabu and with a surprised exclamation Boters stared about, while the Indians ceased paddling.
They were upon a small lake surrounded on every hand by forest. Not a trace of an opening in the jungle could be seen. No sign of a river was visible.
"By jove!" exclaimed Dr. Woodward. "We have gone wrong. This is not the Paruni."
"I 'spec we bes' stop dis side for de night," remarked Boters, his first surprise over. "Ain't no use gwine back dat itabu way in de face of de dark comin' long. Ain't you t'ink he bes' t'ing for do, chief?"
"Yes, that's the best plan," agreed the scientist. "We can't retrace our way before dark and it's a better spot to camp here, than beside the itabu. Can you see a likely camping-place, captain?"
But to find a good camp site was by no means easy. The edges of the lake were low and swampy, great beds of coarse water plants and reeds extended out from shore, forming an impenetrable border about the lake and acres of the water were completely hidden by the six-foot leaves and immense wax-like flowers of the huge Victoria Regia lily. At another time the boys would have been filled with interest and admiration at the beauties and strange growths of this jungle lake, but now they were only intent on finding a place to camp, for they were bitterly disappointed at finding themselves so far out of the way and they were beginning to fear that once more they were hopelessly lost in the wilderness.
Paddling around the borders of the lake, pushing with difficulty through the lily pads and mucka-muckas, the men had almost completed the circuit of the little body of water when the bowman spied a small ledge of rock jutting from the jungle into the water. It appeared to be the only possible landing place and a moment later the canoe was safely moored to the shore. The earth here was dry and fairly level, but as Boters walked about, searching for the best spot to erect the shelter of tarpaulin, he suddenly halted and examined the ground.
"Wha la!'” he exclaimed. "Seem laik to me we ain't de firs' folks been dis side. Hi, you, Bagot, wha' you makeum dis t'ing?"
Bagot hurried forward at the call and the boys, wondering what the Boviander had found, joined him. Under the trees were several charred sticks, shrivelled and partly dried leaves were scattered about; recently cut limbs were here and there and in the soft earth were scarcely distinguishable footmarks.
"Gee, someone has been here," cried Harry. "Who do you suppose they were?"
"Him Buckman," announced Bagot, who had been carefully examining the footprints and cut leaves.
"Indians!" exclaimed Fred. "Gosh, perhaps they're savages. I think we'd better go somewhere else to camp."
"Don't be foolish," said Dr. Woodward. "There are no hostile Indians here. The Trios are the only ones and while they are shy and very wild they are not hostile. Besides, whoever stopped here may have gone on days ago and are probably miles away by now. How long ago was that fire made, captain?"
" 'Long 'bout two, free day pas', chief," replied the Boviander. "Look laik to me de folks wha' been here 'bout mus' have camp topside, 'cause I ain't see coorial or woodskin. I gwine s'arch a bit for to see can I fin' trail to he camp."
In a few moments he returned. "I don't t'ink he Buckman here 'bout jus' now," he announced, "I fin' he road, but he look laik he ain't been use for some spell. I 'spec' he got he garden back yander in de bush. Yes, sir, takin' de fac's in consid'tion I ain't ti'nk he likely for to mek no flustration roun’ here."
"It makes little difference," declared Dr. Woodward. "There's no danger. You don't mean to say that you or the men are afraid, captain?"
"No, sir, chief; no indeed," the Boviander assured him, remembering the salt fetish in his pocket. "I ain't fraid Buckman an’ dese Buck boys what we has ain't even t'ink 'fraid. Wha' we gwine mek 'fraid for, chief?"
"There!" exclaimed the scientist triumphantly, turning to Harry and Fred. "If these Indians and Boters feel secure you certainly should not be nervous."
"I'm not—exactly," declared Harry, "but we've run into so much trouble and so many dangers from Indians, when we least expected them, that I'm a bit skeptical about these not being hostile."
"Well, Mr. O'Rourke said there was no danger— from Indians," said Fred. "So I'm going to forget them. Let's eat. I'm hungry as a bear and that swan smells mighty good."
The boys found the swan tasted just as delicious as its odor had promised, and quite forgetting their temporary nervousness, took to their hammocks and were soon sleeping as soundly as if in their beds at home.
Fred was aroused by a stifled, half-choked cry and instantly wide awake, raised himself in his hammock. Before he could speak, before he could even glance about, an arm was thrown around him from behind, strong hands grasped his limbs and his captors, forcing him back, stifled his frenzied cries in the folds of his cotton hammock. Madly he fought, kicked and struggled, but all to no avail.
He was held as in a grip of steel; rapidly he was bound and trussed and his yells were effectually silenced by a strip of cloth or bark fastened over his mouth. Finding his struggles hopeless; gagged, tied, terrified and helpless, he looked wildly about. Who his captors were he had no idea, but he remembered the signs of Indians that Boters had discovered and jumped to the conclusion that it must be these who had made him prisoner. And what had become of the rest of the party? Where were his uncle and Harry? Where were the captain and his four Indian boatmen?
He could distinguish nothing clearly. It was pitch dark, only a few dull glowing embers remained of the fire, but he could hear stealthy movements all about and ever and anon he caught the sounds of low spoken guttural words in some strange tongue. Then a dark figure crouched over the dying fire, a torch flared up and by the glare the boy saw a group of naked figures, and among them Dr. Woodward, Harry and Boters, all bound and gagged like himself. Hardly had he seen this—and with a great gasp of relief knew they still lived—when some covering was thrown over his head, completely blindfolding him. Desperate as was his plight he felt less terrified than he had been at first. His captors, he knew, were Indians, but they were neither the terrible looking Botacudos or any other horrible appearing beings. His one brief glance had proved that, for the light of the blazing, resinous branch had shown him that the fellows were undersized, coppery-bronze, and while nearly naked and covered with bizarre painting, they did not look so terribly ferocious. But who could they be? Dr. Woodward and O'Rourkc had both declared the Trios peaceable and had assured the boys that no other wild Indians dwelt in the vicinity. And yet there was no question that these tribesmen had acted in a far from peaceful manner. But he had little time to occupy his mind wondering about the identity of his captors. He was urged forward; some one walked ahead, leading him by a short rope, and close behind, stalked another. But they were neither rough nor brutal and as Fred stumbled blindly along the fellow in front aided him constantly, holding aside boughs and branches and uttering low exclamations which the boy soon knew were intended as kindly warnings of obstacles in his path. It was all very strange, for if the savages intended to kill or injure him why should they use care to save him from tripping or falling or prevent him from being injured by thorns and rough branches? They were certainly not behaving as though they were enemies, and yet they had seized and bound him and his friends in a most hostile manner. Perhaps, he thought with a shudder, they were taking him and the others to some jungle fastness to be tortured or even eaten. But before he had time to dwell on this gruesome and terrifying idea his captors halted and Fred felt himself lifted bodily. Then there was a splash and swirl of water, he was carried for a few yards and was dumped unceremoniously into a boat. The craft tipped and swayed, there was the sound of low voices, the rattle of paddles and then, by the steady swish of water and an indescribable feeling of motion, Fred knew the craft was under way. He wondered if the others were in the boat too—he would have given anything to know—but he could not call out to ask, could not see and he was too exhausted with his struggles and with fright to attempt to move.
For what seemed endless hours the canoe moved steadily and swiftly along. Sometimes the rushing sound of water and the unsteady bobbing and rocking of the canoe told Fred that the craft was in rough swift water. At times branches swept across the rails or against the sides of the boat and showered dew upon the boy, and once or twice he felt the bottom of the canoe grate upon rocks or sand bars and by the sounds of splashing and voices knew that the Indians had leaped out and were lifting and hauling the boat across obstructions and into clear water beyond. At last, by the light that filtered through the covering over his eyes, Fred knew that dawn had come and he wondered if his captors would let him die miserably of thirst or starvation or if they would ever reach their destination and he would learn his fate. His throat was parched and dry from the torturing gag, every breath was an effort; he was cramped and aching in every limb and he began almost to wish that the Indians would kill him and be done with it. Then he felt the canoe run ashore, once more he was lifted and carried for a short distance; he was placed upon the ground and without warning the covering was jerked from his head and the gag taken from his mouth.
