This story, from about a hundred years ago, takes place in British Guiana so there are a lot of terms and locations that are unfamiliar. The plot is a little fantastic but the real descriptions of life in the jungles certainly come from Verrill's travels.
It appears that there are only five copies of this book in the world's libraries
I will be republishing this story along with "Jungle Chums" in book form in the next few weeks. Jungle Chums contains a lot of photographs of British Guiana taken by the author.
THE GOLDEN CITY
A Tale of Adventure in Unknown Guiana
A. HYATT VERRILL
AUTHOR OF "THE OCEAN," ETC.
NEW YORK DUFFIELD & COMPANY
Copyright, 1916, by Duffield & Company
THE GOLDEN CITY
"He telde me that the most of the golde which they
made into moons plates and images was not recouerred
from stone but that on the shore of the Lake of
Manoa they gathered it in peeces of perfect golde as
bigge as egges."
"Bye the Warimetona I hadde knowledge that on the heade of this riuer were 3 mighty nations which were seated on a greate Lake from whence this Riuer descendeth * * * * and that if wee entered the land through the mountains wee shoulde satisfie ourselves with golde and all other goode things."
Sir Walteb Raleigh in his
"Discovekie of Guiana."
In the depths of the vast Guiana forests two white men sat upon the spreading roots of a giant mora tree, while near them a young Indian broiled a monkey over a fire.
The one was a youth scarcely out of his teens; the other a man of middle age, and the tattered garments and unkempt appearance of both spoke of long absence from civilisation.
Five weeks before they had set forth from Georgetown for a trip up the Essequibo and Rupinuni rivers, and now they were lost, castaways in the pathless "bush" which stretched for countless miles, north, south and east from the Amazon to the sea.
Frank Ellis, the younger of the two, had come to British Guiana in company with his father, who had business to transact in the capital. There he had met Andrews, of the Lands and Mines Department, and at the latter's invitation had joined him on one of his official expeditions into the interior.
It had been a wonderful trip. Frank had seen Indians by the score, he had learned to speak their queer "talky-talky" jargon, he had camped, fished and hunted to his heart's content; he had run rapids and portaged around cataracts until such things had become commonplace; but through it all his boyish enthusiasm had not deserted him; he had enjoyed every minute of the time and the perils he had passed through and the very grave dangers he now faced seemed but exciting and fascinating adventures to his youthful mind.
How vividly it all came back to him. He could recall each detail, remember every little event of the trip, as if it were but yesterday, and yet how much had been crowded into those five weeks and how long ago it seemed since he had set forth from Georgetown.
And now, while Joseph, the Arekuna Indian, cooks their meagre meal, let us go back and review the events which led to Frank's long journey and thrilling adventures in the unknown South American wilderness.
One day Frank's father had announced that he had met an old friend who had been all over Guiana and they had spent an evening with Mr. Andrews. He had shown Frank innumerable pictures of the bush, of Indians, of the enormous Kaieteur Falls five times as high as Niagara, and of Mount Roraima, and in the meantime had related story after story of personal experiences in the jungle. He had brought forth his wonderful collection of Indian arms and curios,—gorgeous feather crowns, strangely carved clubs, dance sticks and bead work, queyus or women's aprons, rattles and necklaces of jaguar teeth and peccary tusks, bows and arrows, blow-guns and poisoned darts and countless other treasures. He told Frank how these were worn or used and donned some of them and pranced about the room imitating an Indian dancer, until Frank and his father roared with laughter. Then he had told tales of Indians' ways and lives, how they hunted, fished, and made their homes, and had related anecdotes of his life among them.
Then the conversation had turned to stories of the old discoverers and the legends of Manoa and El Dorado.
"Some of the Bucks declare such a lake as Raleigh sought really exists in the unknown interior," said Mr. Andrews. "But no one can confirm or deny it—there's so much country unexplored that one might discover almost anything."
"Do you mean that parts of British Guiana are really unknown?" cried Frank in surprise.
"Certainly," replied Mr. Andrews. "Comparatively little is known of the country anywhere, save along the coasts and rivers, and even these are often incorrectly mapped. The sources of two of our largest waterways,—the Demerara and Berbice rivers,—have never been discovered. In fact, there's a district nearly one hundred miles square which no white man has ever penetrated."
Frank vowed he'd like nothing better than to penetrate this unknown area, and added, "It must be fine to do such work as yours and go to all these places and see all these wonderful things."
Mr. Andrews had laughed. "There's plenty of hard work as well as fun in it," he declared. "It's by no means easy to travel through the Guiana jungle, and there are countless discomforts and not a few perils to be met. Would you really like to take a trip into the bush?"
"Would I!" cried Frank. "Nothing would suit me better, but father can't give the time and of course I can't go by myself."
"I think I can arrange it," said Mr. Andrews. "I'm going into the interior in a couple of days and if your father doesn't object I'll be glad to have you go along. It will give you an idea of the country and will be a novel experience."
Mr. Ellis willingly gave his consent. "If he's in your care, I'm sure he'll be safe, Andrews," he declared. "Frank's been perfectly crazy to get into the bush ever since he's been in the colony."
"You may not see as much as you expect," Mr. Andrews cautioned him. "I don't expect to go very far,—just up the Essequibo to the Rupinuni —but you'll see plenty of Indians, though all pretty tame, I expect. You'll have a chance to visit the gold and diamond diggings, see balata gatherers at work, visit a greenheart grant, run rapids and camp in the bush, besides getting a shot or two at peccary, labba, deer, and perhaps a tiger, and of course you'll find plenty of monkeys and powis, marudis, and small game."
"Well, I think that's enough to satisfy any boy," laughed Frank; "but do, please, tell me what labba and powis and marudis are, and do you have tigers here?"
"The animals we call tigers are jaguars," explained the other. "Labbas are a sort of gigantic guinea pig,—paca, I believe, is the correct name,—and powis and marudis are big pheasant-like game birds. There's an old saying that he who eats labba and drinks creek water will come back to Guiana to die, so if you don't want to spend your last days in the colony you must avoid doing that."
"I guess I'll take the risk," declared Frank. "Will we see any savannas or Mount Roraima?”
"Hardly," said Mr. Andrews. "My work may take me to the edge of the savanna country, but Roraima is nearly two hundred miles beyond the farthest point I expect to reach. I will try to find time to take you to Kaieteur Falls though—you really should see it. I plan to be away about a month, but time isn't of much value in the bush, and if your father won't worry, we may stay for three weeks or four weeks longer—one can do a lot of country in that time."
"Don't hurry back on my account," said Mr. Ellis. "I'll not worry over Frank while he's with you. What sort of an outfit will he need, Andrews? You know all about the bush. Suppose you tell him what to get and let him make notes of it."
"Righto," agreed the other. "But there's not much required. Most of the travelling's done by boat and canoe. You'll need an iron box or cannister for your duds,—they'll get soaked in anything else,—and good heavy boots. Old stout clothes, a few changes of undergarments,—woollen by all means,—plenty of socks, and that's about all, except your toilet articles, handkerchiefs and any other odds and ends. I'll lend you a hammock,—we'll sleep in them every night,—you'll want a pair of light woollen blankets, and then there's the gun, a machete and ammunition, which I'll provide."
"Won't I need medicine and bedding and mosquito nets and cures for insect stings and snake-bites?" asked Frank. "I always thought the tropical forests were full of fever and poisonous reptiles and insects."
Mr. Andrews laughed. "You'll probably not see a snake the whole time," he declared, "unless possibly a small boa or 'camudi,' as they're called. As for insects, you'll have to hunt hard to find scorpions, centipedes or anything worse than wasps or hornets and ants, and you may not see a mosquito on the entire trip. Fever doesn't trouble one if wet clothes are changed for dry promptly and if you use reasonable care; but I always carry a few simple medicines and a first aid outfit. Don't burden yourself with too much,—every pound counts in porting a boat and outfit around the falls, and your cannister will hold all you really need.
Two days after meeting Mr. Andrews, Frank stood upon the deck of the little river steamboat and watched the roofs and docks of the city fade into the morning haze astern, while ahead stretched a vast expanse of muddy water with a dim cloud-like line of grey marking the distant shores of the river nearly thirty miles away.
Mr. Andrews settled himself comfortably in a chair with a book and Frank soon followed his example, for, truth to tell, there was little to interest him for several hours after leaving the town behind. But when the steamer entered the mouth of the Essequibo and the shores loomed close at hand, Mr. Andrews laid his book aside and pointed out the various places of interest.
He called attention to a large wooded island, which Frank had mistaken for the shore, and told him it was known as Dauntless Island, as it was formed upon the wreck of a schooner named the Dauntless. He explained to the wondering boy how the sand and rubbish, carried down by the stream, accumulated where any object interrupted the current; how mangroves and other plants took root and grew whenever a bar was thus formed and how these caught more and more rubbish and sand as they grew, until at last the forest-clad island ten miles or more in length had been formed.
Frank thought this all very wonderful and expressed the greatest surprise at the size of the river and the numerous large islands which hid its further shores from sight.
"Many of them are cultivated and inhabited," said Mr. Andrews. "There are countless islands all up and down the Essequibo—some small, others twenty miles or more in length— and two at least are nearly as large as Barbados. The boat calls at several of them. The one we're approaching now is Leguan."
As he spoke the steamer had slowed down and drew in to a little dock, or "stelling," crowded with picturesque Hindus and ragged darkeys. Then, having discharged a few packages of cargo and a number of coolie deck passengers, the boat tooted its whistle and resumed its trip up the great river.
From side to side the course led, sometimes close to the shore, at other times keeping to mid-stream; but ever following the channel in its tortuous windings. Now and then they passed within stone's throw of the banks and Frank gazed with interest at the impenetrable jungle, the queer mangrove trees, the giant lily-like "mucka-muckas" and the graceful palms that grew to the very edge of the water.
Along the muddy strip of shore stalked white, blue and grey herons; egrets perched among the sprawling roots of the mangroves, and once a great flock of vivid scarlet ibis rose and flapped ahead of the steamer, their brilliant wings gleaming like living flame against the dark green background of the forest.
Here and there they passed a clearing where wood cutters were at work; sometimes a tiny thatched hut was seen among the foliage and often dug-out canoes, great coorials and clumsy lighters were met, manned by crews of half-naked coloured men or turbanned coolies.
To Frank it was all very strange and new and he watched intently in the hope of catching sight of an Indian canoe paddled by aborigines, for the country seemed wild and unsettled enough to harbour savages, and the thatched huts amid the jungle savoured of the primitive, while the steamer seemed incongruous and out of place upon the bosom of the forest-bordered river.
But Mr. Andrews disillusioned him. "There are few Indians so near the coast," he said. "A few Warros and Arowaks dwell here and there, but they are thoroughly civilised and miserable specimens of the noble red man. You'd scarcely distinguish them from the coloured people. Most of the inhabitants along the lower stretches of the rivers are 'Bovianders.' "
"What are 'Bovianders'?" asked Frank.
"It sounds like a Dutch word."
Mr. Andrews laughed. "It's a corruption of ‘above yonder,' " he explained. "Any one who lives up the rivers lives 'bove yander,' in the creole dialect, so the river people who dwell 'bove yander' are 'Bovianders.' They are mostly coloured folk—descendants of the old Dutch settlers and their slaves or people who have come here from the coast and have settled down to cut wood or raise warden truck."
The boat was now close to a large, densely wooded island, and as they drew close to its shore Frank noticed a big ruined stone building in a little open space near the landing.
"Why, that looks like an old fort," he exclaimed; "surely no one ever built a fort way up here."
"It is a fort," replied Mr. Andrews; "an old Dutch fort, and the island is known as Fort Island. Strange as it may seem, the first Dutch settlers went far up the rivers to build their towns and their capital and headquarters was at the junction of the Mazaruni and Cuyuni rivers, over sixty miles from the sea, at a spot called Kijk-over-al. Wild as it seems now, all this river district was once under cultivation by the Dutch, and the ruins of their buildings and forts are found in many places on the islands and the mainland."
"I think that's very strange," declared Frank. "Why should they take the trouble to sail away up the rivers and settle in the jungle, instead of choosing a spot on the coast, like Georgetown?"
"There were several reasons," replied Mr. Andrews. "In the interior they were less exposed to the attacks of enemies and pirates from which all coast settlements suffered; by building forts on these islands they could command the channels and prevent vessels from reaching the upper rivers and, as the Indians were friendly, there was no reason for keeping to the coast, as was necessary in other localities where the natives were a constant menace. In addition the interior was richer than the coast lands, while the fact that it was higher land and above reach of floods made it easier lo cultivate the soil and build towns than on the coast, where ditches and dykes must be made, as at Georgetown. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, was gold. From the first discovery of Guiana, the Europeans believed, as you know, that somewhere in the interior was the golden city of Manoa and El Dorado. The further into the interior Europeans could penetrate before settling, the less distance they would have to travel to find the fabled wealth, and, moreover, the Dutch did find gold on the Mazaruni, where it is mined to-day. So you can see there was 'method in their madness' after all."
Fort Island and its ruins had now been left far behind and the steamer was steadily breasting the swift current of the river. Frank noticed the swirling waters flowing against them and asked Mr. Andrews about it. "It's the tide," he replied. "The tide rises and falls in the rivers for sixty miles and more inland— in fact, to the foot of the rapids and falls—and the falling tide, added to the natural flow of the stream, produces a very strong current. However, it won't delay us much to-day. There's Bartica ahead now."
Frank soon saw the town,—a few white specks amid the greenery on a bluff a few miles ahead, while to the right the great Mazaruni River emptied its turbid flood into the waters of the Essequibo. Mr. Andrews pointed out the Penal Settlement gleaming in the sun on the opposite shores, but Frank's eyes were all for the little town they were rapidly approaching and from which they were to start forth on their real trip into the jungle.
Soon the boat drew alongside the dock, and, accompanied by Mr. Andrews, and a coloured boy with the baggage, Frank stepped ashore at this little village on the edge of the wilderness.
He found it interesting enough—the crowds of Hindus, negroes, coloured people and Portuguese were picturesque, and close to the dock his attention was attracted to a huge, open, shed-like building within which countless hammocks were slung with their occupants dozing idly, while all about were brown and black men cooking their meals over glowing fires.
This was the "barracks for the Pork-Knockers," Mr. Andrews informed Frank, and explained that "Pork-Knocker" was a local name for the independent native gold digger and that while awaiting transportation to or from the "diggings" the men camped in the big building by the docks.
Bartica, with its single, well-kept street between two rows of small houses and shops, was of little consequence, but when Frank saw the hotel and read the legend, "Outfitters for the Gold, Diamond and Rubber Fields," painted across it, he felt that at last he was at the borders of the wild.
It was still early in the afternoon and Mr. Andrews suggested a stroll up the road into the bush. The outlying houses were built within the shadow of the forest and 'twas scarce more than a step from the village street to the silent shadowy jungle.
In a little clearing under some giant trees were several huts and these Mr. Andrews told Frank were the homes of Indians, but the owners were absent and the two continued their stroll along the sandy pathway through the forest.
Suddenly Frank uttered a little cry of surprise as from the growth beside the trail there stepped forth a striking figure,—a bronze-skinned Indian, naked save for a scarlet loin cloth, a gun in one hand and a small deer slung across his shoulder.
Frank stood stock still, gazing at the apparition, until the "buck" had passed and disappeared into the bush beyond.
"Why!" he exclaimed, "that was a real wild Indian."
Mr. Andrews laughed. "Real enough," he admitted, "but hardly wild. He's a hunter, and strips to his primitive costume when in the bush, but he's civilised and a Christian most of the time and you'd never turn to look twice at him if you saw him in his ragged cotton clothes in the village."
"I'd much rather see him as I did," declared Frank, as he resumed his walk. "He was a line looking Indian."
"Yes, it's a pity civilisation has taught them to wear clothes," agreed Mr. Andrews. "With only a lap, the Indian is a true son of the forest and perfectly suited to his life and surroundings, but dressed in white men's garb and imitating Europeans in his life, he becomes merely a vagabond. However, it can't be helped,—it's the same story wherever the white and red meet."
No other Indians were seen, but Frank was wonderfully interested in the dense forest growth that hemmed the path, the vine-draped trees, the various strange birds that flitted and sang in the foliage, and the flocks of chattering parrots that winged their way above the tree-tops.
At last he was on the verge of the wilderness,—at the end of civilisation,—and that night he went to sleep with the cries of night birds and the lapping of the river in his ears to dream of marvellous adventures, but none of which could compare with what fate held in store for him.
"You'll have a chance to visit an Indian village to-day," Mr. Andrews announced the following morning. "We're off for Groete Creek, where there's a good-sized Arowak village. The bucks are quite civilised, but their houses and ways of life are as primitive as ever. You can obtain a good idea of what an Indian village is like from seeing this one."
Breakfast over, Mr. Andrews led the way to a tiny stone dock behind the hotel where a little motor boat was waiting.
"Oh, are we going in a launch?" asked Frank, as they prepared to embark. "I thought we would travel in a canoe paddled by Indians."
"Not on this trip," replied Mr. Andrews. "A launch is far quicker than a canoe and there's plenty of water and no rapids where we're bound for. Groete Creek is a fairly large stream and leads to some of the gold diggings,—large boats pass up and down it constantly."
"Well, it seems funny to go visiting an Indian village in a motor boat," declared Frank, as their craft slipped quickly down the river. But everything seems to be a sort of hodgepodge here," he added.
For several miles the launch continued down the Essequibo; Bartica was lost to view astern and then turning to the east they passed between two large islands and headed for an opening in the trees that lined the bank.
Presently they had left the river behind and were sailing up the creek and Frank constantly exclaimed at the beauties and strange sights that greeted them at every turn. From the water's edge rose the impenetrable bush. Great gnarled trees with huge buttressed roots, their branches hung with a maze of vines and lianas, and covered with air plants, mangroves, with their queer sprawling stilt-like roots raising their dark foliage above the muddy flats; slender, graceful palms with queerly bent stems leaning far over the water, and everywhere a tangled luxuriant growth of brush, palmettos and broad-leaved plants growing in riotous profusion and bound together by a tangle of rope-like creepers. In the shallow water grew giant arrow-leaved "mucka-muckas"; overhanging trees drooped flowering branches and sweet-scented orchids above the passing boat and from the depths of the bush came the dog-like barks of toucans and the raucous screams of parrots. But more wonderful than all were the reflections on the surface of the creek. The water, stained a deep red-brown by the vegetation, was smooth as oil and on it were mirrored the jungle-covered banks, the palms and trees; each leaf and twig and detail so perfect that 'twas scarce possible to say where water ended and land began and, standing on the boat's bow, Frank had a strange sensation of travelling through air with forests both above and beneath him.
Now and then a pygmy kingfisher would dart from some jutting limb and, flashing like a jewel, would splash into the water to seize some tiny fish, or a great, dazzling, blue butterfly would flit lazily across the creek, its metallic azure wings reflected in wondrous manner on the surface of the water as it passed.
Here and there little coves were seen, and Frank caught glimpses of frail dug-out canoes moored in the shelter of the trees while queer ladders, made from notched logs, led upwards from the water to the banks. These, Mr. Andrews told him, were landing places of the Indians, who had houses and provision grounds within the nearby forests, and Frank was quite excited as, on rounding a bend, they came face to face with a bronze Indian lad paddling silently down stream in a dug-out. He nodded to them as he passed and a moment later was lost to sight, and just then the launch drew in to a landing place where several canoes were hauled upon the beach.
On the bank above were several naked children, but as they caught sight of the approaching launch they scurried out of sight like frightened brown partridges.
Mr. Andrews called out a few words in the Arowak tongue and, reassured, the Indian children came shyly forth from their hiding places and stood near as Frank and his companions stepped ashore and clambered up the rude ladder.
Preceded by the Indians, Mr. Andrews led the way up a narrow footpath through the jungle and presently they came forth in a little clearing where, half-hidden amid banana trees and cassava bushes, were a number of thatched huts.
"Here's the village," said Mr. Andrews. "Make yourself at home,—no one will object, and ask all the questions you wish. These bucks all speak English,—of a sort,—and I'll explain anything that you'd like to understand.”
Frank looked about with interest. The houses were well and neatly built of thatched palm leaves, but they were merely open, shed-like structures and Frank thought it must be very strange to live where one had so little privacy. Within the houses, which Mr. Andrews told him were called "benabs," were slung hammocks and in some of these Indians or "bucks" were lolling at their ease while women and girls were busily cooking over fires under the same roofs. The men glanced up and greeted the newcomers, but showed no interest or surprise at their arrival, and Mr. Andrews commenced to converse with them as though his visit was a matter of course.
Frank noticed a woman grating some roots on a roughened slab of wood and asked Mr. Andrews about them.
"They're manioc or cassava roots," he replied. "Cassava is the staple article of food of the Indians and the principal occupation of the women, or 'buckeens,' is cultivating and preparing it for use. In its natural state it's deadly poison, but the juice is the only injurious portion and if this is extracted the root is nourishing and healthy."
"That's wonderful," declared Frank. "How do they extract the poisonous juice, Mr. Andrews?"
"It's a very simple process," replied his companion. "See, yonder are women about to do it now." He pointed to a woman who was pressing the grated roots into a strange cylinder of wicker work which was held by a young girl.
Drawing near, Frank watched until the cylinder was full of the grated white roots when the two Indians carried it to a nearby post and hung it by one end to a peg. Thrusting a long stick through the loop at the other end of the affair the two women pressed down upon it and Immediately countless streams of milky liquid began to squirt through the interstices of the wicker work. Slowly the cylinder stretched under the pressure until at last it was nearly twice its original length and scarcely half its original diameter. No more juice now issued from the wicker work and the women removed the lever and carried the cylinder into the hut and dumped its contents into a large tray of basket work. The ground roots were now light and nearly dry and, as Mr. Andrews explained, were ready for cooking,
"That apparatus is called a Metapee," he said; "it's a sort of power press and strainer combined and has been used by all these Indians from time immemorial."
He then showed Frank how the cassava meal was sifted, how it was made into a sort of dough, and how this was worked into thin cakes which were baked on hot stones, or sheets of iron, over the coals.
One of the women was busily baking these cakes and smilingly handed several to the visitors. Frank found them excellent but rather dry, and Mr. Andrews remarked that it needed pepper-pot to moisten it.
"What is pepper-pot?" inquired Frank. "It's another Buck's delicacy," replied Mr. Andrews. "It's made from the juice of the cassava boiled down to a sirupy consistency, the heat of boiling driving off the volatile poison, and into this are thrown peppers, vegetables, odds and ends of meat, fish, and in fact anything else that's edible. It keeps forever and every Indian benab has a supply constantly on hand. You'd better try some so you can see what it's like."
The Indian woman had heard and understood and she now approached and handed Frank a calabash filled with a dark brown mixture. It looked far from appetising, but Frank was determined to make the most of his trip and to sample everything new and strange which was offered him.
"Dip your cake in it," suggested Mr. Andrews, who was holding another calabash of the pepper pot. "You'll find it rather hot, but you'll get accustomed to it very soon."
Frank, following Mr. Andrews' example, dipped his manioc cake in the calabash and took a good mouthful.
Instantly tears filled his eyes, his face became scarlet, and he spluttered and coughed as if he had swallowed a hornet.
"Whew!" he cried as soon as he could catch his breath. "It tastes like red-hot lead. How on earth can any one eat the stuff,—no more pepper-pot for me, thanks."
Mr. Andrews burst out laughing, and even the stoical Indians grinned and chuckled.
"You should go easy at first," said Mr. Andrews. "It is hot to a beginner, but it won't hurt you, and hot things are really excellent in the tropics. Why, these Indians would gulp down all you have there without blinking. I'm accustomed to it myself and don't mind it, you see." As he spoke, he helped himself to another liberal mouthful.
"Well, perhaps I might get used to it in time," admitted Frank, "but it would be a mighty long time. I think I prefer my cassava plain—a little of that pepper-pot goes a long way."
The episode of the pepper-pot had served to break the reserve of the villagers and they now became quite sociable, gathering about Frank and Mr. Andrews, chattering away among themselves in Arowak, and in fairly good English with the two visitors, until Frank soon felt quite at home.
Mr. Andrews' business was now completed, and while Frank would have been glad to remain longer, his companion reminded him that there was much to be done in preparation for their departure up river the next day, and they soon boarded the waiting launch.
"What do you think of the Indians and their village?" Mr. Andrews asked, as the launch was speeding down the creek towards the river.
"They seem a very good-natured lot," replied Frank, "but I must say I was disappointed in them. They all wear regular clothes and one woman actually was using a sewing machine. They might as well be coloured people in Georgetown, aside from their houses and the fact that they're ever so much cleaner; but it was interesting to see them prepare manioc"
"And also to taste pepper-pot," suggested Mr. Andrews, with a mischievous wink.
"Yes, even that," declared Frank, laughing. “I wouldn't have missed it for anything. Are all the Indians we'll see like these Arowaks?"
"No, indeed," Mr. Andrews answered. "There are Acawaias, Waupisanas, Myogones, Macushis and Arekunas as well as Caribs in Guiana and each tribe is different and has distinct customs from all others. Most of them are of Carib stock and in many ways are far superior to the Arowaks. I expect you'll like them better when you see them. They are fine hunters and fishermen and splendid boatmen."
"Then they'll seem more like real Indians," remarked Frank. "When will we find any of these tribes?"
"Soon after we start up the river," replied the other, "but not many until we reach the Rupinuni and the savanna country. We'll hire a boat in Bartica and I'll try to pick up a crew there this afternoon. If everything goes well, we'll start up river to-morrow morning."
Bartica was soon reached and the rest of the day was spent in making arrangements for the trip on the morrow. Mr. Andrews soon found a satisfactory boat,—a spoon-bottomed, strongly-built craft about thirty feet in length, but he had great difficulty in securing men.
"It's unusual to go up the Essequibo rapids," he explained to Frank, "They're 'prohibited rapids'—that is, there's a severe penalty for any licensed boat-captain taking passengers through—and although, as I'm a government employee, the prohibition does not apply in our case, yet the men light shy of it."
"Are the rapids as dangerous as that?" asked Frank.
"At high water in the rainy season they are extremely dangerous,—especially when coming down, but when the river is low, as at present, and when going up, there is little real danger with a good crew; I shouldn't take you along if there was."
"I hoped it was dangerous," said Frank regretfully. "It would have been ever so much more exciting."
"You'll find excitement enough in it," laughed Mr. Andrews, "but I'll warrant you'll tire of excitement before the forty miles of rapids are passed. But if we don't get a crew soon we'll have to go back to Georgetown and start over again up the Demerara River by steamer."
But despite difficulties, before nightfall a bowman and captain had been secured, as well as five paddlers, and Mr. Andrews announced his intention of setting out with this short-handed crew in the hope of picking up the three additional men required at an Indian village up river.
At last baggage and provisions were stored in the boat, a big tarpaulin, to be used as a tent when camping, was spread over all and lashed in place, and early the next morning Mr. Andrews and Frank took their seats beneath the canopy or "tent" in the stern. The men clambered aboard and grasped their paddles, and while a little knot of Barticans shouted good-bye and good luck, the bowman shoved the boat from the beach and at a cry from the captain the paddles dug into the water in unison and the craft sprang forward up the river.
Frank was surprised at the speed with which the men rushed the heavy boat through the water by means of their light, narrow paddles, and found much to admire in the perfect rhythm of the dripping blades and the skill of the paddlers. With short-arm strokes the paddles would dip lightly and with little effort for perhaps a dozen strokes; then, at a signal from the bow paddler, who lifted his paddle on high, the stroke would suddenly change, the blades would be plunged deep into the stream and, with all the power of the arms and backs of the men, the boat would fairly leap ahead until the short, easy stroke was again resumed. Every motion, every stroke, was in perfect time and the brown arms rose and fell, the brawny backs bent and the paddles flashed in the sun as one. On the prow stood the bowman, an enormous paddle in his hands and ready to swing the craft to right or left at sight of sunken snag or hidden rock, while in the stern stood the captain, his huge steering paddle slung to the gunwale with a loop of rope and its haft grasped firmly in his hands. Now and then he would utter an order, urge his men to greater efforts or start a song in which the men would join lustily, their voices waking the echoes of the forests along shore or startling flocks of waterfowl from I heir haunts among the mangroves.
For several miles the boat swung along close to shore; past the outlying village huts and cultivated lands of Bartica; past the well-tilled rubber and lime groves of Agatash estate and between the mangrove-covered shores and wooded islands of the deserted river beyond the last vestige of civilisation, and with naught but interminable jungle stretching away on every hand.
By noon the boat was approaching a dark rift in the dense greenery of the bush, and presently it swept between the walls of forest and entered a shadowy, winding waterway.
Mr. Andrews told Frank this was Kurei Creek and that the Indian village, where he hoped to obtain more men, was several miles up the stream. Beautiful as Frank had thought Groete Creek, it seemed commonplace beside the one he was now navigating.
Through the deep silence of the forest came the screams of parrots, the clatter of toucans mid the cooing of doves, while waterfowl rose flapping from every side as the boat swept on. Trailing vines, wonderful orchids and drooping flower-laden branches formed a roof-like arch overhead, while pink and blue lilies at times choked the channel and formed miniature islands of sweet-scented bloom. Back and forth above the calm, dark water flashed the great dazzling blue butterflies; gorgeous humming birds darted from flower to flower, and all was mirrored to the minutest detail in the oil-like surface of the creek.
Here and there Frank caught glimpses of great alligators dozing upon the banks beside the stream. Once a big anaconda slipped from an overhanging tree and swam swiftly to a safe retreat among the mangrove roots and, as the boat rounded a sharp turn in the Creek, a great clumsy capybara or "water haas" plunged up the bank with loud snorts of flight and surprise at sight of intruders of the jungle.
Frank grew quite excited at all these sights, but soon he was obliged to give all his attention to other matters, for they now reached a narrow part of the creek where great fallen trees or "tacubas" barred the way.
Sometimes the men drove the boat at these with a rush and, with a grating sound and sickening lurch, the craft rode over the sodden trunks, while at other times all crouched low as the boat was forced beneath the fallen mass of limbs, vines and air plants that stretched across the channel.
Mr. Andrews warned Frank to be careful when they passed beneath the tacubas and pointed to the great, recurved spines upon many of the vines and creepers and which he said would tear the clothes from one's back and cause fearful wounds and Frank, looking at the needle-pointed hooks, could well believe him.
Twisting and turning, running first to right and then to left, following hidden leads only visible to the trained eyes of the men, mile after mile was traversed through the forest wonderland until, at last, they came in sight of a tiny cove among the trees where several "woodskins" lay moored to the bank, and here the boat was run ashore between the trees.
"Here we are," remarked Mr. Andrews; "the trail to the village leads from this spot. You’d better bring the gun along—we may see some game." Then, giving a few orders to the men, he led the way up the steep bank with Frank close at his heels.
"Hello! I didn't suppose the village was so near," exclaimed the boy as, reaching the summit of the rise, he caught sight of two thatched benabs in a little clearing.
"This is not the village," laughed Mr. Andrews, "These huts are 'logis'—houses erected for the use of visitors or Indians going back and forth to the settlements—jungle hotels where no charge is made and the guests help themselves to what they want. I expect to camp here to-night, as we'll hardly have time to visit the village, secure our men and reach another camping place before dark."
I think that will be fine," declared Frank, "to really camp out in the forest. Do you suppose I'll be able to go for a hunt? There must be plenty of game in the bush about."
"There's plenty of game, no doubt," replied his companion, as they left the logis behind and hurried along a narrow trail, "but you'll scarcely be likely to find anything by yourself. No doubt one of the Indians from the village will gladly take you into the bush for a few hours this afternoon."
The trail they had been following had now entered the bush and for a mile or more led through the virgin forest, where giant trees rose for a hundred feet and more on every side with vines and lianas trailing downward like great twisted cables.
From all about echoed the cries of parrots and toucans; macaws croaked and yelled from the leafy roof that formed a dense canopy impenetrable to the sun, and from distant glades came the wonderful silvery notes of the bell birds.
It was all dark, damp, cool and wonderful, and Frank, feeling sure that at any moment he might see some wild creature lurking in the shadows, kept his gun ready and glanced keenly from side to side as he passed along the trail.
Suddenly from a little tangle of fallen trees and vines a flock of great birds sprang up with roar of beating wings and Frank, throwing his gun to shoulder, blazed away.
All he report one of the birds crashed downward In the earth, and hurrying forward Frank picked up the first game he had killed in the jungle. It was a splendid black and white creature with brilliant blue, purple and red wattles and as large as a fowl, and Mr. Andrews told the elated boy it was known as a "marudi" and was good eating. Frank handed the marudi to one of the men who was following and resumed his way, hoping momentarily to flush more game.
But nothing else was seen and soon they emerged from the forest and, passing through a little garden of cassava and plantains, came to a cluster of Indian huts. As they approached, Frank caught a glimpse of brown bodies scurrying out of sight, but a moment later the women reappeared clad in loose cotton gowns, and Mr. Andrews explained that these Indian women thought it necessary to wear clothing when strangers were about, although when by themselves they were content with only queyus or bead-work aprons.
A number of men were swinging lazily in luxurious hammocks, some clad merely in laps, others in ragged shirts and trousers, and without rising or turning their heads they greeted the white men with a guttural "Howdy," and without further ceremony Mr. Andrews entered the largest house and seated himself in an empty hammock.
At his first glimpse of these Indians Frank had noticed they were very different from the Arowaks he had seen at Groete Creek, for they were lighter coloured,—scarcely darker than Japanese,—their faces were more intelligent, their features were well formed and their bodies and limbs were marvels of muscular development.
As Mr. Andrews began to speak to an old man in a hammock beneath the benab Frank listened with amazement, for instead of broken English he heard a queer jargon that sounded like the "pigeon English" he had read in stories of the far East.
"Must for makeum walk topside Utaballi," said Mr. Andrews. "Spose can catchum Buckman,—t'ree fellah for makeum?"
The old Indian half rose and addressed a few words in his native tongue to his companions to which they replied in the same language.
"How long walk um all same come back same side?" he then inquired of Mr. Andrews.
"No savvy; mebbe half moon, mebbe one moon. Makeum walk Rupinuni side; mebbe all same Kaieteur. How can tell? Me good friend all same Buckman. Me payum like so."
Again the Indians conversed and as they did in Mr. Andrews asked Frank what he thought of these new acquaintances and their manner of speaking.
"They seem much more like real Indians than those Arowaks," replied the boy, "but I didn't realise these people spoke pigeon English."
Mr. Andrews laughed. "It's not pigeon English," he answered, "but is called 'talky-talky.' It's used by all the Indians in the interior—a sort of Lingua Franca of the bush. These people are Ackawaias—one of the tribes of Carib stock. They are far superior to the Arowaks and are splendid boatmen and hunters."
Three young Bucks had now risen from their hammocks and approached Mr. Andrews.
"Me tellum makeum walk," announced their spokesman.
"Why! Hello Joseph," exclaimed Mr. Andrews as he recognised the speaker. "What for you makeum sleep this side?"
The Indian, a pleasant-faced young fellow, grinned. "Makeum for catchum wife this side," he replied. "He makeum my Buckeen." He pointed to a comely young girl who was busily grating cassava roots near by.
"Eh, eh! Makeum you son, no?" exclaimed Mr. Andrews, addressing the old chief, and then, turning to Frank, he explained that Joseph was an Arekuna boy who had accompanied him on former trips and that he had married the daughter of the Ackawaia chief.
"He's a splendid hunter," he added. "If you'd like to go for a hunt, he's just the one to take you."
"This boy he callum Frank," he said, turning to the Arekuna. "He want makeum one walk for hunt. Why you no catchum powi? Me tellum shootum deer, shootum labba same day."
The Arekuna smiled and nodded, and taking a long pole from the rafters of his house he signified that he was ready to proceed.
"He'll show you game, I'll warrant," said. Mr. Andrews, "and you'll see something that will interest you if he uses that blowgun he's taking along. Remember what I told you about the Wurari poison they use on their blowgun darts?"
“Yes, I remember," said Frank. "I'll certainly be glad to see Joseph use it."
Leading the way, the Arekuna started towards the forest with Frank close behind, and in a moment the village and clearing were lost lo sight and the two boys were in the jungle.
For a few rods they followed a dim, winding trail, and then Joseph turned to one side and stepped into the pathless bush.
So dense was the growth of trees, vines, palms and giant ferns that Frank could scarce see a score of feet in any direction. Projecting roots and fallen limbs tripped his feet; thorn-armed creepers tore and dragged at his clothes and scratched his hands, and hanging vines slapped like whips across his face and pulled the hat from his head as he fought his way after the Indian, who slipped through the labyrinth without the least difficulty. Twisting and turning, crouching low, now and then slashing through a vine or creeper with his keen machete, Joseph hurried on, avoiding the thorns and tangles by instinct, never stepping on fallen limb or knife-edged root, while his white companion marvelled that bare feet and naked skin were not cut to pieces by the spikes which ripped rents in his own stout khaki garments.
But Frank was no novice at woodcraft and though he had never before entered a tropic jungle, yet his experiences in northern forests helped him here, and, by watching the actions of his guide, he quickly learned to make his way through the maze with comparatively little noise and no great difficulty.
And now he began to take note of his surroundings. From every side he heard croaks of tree frogs, the twitter of birds and weird cries of hidden creatures, while louder than all, ceaselessly, and seemingly from close at hand, issued a loud ringing "Whip-whee-weo-oo!" Frank peered intently into the foliage, striving to catch a glimpse of the bird which, from the sound of its call, he felt sure must be very large, but he could see nothing and at last he spoke to Joseph and asked about it.
"Wallaba bird," replied the Arekuna and, standing by Frank's side, he pointed to a dull grey bird the size of a robin, which he assured his companion was the author of all the noise.
Frank could scarcely believe it possible, but, as he watched, the bird again uttered its wild lashing note and he was convinced. Later he learned that the loud-voiced creature was also known as the Gold Bird and that the natives looked upon it with a superstitious reverence as they believed its presence indicated gold in the vicinity.
Deeper and deeper into the forest Joseph led the way, until, reaching the bank of a tiny stream, he stopped and signalling Frank to be cautious, pointed to a number of deep footprints in the soft mud.
"Bush cow," he whispered, and thus Frank knew that the tracks were those of a tapir.
With gun ready he crept after Joseph as the latter, half-crouching, followed the tracks along the creek. Presently they came to a dense, matted tangle of bamboo, wild plantains and razor grass, and seemingly impenetrable; but the tapir's tracks led into it, and Frank wondered how such a large and bulky creature could force its way into the tangle and leave no signs of its passage. Noiselessly the Arekuna parted the growths and inch by inch the two wormed their way into the thicket.
Suddenly Joseph halted and, beckoning Frank to his side, pointed ahead. Frank peered at the spot indicated through an opening among the foliage, but could distinguish nothing save the intertwined vines and stems, the many-coloured leaves and the lights and shadows cast upon the black and muddy ground.
"Me tellum shootum. Matti! matti! Why you no seeum," whispered Joseph excitedly.
But to the white boy's eyes there was no sign of living thing, and piqued at his inability to see what was so plainly visible to the Indian, he took a step forward.
As he did so a dead limb was disturbed and tumbled to the earth and at the sound there was a tremendous snort and a ridge of earth, at which Frank had been gazing, sprang to life and crashed out of sight in the brush.
Frank was so dumbfounded, so utterly unprepared for this sudden animation of what he had mistaken for a patch of earth, that for an instant he stood gazing in open-mouthed amazement as the huge black beast disappeared. Then, recovering himself, he fired both barrels of his gun at the swaying vines.
Joseph hurried forward with Frank beside him, but the tapir had escaped unhurt. Frank was heartily ashamed of his failure to see the tapir or to shoot it ere it escaped, but Joseph made no comment and hurried on in search of other game.
As they proceeded, Frank determined he'd not be so stupid next time, and presently the Indian again stopped and listened attentively and then, cautioning Frank to be silent, crept noiselessly forward. From tree to tree he slipped, now and then uttering a low whistle, and soon Frank heard an answering call from the tree-tops ahead. Reaching the shelter of a huge greenheart tree, the Indian pointed to the limbs and branches of a tree a short distance away.
"Powi," he whispered. "Two, free powi."
From the lofty canopy of foliage bits of fruit came pattering down, but despite his every effort Frank found it impossible to see the powis or curassows which Joseph was striving to show him.
The Arekuna was evidently quite disgusted with his white companion's poor eyesight, and with a pitying look and remarking, "Mebbe me killum like so, catchum same way," he drew a tiny dart from the cylindrical case hung about his neck and slipping it into his blowgun raised the latter to his lips and gave a short, sharp puff of breath.
Frank was intensely interested at thus seeing the blowgun used, but the dart travelled too swiftly for his eyes to follow. In the foliage, however, he saw a flutter of wings and the next instant a great black bird came tumbling through the leaves. Half way to earth, the stricken powi caught fast in a tangle of vines and as, for a moment, it hung swaying back and forth, a lithe, mottled body leaped with the speed of light from a clump of air plants and seizing the powi in its jaws turned and sprang back towards its lair.
But at that instant Frank's gun roared out, the leaping form doubled up in mid-air and plunged to earth. The two youths dashed forward and Frank's heart swelled with pride as he looked upon the splendid ocelot lying dead upon the ground with the powi still held firmly in its sharp white teeth. He had made a splendid shot; the episode of the tapir was offset and he had won the everlasting admiration of the Indian who, forgetting his stoicism, pranced about showering Arekuna and talky-talky compliments on his companion, for to him the feat bordered on the supernatural.