Fred gave a gulp, blinked his eyes, drew a long breath of blessed fresh air and stared about. On every side was dense jungle and near him squatted two Indians; but not another human being was in sight. And his view of his captors did not help him in the least. As far as appearances went they might have been Patamonas, Macushis, Arekunas or any one of a dozen different tribes he had seen in Guiana.
And yet they were different somehow. They were more muscular, their proportions seemed different and there was a peculiar reddish or pinkish tint to their skins which Fred had never seen on any of the Indians with whom he was familiar. Moreover, their noses, instead of being broad, flat and Mongolian, like those of the others, were large, prominent and aquiline, like the North American Indians. One man had a scanty mustache and a few straggling hairs on his chin and both wore armlets and leg bands of woven cotton, so tight that they seemed to cut deeply into the bulging muscles. One's head was bare and his coarse black hair was cut squarely across, even with the shoulders, while the other wore a feather headdress which was distinct from anything Fred had seen before, for instead of projecting horizontally from a crown-like affair of basket work, the gaudy feathers rose upright from a cotton fillet, from which several long cotton streamers, decorated with beads and feathers, hung down over the man's back and shoulders. But all this told Fred nothing of his captors' identity. He glanced half apprehensively at their hands and feet, rather expecting to see that they had only three fingers or toes and were thus to be identified as Trios, but both men had the full number of digits. Then Fred opened his mouth to speak, but instantly one of the savages made a warning gesture and held up the gag and head covering suggestively, and the words died on the boy's lips. Then one of the men approached with a calabash of water and held it to Fred's thirsty mouth, while the other produced cassava cakes, a roasted plantain and a piece of smoked or babricotted fowl. Next, Fred's bonds were loosened and he helped himself to the food eagerly, for he was ravenously hungry and the men did not seem dangerous. Somehow he could not rid himself of the idea that it was all some sort of practical joke, for he was so accustomed to Indians, and these appeared so much like the mild, good-natured Bucks he knew, that he could not convince himself that they intended to either injure or kill him. And as he ate he racked his brains, trying to find some plausible solution to the mystery of his abduction and the behavior of the Indians. He even had a wild, momentary idea of trying to escape, but he dismissed this instantly. Whatever their reason for making him a prisoner, it was evident that the Bucks had him in their power. Any attempt to free himself would be useless, for the Indians were muscled like athletes, each carried a blowgun and poisoned darts, as well as a heavy club and even if he ran away he would be helplessly lost without food or weapons in the forest. At last Fred gave up all hopes of solving the riddles that confronted him and resigned himself to what fate might have in store for him.
No sooner had he finished his frugal meal and taken another drink of water, than he was again bound and the woven cotton covering was once more drawn over his head. But this time, to his joy and relief, the gag was not replaced, although his captors made it plain that any outcry or sound from him would result in the agonizing thing being used. For hour after hour they kept on. Sometimes the sun beat down with terrific heat. For long periods they were in the shadowy darkness of forests. Again and again they ran through short stretches of rapid broken water and once the distant roar of a cataract reached Fred's ears. Several times water was placed at Fred's lips and at noon the canoe was run ashore and lunch was served under similar conditions to those of breakfast. Night fell and still the Indians continued on their seemingly endless journey. Fred wondered if they never rested or slept and at last, tired and lulled by the gentle motion of the craft and the rhythmic splashing of the paddles, he fell asleep.
He was awakened by being lifted from the canoe, and still dazed with sleep, he felt that he would no doubt find himself on shore, perhaps in an Indian camp, perhaps in the forest to pass the remainder of the night. But he was not placed upon the ground. To his surprise he was placed in another boat, and he heard low voices about him. Something grated against the side of the craft he was in and the next instant he felt the bonds about his arms fall away. For a time he sat there, wondering what his captors' next move would be and only too glad that the Indians had seen fit to free his numbed hands and arms. Then slowly it came to him that there was no sound of paddles, no swirl of water and that the canoe appeared to be motionless. What did it mean? Fred was mad to see and very cautiously, so as not to attract the attention of the Indians, he raised his hands, and inch by inch, drew the covering from his head. Nothing happened, and trying to pierce the blackness, Fred peered about. For a time he could see nothing clearly. Then he saw the dim outlines of several figures seated before him and he knew he was in a large boat. Half curiously he looked at the shadowy forms, wondering why they were not paddling, why everything was so silent.
And then he gasped, rubbed his eyes and gazed incredulously, searchingly, at the men looming in the darkness ahead of him. Was he dreaming? Was he suffering from some strange hallucination? Surely it could not be possible and yet—it must be, it must—yes, there was no doubt of it. The other occupants of the craft were his friends. His uncle, Harry, Boters and the others were all there!
All unmindful of what swift punishment might follow, of what his captors might do, he gave a glad shout of joy. Instantly at his cry the nearest figure swung about.
"Fred!" came in amazed tones from the darkness. "Thank God you're safe!"
"Gee! Jiminy crickets!" chorused Harry.
"Wha la!" exclaimed Boters' well-known voice. "Praise de Lord we all here an' de Bucks gone,— clean gone!"
Scrambling forward, not stopping to wonder what had become of the mysterious Indians, Fred threw himself upon Dr. Woodward and Harry.
"Oh, oh gosh!" he cried, almost sobbing with joy. "We're safe! No one's killed! I can't believe it! Where are we? What's happened?"
"Easy, easy, Fred, my boy," cautioned the scientist as the dug-out tipped and swayed. "All I know is we're all safe and sound and adrift somewhere in a canoe. What—”
At this instant the craft grated upon the bank, Dr. Woodward seized an overhanging limb, and a moment later, all were scrambling ashore, and acting, as Fred afterwards described it "like a bunch of kids."
"Eh eh!" ejaculated the Boviander as they rose to step ashore. "Look a-here, chief. Lis'n dis t'ing I say. It de mos’ 'stonishmen' t'ing we meet yet. Look see, sir, dis coorial our own, chief!"
"By jove, you're right!" cried the scientist as he cast a keen glance about, "and," he continued, "our things are in it!"
"Golly, I wonder if it was all a dream!" exclaimed Harry. "What does it mean, Dad?"
"And who were those Indians and why did they capture us and take us all this way and then turn us loose in our own boat?" demanded Fred.
His uncle shook his head as Boters and the men kindled a fire.
"It's all a baffling, puzzling, incomprehensible mystery," he declared.
Then as the flames lit up the night, they all stared about, trying to find in their surroundings some key to the strange events that had befallen them. Before them lay the dark mysterious water, fading into the shadows and all about them rose the silent black jungle. But it made little difference to them where they were or what their surroundings might be. It was enough that they were all together, that they were safe, alive, uninjured and that they still had their own boat, and apparently, all their belongings intact.
"There's no further danger whatever the reason may be for this remarkable behavior of the Indians," declared Dr. Woodward. "If they had intended to injure us they never would have left us in this way."
"But what happened to you?" persisted Fred.
"Very much the same as you experienced," replied his uncle.
And as he and Harry and Boters in turn told their tales all proved practically identical. Each had been seized, bound, blindfolded and carried off in canoes by the savages, and not one member of the party had seen any of the others until they had found themselves unbound in their own canoe. And as they told their stories all had to laugh as each described how he had thought the other dim figures the Indians, until Fred had spoken and broken the spell.
"It's the strangest, most baffling, inexplicable mystery we've met yet," declared the scientist. "I can see no reason why those Indians should have taken the trouble to make us prisoners, gag and blindfold us, carry us separately for miles down stream and then finally gather us all together and set us free in our own boat and with our own possessions. And I'd give anything to know what Indians they were. From what I saw of those who had me in charge they were an undescribed tribe—quite a distinct type from any Guiana Indians known."
"Me sabby him feller," announced Bagot unexpectedly. "Him feller Akuria."
"Akuria!" exclaimed Dr. Woodward. "By jove, what a pity! That is the most mysterious tribe in South America—so called 'white Indians. Great Scott, I've actually been among them and had no chance to study them. I've missed the opportunity of a lifetime."
"Well, for savages, they treated us white, I admit," said Fred. "But they didn't look white to me."
"They're only white, comparatively speaking," his uncle explained. "Although one man—the only scientist who has visited them and studied them, believes they are partly white,—that they are a mixture of Indians and some Dutch or Spanish adventurers who became isolated in the bush hundreds of years ago and settled among the redmen."
"They did look more like white men than Indians, now I think of it," said Harry reflectively. "I noticed they had pink cheeks and whiskers."
"Yes, and their noses were straight and had bridges," added Fred. "But still I don't see how that solves the riddle as to why they acted as they did. If another white man visited them why should they be hostile to us, and if they are hostile, why didn't they kill us?"
"They are not hostile," explained his uncle. "But like your friends, the Kunas of Panama, they bar all strangers from their territory. No doubt, finding us there, they took the simplest and most direct means of ridding themselves of our presence. Being inherently honest, like all these Indians, they did not molest our belongings, but restored them to us —or us to them—as soon as they had taken us beyond the limits of their district."
"Well, they're a lot nicer in their manner of deporting undesirable immigrants than the Kunas," laughed Harry.
"And mighty effective too," said Fred. "We couldn't find our way back if we tried."
"What troubles me is how we got to their country in the first place," remarked Dr. Woodward. "We followed O'Rourke's directions and could not have gone many miles from the right route when we took that wrong itabu."
"Takin' de fac's in consid'ation," began Boters, with his invariable prelude to a statement. "Seem laik to me we ain't take de right co'se an' gwine astray some way 'fore we tek dat firs' itabu. Yes, sir, dat mus' be it."
"I think you are right," agreed Dr. Woodward. "Maybe we turned off from the Tinto into the wrong itabu. It's impossible to say, but unquestionably we were far off our route when we reached that lake."
"And we're lost again," said Harry dejectedly. "Seems to me we're just getting out of one trouble and into another."
"All of which should prove most gratifying to you boys," said his father dryly.
"Well, we didn't get into this scrape—by ourselves —anyway," protested Fred.
"No use blaming anyone," declared Dr. Woodward. "It was an unforseen and unavoidable accident. Hello, the sun's rising. As soon as it's light we'll look about. Maybe we are not so badly lost as we think. We can still follow the current and all currents lead to the sea."
"Only it's an awful long lead—sometimes." Fred reminded him.
CHAPTER XII AN ACCIDENT
As the light faltered through the forest, all gazed curiously about. They were beside a small creek or stream, barely fifty feet in width, and above which the forest met in a green archway. That it was not an itabu was evident, for sticks and leaves were speeding rapidly along, carried by a swift current.
Boters had gone to the canoe with the Indians, and no sooner did he reach the waterside than a surprised exclamation burst from his lips.
"Wha la!" he shouted. "Look dis way, chief! De water he raid!"
"Red water!" cried Dr. Woodward as he and the boys hurried towards the creek. "Can it be possible? Are we on the red creek O'Rourke mentioned?"
That the water was, as the Irishman had put it, "as red as blood," was indisputable and all felt highly elated at the thought that possibly the mysterious Indians had liberated them beside the very waterway that would lead them on their route to the sea.
But the scientist was skeptical. "There may be scores—hundreds—of red creeks in this country," he declared. "This water is stained with red ochre or iron ore, and wherever a swift stream runs through a bed of similar material its waters would be red."
"But we haven't seen one before this," argued Fred. "And so they can't be so very common and Mr. O'Rourke wouldn't have mentioned the color if there'd been more than one red creek."
"No, he said we'd recognize it by the red color," added Harry. "I'll bet it's the right one and those Akurias just played a joke on us and carried us around and around and then left us here, just to scare us."
"Don't talk such utter nonsense," cried his father impatiently. "Do you imagine those Indians have nothing better to do than kidnap us, paddle for miles through rapids and forest streams and then leave us here, just for a lark?"
"Well they did and we're here," declared Harry. "And if they didn't do it for a lark what did they do it for?"
Dr. Woodward snorted, but did not deign to reply to Harry's query. "If it is the right creek we'll soon find out," he announced. "As soon as we have eaten we'll do a bit of exploring. Mr. O'Rourke said that we should turn into the red creek from the Paruni when we saw a needle of red rock on the western bank of the Paruni. We can paddle back and see if such a landmark is there. If so it will prove we are right."
"Didn't he say something about a waterfall on this creek—or the red one—and that we were to take another turn just below the falls?" asked Fred.
The scientist nodded. "Yes," he said, "but the needle rock is a more conclusive proof. There might be falls and branches on any stream, but it's not probable there are two needles of red rock."
Boters had been inspecting the contents of the canoe and reported everything intact and soon all were eating breakfast and discussing plans. As soon as they had eaten, the dug-out was manned and headed down stream. Whether they had many miles, or only a short distance to go in order to reach the mouth of the creek—assuming it was the right one —no one knew.
"If it is the red creek O'Rourke mentioned I cannot understand why the Akurias traveled so far," declared Dr. Woodward as the dug-out sped rapidly along with the swift current. "According to him the red creek was only a day's travel down the Paruni from the itabu from the Tinto."
"But if we went astray and took the wrong itabu it might have been farther," Harry reminded him.
"Well, we'll know before night," said Fred. "This stream runs like a mill race and it shouldn't take us long to get to the Paruni at this rate."
Scarcely had he spoken when the craft swept around a bend in the shore, the forest opened before them and the next minute the canoe shot from the red waters of the creek into a broad, slowly flowing river.
"Hurrah it is!" cried Harry. "This must be the Paruni."
"Then we should see that red column of rock," said his father. "Do you see any needle of rock, captain?"
The force of the current from the creek had carried the canoe well out into the stream and the red waters were plainly visible against the darker brown of the river. The Boviander and the others peered about, searching the shores and bush for the hoped for landmark. On every side was unending forest and for a time nothing but the sea of green foliage could be seen. Then, as the sun rose higher, Fred caught a glimpse of red among the trees close to the water across the river.
"Oh, look there!" he cried, seizing his uncle's arm and pointing at the spot. "Is that—gee, I believe it is."
Dr. Woodward peered intently at the red object rising above the river in the shadows of the trees and reached for his glasses.
"Hmm," he remarked, after studying it a moment, "It does look like a red rock, but it's indistinct in the shade and is very small—scarcely more than a large boulder. It doesn't seem as if that could be it."
"Mr. O'Rourke didn't say how big it was," Harry reminded his father.
"No, that's true," admitted the scientist. "Boters, run the canoe over there, we'll have a look anyway."
"Hurrah, it is!" cried Fred delightedly as they approached the object that had attracted his attention. "It's a rock and it's red, and it's sharp pointed and slender."
"And look, look, Dad, it's got a hole through one end exactly like a needle," yelled Harry.
"By jove, I guess you're right," agreed the scientist. "I should have searched for a tall, upright, pointed column, not for a small thing like this."
"Eh eh! he perzac'ly the livin' 'semblance to needle, yes, sir," exclaimed the Boviander.
"Now we've got to turn around and go back," remarked Harry.
"But we know we're right," said Fred, "and it's not far back to where we started."
"Why can't we follow this Paruni River down to the coast?" asked Harry. "Seems to me it would be much easier and shorter than going through all those other streams and itabus and into the Maroni."
"In the first place the Paruni doesn't lead to the sea," replied his father. "And in the second place, it is full of dangerous rapids below here. No, we must follow the course Mr. O'Rourke laid out for us. The bushmen know the best route and even if it is the longest way around it's probably the shortest in the end."