Lashing the feet of the ocelot together with vines, Joseph slung the big cat over his shoulders and, as it was now growing late, he led the way towards the distant village.
How he knew the direction was a puzzle to Frank, for there was no sign of a trail, no sun shone through the dense roof of leaves overhead, and there were none of the indications of north or south which Frank was accustomed to look for in the northern forests. Moreover, the growth was everywhere so dense that nothing was visible for more than a few yards, and Frank was completely turned around and realised how hopelessly he would be lost if left alone in this wilderness. But without the least hesitation Joseph hurried on with unerring instinct and scarce glancing to right or to left as he proceeded.
Apparently he gave no heed to his surroundings, but his keen eyes missed nothing and no sound escaped his ears. Once he stopped abruptly and pointed to a bunch of dull, greenish-grey suspended from a branch and which, to Frank, looked like a mass of air-plants.
"Sloth," announced the Indian. "No sabby sloth? Plenty good for eat. S'pose shootum."
"You shootum," replied Frank, loth to believe the motionless object was actually alive, and also anxious to see Joseph use his strange but deadly weapon.
Quickly Joseph placed a dart in the tube, pointed it at the grey bunch so far above the ground, placed his lips to the mouthpiece and blew.
This time Frank caught a glimpse of the little arrow as it sped silently through the air and he saw it disappear in the object hanging to the limb. As it struck, the apparently inanimate mass moved slightly, a long hairy leg stretched out and clawed at the air for an instant and then, relaxing its hold, it dropped from the branch and came plunging down.
"Well, that is wonderful," exclaimed Frank as Joseph picked up the dead sloth and added him to his burden.
"I never would have believed that little sliver of palm stem would kill a creature so quickly," he added half to himself. "Whew! What terrible enemies these Indians would be."
Soon after killing the sloth the two hunters came in sight of a clearing and stepped forth from the forest along a narrow path. The sun had now dropped below the fringe of trees to the west; behind them the jungle was already black with shadows and even the clearing was dim and indistinct. Far overhead great macaws winged their homeward way, their long tails streaming like pennants behind them and their discordant cries borne faintly on the still evening air. In the thickets myriads of insects shrilled and sang; from the jungle came the last twitters and chirps of retiring birds; fireflies glowed here and there in the shadows and great bats flitted softly across the path.
Presently amid the banner-like plantain leaves Frank saw a thatched roof; the sound of voices were heard and a moment later the two came in view of a large hut bright with the glow of campfires over which several men were busily cooking their evening meal.
Frank uttered a little cry of surprise. This was not the Indian village he had expected to see. Where were they? How had Joseph missed the way? But before he could ask a question a cheery voice cried out, "Hello! Here you are at last. What luck, Frank?" and as Mr. Andrews stepped from the benab it dawned upon Frank that they had reached the logi by the creek where they were to spend the night.
"Fine luck," he replied, "an ocelot, a powi and a sloth. But do tell me how Joseph knew he was to lead me here? I didn't tell him."
Mr. Andrews laughed. "Mental telepathy, I guess," he answered. "But more likely common sense. I told the Indians to be here at daylight ready for our start, and Joseph reasoned that we'd naturally camp here and saved time by coming direct. You've certainly had good luck. I warrant you've a good appetite. Supper's ready, so you'll not have to wait."
The hammocks were already slung beneath the logis and the meal over, Frank was glad to throw himself in the comfortable hammock Mr. Andrews had provided. He was quite tired with his unaccustomed walk and covering himself with a thick woollen blanket he soon fell asleep. Once he was aroused by a weird, half-human scream, and sat up trembling and with a queer tingling sensation along his spine. Again the awful sound rose and fell in a long-drawn moan through the night, and reaching out, Frank shook Mr. Andrews' hammock and in frightened tones asked what it was.
"Only a tiger," sleepily replied the other. "It won't come near. Don't be frightened, but go to sleep."
As Mr. Andrews showed no concern and the men were undisturbed, Frank again settled himself in his hammock, but for a long time he could not sleep, but lay awake, listening to the innumerable sounds that filled the black tropic night. From the creek the frogs boomed and croaked; tree toads whistled and piped on every side; night birds swept past the logi uttering loud and startling cries; an owl hooted in the woods; a chorus of insect songs filled the air with vibrations; bats squeaked as they flitted by unseen, and, far off in the jungle, a mighty tree crashed to earth with the noise of thunder, while like ever-moving incandescent lamps the great fireflies danced and flashed everywhere in the blackness.
But the jaguar did not scream again and when Frank next opened his eyes the air was full of soft rosy light, birds were singing, the men were busy over the fires and from the forest came the strange booming cries of the howling monkeys,—harbingers of the coming day.
The Indians from the village were already on hand and with a full crew the boat sped down the creek and into the river. Soon the character of the stream changed. The banks were higher, ledges and dykes of granite projected from the water along shore, and countless small islands dotted the surface of the water and hid the further mainland from sight. Many of these were high and densely wooded, others were barren masses of granite, and in many cases they had been worn and carved into strange weird shapes which resembled titanic fossil monsters.
Late in the afternoon Frank caught sight of a flashing white line among the rocks and ledges ahead, and Mr. Andrews told him 'twas the first of the rapids. The current had now become swift, the men were obliged to paddle with all their strength and the bowman was constantly on the alert, dodging the ledges and reefs which jutted everywhere to within a few inches of the surface.
Just as the sun was sinking behind the forest, the boat was run upon a sandy beach on a wooded islet at the foot of the rapids and the men were soon busily making camp for the night.
The big tarpaulin was unrolled and stretched between four trees, stout stakes were driven into the earth and to these the hammocks were slung and camp fires were soon blazing.
Frank was watching these preparations with interest when Joseph appeared. "S'pose want shootum water haas?" he asked.
"Surely," cried Frank, and seizing his gun he followed Joseph along the crescent of yellow sand. At the further edge, beneath drooping mangrove boughs, was a little pool, and all about its edge were the imprints of hoofs which the Indian stated were made by capybaras or water haas. Carefully parting the branches, Joseph crept into the woods, followed by Frank, who had not dreamed that on the tiny-island there was a possibility of finding game. Within a dozen yards of the beach, a big capybara sprang up from its feeding place beneath the low-growing trees and Frank, by a quick shot, secured him.
Joseph sprang forward towards the creature and as he did so there was a rustling of leaves to one side and Frank bad a glimpse of some animal leaping through the brush. Not knowing what it might be, he took a quick snap shot with the other barrel of his gun and hurried into the bushes.
Scarcely expecting that he had actually hit the creature, he glanced about and the next instant uttered a shout, for lying dead among the rank weeds was a fine savanna deer.
Every one dined royally that night, and Frank declared that water haas was the finest meat he had ever tasted. There was enough in the capybara for all the company and the deer, after being skinned and dressed, was hung up above a fire to smoke or "bucan"; a method of curing which Mr. Andrews stated was universally used in the bush and which would preserve the meat fresh and fit to eat for several weeks. Lulled to rest by the swish of the water on the beach and the distant roar of the rapids, Frank slept soundly and did not awaken until aroused by the Indians starting the fires at daybreak, and by the cries of the howling monkeys on the distant mainland.
The lovely beach looked most inviting and, jumping from his hammock, Frank called to Mr. Andrews that he was going for a swim.
"Hold on there," cried Mr. Andrews excitedly. "Don't go near the water if you value your life. It's full of Perais. Thank Heaven you spoke before 'twas too late."
"Why, what's the matter?" cried Frank in surprise and somewhat startled by Mr. Andrews' words and his anxious tone of voice. "What's so dangerous about it? What are perais anyway?"
"I forgot you didn't know," replied the other. "Perais are a kind of fish,—the most voracious of creatures. They'll tear a man or any animal to pieces in a few moments with their knife-like jaws—literally eat you alive.''
"Why, they must be the 'man-eating fish' I've read about," exclaimed Frank, "but I always thought they were fabulous things,— just travellers' yarns."
"Nothing fabulous or yarny about them," declared Mr. Andrews. "They are common in all these streams, but just here they are particularly abundant. Throw the head of that water-haas into the river and you'll see."
Curious to see the fish which bore such an evil reputation, Frank carried the capybara's head to the edge of the beach and cast it into the river. Scarcely had it touched the water when there was a flash and dash and from every side scores of fish rushed towards the head. Leaping from the water in their haste, they snapped, bit and tore and in a moment the flesh and skin were stripped from the skull and the water fairly boiled with the ferocious struggling fishes. Now and then one would be bitten by its fellows and instantly the others would turn upon him and devour him alive, and Frank shuddered to think of how he would have fared had he leaped into the river as he had planned.
"I've seen enough," he announced, as at Mr. Andrews' call he returned to the camp for breakfast. "No bathing in these rivers for me."
"Oh, there are plenty of places where it's perfectly safe," declared Mr. Andrews. "The Indians can tell you where there are perais and where there are none; but keep out of water until you're sure."
"I'll be on the safe side and keep out altogether," said Frank; "that is unless the boat upsets."
"In that case you'd probably be safe enough. The perais seldom or never attack people with clothes on."
Soon after breakfast was over, the boat was again under way and a few minutes later was approaching the foot of the rapids. As far as Frank could see stretched a steep slope of foaming, tumbling, roaring water and dashing like a mill race between the jutting black rocks and ledges that filled the river. How any boat could make its way through the angry turmoil was past his understanding, but the men went about their preparations unconcernedly and Frank realised they must know how to accomplish the seemingly impossible feat.
Just at the foot of the rapids the boat was run alongside a shelving rock and, in obedience to the captain's orders, Frank and Mr. Andrews stepped ashore while all the men, with the exception of the captain and bowman, jumped from the boat. Uncoiling three stout ropes, the men fastened two to the stem and one to the bow. Two men then grasped each of the stern lines and stood bracing themselves upon the rocks while the other four seized the bowline and half-wading, half-swimming, breasted the rapids, gained a foothold on rocks a hundred feet or more upstream. Then, at a cry from the captain, the bowman swung the boat into the current; the men on the bow-rope hauled with all their strength; the captain shouted orders; the bowman paddled furiously; the men on the rocks bent to their task and slowly the boat forged ahead. With consummate skill the captain and bowman swung the craft clear of the rocks, the stern lines kept it headed into the rushing water and inch by inch the boat crept up the rapids. About its bow the angry waters foamed and seethed and the hungry waves leaped above its rails, but in a few moments the way was won and the craft shot from the torrent into a calm pool above the falls. Frank and Mr. Andrews hurried up the river, leaping from rock to rock, and gained the boat; the lines were again coiled down; the men took their places and seized their paddles, and swiftly the boat sped onward towards the next stretch of rapids. Frank was delighted. "It's wonderful," he exclaimed. "I wouldn't have missed this for the world; but I don't see anything dangerous about it,— we're perfectly safe on the rocks."
"This is only the beginning," replied Mr. Andrews. "Wait until we get into really bad water and whirlpools. Then you'll see where the danger comes in."
Over and over again the two passengers stepped ashore as the men hauled the boat through the rapids and each time the water became more turbulent, and each time the men found greater difficulty in dragging the heavy craft through the falls.
Five miles perhaps had been covered in this slow and tedious manner when Mr. Andrews announced that they were approaching a dangerous spot. Here there was a drop of some ten feet—a plunging rock-strewn cataract—and a dozen times the men strove to gain foothold on the rocks. Over and over again they were swept struggling down stream, but at last they won a stand waist-deep in the flood, and by almost superhuman efforts dragged the boat above the falls.
"Now hold tight and sit quietly," admonished Mr. Andrews, as he and Frank re-entered the boat; "there's a bad whirlpool ahead."
Frank could see it,—a great swirling, oval space and in a moment later they were in it. With every ounce of their strength, the eight muscular men plied their paddles, the boat hung motionless for an instant, the bow quivered and vibrated to the drag of the water, and then the craft shot forward. High above them boiled the maelstrom as the centre of the pool was reached, the boat seemed actually to rear on end, it slid up a hill of water, and, ere Frank had time to realise it was accomplished, the craft had dashed beyond the danger point and was safe in a narrow, swiftly-flowing channel beyond the whirlpool.
Up this the men forced the boat by paddles and Frank, looking over the side, wondered how they could swerve and guide their craft among the fang-like rocks that ripped the water into foam on every side. Suddenly, with a sickening lurch and a crashing, grinding sound, the boat dashed full upon a rock. Frank gripped the rail and with set face sat waiting for the end, for it seemed impossible that the boat could withstand the shock and each second he expected it to fill and sink or to capsize, for perched upon the rock, it swung and tipped perilously. He knew that once in the water he would stand no chance,—that just below was the awful whirlpool in which no swimmer could survive, and he gulped with deadly fear. But ere he could voice his terror, the men slipped over the edge and, up to their necks in the water, were tugging and straining at the boat and in an instant actually had lifted it bodily from the rock, and as it once more floated free they leaped nimbly in and bent once more to their paddles.
"That's about the worst spot," remarked Mr. Andrews. "Coming down there are other places more dangerous, for the channels between the rocks are so numerous and so much alike that one is apt to take the wrong lead and go over the higher falls. See, yonder's a spot of the sort,—a boat went over there a few years ago and thirty-five men were lost."
Frank gazed on the spot indicated and could well understand how a boat rushing down stream might meet such a fate, for the channel branched and while one half led to the passage through the rapids up which the boat had come, the other led to the brink of the cataract and destruction.
"I'm not sorry we're past the worst of it," he admitted. "It's exciting and thrilling enough to suit any one, but I don't fancy those whirlpools and running on rocks."
Hardly had he spoken when the boat again struck as before, the men again leaped out and lifted it free and once more continued on their way as if nothing unusual had occurred.
"The rocks won't injure the boat," said Mr. Andrews. "These river craft are built wonderfully strong of native wood and are designed especially for use in the rapids. You may have noticed the queer spoon-shape of the bottom. That's to enable the men to slide it off the rocks easily in any direction. If the boats had keels or straight bows and sterns they'd be wedged hard and fast many a time, even if they didn't capsize or were not smashed."
"I can see that now," replied Frank, "although I wondered why 'twas built that way at first."
It was now noon and, a stretch of tranquil water being reached, the boat was run onto a shelving ledge and the men prepared lunch. Frank was lolling in the shade and admiring the beautiful reflections on the river, and the wonderful foliage about, when he saw Joseph hurrying up stream with his bow and arrows in his hand. Anxious to see what he was after, Frank followed at a little distance.
Presently the Indian stopped by the edge of the stream, fitted an arrow to his bow and drew it back as if to shoot into the water. For an instant he stood, like a statue in bronze with poised weapon, and then, relaxing his bow, he stood erect and commenced a low whistle, meanwhile making a strange beckoning motion with his fingers.
Frank was puzzled. What the Indian was doing was incomprehensible and the boy watched him intently. Suddenly the Indian ceased his odd motions, drew his bow and sent the arrow whizzing into the water. Dropping his bow, he plunged into the stream and commenced swimming after the arrow-shaft which was bobbing and dancing about in a most remarkable way. Reaching it, Joseph seized it in one hand, struck out for shore and, gaining the ledge, commenced hauling rapidly on a line which was attached to the arrow. In a moment a great, splashing silvery fish appeared and the Indian drew his prize upon the rocks.
Frank hurried to Joseph's side. "How you catchum?" he asked.
"Me telluiu shootum bownarrer same way like so," replied Joseph, as, bending over, he drew forth a tiny barbed iron arrow-head from the fish's side.
Frank examined the weapon with intense interest, for to him the idea of shooting fish with bow and arrows was absolutely amazing. He found the arrow, which was nearly five feet in length, had no feathers and that the barbed iron head was merely fitted loosely to the shaft to which it was connected by a long strong line. It was, in fact, a miniature harpoon shot from a bow, and he at once understood how the shaft, floating free when the fish was struck, served as a buoy which enabled the fisherman to secure the line. But he was still filled with wonder that the Indian could strike a fish far under water and was at a complete loss as to why Joseph had whistled and waved his hand before shooting.
"Me tellum must for callum fish like so," Joseph replied to Frank's query, and at this Frank smiled, thinking it was some queer Indian superstition or custom.
"I've seen the most interesting thing," announced Frank as he rejoined Mr. Andrews. "Joseph shot a huge fish with his bow and arrows and he went through the funniest sort of ceremony—wiggled his fingers and whistled before shooting. He says he was 'calling' the fish."
"So he was," replied Mr. Andrews. "It may sound like nonsense, but nevertheless it's a fact that these Bucks can ‘call’ the fish within range in that way. I've seen it done scores of times."
"I'd never believe it if you hadn't said so, and if I hadn't seen it myself," declared Frank. "I thought 'twas merely some sort of incantation or mummery."
"Seeing's believing," laughed Mr. Andrews. "If fish are within range the Indians don't call them, but if they are too deep beneath the water they always call them up. You'll see many a strange and seemingly impossible thing before you're out of the bush."
After lunch the trip was resumed and all through the afternoon they alternately paddled through stretches of smooth, placid water and hauled the boat through rapids. Frank had now become so accustomed to this that he no longer felt nervous and, save where there was a particularly bad spot or when the boat grounded on the rocks, he gave little heed to it. But he was delighted with the wonders of forest and stream which surrounded them as they swept swiftly up the calm stretches. Great wooded islands were everywhere; golden yellow beaches alternated with dark masses of rugged rocks and the forest, which rose in a solid wall above the shores, was marvellous in its character and colours. Amid the thousand shades of green gleamed huge masses of vivid crimson, deepest orange, brilliant blue, wonderful purple and purest white, where flowering trees and vines were glorious with strange blooms, and in many a spot the falling blossoms strewed the water with their petals and formed a multi-coloured carpet beneath the overhanging limbs. So thickly grew the trees, and so densely where they festooned and hung with creepers and parasitic growths, that there was scarce a hint of trunks or branches and the forest looked like a two-hundred-foot bank of moss or multi-coloured velvet draped in enormous folds.
But wonderful as was the jungle, Frank was more attracted by the wild life which teemed along the river. Great white and silvery river terns wheeled back and forth above the water; skimmers lined the beaches where clumsy turtles basked; egrets and herons stalked majestically in the shallows; a constant stream of macaws, parrots and toucans winged across from shore to shore; vultures and hawks swept in huge circles in the clear blue sky, and once a giant crested eagle soared screaming on ten-foot pinions above the treetops. On every rock immense flocks of dainty violet swallows perched, and, twittering, took flight as the boat approached; long-necked cormorants craned their heads and gazed curiously at the passers-by and gorgeous sun bitterns fluttered and spread their harlequin wings by the water's edge. Often the boat skirted close to the shore and underneath the shade of the forest, and Frank watched the hordes of vampire bats that fluttered from their roosting places on dead limbs and fallen trees and flitted ahead for a few yards to once more alight, head-down, upon other limbs. They were seldom troublesome Mr. Andrews told him, but at times men were bitten and knew nothing of it until they awoke, feeling faint and weak, with blood streaming from their lacerated toes or fingers. "There's little danger as long as a fire is kept burning," he assured Frank; "I've spent many years in the bush and have never been bitten by a vampire yet. The Indians pay no attention to them. Look, there's an otter."
Frank turned to see a big dog-like head moving swiftly across the stream, with a broad, silvery wake behind it, and, seizing his gun, he fired; but at the flash the otter dove, the shot pattered harmlessly in the water and when the creature rose again he was far out of range.
"You'll need a rifle to get him," laughed Mr. Andrews. "They're very wild and hard to shoot. Hello! Here's something you can kill."
As he spoke he pointed to a slanting "tacuba" which jutted from the water a few rods ahead, and Frank gave a little exclamation of surprise at what he saw.
Coiled upon the dead tree was a huge serpent, its scales marbled with brown, yellow and black and shimmering with innumerable iridescent rainbow tints.
"Camudi," whispered the Indians.
"Anaconda," said Mr. Andrews. "He's asleep," he added. "We'll run close in and wake him up and as he starts to glide away you can fire at his head and avoid spoiling his skin —he must be nearly twenty feet long."
Frank became quite excited as the boat neared the huge snake and he stood ready with gun cocked. To him the anaconda or "camudi" seemed gigantic—he would have vowed it was fifty feet in length, and wild tales of these creatures attacking men and crushing them in their coils passed through his mind. But the Indians seemed to have no dread of the reptile and paddled the boat within twenty feet of the snake.
"Ready now," cautioned Mr. Andrews, and as he spoke he tossed a piece of driftwood at the sleeping creature. Instantly the snake was awake, and from the centre of its coils a broad blunt-nosed head shot forth with forked tongue darting in and out and dull eyes gazing steadfastly at the occupants of the boat. Higher and higher the head was raised, swaying gently from side to side, and then with a sudden, swift motion it darted forward along the tree trunk, the great coils rapidly unrolling.
“Now shoot!" exclaimed Mr. Andrews and Frank fired both barrels at the wicked-looking head.
With a convulsive movement the great body writhed and twisted for an instant, and then, slipping from the tacuba, splashed into the stream.
"You got him!" cried Mr. Andrews; "shot his head clean off."
With a stroke of their paddles the men drove the boat forward to where the anaconda was floating, the dead body still twitching, and, fastening a rope about it, ran the boat onto the bank and dragged the reptile ashore.
Frank was highly elated at securing the creature and, as the men rapidly removed the skin, he thought what a splendid trophy it would be to exhibit to the boys at home.
"Eighteen feet and a half," announced Mr. Andrews, who had been measuring the snake. "Pretty good size, although I've seen them nearly twenty-five feet long."
"Is that all? I thought he was at least fifty feet long," said Frank, in a disappointed tone.
Mr. Andrews laughed. "Snakes are deceptive," he remarked. "If you hadn't killed and measured him no doubt you'd have always declared he was fifty feet long, especially if you'd come upon him unawares in the bush. Always divide a snake's apparent length by three and you'll be near the mark."
"Aren't they dangerous?" asked Frank, who had not as yet fully recovered from his nervousness.
"Not in the least," replied Mr. Andrews. "I never heard of a camudi attacking or injuring a human being. They kill fowls and small animals, but the tales of their crushing human beings, oxen or other large creatures are pure imagination."
"Well, he looked dangerous at any rate," declared Frank, "I'd rather have him dead than alive."
The skin was now sprinkled with salt and rolled up, and the trip was resumed. Soon afterwards a camping place was found, the boat was run ashore and once more Frank slept beneath the tarpaulin roof in the wilderness.
By noon the next day the last of the rapids were passed, and for hour after hour the men paddled swiftly up the broad, smooth river, which Mr. Andrews stated was unbroken by rapids for nearly fifty miles. At one spot they passed a little settlement upon the river's bank and Mr. Andrews told Frank this was Rockstone. "It's the terminus of a railway across the narrow strip between the Demerara and the Essequibo," he said, "and is a point of departure for gold miners and balata gatherers. The district between here and Wismar on the Demerara is a rich greenheart grant and big ships and steamers go up the Demerara as far as Wismar to load timber."
"Why, I thought we were really in the interior and far from civilisation," exclaimed Frank, in surprise, "and here we are at a regular village with a railway station and a hotel, and—why, there are launches tied to the bank."
"Yes, they run regularly between Rockstone and Tumatumari on the Potaro River in a rich gold district. It does seem strange to come up the falls through such a wild country and find this place and the railway and launches, but you've only had a taste of the wilderness. Not until we pass the mouth of the Potaro can you really feel that all civilisation has been left behind."
That night, camp was made on an island, and the following day they reached Crab Falls. These were small rapids and easily overcome, and soon afterwards they passed the mouth of the Potaro River.
"Up that stream lie Tumatumari and Kaieteur," said Mr. Andrews. "On our return I hope to make a trip up there to let you see the gold mines and the falls. But we'll have to let pleasure wait until our business is over." The land was now much higher, the forests were filled with enormous trees, and in the distance rose soft blue hills and mountains. The air was cool and Frank could scarcely believe they were within three hundred miles of the equator.
The next day they met a large canoe filled with Indians, and with a queer hut-like structure of palm leaves built amidships. They ran alongside and discovered that the strangers were Waupisana Indians from Brazil who had voyaged down from the head waters of the Essequibo, and Frank gazed with interest at the queer people with their painted cheeks and muscular bodies who had come hundreds of miles down the wilderness waterway from another land. They could speak no English and little of the Guiana Indians' dialects, but they knew Portuguese and tried their best to carry on a conversation in that tongue with Mr. Andrews who had picked up a few phrases while engaged on the boundary survey.
Their canoe was laden with beautiful cotton hammocks which they were taking to Rockstone to sell, and Frank purchased one of these useful articles for what seemed a ridiculously low price.
Several of the women in the canoe were busily spinning cotton thread from the raw, wild cotton, and Frank was greatly interested in the method and admired the deftness with which the Indians whirled the rude spindles and drew long, smooth threads from the mass of fluffy fibre. Mr. Andrews presented them with some tobacco and rice, for which they were very grateful, and a few minutes later they were lost to view behind an island in the river.
Several times during that day the men were obliged to haul the boat through rapids and at nightfall they made camp at the foot of a roaring cataract which Mr. Andrews said must be portaged.
It was a laborious and slow job to carry their boat and all their baggage around the falls, but at last it was accomplished, and ever southward into the heart of the continent they paddled on.
Day after day the journey continued. The surroundings became wilder and often great masses of granite reared strange forms above the far-reaching forest. At one spot Mr. Andrews called Frank's attention to four huge rocks standing upon the summit of a wooded hill. The lowest supported the second on three points and on top of this was a great jar-shaped monolith capped with the topmost slab like a cover, and the whole towering for 300 feet above the foliage at its base. "That's ‘Comuti' or 'Taquiari,'" said Mr. Andrews. "The name means a water jar and you'll readily notice the resemblance. It's a famous landmark as is also the 'Ataroipu' or Devil's Rock on the banks of the Guidaru River further on, and which is a huge bare pyramid 550 feet in height."
"They look as if they had been built by human hands," remarked Frank. "It seems very strange to see those big rocks sticking up from the forest with no other mountains near."
"Roraima is much the same, but on a tremendous scale," replied Mr. Andrews. "It stands up from the greenery like some gigantic castle for 8,000 feet."
But aside from the scenery Frank found plenty to interest him and keep him busy. Many Indian villages were visited and he met Bucks of tribes he had not before seen, and many a hunt was taken with Joseph while Mr. Andrews was busy taking measurements of timber trees, sketching rough maps or surveying.
He had shot peccaries, labba, and even a tapir and had regretted that he had no rifle when, on several occasions, the boat had passed immense crocodiles sunning themselves on the rocks in the stream.
Scarcely a night passed without hearing the scream of a jaguar and Frank longed to add one of their great spotted skins to his collection of trophies, but despite every effort the half-devoured carcass of a deer was the only sign they had been able to find of the presence of "tigers."
For two nights they had stopped at a camp of balata gatherers. Here Frank had seen how the gum of the balata trees was gathered and had listened to the camp-fire tales of the wild-looking crowd of negroes, half-breeds and Indians who penetrated far into the wilderness in search of the wild rubber.
They were a rough, hardy crowd; at home in the bush, where many of them had spent their lives, but were wonderfully superstitious and believed thoroughly in mysterious denizens of the forest which they called 'Didoes,' and which many of them professed to have seen.
When the day's work was over and they gathered about their fires, they vied with one another in telling stories of these supernatural beings and Frank listened in wonder at their tales. No two seemed to agree as to what a 'Dido' was like. Some described them as hairy creatures, half monkey, half man; others vowed they were naked and had tails, while still others thought them headless with eyes in their breasts, and one man described how he had been chased by a Dido which had claw-like hands and feet with which it swung from branch to branch like a monkey. Sometimes they varied their stories with narratives of a being they called "Kenaima," and when they spoke of this the Indians looked frightened and, glancing furtively into the shadows, gathered closer within the light of the fires.
The men spoke in such a queer jargon and used so many strange words and terms that much of their stories was meaningless to Frank and he plied Mr. Andrews with questions as to the Didoes and the Kenaima.
"I would not like to say there is no truth in the stories of Didoes," said Mr. Andrews. "The tales of wild men of the woods has persisted for centuries—it was considered Gospel truth by the early explorers, and personally I believe there is some foundation for such a universal and wide-spread belief. Of course I don't believe in men with tails or with eyes in their chests, but there may be a few survivors of some unknown race who are very hairy or who paint themselves weirdly or, for all we know, some unknown species of gigantic monkey or ape may exist in the forests; or again some malformed, half-witted Indians may have given rise to the belief. Undoubtedly that was the case with the two-fingered men with their claw-like hands and feet. In fact, it is said that such a tribe,—people in which the hands and feet are abnormal,—actually lives in the vast unexplored district between British and Dutch Guiana and that the 'Trios' are so called because some of them have but three lingers on each hand."
"I'd like to see a Dido," declared Frank; "but what is the 'Kenaima'? The Indians seemed terribly afraid of it and even Joseph became nervous and crossed himself when I asked him about it,"
"Ah! That's quite another matter," replied Mr. Andrews. "The Kenaima is an actuality, although the Indians and Bovianders surround it with a great deal of superstition and nonsense. The word really means the spirit of evil or death, but as used it signifies an avenger of blood. If an Indian is killed, or dies under suspicious circumstances, some member of his family—or a volunteer if he has no relatives—becomes Kenaima, or, in other words, assumes the role of avenger and is supposed to become imbued with the Kenaima spirit and certain supernatural attributes. There are two distinct kinds of Kenaima; the Camudi Kenaima, who strangles his victim, and the Tiger Kenaima, who must destroy his victim with a blow from a peculiar form of wooden club. In either case the Kenaima goes through certain ceremonies symbolic of leaving all pleasures, recreations and ordinary pursuits aside, and sets forth alone to track down and destroy his victim. It makes no difference how far the condemned may travel, how difficult he may make his trail or how skilfully he may hide. The Kenaima is absolutely relentless and tireless, and for weeks, months, or even years, will pursue; overcoming every obstacle, enduring the most terrible hardships and privations and never visiting or speaking to other men until his mission is accomplished. If the intended victim of his vengeance succeeds in ambushing and killing the Kenaima it avails nothing, for the death of the avenger, by some mysterious means, is made known to his fellow tribesmen and another Kenaima at once sets forth to complete his vengeance. Moreover the Kenaima, if carried out to its full scope, must include not only the murderer himself, but all of his relatives and, of course, each of these executions calls for a return vengeance of Kenaima and thus entire tribes have been wiped out through the bloody custom. But the most awful part of the Kenaima's vengeance is the manner in which the actual killing is carried out. The avenger must not kill his victim instantly, but must wound or injure him so that he will survive for three days and on the third day he must return to the dying man, plunge a spear or arrow into his body to end his sufferings, and must lick the blood from the weapon. Of course it is a difficult matter for the Kenaima to strangle or strike a man in such a way as to mortally injure him without killing him, and no doubt, as a rule, the victim is killed at once and the avenger is satisfied. Much has been done by the government to stamp out the Kenaima and several Indians have been hung, but such measures only result in making the Bucks more secretive and I question if much good has been done among the more primitive tribes. They consider it their right to avenge their dead in their own way and they cannot understand why the government should interfere. Even the Christian and civilised Indians are familiar with the Kenaima and are in deadly fear of it, as proved by Joseph's terror at the word."
"It makes my blood run cold to think of it," declared Frank. "I can imagine how awful it must seem to know a Kenaima is tracking you down as you describe it. I should think the Indians would be terribly afraid of killing one another and that murder would be very rare when such a vengeance would follow."
"When sober they are very law-abiding and peaceable," said Mr. Andrews, "but when drunk they are quarrelsome and a heavy penalty is imposed on any one selling or giving them liquor. But it's impossible to prevent them from drinking 'piwarrie,' which is a vile liquor made by chewing cassava and spitting it into a bowl where it is allowed to ferment. When they have a piwarrie feast they drink gallons of the stuff and have fearful orgies. The liquor drives them mad, fights ensue and quite often several are killed and a Kenaima is started which destroys scores before vengeance is satisfied."
"I didn't dream such things could exist," declared Frank. "These Indians seem so peaceable and quiet that I can't imagine them any other way. Do they ever attack white men?"
"I've never heard of a case," replied Mr. Andrews, "although I suppose a white man might be made the object of a Kenaima if he killed an Indian, However, there's no danger; even when drunk with piwarrie, the Bucks will not molest a white man, but it's a good plan to keep clear of them when a piwarrie feast is in progress."
A few days after they left the balata gatherers' camp the boat reached the mouth of the Rupinuni and, passing within sight of the Makarapan Mountains, came to the edge of the great savannas which, Mr. Andrews said, covered over 15,000 square miles of the country.
Frank had expected to see a vast level, grassy plain, but instead he found the savannas undulating and broken by great isolated granite rocks, masses of coarse conglomerate,— which looked like some giant's plum pudding transformed to stone, and red mounds of clay and rotten quartz. Clumps of trees rose here and there above the dull coarse grass, in the numerous swales and hollows were marshy, boggy spots covered with a rank growth of palms, ferns and spiny plants. The hard-stemmed weeds and coarse, wiry sedge, which looked so smooth and soft at a distance, made walking very difficult, save in the narrow paths made by the semi-wild cattle and the game which wandered over the country at will.
Far in the distance loomed great squarish mountains, like blue islands in a sea of yellowish green, and these Mr. Andrews told Frank were the Kanuku Mountains on the border of Brazil.
There was an Indian village near where the party camped, and Frank found these people very different from the forest Indians along the rivers. They were Macushis, Mr. Andrews said, and were naked save for the bead aprons worn by the women and laps worn by the men, and were far uglier and had coarser features than the Arekunas or Akawaias. Many of them had little skewers of bone or wood inserted through holes in their lower lips and one man, who seemed to be a sort of chief and who Mr. Andrews said was a Piaiman or Medicine Man, had the queer ornament replaced by a number of common pins. He was evidently very proud of these and Frank watched him, fascinated, as he deftly slipped the pins out and in the opening in his lip by means of his tongue. Unlike the river Indians these savanna people had houses built in circular form and with walled sides of mud and wattles, and Frank found them most stuffy and unpleasant.
But the Macushis seemed a very friendly and good natured lot and, when Joseph mentioned Frank's skill with the gun and the fact that he wished to secure a "tiger," one of the Macushis volunteered to lead him to a spot where he could kill a jaguar.
Frank was elated at the prospect and at daylight the three set out, the Macushi armed with an ancient muzzle-loading gun, Joseph with his deadly blowgun, with which he expected to secure some wild fowl, and Frank ready for anything.
For some distance they followed the narrow, winding trail and then, climbing a little rocky knoll, came to a large swale or hollow filled with a tangled jungle.
This, the Macushi declared, was the lair of a large jaguar which had repeatedly carried off livestock from the village and which he stated had been shot at time and again without avail.
The thicket was very dense and was threaded by a labyrinth of runways and paths, and the three hunters were forced to crawl on all fours in many places. Frank scarcely fancied coming face to face with a jaguar in such a place but the Indians appeared to have little dread of the creature and intently followed the imprints of the great cat's feet which Frank was unable to distinguish from the various other trails.
For an hour or more they crawled back and forth through the miniature jungle, and Frank had nearly given up hopes of even seeing the jaguar, when the Macushi suddenly levelled his gun and fired into the thicket ahead. At the report there was a tremendous bellow and from his cool and shady resting place a gaunt, dun-coloured steer rose up and plunged crashing through the brush.
Frank burst into a roar of laughter; the Macushi assumed a most surprised and crestfallen look, and Joseph tersely remarked:
"Me tellum all same fool. Macushi no sabby cow."
There seemed little chance of finding a jaguar where a wild steer had found a comfortable resting place, and the noise of the shot and their voices would have certainly frightened any jaguar which might have been lurking in the vicinity, and so, abandoning their hunt, the three commenced to make their way out of the jungle, the while taking no care to move silently, and paying little heed to the surroundings.
Presently they came to a little open space breast high with coarse grass, and, as they pushed their way through, there was a sudden commotion in the grass before them, a loud ominous growl and a magnificent jaguar sprang from the sedge and bounded into the tangled thicket. Its appearance was so absolutely unexpected that Frank stood dumbfounded until the creature was almost out of sight, when he fired both barrels of his gun at the disappearing form.
A savage snarl answered, and hurrying into the brush, the Indians soon found blood drops on the ground, but the jaguar was nowhere to be seen, and though they searched for hours, the hunters at last gave up in despair, and hot, tired and torn made their way back to the village.
Mr. Andrews' work was now completed, and having secured a plentiful supply of provisions from the Macushis, the party bade good-bye to the savanna village and headed down stream towards the Essequibo.
The river was very low and the men found difficulty in getting the boat over the rocks and ledges which were exposed in the channels. Mr. Andrews showed Frank the high-water mark of the river on the rocks and shores, and which in many places was ten or fifteen feet above its present level. He explained how the rivers rose suddenly during the rainy season, how mere rills increased to foaming torrents in a few hours and how the water, rising far above the banks, flooded vast areas of the forest and savannas, and enabled boats to navigate for many miles and to traverse the country from river to river.
"It's possible to go by boat from Georgetown to the Amazon or the Orinoco," he said. "Even when there are no floods there are creeks or canals which connect the various rivers. Thus the upper waters of the Rupinuni and Essequibo approach so closely to the headwaters of the Rio Negro and the branches of the Orinoco that the Indians can pass from one to the other in their canoes, as did those we met near the mouth of the Potaro. If it were not for the rapids and cataracts, good sized boats could go up the Amazon or Orinoco and down the Guiana streams, or vice versa, during seasons of high water. So, too, the headwaters of the Rupinuni and the Kuyuwini, which is a branch of the Essequibo, rise within four or five miles of each other and the Takutu, which is a branch of the Amazon and which forms a portion of the Brazilian boundary, rises between the two and the three are connected by itabus or canals. On the other side the Mataruki, which is a branch of the Essequibo, rises almost in the same spot as the New River, which flows into the Courantyne, and, so you see, during the rainy season British Guiana is really surrounded by water and becomes an island."
"Then that unknown district you spoke of must lie right to the east of where we are now," said Frank, who was busily studying his map, "and by going up to the Mataruki and down the New River one could go right around it."
"The unexplored region lies a little further south than we are at present," replied Mr. Andrews, "but practically nothing is known of any of the country from the Makari Mountains to the source of the New River, between the Essequibo and the Courantyne. I've a little surprise for you which I hadn't mentioned before, as I was not sure we would have time to attempt it. I'm going to try to penetrate a little way into that very district on this trip."
"Hurrah!" cried Frank. "That will be splendid. Just to think of going into real unexplored country. Why we can't tell what we may find. Where are we going in? Do tell me all about your plans, Mr. Andrews."
The other smiled at the boy's enthusiasm. "Very well," he replied, as he spread out the government maps. "Here's where we are now—close to this spot marked 'Primos Inlet.' I hope to be able to make our way up stream past the first or Murray's Cataract, and if possible around King William Fourth's Cataract, to Great Fall. There we'll leave the boat and strike east into the interior. The Macushis told me there is an Indian village near the river—Tarumas, they say—where I can secure supplies, carriers and guides. I hope to obtain some data in regard to the mountain range which stretches across the colony, as well as to have a look at the surrounding country. There is a scheme to run a railway through to Brazil from Georgetown, and it may be possible that a better route exists to the east of the Essequibo than to the west. I do not expect to make an extended trip or to do much survey work, but if it looks promising I shall return with a larger party and proper equipment. Don't count too much on our little exploring trip—I'm afraid it will prove very dull and there'll be little new or strange to be seen. You'll find it tiresome tramping, after travelling so long by boat, and I should hesitate about letting you undertake the trip if you hadn't proved yourself such a good bushman and so willing to rough it."
"Oh, I don't call anything we've done yet really roughing it," declared Frank. "We've just had an easy time, sitting here in the boat, and I haven't tramped enough to keep my legs from getting stiff. I'll find plenty to interest me on the trip into the bush, and I don't think I'll get tired,—I'm used to tramping at home. Even if we don't find anything new or strange it will be fine to be able to tell the fellows I've really been in unexplored forests. Do you think I may get a jaguar?"
"I can't say as to that," replied Mr. Andrews. "Would you believe it? You've already seen more jaguars on this trip than I've seen in all the years I've spent in the Guiana bush. A few tracks and their screams are the only 'symptoms' of tigers I've ever seen or heard, while you've actually seen and shot at one. The beasts are common enough, but they're very wary, and it's next to impossible to secure them without dogs trained for the purpose."
"Well, I suppose I ought to be more than satisfied with what I have done," remarked Frank. "Mighty few boys have ever had such a trip."
So far the trip had been all that Frank had pictured. He had thrilled at the skill and daring of the Indians as they swam through the turmoil of the rapids and, rope in teeth, had gained foothold on the slippery submerged rocks. He had cheered and shouted with the others as, pitting their strength against the raging current, they had hauled the heavy boat by inches up the angry current. He had watched with bated breath as the boat hung motionless in the grip of whirlpools, while the eight men strove with might and main to drive it forward to safety and their paddles bent to the strain, and time and again he had been ready to leap from the craft and seek safety in swimming the foaming flood as the craft grounded on submerged rocks and the hissing waters poured over its gunwales.