But to paddle back against the swift current of the red creek was far slower work than it had been running down with the current, and it was past noon when once more the party arrived at the spot where the mysterious Indians had left them.
Here a stop was made for lunch and then the canoe was headed up stream.
"I'm still not entirely convinced we are right," remarked Dr. Woodward. "It seems too good a piece of luck to be true. But if we find the falls and a channel leading north below them I shall feel sure we are on the right track."
Each hour, as they paddled on, the current grew more swift and about mid afternoon Boters called the others' attention to several masses of floating, lather-like froth and announced that these were positive proofs of falls ahead. Each minute, more and more of the froth was seen and presently the Boviander ordered the men to stop paddling and to be silent, and dimly to the ears of all, came the roar of a distant cataract.
"We're right!" cried Fred as the paddles once again dipped into the almost scarlet water. "There are falls ahead. Now let's keep a sharp watch for that other stream."
Each moment the noise of the falls increased and an hour later the boys cried out in delight and admiration as the cataract came suddenly into view.
"Golly, but that's wonderful!" declared Fred.
"Isn't it though!" shouted Harry. "Just look at the color of the water and foam and at those rocks!"
It was little wonder that the two boys were excited and enthusiastic. Nothing any of the party had ever seen in this land of wonders and magnificent scenery had ever equalled or approached this tumbling waterfall before them.
The rocks, of crimson conglomerate sandstone, were filled with innumerable pebbles of transparent quartz, dull-red garnets, and bright-green, yellow, black and blue agates which scintillated and flashed with prismatic tints as the sun glistened upon their wet surfaces. And over these worn ledges and boulders, that seemed studded with priceless gems, roared and boiled a score of cataracts, absolutely amazing in their weird beauty and color. The red water poured like streams of scarlet ink over the ledges, it eddied in deepest crimson through the rocky gutters and clefts, and it tossed and leaped in coral-pink and faintest rose colored foam among the rocks. Even the spray rising from the foot of the falls, seemed tinged with a delicate flush of peach color.
"Eh eh!" exclaimed Boters, as all sat spellbound, gazing upon the wonderful sight. "He de mos' pretties' t'ing what I see. Yes, sir, dat he is. Seem laik to me it ain't de real t'ing, no, sir. Wha la! He look laik he been cat'rac' of blood in truf an' de rockstone look laik he fill chock full with di'mon's an' sech. You dou't ti'nk, chief, he di'mon's an' em'ral's an’ t'ings for true?"
Dr. Woodward laughed. "No, captain," he replied. "Nothing valuable there, except the beauty, and that's marvelous."
Even the usually impassive Indians were gazing at this unique cataract with evident appreciation of its beauty and novelty, and for nearly an hour the canoe was kept motionless while the occupants admired the scene.
"Come, come!" said Dr. Woodward at last. "Wonderful as it is we can't remain here admiring it. The afternoon is passing and we must find that creek. O'Rourke said it was just below the falls. Do you see anything of it?"
"I 'spec he yander," announced Boters peering about. "Seem laik dey an openin' in de bush by dat big rockstone."
The Boviander was right. A short distance below the foot of the falls an itabu or sluggish creek led into the bush, and pushing through the foliage the dug-out was once more in the dense shadow of the forest. Oddly enough the water of this stream was barely tinged with red and very soon the last vestiges of the color were lost and the itabu was as dark and ominous in aspect as the others through which they had passed. By the time the roar of the falls was faint in their ears the waterway had narrowed to a mere ditch and the boys began to fear that, after all, they had again gone astray. But Boters reassured them, explaining that very often the itabus dwindled to mere threads and yet lead out into navigable waters. But it was hard, slow work forcing the canoe along and sundown found them still in the forest. They camped beside the tiny trickling stream, that was scarcely wide enough to permit the canoe to pass, and as a torrential rain began to fall the boys were glad to seek the shelter of the tarpaulin and huddle over the fire, instead of going on a hunt as they had planned.
It was so damp, chilly and miserable that the boys got little sleep, but the morning dawned clear and bright and soon after starting the itabu widened and joined another larger waterway.
"This is right," announced Dr. Woodward as he studied the map. "Mr. O'Rourke indicated that we should swing west here. By noon we should reach the Maroni. Our journey is almost over, boys. Once on the Maroni it's all plain sailing down the river to Paramaribo."
The boys could scarcely believe that their wanderings and adventures were almost over. That barely one hundred and fifty miles distant was the thriving capital of Dutch Guiana with its motor cars, shops and houses, railway trains and docks, with great steamships ready to carry them back to New York.
"Gosh, just think of it!" cried Fred. "We went in at Demerara and we've been nearly four months in the bush and then come out at Paramaribo."
"Gee, yes, and think of all the adventures we've had," said Harry. "And we've come out with all our trophies and our emeralds and diamonds. Perhaps we won't make the other fellows sit up and open their eyes."
"It's lucky we have got all our things," declared Fred. "If we didn't have them the other boys would never believe our yarns."
"I don't imagine they'll believe all you tell them as it is," chuckled Dr. Woodward. "They'll take your stories of the monkey-men and those red falls and the army-ants with a grain of salt."
"Well, the fellows at home aren't the only ones who are hard to convince," laughed Harry. "If they were as skeptical as a scientific man I know we'd have to bring home the Botacudos and the monkey-men and the bones of those savages who were killed by the ants and a sample of those rocks and water from the falls."
"Seeing is believing, you know," his father reminded him. "But your friends will have plenty to astound them with what you can prove."
"I wonder what father and mother are thinking," mused Fred. "They must think we're lost or killed."
"They won't worry," his uncle assured him. "I told them we might be away for six months and that we could not keep in touch with the mails. After your experiences in Darien I think they're convinced that you'll come through anything unscathed."
"Well, I guess we won't have any more adventures," said Harry rather regretfully. "I don't see any chance from now on."
Thus, talking and joking, the boys passed the time as the canoe continued on through the jungle, and while noon did not find them at the Maroni, as Dr. Woodward had prophesied, still they did not worry and as Fred succeeded in shooting a fine muscovy duck that rose from the water and alighted overhead, they had a fine lunch and all were in high spirits as the journey was again resumed.
It was nearly three o'clock when, through the trees ahead, they caught the glint of open water and a few moments later came to the end of the itabu and floated upon the bosom of the Maroni.
Shouting, singing and laughing, the Indians swung their paddles and with a strange sing-song chanty, urged the dug-out seaward along the silvery flashing river. In rhythmic unison their paddles rose and fell as one, and when the descending sun warned them that it was time to camp they had left many miles between them and the dark itabu's mouth.
Camp was made on the banks of a small creek that flowed into the river and as it was still fairly early the boys picked up their guns, and calling to Bagot, started on a hunt.
The forest was fairly open and game was abundant, as proved by the tracks, and within an hour the three were back in camp with a fat paca and two wild turkeys.
The following day the journey towards Paramaribo was resumed and everything seemed going well when, without warning, the canoe struck some submerged object with a jar that threw the boys from their seats. Frantically Boters and the Indians worked, exerting all their strength to force the craft from the obstruction, while the canoe tipped, careened and lurched dangerously.
"Oh, look, it's leaking!" cried Fred, as water swashed about his feet.
"Bail!" ordered Dr. Woodward, seizing a calabash and hurriedly scooping out the rapidly incoming water. "We must have knocked a hole in the bottom. Work fast, boys!"
Realizing their peril, the two boys labored feverishly to empty the water as it kept rushing in, and by ceaseless labor managed to prevent it from gaining on them. Then at last the canoe gave a final lurch and floated free and Boters, with sharp orders, urged the Indians to redoubled efforts to run the craft to the nearest bank of the river. Leaping from the canoe as it touched land, the men hauled it well up from the water and at once commenced discharging its cargo.