In Indian benabs and under tarpaulins beneath the trees he had slept in his hammock, while from the depths of the jungle the screams of jaguars had sent shivers down his spine, and vampires squeaked in the shadows of the forest, and day after day he had waked to the weird and awful cries of the howling monkeys.
He had visited Indians living as, did their forefathers, ere white men ever saw Guiana's shores, and had watched them preparing cassava, weaving hammocks and dancing their strange dances whilst clad in nodding feather crowns and gorgeous mantles of plumes. He had hunted with them in the dark forest depths, had seen them call and shoot the great river fish with their long arrows, and had stood beside them as, with tiny poisoned darts and blowguns, they killed powis and macaws in the topmost branches of the trees.
Peccary, labba, tapir, deer and ocelot had fallen to his gun, and wonderfully proud he felt as he looked at the many trophies of the chase which he had won.
He had seen many a strange sight, had tramped many a mile of primeval forest and had learned much of woodcraft and of tracking game. He had learned to recognise the various trees and plants; knew the calls of the wild birds and their Indian names, and under Joseph's tutelage had become "Bushman all same Buck," as the Indian declared.
He had grown brown and strong, had kept in perfect health, and had come to love the vast mysterious forests, the great majestic rivers, the tumbling cataracts and the quiet hospitable Indians. But the adventures he had hoped for had not been met, the perils of the falls and rapids had been overcome so readily and so safely that he scarce realised their danger, and he had acquired a vast contempt for the savage beasts and reptiles of which he had read such wild tales, but which invariably sought only to keep away from the human invaders of their haunts. But now that Mr. Andrews told of his plan to enter the unexplored wilderness to the east, Frank thrilled with hope of adventures yet to come. What might they not find in the unknown! What dangers and perils might they not have to face! What secrets might they not wrest from their hiding place in this land which no white man had ever seen? Frank was all impatience to leave the river and strike into the bush; the boat seemed to travel all too slowly, and he grudged the hours of weary toil as the boat and its cargo were portaged around cataract after cataract.
At last the Great Falls roared close at hand, camp was made and Mr. Andrews and the captain busied themselves assorting the baggage and supplies to carry into the bush, and dividing it into portions which could be carried on Indians' backs.
The next morning an early start was made for the Taruma village, and leaving six men in charge of the boat, Mr. Andrews, Frank, the captain, and Joseph plunged into the forest along a faint trail which followed the general course of the river, and which, the Indians averred, led to the village they sought.
The country was rough and broken, great rocks were piled about as if thrown into the bush by some giant's hand, and walking was difficult. By noon, however, they had passed the worst of the rocky country, their way led over rolling hills clothed with more open forest, and late in the afternoon they reached the edge of the jungle and looked forth upon a far-stretching savanna broken by clumps of trees and thickets, fantastic rock masses and marshy swales, and with a large Indian village in plain view.
It was a peaceful, lovely scene; the bright sunlight, blue sky and fresh sweeping breeze were wonderfully welcome after the sunless depth of the dank and shadowy forest, and Frank felt a strange desire to shout and run madly through the grass that seemed so smooth and soft from where he stood. But as they hurried forward and gained the edge of the savanna, he realised how futile it would be to attempt such a feat, for the grass was tangled and wiry, the ground was far from level and the village, which had appeared so near when first seen, was now quite hidden from sight. The Indians' keen eyes had already noted the track which led to the village, however, and unhesitatingly led the way, and ere sunset the little party came to the mud-walled, thatched houses of the Tarumas.
Even more primitive than the Macushis were these people, and much to Frank's surprise, many of the men had coarse black beards, which gave them a very savage and wild appearance, which was heightened by designs in black, white, and red painted upon their faces.
But their looks belied them; they welcomed the strangers cordially; they brought forth food to eat and conducted the visitors to a vacant hut wherein to pass the night.
Mr. Andrews presented them with tobacco, beads and some bright blue cloth, and then, by the aid of the captain as interpreter—for the Tarumas spoke very little English or talky-talky—he stated his business and asked for carriers and guides.
The Tarumas appeared to hesitate and discussed the matter for some moments among themselves before the chief replied to Mr. Andrews.
"There was," he said, "another village at the farther side of the savanna—a village of the Pianoghottos—three days' march away. Gladly would his young men guide the travellers to that village, and women would carry the white men's loads, but beyond there they knew nothing. They were Indians of the savannas—the Tarumas—and had never penetrated the forests beyond. It was too dangerous—a land peopled by Didoes and Horis (devils). Once, years before—when he, the chief, was a young man—a party of his people had entered that wilderness and had never returned, and ever since then the Tarumas had kept to their own savannas. Did the Pianoghottos know the forest beyond? How could he tell? They too were people of the savanna, but they lived near the forest, and no doubt knew more of it than the Tarumas—perchance their Piaiman had charms that kept the evil spirits away."
With this Mr. Andrews was obliged to be satisfied. The Tarumas evidently had no knowledge of the interior beyond the limits of the savanna, and with the hope that the Pianoghottos would serve him better, he made arrangements for carriers to go to the boat the following morning and return with the loads he had laid out.
When Frank came forth from his hut the next day, the carriers had departed for the boat and when, late in the afternoon, they returned, Frank marvelled at the ease with which the women carried their heavy burdens in open, wickerwork baskets or "surianas," secured by broad bands across their foreheads.
At dawn the little expedition left the Taruma village behind and started across the savanna towards the distant Pianoghotto settlement and the unknown.
A young Taruma led the way as guide, behind him in single file marched the captain, Mr. Andrews, Frank, and Joseph, and bringing up in the rear were the six Taruma women with their heavily-ladened surianas, in which were packed all the supplies, provisions and baggage for the trip.
It was a long and dreary march across the great savanna. The sun beat down relentlessly from a cloudless sky; from the flowers of the coarse grass and weeds showers of pollen were dislodged and filled eyes and nostrils and caused parched, dry throats and intense thirst, and Frank longed for the cool shade and moist air of the forests ere the first day's trip was done. He could not understand how the Indians could prefer the savanna to the bush as a dwelling place, and never ceased to wonder at the patient women who bore the heavy burdens and plodded steadily along for hour after hour, their naked skins and bare heads exposed to the burning sun; and yet they seemed not to mind this labor in the least, but chatted and laughed among themselves as if on a mere pleasure jaunt.
Mr. Andrews assured him they considered this easy work, that in their every day life they carried far heavier loads, and that they were so accustomed to the blazing sunlight and the open savanna that they were perfectly comfortable.
Camp was made in a sheltered swale, the Indians quickly erecting little huts of Etah palm and canes, and, as soon as the sun sank, Frank saw why shelters were required, for with the darkness came a cold night wind that chilled the white men to the bone, while the Indians shivered over their camp fires. Frank was surprised at this sudden change in temperature, but Mr. Andrews explained that they were really some 500 feet above sea level, and thus in a climate such as might be expected on the summit of a mountain. With the blankets they had provided, the travellers slept comfortably, however, and by sunrise were once more on the march. Little game was seen, but Frank succeeded in killing several big snipe-like birds as large as fowls and a number of plover, and these formed a most welcome addition to the cassava cakes, buccaned powis, yams and plantains which had been secured at the Taruma village.
The second day was but a repetition of the first, but on the third the savanna became fresher and greener, little ponds or pools were passed, and in the afternoon they reached some open spaces where the grass had been burned away and vegetables were growing. By these signs they knew they were approaching the village they sought, and just before sundown they came to a large cleared space with a number of houses in the centre.
The Pianoghottos gathered about the strangers and gazed at them with the greatest curiosity, for many of them had never seen a white man before, and Frank was elated to discover that he and Mr. Andrews were the first white people who had ever visited the village.
The Indians were as hospitable as the others they had met, but when Mr. Andrews requested guides and carriers to accompany his party into the forest, which commenced a mile or so beyond the village, they seemed as loth as the Tarumas to enter the unknown wilderness.
Like the others they declared 'twas the abode of Horis and Didoes, and only after a long argument, and by the liberal bestowal of beads, cloth, tobacco, and other trade goods, did Mr. Andrews succeed in persuading three men to go with him. One of these was half Acuria, and he stated that his father's people had a village on the southeastern edge of the savanna and that the Acurias were forest people. Nothing would induce the Tarumas to go further, and as no carriers could be hired and as it was useless to attempt to transport all the supplies with so few men, Mr. Andrews selected such things as he deemed absolutely necessary and regretfully sent the rest back to the boat by the returning Taruma women.
Even the three Pianoghotto men grumbled at being obliged to carry loads, complaining that it was women's work, and, to lighten their burdens and ease their consciences, Joseph and the captain consented to carry a portion of the loads.
Mr. Andrews and Frank were both greatly disappointed at not being able to secure Indians to go into the unknown forest to the east, and the more the Bucks talked of the dangers and the evil spirits, and the greater of their dread of the forest, the more anxious were the two explorers to penetrate the district, for the natives' superstitious fear was proof that even they had never been through this country between the upper Essequibo and the New River.
Moreover, by sending back some of their supplies, the length of their trip was shortened, and both Mr. Andrews and Frank feared that they would be compelled to return to the boat long before they had accomplished anything worth while. But despite the difficulties they had encountered, Mr. Andrews was still hopeful of obtaining guides at the Acuria village, and towards this the party made its way.
As they proceeded southeastward towards the savanna's edge, Mr. Andrews took copious notes and bearings and examined the occasional rocks, the vegetation and the soil with care. Once, as they stopped to rest, the Acuria man noticed Mr. Andrews, as he picked up and cracked open bits of reddish rocks and pebbles, and watched him with apparent interest. Then, turning to Joseph, he spoke a few words in Indian dialect.
"He tellum plenty rockstone like so top side Acuria way," the latter translated. "Plenty rockstone all same caracuri."
Mr. Andrews grew interested at once. "I wonder what he means by 'caracuri,'” he remarked to Frank. "That's the Indian word for gold, but it also means red or yellow, like gold. It was that double meaning of the word which led Raleigh and the old discoverers after the fabled city of Manoa and El Dorado—they thought the natives meant gold, when no doubt they merely meant red or golden earth or clay. But there are signs of auriferous rocks hereabout,—perhaps after all the fellow really means gold. It may be well worth looking into."
Addressing Joseph, he spoke to him in talky-talky: "Me tellum what side he catchum rockstone like so? How can tell he gotum all same? Tellum how long makeum walk topside, come back Acuria side?"
Joseph spoke rapidly to the Acuria, who replied at length:
"He tellum one feller Acuria, same way Piaiman, catchum plenty like so," interpreted Joseph. "Piaiman makeum walk topside bush. Same feller no 'fraid Hori, no 'fraid Dido. He good friend Devil, makeum fire all same rockstone one kind; makeum ring, makeum bead all same caracuri other feller rockstone. Acuria man he tellum no sabby where findum. Mebbe Piaiman feller he tellum."
"What do you suppose he's driving at?" asked Frank. "What does he mean by the Piaiman making fire from one rock and gold rings and beads from another?"
"I'm sure I don't know," replied Mr. Andrews as the party again resumed its way, "but I suspect the old medicine man has obtained native iron from some deposit known only to himself and has discovered he can strike fire with it like steel. Such a feat would no doubt impress his tribe with his powers and friendship with the 'devils.' I expect the 'gold' rings and beads are merely some red or yellow stone or hard clay. But we'll find out when we reach the village."
"I don't believe you've the least bit of imagination or romance in your make-up," laughed Frank. "You're terribly practical and matter of fact. Now I believe the Acuria Piaiman really knows where there is a gold mine—perhaps he started the stories of the Didoes just to keep the Indians from following him. Wouldn't it be fine if we could discover it?"
"It wouldn't do you much good," declared Mr. Andrews, smiling at the boy's enthusiastic optimism. "It would cost more to get machinery up here and the gold out than 'twas worth—that is, until a railroad is put through; we're about two hundred miles from nowhere. But after all you may be right. One never can tell; perhaps, as you say, the Piaiman has a gold mine hidden in the forest—they're sly old rascals."
For four days they tramped onward; wild fowl were abundant and helped greatly to eke out the slender supply of provisions, and each night they drew nearer and nearer to the forest.
On the fourth day they reached a good-sized stream, and Mr. Andrews uttered an exclamation of surprise as they came to its bank.
"Do you see anything strange about this creek?" he asked Frank.
"Why, no," replied the other, after looking intently at the little waterway. "It isn't brown like the others, but I suppose that's because it doesn't flow through the woods. What do you see that's so queer?"
"It flows to the east," replied Mr. Andrews. "It must be a tributary of the New River or the Berbice; we must have crossed a divide that separates the Essequibo from the Berbice valley, unless the stream swings around to the west again."
Calling Joseph he asked him to enquire of the Acuria as to the course of the stream. The Indian could tell him little, however, and stated that he knew only that the creek rose in a low, swampy spot to the northwest and that it ran across the savanna and disappeared in the forest to the east and south. But even this slight information was enough to confirm Mr. Andrews' suspicions, and he noted the location of the new stream on the rough map he was making of the district.
"Hurrah! We've discovered a new river," exclaimed Frank as Mr. Andrews completed his rough sketch, and the party proceeded to wade the stream. "We're the first white men to cross this and I feel like Balboa discovering the Pacific. What will we name it, Mr. Andrews?"
"I'll name it Ellis River," laughed Mr. Andrews. "It's hardly a 'river' perhaps, but it probably increases in size, and we can let it go at that." Frank was vastly proud at having a stream named after him, and was in high spirits as they tramped onward towards the forest, which now was but a few miles distant. Soon the Acuria broke into a dog trot, declaring that the village of his people was just ahead, and the others hurried after him. Sure enough, within the hour the little cluster of huts was reached, and at sight of the strangers the naked women and children scurried into hiding, and even the men kept aloof and seemed suspicious of the newcomers. But at some words of reassurance from the Acuria guide the villagers gained confidence and welcomed the travellers, though still gazing at them with the most intense curiosity.
As the Acurias gathered about Frank grasped Mr. Andrews' arm. "Look there," he cried, "these Indians have got gold ornaments. Now will you believe?"
"You're right," exclaimed Mr. Andrews, "there's no question about it. But that doesn't prove— For heaven's sake, Frank, look at that buck!" His tone was as excited as his young companion's. "He's wearing a 'gold moon!' And there's another with one. Frank, my boy, am I seeing things? Why those ornaments were the very things that Raleigh described, and which no one has ever seen since. What on earth have we run onto here?"
At this instant a strange figure pushed his way through the little circle of Indians. He was old and wrinkled, with an enormous head and fat paunch, and his face and body were decorated with a maze of lines, squares and circles in red, black, white, and yellow. On his head he wore a magnificent feather crown, and to the fringe of strings that hung from it down his back, were fastened a score of skins of the rare Cock of the Rock. About his neck and shoulders were string after string of teeth, claws, rattling seeds and iridescent beetle wings. In one hand be bore a stout staff decorated with gay feathers, tufts of fur and festoons of seeds, and in the other hand he carried a huge calabash rattle.
Frank and Mr. Andrews at once knew him for the Piaiman, and Frank's eyes were round with wonder as he gazed at the old medicine man, for not only did he wear a full half-dozen of the strange golden moons, but about his arms and ankles were strings of great, dull-yellow nuggets of virgin gold.
"He's a regular walking gold mine," exclaimed the excited boy.
"Yes, a living El Dorado," agreed Mr. Andrews. "There must be a wonderfully rich placer somewhere near here."
With strange gestures and weird grimaces the old fellow approached the two white men, banging his staff upon the ground, shaking his rattle and jabbering away in his native dialect. Mr. Andrews directed Joseph to ask the medicine man what he wanted and to tell him that the visitors brought presents for him and his people.
The Piaiman listened attentively as Mr. Andrews spoke and burst into a peal of cackling laughter. Then, to the utmost surprise of Frank and Mr. Andrews he began to speak in talky-talky.
"Tellum plenty good feller," he exclaimed, "me likeum same way. Me tellum what wantum can do. Me tellum Piaiman all same good friend."
The Piaiman held forth his claw-like hand and Mr. Andrews and Frank shook hands with him gravely.
"We good friend, all same Buckman," replied Mr. Andrews. "Acuria plenty good feller. Me tellum what wantum bimeby. How Piaiman catchum sabby talky-talky?"
Instantly the Indian's expression changed and a cunning leer swept over his features.
"Piaiman sabby all thing. No makeum, catchum like so," he replied. "S'pose wantum rain, me tellum, can come. S'pose wantum fire, can catchum. Me tellum make, look so."
"Isn't he the old fakir," whispered Frank as the Piaiman fumbled in a leather pouch at his side. "Imagine him trying to make us believe he knows talky-talky by sorcery and can bring rain when he chooses."
"Well, we're going to see him make fire at any rate," said Mr. Andrews. "But I'm going to give him a 'jolt' as you Americans say."
The Piaiman had now drawn forth a bit of rock and a lump of dull-greyish metal from his pouch and placing a bit of the tinder on the pebble he struck it with the metal and a shower of sparks flew off and the tinder caught fire.
A sigh-like murmur of wonder and admiration went up from the assembled Indians, and the Piaiman looked at the strangers as much as to say, "Beat that if you can."
Mr. Andrews nudged Frank. "That's a meteorite he's using," he whispered, "but I'd like to know where he learned the trick. I'll bet the old rascal's lived among white men." Then, drawing a box of matches from his pocket, he addressed the Piaiman:
"Tellum sabby catchum fire plenty same way," he said. "How you like catchum so?" As he spoke he struck a match and held it up for all to see.
He had expected a look of wonder on the Indians' faces, but they showed no sign of interest or surprise, and the old medicine man again cackled with glee.
"Acuria gotum plenty like so," he exclaimed, and from his pouch produced a box of safety matches.
"Well of all things!" cried Frank. "These people have matches, but they think flint and steel is magic."
"I wonder if this will surprise them," remarked Mr. Andrews, and taking a magnifying glass from his pocket, he held it up in plain view of all, and then, stooping, focussed it on a few wisps of dried grass and leaves. The Piaiman and his companions watched the operation intently, and as the dry material smoked and burst into flame they uttered a cry of the most intense surprise and wonder.
"1 thought that would offset his magic stone," laughed Mr. Andrews as he slipped the lens into his pocket. "I'll wager the old Piaiman will give all he knows to get that lens."
There was no doubt that the medicine man coveted the lens and was trying to ingratiate himself with the strangers who could work such marvellous magic. He looked with longing and envy at Mr. Andrews, and could scarcely take his little bead-like eyes from the pocket which held the burning glass. He fawned about the white men, constantly muttered complimentary and flattering expressions in Acuria and talky-talky, and with many protestations of friendship, led the travellers to a large, well-built hut, where he bade them consider themselves at home. Food was brought, the Indians gathered about and Mr. Andrews distributed gifts. Although the Acurias seemed very primitive and, with the exception of the Piaiman, had evidently never seen white people before, yet they were not without certain products of civilisation. They wore cloth laps and bead queyus, their arrows were iron-tipped, several men carried machetes, a steel hoe rested against one of the huts, several iron pots and some cracked porcelain dishes were scattered about, and Mr. Andrews and Frank had ample proof that they were familiar with matches.
This puzzled Frank, but Mr. Andrews explained that these articles had no doubt been acquired through other Indian tribes who dealt with the outlying settlements, and he related a story of another isolated village he had once discovered and in which the people, still in the stone age in most ways, possessed breech-loading guns.
Judging by the shouts of delight at the trade goods, the products of civilisation were at a great premium in the Acuria village and, every one being in great good humour over their gifts, Mr. Andrews now proceeded to state his wants.
When he had finished the old Piaiman spoke, and in his talky-talky informed Mr. Andrews that to enter the forest more than a short distance was not to be thought of. Through it, he said, there ran a river and beyond the stream no man might go for 'twas the abode of Horis and devils. If the white man wished to go as far as the river, very well; the Acurias would guide him, but beyond that, no; and he then enquired innocently why they wished to go into the forest and what they sought.
Mr. Andrews and Frank were greatly interested in the man's statement about the forest. "I wonder what river that is?" whispered Frank.
"It's hard to say," replied Mr. Andrews. "He says it's five days' walk, but that doesn't mean much. It may be the Berbice or the New River, or it may be the stream we crossed on the savanna or some other creek."
Speaking to the Piaiman, he enquired the size and direction of the river, and asked where it flowed.
But the Indian could not, or would not, give very definite information. "The river was swift," he said; it was "not too wide" and might be crossed if the devils beyond did not prevent, and it flowed through a "hole in the ground," so tradition said, and then, once more, he asked suspiciously what the white man sought in the forest.
Mr. Andrews assured him they wanted nothing, save to explore the forest and map the river, and he spent a long time trying to explain the maps which he showed to the old Piaiman and striving to make clear the importance of tracing the rivers and exploring the country.
But the medicine man was still suspicious. "I'll bet he thinks we're after his secret gold mine," whispered Frank. "I wonder which side of the river that's on?"
"I'm going to spring that question presently," replied Mr. Andrews, and turning to the Indian he asked how it was that if the woods were full of devils he, the Piaiman, could go there in safety.
The wily savage looked uncomfortable, and strove to evade a direct reply by enquiring why the white man thought he had ever been beyond the mysterious river.
Mr. Andrews leaned forward and touched the circlet of nuggets about the Indian's ankles, and pointing to the pouch which contained the meteorite, looked fixedly into the other's eyes.
"Me tellum catchum rockstone like so; catchum caracuri topside river," he declared in positive tones.
The Piaiman looked furtively about, moved uneasily and hesitated and then, as if realising he could no longer deceive the white man, he vowed he was friendly with the "devils"; that he possessed charms which made them powerless for harm and, to cap the climax, offered to accompany the strangers to the spot where he obtained the gold and iron in exchange for the "piai moon" that made fire.
Mr. Andrews and Frank were elated. They were confident now that the crafty medicine man knew there was nothing to fear in the forest; that he encouraged the superstitions of his people for his own purposes, and that in his eyes the burning glass was of greater value than the gold or other secrets beyond the river, for doubtless the magic of these things had begun to wane, and be was becoming hard put to it to produce new proofs of his supernatural powers.
Mr. Andrews was for setting out at dawn the next day, but the Piaiman would hear nothing of this plan. He insisted that there must be time for preparation, that the people must feast, that they must celebrate the visit of the white men and the riches they had acquired, and that to start without doing this would surely result in ill luck or worse.
It was useless to argue or coax, the Piaiman was obdurate, and fearing he would repent of his bargain if they showed too great impatience, Mr. Andrews finally consented to the delay.
At nightfall the celebration commenced, and the Acurias, dressed in their feather crowns; their faces and bodies painted; mantles of plumes about shoulders and loins, and armed with dance-sticks, pranced and cavorted to the fitful glare of huge bonfires. It was a weird, strange spectacle, and Frank, watching it with interest, could scarce believe he was still in British Guiana, and that but 300 miles distant was the modern city with its trolley cars, automobiles and motion-picture theatres.
But the Indians, savage as they appeared, were good-natured, happy and full of fun, and presently insisted upon their white visitors joining in the revels. Mr. Andrews, knowing it would please them to do so, donned feather crown and seized a dance stick and was soon shouting and prancing with the best of them, and Frank, somewhat shy at first, at last joined in the queer performance.
Soon every one was taking part; the Pianoghottos, Joseph and the captain included, and Frank roared with laughter at the funny capers cut by the Piaiman who, old and wrinkled as he was, seemed never to tire, and was as lively as the youngest Buck of the tribe.
There was apparently no regular step or system to the dance. The Indians weaving back and forth, in couples, one behind the other, the one in the rear with his hands resting on the shoulders of his partner and every one chanting a peculiar, monotonous song. Ever and anon a crowd of small boys would rush madly forth, with waving ornaments of palm leaves on their heads and each body painted a different color, and all yelling and screaming, leaping and jumping about like a swarm of maniacs.
Now and again a man would drop out of the main circle and commence dancing by himself or with a woman, and soon there were many groups of performers—men, women, and boys each and every one giving no heed to his or her fellows save to try to outdo the others in noise and contortions.
Frank soon grew weary, and slipping away entered the hut, and curling up in his hammock, strove to go to sleep, but the din without was so great that slumber was impossible and 'twas long past midnight before the hilarity waned and the tired boy fell asleep.
It was very late when the travellers awoke, and Frank, who was the first to step outside the hut, was attracted by a strange sight. Gathered about a huge trough—formed by hollowing out a log—were a dozen or more women, and all were busily chewing cassava bread and spitting the pulp into the trough. The receptacle was already nearly one-half full of the disgusting mass, and Frank, remembering Mr. Andrews' words, at once realised that the Indians were preparing their native liquor, known as piwarrie.
Then he recollected what Mr. Andrews had said about the drunken orgies, the quarrels and even the blood feuds which resulted from piwarrie feasts, and hurrying back to the hut he told Mr. Andrews what he had seen.
Mr. Andrews looked greatly troubled at the news. "I was afraid of that," he said, as he hurried into his clothes. "I knew the old Piaiman would want a good spree before starting out. Unless we can get away before they begin we'll be delayed so long we'll have to abandon the trip. These piwarrie feasts sometimes last for a week,"
Leaving the hut, Mr. Andrews made his way to the Piaiman's house. The medicine man was dozing in the sun outside his door, and to all of Mr. Andrews' pleas merely shook his head and insisted that it would be an affront to the "devils" and an insult to his guests if the piwarrie feast was abandoned. Arguments, threats and promises were equally useless, a piwarrie feast was part of the programme of festivities and nothing could alter the Acurias' plans.
At last Mr. Andrews gave up in despair. "I expect the wisest thing we can do is to start on to the forest with our Pianoghottos, if we can induce them to go, and then let the old Piaiman follow after and meet us," he said.
But the Pianoghottos would not take a step towards the forest, and when Mr. Andrews suggested returning to their village and abandoning the trip, they refused point blank to leave until the piwarrie feast was over.
"We're in for it," declared Mr. Andrews. "There's nothing for us to do other than wait here until this miserable spree is finished, and then either go as far as we can into the bush or else go back. We can't attempt to retrace our way across the savanna alone, and it would be suicidal to enter the forest without supplies and camping outfits."
"Perhaps it won't last very long and the men won't get very drunk," suggested Frank.
Mr. Andrews laughed drily. "They'll get as drunk as they can," he replied, "and they'll keep it up as long as the piwarrie holds out. I've known of cases in which the entire supply of cassava, intended to supply the village with food for weeks, was destroyed to make a piwarrie feast, and the people actually starved to death as a result. I'm glad you can be optimistic, Frank, but you don't know what's coming and I do. If we can only keep the Pianoghottos from getting into trouble I'll he satisfied. Likely as not they'll rake up old tribal feuds when they're drunk and there'll be a fight. Then we'll be in a nice fix, without men to accompany us back across the savanna. I'm worried, Frank, and I don't mind admitting it."
But there was nothing the two could do. The trough of chewed cassava had been filled with water and left to ferment, and the Indians spent the entire day sleeping, lazing and waiting for the miserable mass of piwarrie to ferment. Mr. Andrews and Frank were virtually prisoners until the feast should be over, and they occupied their time by exploring the country for several miles about, and even took a long tramp into the bush. But as soon as they entered the forest they realised how hopeless it would be to attempt any long trip without guides. It was far more dense than any of the bush along the rivers, there were no visible paths or trails, and it was impossible to proceed in any direction without hewing a way with machetes.
Joseph accompanied them and assured Mr. Andrews that he would take no part in the piwarrie feast, explaining that his people had been nearly wiped from existence by such an orgy in the past, and that ever since then his chief had forbidden the use of piwarrie by any member of his village.
This was some comfort to the two white men, for they could be sure of one sober companion at least, and, if worst came to worst, Joseph would be able to help carry supplies enough to last the three as far as the Pianoghotto village.
On the second day of their enforced wait, the three walked back across the savanna as far as the stream they had christened Ellis River and wandered down its bank towards the forest. Where it entered the woods it afforded a chance to walk easily for the water was very low, and a fairly wide strip of sand and stones was exposed between the water and the wooded banks.
"It might he possible to follow this stream far into the forest," remarked Mr. Andrews, after they had travelled for a mile or more. "I imagine this is the river the Piaiman mentioned, but it must flow in a very circuitous course to pass through the bush five days' walk from the village."
For several hours they followed the course of the stream, and then found their way barred by a cliff of rock which rose perpendicularly from the river, which flowed against its base and swung sharply to the south.
The opposite shore, however, was broken, and by crossing the stream higher up the party could easily have passed on further. It was growing late, however, and reluctantly the party retraced their way to the savanna and the village.
"They've commenced already," remarked Mr. Andrews, as they approached the houses and heard the shouts and cries of the hilarious Indians. "Make yourself as inconspicuous as possible, Frank, but try to keep an eye on our Pianoghottos. If a quarrel starts with them let me know at once. I'll watch, too, and I only hope they keep together and don't mix with the Acurias. The captain may need watching also. Those civilised Bucks sometimes become worse than the wild chaps, when they drink piwarrie."
Turning to Joseph, he cautioned him also; made him promise not to touch a drop of the liquor and warned him not to get into any argument with the drunken Acurias or to take offence at anything they said or did. But none of the Indians had taken enough of the liquor as yet to lose control of their senses, for, as Mr. Andrews told Frank, an Indian must drink an immense amount of the filthy brew— often two or three gallons—before he becomes really intoxicated.
The Pianoghottos were in a group by themselves, and the Ackawaia boat captain was with them, which pleased Mr. Andrews greatly, for if these men remained by themselves it would be far simpler to watch them and keep them from getting into trouble than if they separated and mingled with the Acurias. But the half-Acuria guide, who had led the party across the savanna, was not among the Pianoghottos, and Mr. Andrews asked Joseph to find him and maintain a watch over him.
As the sun sank, fires were lit, and, in the ruddy light cast by the flames, the women passed about among the men, handing them calabashes and gourds filled with the piwarrie, and hourly the Indians became more uproarious and the noise increased.
Soon, many of the Indians were unable to walk steadily or to stand, and threw themselves on the ground or into their hammocks, where they continued to drink.
Others, still steady on their legs, commenced to shout tales of their bravery and prowess and to swagger boastfully about, taunting the others and hurling insults, but little attention was paid to them, although two or three times there were half-hearted scuffles between two of the Bucks.
Even the women and children were now drinking freely of the piwarrie, and soon the entire village was involved in the debasing, disgusting orgy, and Frank grew sick at the sights which met his eyes as he lurked in the shadows of the huts and tried to follow the movements of the Pianoghottos and the captain.
Mr. Andrews also kept in the background, and Joseph slipped here and there watching the half-blood Acuria with his keen eyes. Several times the women caught sight of the Arekuna youth and pressed gourds of piwarrie upon him. Joseph craftily accepted them and, pretending to drink, cast the liquor on the ground as soon as the women's backs were turned.
By midnight most of the Acurias were in an intoxicated stupor and lay, like pigs in their stys, upon the ground or in their hammocks, and as many of the women had also succumbed to the effects of the liquor, comparatively little was passed around.
Noticing this, a brilliant scheme came to Frank's mind and, approaching Mr. Andrews, he told him of his idea.
"What's to prevent us from destroying the piwarrie left in the trough?" he asked. "Most of the Indians are unconscious and the rest are too drunk to notice anything. We could sneak up to the trough and empty the piwarrie out and the Indians would think they had used it all. Then they'll sober up to-morrow and the trouble will be over."
"That's not a bad idea," replied Mr. Andrews. "But you or I would be seen and noticed at once. Perhaps Joseph might succeed without being caught. He could go to the trough with a calabash, as if to help himself, and then, when no one is looking— Hello, what's up now?"
From a knot of Indians near one of the fires came a chorus of loud shouts and a shrill scream, and instantly the little group became a struggling, fighting mass, and a single glance showed Mr. Andrews and Frank that the Pianoghottos were in trouble.
Without hesitation the two dashed forward, but ere they reached the scene of the fight Joseph rushed up, and in excited tones, exclaimed: "Me tellum plenty bad. Him feller killum Acuria buckman. All same Acuria make for killum Pianoghotto." His explanation was vague and incomplete, but there was no time to ask questions. One of the strangers had killed an Acuria, a fight had been started, and the all important matter was to separate the combatants ere there was further bloodshed and all the Pianoghottos were slaughtered.
Pushing their way among the struggling savages, regardless of their own danger, Mr. Andrews and Frank reached the centre of the disturbance. Lying on the ground was the dead Acuria, his head split open by a machete blow, and above the body were the two Pianoghottos, the captain and the half-blooded Acuria, the latter with blood streaming from a cut in his shoulder. Luckily, few of the Indians carried arms of any sort, and the maddened Acurias, who were bent on annihilating the Pianoghottos, were so befuddled with piwarrie that they were stupid and slow to act. The Pianoghottos, on the other hand, seemed fairly sober, and were striving to back away from their enemies, while the captain grasped a machete in his hand, and in a Berserk-like fury, was keeping the Acurias at bay.
Shouting to him not to strike, Mr. Andrews leaped backward, followed by Frank and Joseph, but the words were scarcely uttered when the captain swung his machete at the nearest Acuria and stretched him dying beside his tribesman.
For a brief instant the Acurias fell back, and taking advantage of this, Mr. Andrews wrenched the weapon from the captain's grasp, seized him by the scruff of the neck, and shouting to the others to follow, kicked and cuffed the Pianoghottos into motion and hurried with the captain from the village. Frank had become so excited that he quite forgot his own danger, and following Mr. Andrews' example, he grasped the nearest Pianoghotto, and driving another before him, ran with Mr. Andrews and the others. Joseph had disappeared, but ere the darkness beyond the firelight was reached, he came running up, carrying Frank's gun and cartridge belt. He had realised the danger in which they were placed without arms and had risked his life to rush to Frank's hut and secure the gun. But while Frank appreciated his bravery and his foresight, there was no time to be lost in expressing thanks or asking questions. The village was in a turmoil, the Acurias were mad for vengeance, and the only hope of safety lay in making a forced march to the Pianoghotto village before the Acurias had recovered their senses sufficiently to follow.
The savanna was before them—vast, black and limitless as a waveless sea. To enter it at night without provisions or supplies was dangerous to a degree, but behind lay still greater peril. Then from the village came a wailing cry of "Kenaima! Kenaima!" At the awful word the Pianoghottos cringed and trembled and Frank shivered as with a chill, for all knew its dreadful import, and without hesitation the fugitives plunged into the mazes of the savanna.
Onward through the night they hurried, and as they went the Pianoghottos and the captain wore off the effects of the piwarrie, and bit by bit they told how the fight, which had brought such dire results, had started.
It seemed that one of the Acurias had taunted the half-blood with being a renegade; words had followed; the Pianoghottos had taken the part of their adopted tribesman; an Acuria had struck at him and had wounded him in the shoulder, and the injured man had wrenched the machete from his aggressor and had killed him. Then the captain had arrived; another Acuria had been sacrificed in the drunken brawl, and as a consequence the relentless Kenaima would follow on their trail, while an even worse fate threatened in the grassy waste that lay ahead.
For hour after hour they tramped on; several times they lost their way in the darkness and wandered about, seeking the trail, but with daylight they found less trouble and at last reached the little river.
Their eyes were heavy with sleep, they were footsore and weary and the wounded man was so weak with loss of blood that his fellows were obliged to support him. Soon it became evident that a stop must be made for a short rest and, carefully concealing their tracks, they turned at right angles and, pressing through the coarse weeds and grass, gained a little patch of woods in a hollow.
There was nothing to eat, and although there were many birds about, they dared not shoot for fear of betraying their hiding place to their pursuers, who might already be upon their trail, but Joseph succeeded in snaring a trumpet bird and, despite the danger, they built a fire and made a slender meal from the creature. "Do you suppose they really will send a Kenaima after us?" asked Frank.
"I haven't a doubt of it," replied Mr. Andrews. "Those Acurias are primitive people, and to them the laws of blood vengeance are sacred. I have no doubt a Kenaima has already started on our trail."
"Will he try to kill us as well as the Indians who killed the Acurias?" the boy enquired in a troubled tone.
"I'd like to be able to say no, honestly," replied Mr. Andrews, "but I can't. I don't wish to frighten you or to overrate our peril, but under Indian custom not only the two who actually killed the men, but all their relatives as well, must be wiped out of existence to satisfy the Kenaima. Both the captain and the wounded man there will be objects of vengeance, and as the Pianoghottos were involved in the trouble, and we helped the guilty ones to escape, I fear we will all be included in the Kenaima. We must use the utmost care and watchfulness. If we can reach the river and our boat we may be safe. I don't think the avengers will follow any but the actual culprits very far, but until then death lurks in every thicket and at every turn."
“There's another reason why I fear for our own safety. The old Piaiman would hesitate at nothing to secure that burning glass. He wouldn't steal it as long as we were friendly, for with all their faults these Bucks are absolutely honest, but the Kenaima gives him an excuse for putting us out of the way and securing the coveted object. I shouldn't be surprised if the Piaiman became Kenaima himself."
"Well, I'm glad Joseph brought my gun. I'll shoot at any Kenaima I see," declared Frank.
"I hope we won't he obliged to do that," said Mr. Andrews. "It might afford relief for a time, but as I told you before, the death of one Kenaima does not end the matter. Another will follow relentlessly where the first leaves off, and moreover that would make us direct objects of vengeance. However, it may become necessary. We can't have any killings if we can avoid it."
Mr. Andrews now insisted that Frank must secure some sleep, and despite the dangers which beset them and the excitement, Frank was so tired that he fell into a troubled slumber from which he awoke greatly refreshed. The wounded man was still very weak, but he declared he had rather die on the way than to starve here in the savanna thicket, and once more the fugitives resumed their tramp. A Pianoghotto went first, the wounded man and the captain followed and behind these came the other Indians, then Frank and Mr. Andrews, while Joseph brought up the rear. There was no danger of an attack while moving forward, Mr. Andrews declared, for the Kenaima must attack and destroy his victims single handed and by prescribed methods, and hence the longer they could keep on the march the less was their danger.
All through the long, scorching day they kept on. Frank's head reeled with the sun and lack of food and even the tireless Indians showed signs of weariness.
As the sun sank, Mr. Andrews announced that they must go into camp for the night, for the game paths crossed and recrossed the trail, and to attempt to follow the way after dark would be fatal. Once more they turned from their course and, hoping to find a sheltered spot where there was water, they climbed a low hillock to obtain a better view of their surroundings.
Joseph was the first to gain the summit, and as he swept his eyes about the horizon he uttered a frightened cry, and pointed back to the east. The cause of his fear was instantly apparent as the others reached his side, for stretching across the sea of grass was a wall of smoke and beneath it great tongues of flame gleamed and leaped as they devoured the dry herbage. The savanna was on fire; the wind, blowing strongly from the east, was carrying the raging blaze directly towards the fugitives, and each moment the vast clouds of smoke and the lurid flames were approaching nearer.
For a brief instant the party upon the knoll stood spellbound, gazing at this new peril that threatened. Then Mr. Andrews found voice and shouted his orders. "Tear up the grass about us," he cried. "Then set fire to that beyond. It's our only chance. Then we must take to the forest. The Acurias are trying to burn us out."
As he spoke he fell to work with machete and hands, and the others quickly followed his example. Frank had heard of prairie fires and of men escaping by burning the grass before them, but he had never dreamed of resorting to such means to save himself; but he worked with a will, and the seven pairs of hands rapidly tore and cut the grass and weeds away from the summit of the knoll. By the time darkness fell the roar of the fire behind them was plainly audible, the smoke filled their lungs, and the night was illumined by the raging flames and glare. Then Mr. Andrews lit the encircling fringe of vegetation to the west and south and the men crowded back as far as possible from the intense heat of the flames that swept through the grass about them. The wind had risen and the herbage of the savanna burned quickly, and before the oncoming sheet of flame had reached within a half mile of the knoll, the fire, which the party had kindled, had burned its way rapidly southwestward and a broad stretch of charred and blackened earth extended before them with here and there a stout bush or a small tree, still blazing like a torch, above the bare and smoking ground. There was no time to lose, and though the earth still glowed in places, and the Indians' bare feet suffered from the hot ground, the party dashed down the knoll and hurried towards the dim forest that stood silhouetted by the receding flames.
But long ere the cool depths of the forest were reached the wounded Indian gave up, and throwing himself on the ground, rested his face upon his knees and prepared to await his end.
"We can't go on and leave him here," declared Mr. Andrews, "we must manage to find some spot close at hand where there's water or damp earth and unburnt foliage, and there pass the night."
Joseph volunteered to hunt for a suitable spot, and soon returned with news that he had found a thicket and a small pond a short distance away, and where the foliage was still green. Lifting the wounded Indian and half carrying him with them, the party stumbled forward after Joseph and reached the little wood. The water of the pond was black with ashes and burnt leaves, and was thick with mud, but to the parched throats and burning faces of the fugitives it was wonderfully welcome. A rough bed of leaves was made for the injured man, and the others, famished and weak with hunger, seated themselves dejectedly under the shelter of the stunted trees. They had had nothing to eat, save the trumpet bird, for over twenty-four hours, they had tramped many miles and had worked feverishly and beyond their strength to save themselves from the flames kindled by their enemies, but no word of complaint was uttered. If they could but gain the forest they might yet be saved, for there game of some sort would be found—even the seeds of the forest trees might serve to keep them from starvation, and, provided the Kenaima did not destroy them, they might yet win their way to the distant Pianoghotto village and safety.