"Well, that's an adventure we didn't expect," said Harry, as breathless from excitement and his exertions he seated himself on a fallen tree. "What happened anyway, captain?"
"I ain't know yit," replied the Boviander. "I 'spec’ he hit tacuba an' bust hole in he."
Soon the leak was disclosed, a splintered jagged hole in the bottom.
"We are in a fix," declared Fred as he saw the ugly hole. "Now what will we do?"
"Eh eh, dat mos' eas'ly 'justified," replied Boters, glancing up. "It gwine tek a leedle time to fix, but we boun' do be O. K."
"Yes it can be repaired," agreed the scientist. "But it will mean delay. The cargo will have to be taken out, the boat turned over and a patch put in. However, we are in no great hurry and this is a good spot to camp for a day or so."
"And we won't starve, as there's plenty of game," said Harry. "We'll go on a good hunt, Fred. It may he the last chance we have."
This seemed a good plan and as all the Indians were needed to work on the boat the boys started out by themselves, after being cautioned by Dr. Woodward to be careful and not get into trouble or lose their way.
"Don't fear,” Harry laughed back. "We can find our way back and there's no chance of running into savages here."
"Or waracabra-tigers or Takamus," added Fred. "Why, we're almost in the suburbs of Paramaribo."
CHAPTER XIII FRIENDS IN NEED
NEVER dreaming that there could be any danger on the banks of a well known river only a short distance from civilization, but taking care to note the direction they followed, the two boys strolled into the jungle. As soon as they were well away from camp they proceeded more cautiously, peering at the ground in search of game trails, stopping now and then to listen, searching the trees over their heads for pigeons or feathered game and speaking in whispers.
Several times they saw traces of agoutis or other rodents—half eaten fruits and seeds under the trees. Once a tinamou whirred up, and again a troop of monkeys went racing off through the foliage far overhead. But the boys had agreed not to shoot anything in the way of small game, unless all else failed. This might be the last opportunity they had to kill big game, for Dr. Woodward had told them that the outlying settlements should be reached the next day, and the boys knew that in the neighborhood of man their chances for hunting, or at least getting anything worth while, were very slim.
But here they were as much in the wilderness as though hundreds of miles from any human habitation and they had great hopes of getting deer, peccary or perhaps even a tapir.
Nearly an hour passed, however, before they saw any signs of large animals. Then Harry detected the footprints of a tapir, and highly elated, the two hurried on the creature's trail.
They had proceeded for some time and had come to the banks of a small muddy creek when Fred, who was in advance, uttered a surprised ejaculation. Harry hurried up and found him staring at the ground where, plainly visible, was the imprint of a human foot.
"Gosh!" whispered Fred. "A man's been here!"
"Well, that's nothing to be frightened about," declared Harry. "Most likely it's some one from down river. A wood cutter or hunter or balata gatherer or something."
"But it doesn't look like an Indian's footprint," protested Fred.
"Of course not," said Harry. "There are white men and blacks down below and it might be one of them."
"Yes, that's so," agreed Fred. "But if he's been up here there's not much chance of finding game."
"Why not?" demanded Harry. "One man wouldn't scare all the game away and it may have been days since he was here. Come on, let's go after that tapir."
So, forgetting the footprint, the two boys continued trailing their quarry. Evidently, however, that particular tapir had been in a restless mood, for his tracks led back and forth everywhere and at last the boys decided that it was hopeless to follow him.
"Let's stop and rest awhile and then hunt for something else," suggested Harry.
Accordingly, the boys seated themselves on a log and amused themselves watching the birds in the trees and listening to the innumerable forest noises.
Suddenly, to Fred's ears, came a different sound from any thing he had heard, and wheeling about, he uttered a terrified cry. Peering at the boys from behind a tree scarcely a dozen yards distant, were two faces!
At Fred's cry Harry too had turned and now both boys sat gazing spellbound at the apparitions they beheld. Never had they seen more villainous or vindictive-looking countenances than those staring at them from either side of the tree. Forgetting they were close to civilization, that there were no savage Indians near, they fairly quaked with dread, for there was something in the expression of the glaring wild eyes, the tousled hair and the cruel lips of the beings back of the tree that was more terrible, more deadly than the most ferocious or repulsive savages that the boys had met.
Scared as they were, the boys both knew instinctively who the men must be. They were neither negroes nor Indians. Their skins, their features, the tousled, matted light hair of one and the bushy beard of the other, proved them white men and at their first glimpse of the evil faces the boys knew they were looking at the dreaded deportés—the escaped convicts from the fearful penal colony of Cayenne in French Guiana, malefactors of the lowest, most brutal and vicious type. Friendless, penniless, possessing only the torn and tattered garments they stood in they would stop at nothing to secure the necessities of life or the wherewithal to eke out a living, a bare existence, until they could gain the coast and safety. Their hands were raised against every human being, red, black or white alike. Half insane from sufferings and hardships and brutalized by their awful treatment in the penal colony, they ranged the forests like savage beasts, attacking any living being they might overpower and thinking no more of murder to gain their ends than of killing a squirming lizard or a helpless nestling.
So terrorized were the boys, that for the instant, they forgot that they had firearms, that they might easily drive off the deportés with their guns, that the unarmed, half-famished, miserable wretches would turn and flee at the first threat to shoot.
Even grown men, accustomed to dangers and to acting in emergencies, have been known to drop weapons and flee from the deportés and the boys, despite the innumerable perils they had met and all they had gone through, were still mere lads and may well be forgiven for losing their presence of mind as they sat there with eyes fixed in terrified horror upon the scarcely human features of the criminals so near.
For a full minute they remained, paralyzed, not speaking, not moving, while equally silent, equally motionless, the two villainous, low-browed, unshaven, baleful-eyed creatures behind the tree glared back at them as if hypnotizing the boys with their unwinking, fixed stare.
Then, slowly, cautiously, half-crouching, the figures emerged from their shelter, and like wild beasts stalking their prey, crept towards the boys; one on the right, one on the left.
Half naked, a few dirty rags clinging to their emaciated bodies, the miserable beings, with cruel lips drawn back and bloodshot eyes blazing, came nearer and nearer the two boys who seemed glued to the spot, unable to move hand or foot.
Then, as one of the deportés gathered himself together as if about to spring, and raised a heavy tree limb above his head, the spell was broken. The boys were galvanized into action and with ear-piercing screams they leaped to their feet, and forgetting guns, everything but escape, dashed yelling into the forest. A wild maniacal screech came from behind them, there was a thundering report and a charge of shot ripped through the trees a few feet above the fleeing boys’ heads. Fortunately for them, the convicts were poor shots and as the staccato reports of the rifle followed the roar of the shot-gun chips flew from trees and lumps of dirt and dead leaves leaped from the ground as the steel-jacketed bullets whined past the racing boys. Luckily too, the shotgun had held but its two charges and the rifle but its six shells in their clip. Dimly the boys realised this as the reports rang out and as the last shot echoed through the forest and Harry and Fred were still untouched, hope came to them. But only for an instant; the next moment, yells resounded from behind, the sounds of running feet came from the rear and the boys knew that the deportés, having spent the ammunition uselessly, were now in full chase, were bent on seizing the fugitives to strip them of whatever they possessed.
Spurred on by fear of death, the boys tore through the forest, and strong and youthful as they were they felt that, if they could only hold out, they could maintain their distance, could outrun the half starved desperate fellows on their trail, until they reached camp and safety. But in their fright they had fled blindly and to both boys came the knowledge that they had not the least idea in what direction the camp lay. It was terrible. Run as they might, sooner or later they must give up, must drop from utter exhaustion, and then all would be over. The deportés would fall upon them, would murder them and leave their bodies, stripped of clothes, ammunition and all belongings, and go their way,
Already they were gasping for breath, their feet felt like leaden weights; fallen limbs and trailing vines tripped them and over and over again they plunged forward, barely recovering themselves in time to avoid falling. They were losing all hope, abandoning all idea of avoiding the relentless pursuers, when suddenly a figure leaped into view ahead. Loud shouts echoed through the jungle, a horde of savage-looking black beings seemed to appear as if by magic from every side, and with despairing, gasping cries, the two boys fell headlong, almost unconscious, upon the ground.