Sleep was imperative, and it was agreed that first one and then the other should keep watch, while the rest slept, and the first watch fell to Joseph, who, although the youngest of the Indians, seemed to possess the greatest endurance of all. Frank handed his loaded gun to the Arekuna, and the next instant was sound asleep, for utter exhaustion overcame his fears and 'twas impossible for him to keep his eyes from closing. He was dimly conscious of hearing Joseph arouse the captain, when his watch was over, and then he suddenly woke with a start at the sound of a gunshot and a loud cry.
"What's the matter? What's happened?" cried Frank, instantly wide awake, and jumping up, as did Mr. Andrews and Joseph, who also had been aroused by the sounds.
The captain stood trembling and wild eyed, with still smoking gun in hand, and in shaking voice, exclaimed: "Me tellum Kenaima he come. All same tiger he come. Seeum killum sick feller me shootum, no can catchum, Kenaima all same Hori."
At his words the others turned with one accord to the wounded Indian, but one glance was enough,—he was dead, his skull crushed in by a tremendous blow.
"Where are the other men?" suddenly exclaimed Mr. Andrews, glancing about, and then Frank, for the first time, realised that the Pianoghottos were missing. The four looked at one another with blanched and frightened faces, and Frank's knees shook with uncontrollable terror.
"Kenaima," repeated Joseph in awe-struck tones.
Mr. Andrews nodded. "Yes, he's struck his first blow," he said.
"But where are the other men?" queried Frank in a shaky voice. "Have they been killed, too?"
"Deserted," replied Mr. Andrews. "Sneaked away. Their fear of Kenaima and the forest was too much for them. Thank God we escaped. That poor fellow only had his life shortened by a few hours—he would not have lived through another day."
"Ugh! it makes me shiver," exclaimed Frank, who stood, with chattering teeth, his gun ready to shoot and his eyes glancing furtively about. "It's all so mysterious and creepy and silent. Oh, I do wish we could do something; anything rather than stand here helpless in the dark and not knowing who'll be killed next."
"Dawn's breaking," said Mr. Andrews, trying to steady his voice. "There's no more danger at present. Perhaps they won't trouble the rest of us. Joseph, light a fire."
The cheerful blaze did much to restore the courage of the little party, and the sun soon rose and sent its warm and welcome light across the blackened, burned savanna.
"We must get into the forest," declared Mr. Andrews. "Even the danger of Kenaima is better than starvation out on this waste, and we'll find no game on the savanna now. In the woods there must be something we can eat, and, by following the edge of the woods to the west, we can eventually reach the unburned savanna and the Pianogbotto village. It's going to be a mighty hard job and I can't forgive myself from getting you into this scrape, Frank."
"Don't worry about me, Mr. Andrews," replied the boy. "I was just as keen on this trip as yourself, and I'm not a bit afraid we won't come out all right. We've a gun, and four of us ought to be able to get the best of one Kenaima."
"You're a brave boy," replied Mr. Andrews, "but the Kenaima is not our greatest danger. We are face to face with many perils. We must secure food and we must find our way, without guides, through a wild, unknown district. The nearest village is fully seventy-five miles distant—even by the shortest route across the savanna—and we are without supplies, blankets, hammocks or anything save the clothes we wear, the few odds and ends in our pockets and your gun."
They were tramping steadily towards the forest as he spoke, and all realised that their only hope lay in reaching the shelter of the bush ere their strength gave out, and they hurried forward as fast as their weary limbs would permit. By noon, the trees with their drapery of vines and dark, shadowy depths, were near at hand, and soon after, the four half-starved, exhausted men pushed through the dense growth of vegetation and left the savanna behind.
For a short distance the undergrowth was a perfect tangle and Joseph cut and hewed a way for the others to follow, but once really within the forest the woods became more open, and the party proceeded more quietly and kept ears and eyes alert for sounds or signs of some living creature which might serve as food.
There were birds high in the trees, but invisible, and it was not until they had penetrated a mile into the forest that the barking cries of toucans reached their ears and, creeping forward, Frank brought down two of the big gaudy birds from tree tops.
As Joseph dashed forward to secure them he gave a glad cry and held up some irregular brown object he had discovered on the ground.
"Saouari," he exclaimed. "Me tellum plenty good for eat." Cracking one of the nuts he handed it to Frank. It was delicious, rich and meaty, tasting something like a Brazil nut, and every one was delighted at the lucky find, for the Saouari nuts are large and nourishing. While the captain built a fire and prepared the toucans the others gathered the nuts, and as the birds sizzled and broiled, the ravenous men strove to allay some of their hunger by means of the food so providentially discovered. But they were all too few, and even Joseph felt unable to climb the lofty tree and shake down more. The toucans were wofully small and skinny when plucked, despite their apparent size when alive, and the two birds were scarcely more than mouthfuls to the four men.
But even this slender meal of tough, dry toucan and Saouari nuts gave new life and strength to the party, and, in the hope of finding more food, they hurried on into the forest.
For an hour or more they tramped about, following the easiest route among the trees, peering into thickets and craning their necks in search of sloths, monkeys or parrots in the trees, and so intent on finding something to eat that they gave little heed to anything else. At last they reached a low, damp spot, bare of underbrush, and a small brown animal scurried across the opening. Frank blazed away and the creature tumbled head over heels and lay still. It was a full-grown agouti and a good meal was assured.
The increasing darkness of the forest now warned the party that sunset was near at hand, and, as the wet and muddy depression was no place to spend the night, they turned about and retraced their way to higher and drier ground.
Soon a little ridge or knoll was found, with a huge mora tree growing at the summit. The base of the tree spread out into enormous slablike buttresses, extending nearly twenty feet on either side of the trunk and, between these solid walls of living wood, a fire was built and the party prepared to spend the night.
It was an ideal spot under the circumstances. The tree formed a natural protection on three sides and any enemy would be obliged to approach by the narrow opening between the roots. To be sure there was considerable cover which might conceal the Kenaima, or any one else, until within a few feet of the tree, but it was all small growth, and while the agouti was roasting over the fire, every one worked at clearing a large open space before the tree. Much of the undergrowth removed consisted of broad-leaved palms and these were saved and spread upon the ground to serve as beds. There was no roof overhead, but the dense foliage of the tree served as a shelter to keep out any but the heaviest rain, and, with appetites fully satisfied for the first time for three days, the men felt quite secure and congratulated themselves upon the good fortune which had been theirs since entering the forest.
But all realised that they must be constantly on guard, for the reports of Frank's gun would betray their whereabouts to their foes, and arrangements were made to keep a bright fire burning throughout the night in order to illuminate the surrounding forest and the clearing before their camp and Mr. Andrews insisted on taking the first watch. The night passed without an alarm, however, and after a breakfast on the remains of the agouti, the four again set forth.
It was still very early and the forest was filled with the notes of birds and the cries of parrots, and within ten minutes after leaving the knoll where they had passed the night, Frank secured a pair of big green Amazons, and a little later, shot a fine marudi that was flushed from the ground underfoot. Joseph declared it had a nest nearby and a little search disclosed four large blue-green eggs resting in a hollow beside a fallen limb.
Just beyond, a tiny stream was reached and here a stop was made and a fire built, and a meal of roasted eggs and parrot was served, the marudi being saved for another meal.
For several hours, the party trudged through the forest but no sign of bright daylight marking the edge of the savanna was seen, and at last Mr. Andrews halted the men. For a moment he looked about, glanced up striving to catch a glimpse of sunlight, examined the trees carefully and then, turning to Joseph, asked the Arekuna if he was sure they were going towards the savanna. Reluctantly, the Indian admitted he was not, and a question to the captain brought the same reply.
Mr. Andrews' face wore a grave expression. "I was afraid so," he remarked. "We were so intent on finding game that we neglected to note our surroundings or to mark our trail. We are all equally to blame; it was carelessness on my part—I was in charge and should have known better. But it's too late for regrets— we've got to face things as they are. We're lost—there's no doubt of it. We must employ all the skill and knowledge we possess to find our way to the savanna."
"I'd rather be lost here than on the savanna," declared Frank. "At least we can get something to eat in the forest."
"That's true," agreed Mr. Andrews, "but we can't go on tramping through the woods, and living on game forever. We must proceed in a straight line to the west. The only trouble is which is the west?"
Then for the first time it dawned upon Frank how hopeless was their predicament. No sunlight filtered through the canopy of foliage, the forest was filled with a diffused, dim light, no shadows were cast and the innumerable signs of direction, which aid the woodsmen in the wilderness of the north, were absolutely lacking in this tropical jungle.
"If we only had a compass," he exclaimed. "But I left mine in the hut. I have it, we can use a watch for a compass; I remember I learned that trick long ago." As he spoke he drew out his watch and held it horizontally, turning it this way, then that. And then he realised that even this would not serve, for there was not enough light to cast a shadow beneath the hour hand. "It's no use," he said, and with a disappointed sigh he slipped the timepiece in his pocket.
Meanwhile the two Indians were talking rapidly in their own tongue and were closely examining all the trees, the earth and the hanging vines, and presently they declared that they thought they knew the direction towards the savanna.
"Very well, we might as well try," said Mr. Andrews; "we can accomplish nothing by standing here. As long as we follow a straight course we'll eventually arrive somewhere."
With Joseph leading the way, and the captain making marks upon the trees and bushes as they passed, the party again struggled forward until, at last, Mr. Andrews again called a halt.
"We're going deeper into the wilderness every moment," he announced. "See, the sun's setting and the light's coming from almost behind us. We've been travelling southeast."
There could be no question about it. Now that the sun was sinking, an occasional ray of light found its way through the mass of foliage and struck upon the upper portions of the trees. By these spots of light all could see that the edge of the forest and the savanna lay far behind and many weary miles away.
"There's no use in going farther," declared Mr. Andrews; "we might as well camp here." There was a little stream a few rods from the ridge on which the men stood, several large trees with their buttressed roots formed easily protected spots wherein to sleep, and disheartened as they were at their predicament, the party at once proceeded to prepare for the night. Frank and Joseph started out in search of game; for the marudi had been consumed at midday and a single tinamou or "maam" was the only wild thing they had obtained during the afternoon. But luck again favoured Frank and beside the little creek he killed a labba.
The night passed without incident, but towards morning a light rain began to fall, which added to the fugitives' discomforts and kept them awake, huddled over the fire to keep dry and warm.
While the remains of the supper were being warmed over for breakfast the captain rose, and saying he was going to the stream to drink, he stepped from sight beyond the little rise.
It was but a short distance to the creek, it was daylight and no one dreamed that deadly peril lurked close at hand or that the captain went forth to his doom.
Ten minutes passed; no sounds save the twitter of birds, the soft patter of the rain drops and the subdued voices of the men broke the silence of the forest and then,—soul-piercing, blood-curdling—a scream of mortal terror ripped through the still, damp air. The three by the fire leaped to their feet, shaking with nameless dread, speechless and frozen to the spot at the awful sound. Again and yet again the agonised shrieks rang out; each fainter than the last, and then, quavering,—rising and falling in a long-drawn wail, came the wild, hair-raising cry of a jaguar, and all was still.
Mr. Andrews was the first to find his voice. "Tiger!" he exclaimed. "He's attacked the captain. Come on, we may be in time to save him."
Ere his words were uttered he dashed into the woods in the direction from which the fearful sounds had come, and Frank, forgetting his terror at thought of the captain's danger, rushed after, with Joseph at his side.
They reached the edge of the stream, but there was no sign of the captain, no trace of a struggle, and for an instant they stood searching the surroundings with anxious eyes, and listening for some sound that would betray the presence of the giant cat.
Then, from afar off, the jaguar screamed again and, turning, they hurried in the direction of the cry.
Suddenly Joseph uttered a frightened yell and stood pointing at the ground. "Kenaima!" he cried, "tiger Kenaima."
Plainly visible in the soft, damp earth were the imprints of human feet.
"Nonsense," exclaimed Mr. Andrews, as he carefully examined the marks, "those may be the captain's footprints or your own. We've been wandering about here before perhaps."
But Joseph was not convinced. "Me tellum Kenaima," he declared. "Tiger no killum Buckman. Tiger Kenaima he catchum captain, me sabby."
Frank felt again that quaking nameless fear that had possessed him when, on the savanna, they had found the injured Indian killed by the mysterious avenger, and he was glad when Mr. Andrews spoke.
"Perhaps you're right, Joseph," he said in thoughtful tones, as though speaking to himself. "I have never heard of a jaguar attacking a man before. We'll follow these footmarks and find where they lead."
Carefully parting the foliage, and ever keeping the footprints in view, the three crept forward, Mr. Andrews leading, Frank with gun ready for instant use and Joseph, evidently fearing swift and sudden death at every turn, striving to keep as near the protection of the gun as possible.
For some distance they followed the trail until, at last, it disappeared in a thicket so dense it seemed impossible that human being could have forced a way through.
"If he's in there it will be too dangerous to follow him," whispered Mr. Andrews. "We'll go around and see if he's come out on the other side."
But the tangle was larger than they had suspected and, when they had skirted its edge for some distance, they came within sight of the creek. For a moment they hesitated, glancing about, and then Mr. Andrews uttered an exclamation of surprise and hurried towards a brown object half-hidden amid some coarse-leaved plants. Frank gasped and felt sick as they reached it, for there—an expression of indescribable fear still upon its distorted features—lay the dead body of the captain, his skull crushed by the Kenaima's club.
One swift glance was enough for Joseph. At sight of the corpse he uttered a piercing scream and, leaping back, turned and ran like a deer from the accursed spot.
Frank and Mr. Andrews shouted to him, but he heeded them not. Plunging into the stream he splashed his way across and, without even looking back, dashed into the woods on the farther bank.
"Come on, we mustn't lose him," shouted Mr. Andrews and followed by Frank he rushed after the fleeing Indian.
Calling to him as they ran, the two crossed the creek and, guided by the sounds of crashing brush, sped through the forest in pursuit of their companion.
Fortunately it was impossible for even an Indian to make great speed in the jungle and the noise made by Joseph enabled his friends to follow him without trouble, but they were torn and scratched by spines and vines, they were panting for breath and their voices were hoarse with shouting ere the Arekuna at last ceased his mad race and permitted Frank and Mr. Andrews to reach his side.
But his physical exhaustion had served to drive away his insane terror and he seemed heartily ashamed of himself for running away from the others.
And now, as they sat with heaving chests waiting to regain their breath, these three survivors of the ill-fated party realised the plight to which they had been brought.
In their mad rush through the forest they had completely lost sense of direction. The sky was overcast and there was no sunlight to aid them, and their only food was the labba, which had been left roasting by the fire when they had rushed off at sound of the captain's screams and the triumphant tiger-call of the Kenaima.
But the question of food was the least of their troubles. The forest was full of game and to find their way out, or even to their last night's camp, was the great problem which confronted them.
"If we can find that creek we may succeed," said Mr. Andrews as they talked over the matter. "We could search its banks until we found our footprints and our camp and from there retrace our way by our own trail, but I haven't the least idea where the creek lies."
"But if we keep going in one direction we must strike some stream," said Frank, "and then by following that we will certainly come out somewhere."
"My boy," said Mr. Andrews gravely, "you have no idea what lies before us. Even by following a stream it may take weeks to reach any village or settlement and our clothing will be in shreds and our shoes worn through long before that time. But you are right about reaching a stream—it's the only thing we can do, and if the stream is large enough we can make a woodskin or a raft and go down with the current. We'll run grave risks in falls and rapids, but it's our sole chance. First, however, we must obtain food. We'll hunt for something to eat, for our lives depend upon keeping our health and strength."
So, for an hour or more, they searched for game and at last were rewarded by securing a powi, and having eaten this they marched in single file through the forest, making their trail as they went, striving always to keep a straight course and ever hoping that ere long they would gain a watercourse which would carry them once more to civilisation and safety.
Little game was seen, but late in the afternoon Frank killed a monkey, and a few moments later Joseph uttered a glad shout. To their ears came the welcome sound of running water, a brighter light ahead showed a break in the forest and, hurrying forward, they came upon the bank of a good-sized stream flowing swiftly along its pebbly bed. It was not deep, and there was a fairly open spot on the further bank and Mr. Andrews suggested crossing over and camping on the opposite shore.
"I don't think the Kenaima will trouble us," he said; "the tiger's cry signified triumph and would not have been uttered if the avenger considered his task incomplete, but it will be safer beyond the stream. In my opinion this is the Ellis River, Frank, and in that case, none but the Piaiman would dare to cross it. Moreover we can build a craft of some sort on the other side, as well as on this, and that open space is an ideal camping spot."
"Well, I'm for crossing over without all those reasons," replied Frank. "The very thought of this forest behind us gives me the shivers. I'll feel much better off on the other bank."
Joseph, too, was of the same opinion—the fear of the Kenaima lurked in the dim aisles of the forest they had left—and so, without more ado, the river was forded and soon the monkey was broiling over a fire. And as Frank sat beside Mr. Andrews upon the roots of the great mora tree and his thoughts carried him swiftly over the five weeks which had passed since he left Georgetown he was very silent.
"What were you thinking about, Frank?" asked Mr. Andrews, as they rose at Joseph's announcement that supper was ready.
"I was thinking of all the adventures I've had and wondering what's before us," replied the boy.
"You've certainly had your share," said Mr. Andrews. "Time alone can tell what's ahead of us, but my honest opinion is that your adventures have just begun."
On the morning after our story begins, Joseph commenced preparations for making a wood-skin, for after due consideration it had been decided that this simple and light craft was the most advisable in which to embark upon the river.
A raft might have been safer and more stable, but it would take longer to construct, and in case rapids or falls were encountered it would have to be abandoned and a new one built beyond the cataracts, whereas a wood-skin could be portaged around the broken water.
The Arekuna soon found a suitable tree for his purpose and in a short time had wedged a great cylindrical roll of thick bark from the trunk. Birds were abundant along the river and, although no large game was secured, the three companions dined well on a hannaqua and a trumpet-bird which Frank killed, while a welcome addition to the menu was furnished by Mr. Andrews, who caught a number of large crawfish in the river. Joseph declared there were fish in the stream and, while the bark was being softened by soaking in water, he spent his time making a bow and arrows.
The bow was crude, to be sure, but the young leaves of an etah palm furnished fibre for a string, arrow-canes grew beside the stream, and heads were cleverly fashioned from hard wood and bones, for the Indian was accustomed to working with few and simple tools and knew all the resources of the forest. Frank was sceptical as to Joseph's ability to shoot fish with his improvised weapons, but the next morning the Arekuna succeeded in catching a fish weighing fully fifteen pounds and there was no longer any fear of starvation, even if Frank's slender store of ammunition was exhausted. Moreover, Joseph assured the others that he could obtain many birds and small animals with his primitive weapons, and thus the gun could be reserved for cases of necessity or for large, shy game.
Frank had seen woodskins in use many times during his trip, but he had never realised how easily they were made until he watched Joseph as the latter bent the sides of the bark shell together at the ends, secured them with tough vines and smeared the crevices with gum from a forest tree. Spreaders, or thwarts, were then forced into place between the edges of the bark, and before noon of the second day, the frail but buoyant canoe was ready, with the exception of the paddles. Here again the Indian's knowledge of natural resources proved a surprise to Frank, who had thought the labour of hewing paddles from the tough trees, by means of a machete, would be a Herculean task. But Joseph soon found a small tree with curiously-fluted trunk, the ridges of which were as thin and flat as boards. These projections were easily split off and in a wonderfully short time were chopped into the form of paddles. Mr. Andrews told Frank that the tree was the 'Masara' or 'Yaruri,' known commonly as "paddle wood," from the fact that it was universally employed for making paddles.
Everything was now ready, but as they could not be sure of finding a better camping place that night, and a few hours' delay was of no consequence, the start was put off until the following morning. The afternoon was devoted to hunting and Joseph proved the value of his bow and arrows, and his own skill as well, by killing a number of birds, and, in addition, a large land tortoise was captured to further swell the supply of provisions.
Soon after daybreak the woodskin was launched; Mr. Andrews took his seat in the bow, Frank squatted amidships and Joseph, stepping into the stern, pushed the canoe from shore. With a sweep of his paddle the Indian drove the craft into midstream, the current seized it and bore it swiftly along its course, and in a moment the camp was out of sight and the voyage down this unknown river of the wilderness was begun.
For mile after mile they sped on, the river increasing in size as they proceeded, while many smaller creeks and waterways added their quota to the main stream. Around bend after bend the river turned and twisted—north, east, west and, at times, even to the south—and ever the vast forest rose in ramparts of green above the banks. At every bend the speed of the wood-skin was checked and the voyagers crept carefully close to shore, for they never knew when a rapid or cataract might be reached, and they had no minds to be swept into the turmoil and to possible destruction without warning.