What had happened, who the savages were, they did not know, and so utterly hopeless, exhausted and terrified were they, that they did not really care. Indeed, all conscious fear had left them and half senseless and benumbed they lay there, dimly expecting to feel themselves being butchered, while about them they half consciously heard the sounds of strife. Yells, savage cries, exultant shouts, and finally silence. Then came the sounds of low conversation, footsteps approached, and with an effort Harry turned over and glanced up. Beside the boys was a group of giant blacks and at the first glimpse of them the two knew that they were Bush Negroes. Their thick lips, flat noses, kinky hair braided into outstanding pointed pigtails, and the heavy armlets and anklets, as well as the great incised scars upon their limbs and chests, were exactly like those of the Jakos who had held Dr. Woodward and the boys prisoners in the ruined city of Manoa.
Instinctively, at sight of the herculean blacks armed with jagged-tipped spears and long bows and arrows, the boys drew back with frightened cries. Then they remembered that O'Rourke had assured them that the Surinam Jakos were friendly and peaceable, and as the nearest and biggest of the negroes grinned broadly and clucked out some unintelligible jargon the boys felt reassured and sat up. Looks of relief at once overspread the fierce features of the Jakos, and their leader indicated by signs that he wished to know if the boys were injured. Harry shook his head and he and Fred rose unsteadily to their feet. They longed to ask the friendly appearing strangers what had happened, what had become of the deportés and where they were themselves. But conversation was out of the question and sign language was limited in its possibilities.
Then, as Fred glanced about, he noticed that one of the negroes carried the two guns.
"Gosh!" he exclaimed in low tones. “They must have done for those fellows. See, they've got our guns."
Harry nodded. "Yes, remember Mr. O'Rourke said these Jakos killed the deportés on sight. Poor fellows, I'm sorry for them!"
"I'm not," maintained Fred. "They'd have killed us quick enough if it hadn't been for these boys. I wonder how they happened to bob up in the nick of time."
Now the big leader of the Jakos was again endeavoring to talk to the boys and by trying his hardest Harry managed to grasp the meaning of a few words.
"He's saying something about deportés and river and white men and Dutch and American," he told Fred. "I think he wants to know who we are and where we came from."
"Well, why don't you tell him?" asked Fred with a grin. "Go ahead, tell him we're Americans and that we've got a camp and a boat somewhere by the river." Whether or not the Jako understood Harry's words, the boys could not know, but he seemed to grasp a portion of the meaning at any rate, for he grinned amiably, nodded, swept his arm in a circle and then, after clacking and clucking to his men— like an old hen to her chickens as Harry said afterwards—he beckoned for the boys to follow and started into the jungle.
"He's taking us somewhere, anyhow," remarked Fred. "I guess we'll get back to camp eventually; but I wish we could talk his lingo."
For some distance the tired boys trudged on with their strange friends through the jungle and then noticed that the Jakos were following a well defined trail.
"This path must lead to a camp," announced Harry. "I wonder if they're taking us to a settlement."
"I feel as if we ran far enough so they might be taking us into Paramaribo," said Fred. "Gee, but I'm tired."
Presently the leader of the Jakos uttered a shrill cry; from far ahead came an answering call, and a moment later, a clearing appeared among the trees and in the opening the boys saw a cluster of houses.
"It's their village!" exclaimed Harry, as they stepped from the forest. "Golly, isn't it funny?"
Never had the two boys seen anything quite like the Jako village. The houses, thatched with palm leaves, were low, with their eaves only a few inches from the ground, but all had the hard wood supporting posts and timbers and even the roughly hewn board doors, covered with elaborate and beautiful carvings. But aside from the steep-roofed huts it might have been a native village in the heart of Africa.
Everywhere naked men, women and children swarmed; all black as ebony, all indescribably ugly and all decorated with pigment-filled scars, barbaric rings around legs and arms, and with kinky wool gummed into fantastic decorations.
As the boys entered the village the inhabitants gazed at them in wonder and showered a perfect babel of questions at the men who had brought them. But the leader did not halt. Straight toward a large hut in the centre of the village he led the boys, and bending low, entered the house, beckoning the boys to follow.
Inside it was dark and cool and the boys, casting a hurried glance about, noticed that the interior was covered with carvings and the earth floor was hidden under mats of woven palm. On one side was a carved wooden bench and seated on this was a very old gray-haired negro who glanced up as the party entered. To him the leader made a sort of courtesy and Harry and Fred realized that they were in the presence of the chief or grandiman of the village. The old man put a few rapid queries to the leader who turned and beckoned to another member of the party the boys had met in the woods. This fellow stepped forward, bearing a big loosely-woven basket, and approaching the chief, emptied its contents on the floor. Sick, faint, nauseated, the boys sprang backward with exclamations of horror. Out from the basket had rolled two ghastly objects—the severed heads of the deportés!
At the boys' cries, the chief glanced up. Then he gave a curt order, the grisly, awful trophies were replaced in the basket, the bearer withdrew and to the boy's utter amazement the old grandiman spoke to them in English.
To be sure, it was terribly garbled and broken, hardly recognizable as the English tongue; but the boys could understand.
Haltingly, interpolating many Dutch and Jako words, the old man asked the boys who they were, whence they came and several other simple questions.
Almost unconsciously falling into the talky-talky of the Guiana Indians, the boys replied, telling him of their camp, of how they had met the deportés And how the Jakos had saved them, finally asking the chief if he would send guides with them to their Camp.
The grandiman listened attentively, nodding his grizzled head and evidenth' understanding most of the conversation.
"Yaa!" he exclaimed, as the boys ended, "Me sabby, sabby 'Me'can. Me worky fo' 'M'can. 'Porté bad feller. Yaa, mek kill one time. Me fren' 'Me'can, fr'en Deu'sh. Yaa, sabby me chiki min tla Jako you camp."
"I guess so," muttered Harry, "I don't know about that chikety click part, but he means well, I know."
"I think we ought to thank him or something," suggested Fred. "Say, Harry, let's give him the shot-gun. We won't need it any more and it'll tickle him to death."
"Fine!" agreed Harry. "And the cartridges, and when we get to camp we'll give them a lot more shells and powder and shot, and some presents to these chaps who saved us."
When, after some difficulty, the boys made the old grandiman understand that the gun was his, he could scarcely believe it. He fairly grovelled at the boys' feet and was as pleased as a child with a new toy.
He danced and capered, hugged the boys—much to their embarrassment and distaste,—rubbed his nose against theirs—which they liked still less— and finally tried to return their generosity by offering them the basket containing the convicts' heads as a gift!
"Gosh, no!" cried Fred, backing hurriedly off. "Take them away!"
Apparently unable to understand the boys' feelings, but grasping the fact that they wished nothing to do with his grisly trophies, the chief desisted and uttered rapid commands to the same big leader who had brought in the boys.
Following him at his sign, the two boys were led through the village, accompanied by the grandiman and a crowd of the people, and approached the bank of a creek. Here several long, graceful, sharp-prowed dug-outs were moored and stepping into one the Jako beckoned to the boys who seated themselves. Then the grandiman entered, several stalwart negroes leaped in and pushing the canoe from shore they plied their odd carved paddles and shot the swift craft down the creek. Five minutes later, they were in the river, and heading upstream, swept rapidly against the current.
"Gosh, can't this canoe travel!" exclaimed Fred. "It goes as if it had a motor in it."
"And can't these boys paddle!" exclaimed Harry in admiration.
"And they are a decent lot," said Fred. "They look just like those rascals we met at Manoa, but they're as friendly as anything. Mr. O'Rourke was right after all."
A moment later the bow paddler called back something and the next instant the canoe sped around a point and the boys shouted with delight. Before them was their own camp. Boters and the men were busily working at the upturned canoe and Dr. Woodward was seated under a tree, puffing at his pipe and absorbed in writing in his note book.
CHAPTER XIV A REVELATION
AT the sound of voices and paddles Dr. Woodward and the men glanced up. The next instant the scientist had leaped to his feet and Boters and the Indians stood staring, mouths agape, as though they had seen an apparition.
"Great Scott!" cried the scientist, hurrying to the shore as the Jakos’ canoe touched the beach. "Where—what—how? Where have you been and what does it mean? And who are your new friends? Can't you ever move from camp without getting into some adventure?"
The boys laughed as they jumped ashore. "One thing at a time, Dad," cried Harry, grinning and mimicking his father's tone. "We're all right. Let me present my friend, the grandiman of the Jakos, and his men. And I'll say they're good friends too —saved our lives, but we'll tell you all about it later."
The old grandiman had stepped gravely ashore and was stuttering away in an attempt to converse with Dr. Woodward, while the other negroes were staring about, glancing at the camp, at Boters and the Indians.
"Wha la!" suddenly burst out the Boviander. "Dey's bush niggers, sure 'nough. Eh eh! I ain't know hukkum it, but I 'spec' day's been flustration's 'roun' 'bout. Yes, sir, takin' de fac's of de case in consid'ation, dat's wha' dey boun' for be."
"Here, captain," called Dr. Woodward, interrupting the old man's remarks. "Can you talk with these men? We're in Dutch Guiana; perhaps they speak Dutch."
"I ain't know," replied Boters, "but I'se boun' fin' out can he talk Dutch."
To everyone's delight, his efforts were successful. The Jakos understood Dutch perfectly and while their rendition of the tongue was almost as bad as the grandiman's version of English, still the Boviander's Dutch was not the simon-pure variety and he was so accustomed to murdering the English tongue, and to speaking talky-talky and the Indian dialects, that he had no trouble in understanding the Jakos and translating to the boys and the scientist.
After the first greetings, the grandiman explained to them that for some time the deportés had been in the vicinity, that they had attacked and killed a Jako and that a party had been searching for them without success, until, attracted by the shots the convicts had fired at the boys, when they had hurried forward and had arrived in the nick of time.
As Dr. Woodward talked with the grandiman and thanked him and his men for their opportune arrival, the two boys rummaged through their things and selected a number of odds and ends for presents to the negroes. There were ammunition, knives, mirrors and goods that had been taken along to trade with the Indians, and various other articles.
As they approached to present these to the grandiman and his men, Botcrs spoke to them. "De t'ing wha' he Jako like bes'est of all's de tin of peaches," he said. "Yes, sir, he t'ink dey de fines' t'ing in de whole worl'. You gwine give he dat an' he rock frien’ to you fo’ life, dat he will, chief."
"Bully, then we'll give them all the tinned fruit we have left," declared Fred. "Ugh, I'm sick and tired of canned food and we won't need it any more. The old fellow says we're only a day's run from civilization."
Never had the boys seen people more pleased over anything than were the Jakos over their presents; but as Boters had said, the tinned fruits seemed to be valued more highly than anything else. Nothing would do but that they must open a few cans then and there, and as the gigantic negroes squatted about, drinking the juice from the cans and smacking their lips over the preserved fruits the boys roared with merriment as they watched them.
Then the Jakos, anxious to show their appreciation, fell to and aided Boters and his men at repairing the boat. Born rivermen as they are, the bush negroes showed marvelous skill in fitting a patch to the hole in the dug-out and within a couple of hours after the boys arrived with the Jakos the repairs were completed, and with many hands to help, the cargo was again stowed.
Then, pushing the canoe into the stream, all embarked, and side by side with the bush negroes' craft, they sped down stream.
The grandiman was very anxious to have Dr. Woodward stop at the bush negroes' village for the rest of the day and the night; but the scientist declined the invitation. With Paramaribo barely a day's travel ahead, he was anxious to reach his journey's end, but he finally consented to make a brief call at the village.
Fortunately there was no sign of the gruesome souvenirs of the Jakos' hunt and all enjoyed their stop and the really delicious food that the bush negroes served to their friends. Then, loaded with presents consisting of baskets, weapons, carved stools and clubs, pottery and ornaments, the boys bade farewell to the good natured old grandiman and his giant tribesmen, and leaving the creek, once more reached the Maroni and continued on their way to the coast. Throughout the day they sped along, the river constantly widening, while from time to time they passed Jakos' villages or met their long, sharp-ended canoes. Gradually too, more and more cleared spaces appeared in the forests, the current flowed less rapidly and at night they camped at the head of a low waterfall or steep rapid. Next morning they dashed thrillingly through the rapids, the big dug-out leaping like a living thing from wave-crest to wave-crest while the boys, clinging fast to the rails, tingled with excitement. Safely, Boters and his bronze-skinned crew guided their craft through the churning water and as it left the swirling eddies and froth-capped surface of the pool below the falls, Fred gave an exclamation of surprise.
"Gee whittaker!" he cried. "The current's running up stream! Hurrah, it's the tide!"
"You're right!" agreed his uncle. "The trip's almost over, boys. We're at sea level. The last falls are behind."
Against the slowly flowing tide they paddled on. By noon the tide ebbed and they slipped rapidly between shores now low and often swampy. Thatched houses, wooden buildings, extensive clearings were seen at every turn and as they ate lunch on a low islet Harry suddenly started and held up his hand for silence.
"Gosh, it is!" he shouted. "Hear it?"
Faint and thin it came again—the unmistakable sound of a locomotive's whistle!
"Gee, but that sounds good!" cried Fred. "Think of it. We're within sound of a train!"
"And we'll be in the city tonight," shouted Harry.
His father smiled, "I'm afraid not," he announced. "The railway runs nearly one hundred miles from Paramaribo. If we make the capital by noon tomorrow we'll be doing well."
"Beggin' you' pardon, chief," interrupted Botors. "I been dis side one time when I workin' fo' a 'Merican gent'mans an' I ain't ti'nk we gwine tek dat much time to mek de po't. No, sir, de injine do go rangin' 'bout for mos' de hund'ed mile laik you says, but he don't follow de river, sir, an' I ti'nk we gwine cotch de town dis same night perzac'ly, chief. Yes, sir, dat wha' we boun' do, sir. Hi, you, Buckmen!" —jumping up and addressing the Indians—"Hi you Bagot! you T'oph'Ius! you Carlos! shake you laig an' see can we all mek walk like we coorial got steam in he an' cotch dat town dis night. Tloopi maoi 't toona iki!"
Grinning, the men gathered up the cooking utensils, ran to the boat and as the boys and Dr. Woodward scrambled in, fairly lifted the craft from the water as they plied their paddles with every ounce of their strength. Balancing in the bow, Bagot wielded an enormous paddle, Boters, all excitement, strained and tugged at his huge stern paddle and with their paddle handles playing a rhythmic tattoo upon the gunwales, the Indians urged the dug-out towards the distant sea to the chanting of a river song.
Soon, tiny villages appeared along the shores. Boats, batteaus, lumber rafts, big lighters with patched sails, were passed. Then, to the boy's delight, the staccato exhaust of a motor boat was heard and a trim government launch appeared, the flag of Holland fluttering at her stern. Every moment brought more and more signs of civilization into view and the boys peered ahead expectantly, anxious for the first glimpse of the capital of Dutch Guiana.
Now the river had widened until its farther shores were dim and hazy; forests had given way to low, endless mangrove swamps; the water was muddy and when Fred tasted it, it was salt, and jungles and the wilderness had been left far astern. Slowly the sun dropped towards the west, a long line of flaming scarlet ibis winged their way overhead, parrots in squawking pairs flapped shoreward from the farther banks. And then, just as the great red sun sank in purple and golden clouds, the canoe rounded a bend in the stream, and plain before them, was Paramaribo.
Bordering the river was a low stone wall; above it rose palm trees, steep gabled roofs, white houses with green shutters, while filling the river before the town, were scores of small boats, canoes, launches and sailing craft. From a tiny ancient fort came a flash and a puff of smoke; the report of the sunset gun boomed out and down from its staff came the ensign of the Netherlands.
"Golly, is it real?" cried Fred. "I can't believe it. Why it’s just like Holland. Say, Uncle Frank, are you sure we haven't crossed the ocean and come out at the Zuyder Zee?"
"Isn't it—just great?" exclaimed Harry. "And doesn't it look funny to see houses and docks and boats and—people, after all this time?"
Boters chuckled. "Don't I say we gwine mek he 'fore dark come?" he demanded triumphantly. "Wha la! takin' de fac's in consid'ation, we come to de en' of de jou'ney. Yes, sir, we come clean to he. Eh, eh, seems laik to me we ain't been nowheres, no, sir. An' here we is chief! We sure 'nough right here to Par'mar'ho, yes, sir."
The next moment the dug-out grated against the landing place and a minute after the boys were standing in the streets of Paramaribo.
About them gathered a curious crowd,—Dutch, negroes, Chinese, Hindus and Javanese, and interesting and strange as they seemed to the two boys, Harry and Fred gave little attention to them, for there, as if awaiting their arrival—was a real honest-to-goodness—Ford!
"Bring the things to the hotel, captain," directed the scientist as he joined the boys, and a moment later the three were being whirled, jolted and jarred through the quaintest of quaint towns on their way to the hotel in this topsy-turvy bit of Holland that seemed transplanted bodily to its South American setting.
The boys exclaimed with delight at the picturesque Dutchy costumes of the negresses and when they saw men and women, black as coal, clattering along in immense wooden shoes, they fairly screamed with joy. They admired the broad, beautifully kept, "green"; declared the red brick "Townhaus" with its white pillars and green blinds must have been brought from New England; drove through the "Bourie" with its rows of palms; were whirled through a long avenue of giant mahogany trees shading the cutest of tiny Dutch cottages; rumbled over a steeply arched brick bridge and drew up before the hotel.
Very glad indeed were the two boys to change their worn and patched garments, to take a plunge in the huge cement bathtub, to seat themselves in comfortable chairs and to take their places at a table set with gleaming silver, brilliant cut glass, dainty porcelain, and spotless linen all brought years before from Holland, and to eat their fill of delicious, well cooked food served by a cat-footed Javanese waitress.
Only one other guest was in the hotel,—an American who introduced himself as Mr. Clifford and who told Dr. Woodward and the boys that he was an artist and sculptor who was traveling about among the out-of-the-way parts of South America in search of subjects for his brush.
"You ought to go up in the bush," declared Harry. "That's where you'd find things to paint."
"I wish I might," replied the artist. "You must tell me all about it. You say you've been in the interior four months! Imagine it; and I suppose you've had endless adventures."
"I'll say we have!" exclaimed Fred.
"Can you tell us when the next ship leaves for New York?" asked Dr. Woodward.
"You're in luck," replied the other. "A boat's due tomorrow. The Dutch boat."
"Good, that will be just what we want," declared the scientist. "It stops in at Georgetown and we can leave Boters and the men there."
A little later, all gathered on the wide veranda and the boys, at Mr. Clifford's suggestion, commenced relating the story of their latest adventures. "That was a romantic quest," declared the artist as the boys spoke of their search for the god. "I should like to see the idol."
Oddly enough, the boys had not mentioned the "radium stuff" as they called it, in their desire to describe their adventures quite forgetting that the material was an important factor of their hunt.
"Dad's got a copy of it," said Harry, rising and hurrying to the court where his father was arranging matters with Boters who had just arrived.
A moment later he returned and handed the artist the plaster duplicate of the misshapen idol.
A surprised, half-suppressed ejaculation escaped the artist's lips as he examined the little god. Then he burst into a hearty laugh. "So you've been hunting all over the wilderness to find where this came from!" he cried, a twinkle in his eyes. "That's the best joke I've ever heard. Why, boys, do you know that the farther you went into the wilds the farther you went from the place where this thing was made?"
"No, what Jo you mean?" asked Fred, puzzled. "Do you know where it came from?"
"I should say I do," declared Mr. Clifford. "Why, my boys, this idol—or rather the original—was made right in New York City!"
"What—you don't mean—" began Harry, unable to believe he had heard aright.
"Yes, right on West Tenth Street," laughed the artist. "I ought to know,—I made it myself!"
Utterly dumbfounded, the boys stood speechless, staring incredulously at the speaker and wondering if he were in his right mind.
"But, but I don't understand," began Fred. "We bought it at an auction and found it had belonged to a Mr. Henderson—a mining man."
"Absolute proof," the other declared. "Henderson was a friend of mine and used to drop into my studio whenever he was in New York. He used to tell me about his travels and the odd things he had seen and sometimes he brought back curios and souvenirs for my den. He told me about a strange idol he'd seen and how the Indians still worshipped it, or adored it, and to illustrate how hideous and curious it was, he made me a sketch of the thing— said he thought I might use it in some illustration or composition. Just for amusement I modelled the thing and Henderson was tickled to death—said I'd got it to perfection. Then he remarked that it might prove a good fetich or charm or ju-ju if he went among the tribe again and took it off with him. That's the last I ever saw or heard of it,—until this minute."
"But, but it's made of—" began Harry when Fred nudged him and made a strange grimace.
Hardly knowing what his cousin meant, but realizing there was some reason for caution, Harry hesitated.
"Some sort of clay," the artist replied. "Henderson brought that back with him—thought it might be of some value in making art pottery and gave it to me to try—no use though—too coarse. I happened to be experimenting with it at the time we were talking about the idol."
Harry and Fred tried their best to appear calm, but their hearts were pounding with suppressed excitement and with a supreme effort to control the anxiety in his tones Harry asked: "Where did he get the clay? Do you know?"
"No," replied Mr. Clifford. "Somewhere in Central or South America, I think—he'd just come back from a trip down the west coast. It wasn't good for anything, so I never asked. Why do you ask?"
"Oh," replied Fred nonchalantly. "We wondered, and thought that maybe he saw the real idol at the same place."
"Well, I'm afraid I can't help you about that," said the artist rising. "Sorry you had to be disappointed about the birthplace of Billikins, as you call him. But you've had no end of fun and adventures hunting for it. I've enjoyed your story immensely, boys. Now I must be off. I'm going to a friend's estate for a day or two and the river boat leaves in half an hour. Hope to see you again in New York, boys."
As Mr. Clifford left the hotel the two boys looked at each other.
"Gee whittaker!" cried Fred. "That was a joke on us—and on Uncle Frank. To think—"
"And I came near giving the whole thing away!" exclaimed Harry. "Say, I'm glad you nudged me in time. . And to think that Henderson was a mining engineer and had a fortune in his hands and didn't know it!"
"Seems to me the joke's on them," declared Fred.
"Said the clay wasn't good for anything! Jiminy, I'll bet he'd be sore if he only knew what we know."
"You bet," agreed his cousin. "And say, Fred. Didn't we tell Dad we'd learn a lot more about Billikins and that radium stuff before we got home?"
"But we never guessed we'd find out here in the city," laughed Fred.
"And we haven't reached the end of the trail yet," cried Harry exultantly. "I'll bet we go after that radium stuff yet—now we know where it came from."
"And I'll bet we find it, too," declared Fred with conviction.
- ► 2016 (74)
- ► 2015 (35)
- ► 2014 (55)
- ► 2013 (41)
- ► 2012 (88)
- ► 2011 (104)
- ► 2010 (43)
- ► 2009 (40)
- ▼ November (6)
- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.