But throughout the day no falls were seen and the few small rapids encountered were run in safety. By midafternoon a range of distant blue mountains loomed above the forest ahead and, as these presaged falls and rapids, it was decided to make camp for the night ere reaching them. Accordingly a landing was made on a strip of sandy beach, the canoe was hauled safely beyond reach of the water, and Mr. Andrews and Frank commenced gathering palm leaves and dry sticks for fire and shelter, while Joseph,—bow and arrow in hand,—made his way down stream in search of fish.
All felt elated at the distance they had covered in safety and no longer were they haunted by the fear of the Kenaima, for they felt sure that the Acurias had been left many miles behind and that, even if the Avenger still followed on their trail, he would never catch them unless he took to the river in a boat.
To be sure, they were still in the unknown wilderness, but they had only to continue down stream in order to reach one of the great rivers of the colony, and, once that was gained, their little craft would carry them to settlements and civilisation. Even the danger of starvation now seemed remote, for birds, fish and animals were abundant and, by smoking and buccaning game, they could provide a supply of food sufficient to last them many days.
Cheered by such thoughts Mr. Andrews and Frank were busily at work on their little shelter of palm leaves, and talking of the future as they laboured, when Joseph dashed into sight. Instantly they knew that something was wrong for the Indian's eyes were wide with terror, his swarthy skin was ashen and he trembled as with a chill.
"What's wrong?" cried Mr. Andrews, anxiously.
For answer Joseph flung himself on Mr. Andrews and clung to him wildly, "Dido!" he chattered, "Hori! Me seeum two, t'ree Dido, Wai! Wai!"
"No makeum fool. What for talkum so?" demanded Mr. Andrews, striving to obtain something intelligible from the frightened Indian.
But all to no avail; Joseph merely reiterated: "Hori, me seeum Dido," in an excess of terror.
"What do you suppose he saw?" exclaimed Frank, who was beginning to feel nervous himself for Joseph's fright was so great it seemed contagious.
"He's seen something that frightened him out of his wits. But what 'twas I can't imagine," replied Mr. Andrews; "we'll have to investigate. Come along, Joseph. Whereum Dido?"
But at this Joseph only clung the tighter to Mr. Andrews and fairly sobbed: "No makeum walk so," he pleaded, "Dido eatum. Hori eatum."
"Shut up," ordered Mr. Andrews, beginning to lose patience, and quite forgetting to use talky-talky, "I don't know what you saw, but you're a blithering idiot. There's no such thing as a Dido or a Hori. Let go and come along or stay here as you choose. I'm going to find out what did frighten you."
With difficulty he loosened the frenzied grasp of the Indian and, with Frank beside him, hurried down stream in the direction whence Joseph had come.
But Joseph was even more fearful of being left alone than of again facing the things which had driven him almost mad with terror, and cringing and trembling from head to foot, he kept pace with his two companions.
For some distance the three hurried rapidly along the sandy shore of the river and then, coming to a tiny cove, Mr. Andrews suddenly stopped short and with a sharp exclamation of surprise gazed fixedly at the firm damp sand. And as Frank looked, he too started and drew a sharp, quick breath, while the Indian cowered speechless with dread between the two.
What they saw was enough to fill the stoutest heart with nameless fear. Plainly impressed upon the sand were gigantic human footprints; but were they human? No trace of toes were there but instead each footmark terminated in two deep, claw-like impressions! Frank and Mr. Andrews looked at one another in blank amazement and with fast beating hearts, and each read in the other's eyes the unspoken question that was in their thoughts.
Though they had come so suddenly upon the inexplicable and had been brought face to face with the unbelievable, yet neither for a moment believed there was anything supernatural about the weird, unnatural, incomprehensible footprints, and the very mystery of the matter added to their determination to discover what unknown creature had trod the sand so recently and had so terrorised Joseph.
And as Mr. Andrews crept cautiously forward, following the trail that led towards a brush-covered point a hundred yards distant, Frank kept silently by his side while the Arekuna, too frightened to utter a sound, and perhaps somewhat reassured by the others' behaviour, maintained his place between them.
As they reached the thicket, which extended almost to the water's edge, a whiff of smoke was borne to them and from beyond the barrier came the sound of guttural voices.
With the utmost caution Mr. Andrews crawled to the edge of the growth and Frank's spine tingled, and his breath came short and fast as, parting the canes, they gazed through at what lay beyond.
Before them was a little lagoon or backwater, landlocked and hidden from the river by a wooded ridge of sand, and from its landward side a little grassy clearing extended to the verge of the forest. But neither Frank nor Mr. Andrews gave heed to the surroundings of the spot, for instantly their gaze was riveted upon the scene that met their horror-stricken eyes within a score of yards of their hiding place. Squatting upon the grass about a fire were three enormous, naked beings; their skins as black as ebony; their heads covered with masses of coarse red hair, and a thick mane of the same colour springing from their backs and shoulders. No wonder Joseph had fled terror-stricken at sight of them; no wonder he had vowed that he had seen Didoes and Horis; for there—in living flesh and blood—were the half-human creatures exactly as described by fable and tradition.
But even these monstrous, repulsive beings attracted less attention and struck less terror to the fast-beating hearts of the watching white men than the gruesome object roasting above the fire, for, spitted like a fowl upon a stout stake, was the flayed and disemboweled body of a man! Frank grew faint at the fearful sight, and his fear gave way to nausea, but still he stared, unable to withdraw his eyes from the cannibals and their sizzling human victim. And then his glance fell upon another object, cast carelessly to one side upon the grass, and instantly he knew whose corpse was to provide a feast for the monsters. Grinning up at the sky was a severed head and the bloody, wrinkled features were those of the Acuria Piaiman!
Then the spell which riveted Frank to the spot was broken as Mr. Andrews touched his arm and silently drew back, but at this instant Joseph too caught a glimpse of the scene beyond the thicket and, utterly unable to control his terror at the sight, emitted a shriek of mortal fear and, turning, dashed madly up the beach.
His cry was echoed by a wild, demoniacal yell from the cannibals and Frank and Mr. Andrews, knowing their presence was discovered, ran after Joseph as they had never run before.
Well they realised that their only hope lay in reaching the woodskin and taking to the river ere their pursuers overtook them, and terror speeded their flying feet.
Nearer and nearer came the brute-like cries of the cannibals. Now the canoe was in sight and Frank saw Joseph striving to push it to the water's edge. The race might yet be won and then—a bit of driftwood buried in the sand caught Mr. Andrews' foot, he tripped, and plunged headlong on the sand.
And then Frank did a brave, heroic thing. He knew that ere Mr. Andrews regained his feet their pursuers would be upon them; he could not escape and leave his friend to an awful fate and, without hesitation, he stopped, dropped on one knee, brought his gun to shoulder and fired at the foremost of the oncoming cannibals. The range was short, the gun was loaded with a heavy charge of coarse shot and at the report, the thing—it could scarce be called human—doubled up and fell writhing on the sand. Instantly its companions stopped and hurried to it, and then Frank witnessed a sickening sight for, as the wounded monster screeched with pain and clutched at the wounds in his hairy breast, one of the others raised a heavy club and brought it crashing on his head, while the third plunged a stone-headed spear into his throat. It took but the fraction of a moment; in a flash Frank was up and away, but in the brief instant that he had faced the fearful beings behind him, and had seen the brutal murder of their wounded, he had noticed a strange thing. The creatures, whoever they were, had no fingers or toes. Their hands and feet terminated in two strong, talon-like claws!
But Frank's bravery and presence of mind had saved the day; brief as the respite had been it had enabled Mr. Andrews to rise and gain the canoe and, as Frank dashed up and sprang in, the craft was shoved from the beach, paddles were plied furiously and, ere the baffled monsters gained the shore, the woodskin and its occupants were beyond their reach and speeding down stream as fast as current and paddles could carry them.
"Oh, I can't believe they're real," exclaimed Frank, as he regained his breath. "They're too awful. They were actually the two-fingered men of the old fables."
"Didoes in flesh and blood—devils incarnate," agreed Mr. Andrews with a shiver. "God grant they haven't boats hidden down stream."
"We must pass that awful spot with the fire," cried Frank; "did you see who it was they had killed?"
Mr. Andrews nodded. "Yes," he answered; "no one will ever know how it happened. The Piaiman's charms must have failed him this time. Poor chap, he told the truth when he said the forest beyond the river was the home of Didoes."
"I'll never doubt anything again," declared Frank, and then—a note of terror in his voice —he exclaimed, "Look! O Heavens! There are more of them."
As Frank spoke the canoe swept around a bend and, just beyond, a dyke or spit of rocks extended from the shores across the stream. Between the ledges the water boiled white and foaming, but in one spot, about midway between the shores, was an open space and here the river poured smoothly, but with terrific speed, between the barriers. All this was seen at a glance, but more terrifying than the rapids, were the figures which had occasioned Frank's cry. Like gigantic apes they were leaping from rock to rock of the reef and yelling like fiends. That they were the same misshapen, monstrous creatures as those from whom the fugitives had escaped was evident, and Frank's blood ran cold as he realised that the canoe must pass within a few yards of the nearest of the savage beings. There was no alternative; to check the canoe in the current of midstream was impossible; if they ran the craft ashore the cannibals would be upon them in a moment, and their only chance lay in running the rapids and risking death from the river as well as at the hands of the two-fingered men.
Already Joseph had headed the wood skin for the single large opening among the rocks and the next instant they were in the suck of the racing waters, and were shot forward at dizzying speed.
Had Joseph lost his head for the fraction of a second, had his hands trembled or his nerves failed him, disaster would have been certain. But the Arekuna was no coward. He had been wofully frightened when he had first seen the weird, unnatural beings, to be sure, for he had thought them supernatural—evil spirits or devils—and superstition had robbed him of reason. But once he had realised that they were mortal and had seen that they could be killed like other men, he no longer feared them more than he would dread a deadly serpent, a wounded jaguar or any other grave danger to which he was accustomed.
And so, as with the consummate skill of the born riverman, he guided his frail craft through the unknown rapids, his thoughts were more of the rocks and whirlpools than of the howling, naked, wild men, and his muscles were as steel and his keen eyes never strayed from the swirl of waters ahead. As the canoe swept by the first rocks the nearest cannibal was within a dozen yards and, with a howl of rage, he lifted his club as if to hurl it at the passing boat. But the heavy weapon never hurtled through the air, for Frank—risking a capsize by his act—fired at the creature as they swept by and, at the sting of the shot, the savage dropped club and spear and tumbled, screaming, into the stream. And at the flash of the gun and the noise of the explosion, his fellows became terror stricken and, turning about, rushed madly towards the shore.
The next moment the canoe had passed the rapids, it shot forth upon the wide and tranquil waters beyond, and the voyagers breathed a sigh of relief and thankfulness for their safe escape.
But their perils were not over. The strange half-human cannibals had fled to the shore in terror at the unwonted report of the gun, for never had they seen or heard firearms before, but now they had regained some measure of their brute courage and were racing down stream along the banks.
"Do you suppose they're going to attack us again?" cried Frank. "We're far beyond their reach and we're gaining on them. But goodness, can't they run!"
"I'm afraid they're planning to trap us," replied Mr. Andrews gravely. "There may be another falls which we can't run or they may have boats hidden near. They wouldn't tear after us that way unless they felt sure we could not escape. By the way, did you notice that some of them had normal hands and feet?"
"No, I didn't," admitted Frank. "I wasn't thinking about such things. I expect I was too frightened."
"Don't talk about fear, Frank," exclaimed Mr. Andrews, "after the way you saved me back there, I'll never believe you know the meaning of the word. You were probably too intent on bowling that big fellow over to see that he had ordinary toes and fingers, but I saw them. I believe only a few of the tribe are two-fingered—it's probably an inherited deformity and has been perpetuated for countless generations. Like as not the two-fingered chaps are looked upon as superior beings. I've always had such an idea in regard to these people, ever since I read the first stories about them. I wish they weren't so everlastingly bloodthirsty—they'd prove most fascinating subjects for study. Too bad—"
His words were cut short by a cry from Joseph and instantly the others saw the reason for his startled shout.
They had been carried around an S-shaped bend and now, directly ahead, rose a precipitous wall of rock towering above the river for a hundred feet or more. Straight towards this cliff flowed the stream to where it disappeared in a narrow, black opening—a yawning rift—in the solid granite and cleaving the precipice from base to summit and with the overhanging cliffs almost meeting and forming a veritable tunnel.
"It's the Piaiman's 'hole in the ground,' " exclaimed Frank.
"And what those black rascals are counting on," said Mr. Andrews; "look, they're gathering where the stream narrows. We've got to land where they can get us or else go into that black hole. Lord! what a choice."
"And even if we do take the tunnel they can still get us," cried Frank. "See, they're climbing up the rocks about the hole like monkeys."
But despite the awful dangers, the fearful risks of entering the black, mysterious opening —that led, none knew where or to what—the three occupants of the canoe had no choice. Even had they wished to land and take their chances with the savages, rather than with the cliff-walled river, they were powerless to do so. As Frank spoke the canoe was seized as by unseen hands, it was rushed forward with the fearful current that swept towards the opening in the mountain and, menaced on every side by the ape-like savages, the boat sped straight as an arrow for the gorge.
In an instant, as it seemed, they were close to the foremost of their enemies; each moment they expected a shower of rocks and missles to strike them down and destroy their frail craft, and then a strange and inexplicable thing happened.
With one accord the black, repulsive beings dropped their crude weapons, their savage cries gave way to a mournful, dismal wail and, throwing themselves face-down, they grovelled on the ground as though the occupants of the canoe were deities to whom they paid obeisance.
"Impressive sort of farewell," shouted Mr. Andrews, raising his voice to make it audible above the roar of water and the dirge-like wail of the cannibals. "Hold tight, Frank, and trust to Providence—good-bye, lad, if we never get out."
Frank's voice choked, but with a brave effort he answered, "Good-bye, Mr. Andrews, goodbye, Joseph, don't—"
His voice was drowned in a roar as the craft shot into the black hole and semi-darkness, while the rushing of the waters echoed and reverberated from the rocky walls with a noise like thunder.
"Duck your heads," screamed Mr. Andrews, though his voice came faint through the turmoil, and Frank was just in time, for, as he crouched low in the canoe, he felt his back scrape the overhanging jutting rocks.
How long they sped onward through the Stygian cañon none of them ever knew, but to them—crouched in the bottom of the canoe, carried by the will of the flood, fearful lest each moment they would plunge over the brink of a cataract or would be ground to bits upon jutting rocks,—they seemed to be hours within the bowels of the mountain.
Then at last, from Mr. Andrews in the bow, there came a glad shout: "Sunlight ahead," he cried, "we're almost through."
Frank raised his head above the gunwale of the woodskin and peered ahead. Sure enough, in the distance, and seemingly but a pin-point in size, was a spot of light. Rapidly it grew in size. They could see the water dancing and sparkling beyond the walls of the tunnel— and in a moment more they swept out of darkness into daylight, into the clear, sweet, blessed air with the blue sky overhead, and all glorious with the golden glow of the setting sun.
They looked about in wonder. Behind them rose the towering cliff with the cleft through which they had been borne and before them stretched the river. But where were the vast forests, the impenetrable bush or the broad savannas they had expected to see? On every side rose precipices and cliffs of red and yellow rock; their strata worn and carved into fantastic forms. Great spire-like pinnacles, fluted and ornate columns, battlements and enormous grottoes were everywhere. Slender pillars bore titanic boulders and slabs balanced upon their summits, huge rocks were poised at the very verges of precipices, as if about to crash thundering downward at a breath, and slender arches spanned deep rifts black with shadows, and through which swirled flashing rivulets. Straight from the riverside the strange rock-forms rose; sometimes sheer for half a thousand feet; sometimes receding in terrace after terrace, and often overhanging and leaving but a mere thread of sky between their frowning brows. But not a tree was visible. Here and there in crevices of the rocks grew sharp-pointed, fleshy-leaved agaves; climbing cacti draped many of the cliffs and, where water trickled down the rocks, strange and brilliant orchids clustered in marvellous profusion.
"It's perfectly wonderful," cried Frank. "I never saw or imagined anything so utterly wild and grand except the Grand Cañon and this is a combination of that and the Garden of the Gods."
"I've never seen them," said Mr. Andrews; "it's more like the summit of Roraima than any spot I've ever seen. But, of course, it's many times as large and isn't damp and cold like the mountain top."
Greatly as the travellers were fascinated by the strange and interesting spot in which they had so unexpectedly found themselves they could spare little time in admiration of their surroundings, for the sun had dropped below the cliff tops, the shadows were already filling the canon and it was imperative to find a place in which to pass the night without delay. Presently they spied a tiny sand beach and running the canoe ashore the men hurried to gather bits of driftwood and, as darkness filled the huge rift in the mountains, supper was cooked over a blazing fire.
As they ate their simple meal of buccaned game, Frank and Mr. Andrews talked of the marvellous adventures through which they had so recently passed.
"Why do you suppose they behaved so strangely just as we were within their reach?" asked Frank.
"I'm not sure," replied Mr. Andrews, "but I think I can guess. My idea is that they consider the tunnel the entrance to another world —the abode of spirits perhaps. They had never seen white men or heard a gun and such strange things, coupled with our making directly for the tunnel, convinced them we were supernatural and caused them to fall down and worship us, or to beg forgiveness for attacking us, perhaps."
"That hadn't occurred to me," said Frank, "but I expect you're right. In that case we're safe in here. I wish they'd kowtowed to us sooner, though."
"I'm quite confident that we're safe here," declared the other; "I doubt if any man has ever been in this cañon before—at least by the route we came—and for all we know the exit may be by tunnel also. It's a weird, wild place and unlike anything else in Guiana. The maps show a cluster of mountains somewhere in this vicinity, but I never dreamed they were anything of this character."
"Nor that red-headed, two-fingered cannibals dwelt in that forest," suggested Frank.
"True enough," agreed Mr. Andrews, "but do you know, Frank, those beastly people—I suppose they are people, though they're mighty near beasts—trouble me. I've been thinking about them ever since we first sighted them."
"They troubled me a lot more while they were after us than they do now," declared Frank. "I never want to see them again."
"You don't understand what I mean," said Mr. Andrews; "who they are is what troubles me. They're certainly not Indians—their skins are too black and their features are different."
"Not to mention their hair. Did you ever hear of a red-headed Indian?" added Frank.
"That's of little consequence—they may dye or bleach their hair—some of them had black hair," continued Mr. Andrews, "or, again, their red hair may be abnormal, like their malformed hands and feet. I'm trying to think where they came from originally."
"They might be descendants of runaway slaves, like the Bush Niggers of Surinam you told me about," suggested Frank.
Mr. Andrews shook his head: "No, in that case they would have been of recent origin. As you know yourself, the earliest discoverers described them—though up to to-day I've always thought such tales largely imagination. No, I've formed a different theory—I'm firmly convinced these creatures are the real aborigines of the continent, or perhaps of the new world. A low, primitive type which has been exterminated by the more intelligent Indians—who probably migrated from Asia—save for a small, isolated community which has managed to survive in this district until the present time. There's a marvellous field for investigation here for an ethnologist."
"Well, ethnologists are welcome to investigate all they want, but in my opinion they'd better wear armour and carry machine guns when they begin their studies," declared Frank, and added, "it's too bad the Bucks didn't finish their job and wipe out the whole crowd. At any rate I'm glad I stopped two of 'em from surviving longer. If those brutes are the real genuine Americans they're nothing for the country to be proud of."
Mr. Andrews laughed heartily. "Who's lacking in romance and imagination, now?" he asked, banteringly. "Can't you see the rush of missionaries to these benighted heathens, once their whereabouts are known, and the value they'll be to Science? Why, Frank, it's as romantic as anything you could wish."
"I can picture those missionaries rushing into these heathens' stomachs," replied Frank grimly; "I'll bet they'll never be as valuable to scientists as the scientists will be to them. I can't see much romance in being skinned and eaten."
"You're hopeless," laughed Mr. Andrews, "but I confess I didn't appreciate their ethnological interest while they chased us up that beach. You're quite right, my boy; they are a rum lot."
"I wonder what that old Piaiman was doing when they caught him?" remarked Frank a little later, as curled in the shelter of a little cave the two companions settled themselves for the night.
"I've a sneaking suspicion he was waiting for us," replied Mr. Andrews with a yawn, "but we'll never know."
"Perhaps he was going after more gold," suggested Frank sleepily; "I'd like to know where that gold mine is."
But Mr. Andrews was snoring and a moment later Frank also was fast asleep.
The summits of the peaks were aglow with rosy light when Mr. Andrews roused Frank, but the sun had not yet peeped above the cañon's walls when, breakfast over, the canoe was shoved from shore and the voyage down the river was resumed.
There was little or no current to the stream and the occupants of the woodskin plied their paddles steadily. The river wound and twisted in a bewildering manner between its rocky confines; often dividing and flowing to either side of lofty water-worn pillars of rock, and every turn revealed new and more fantastic forms of nature's carvings.
For hour after hour they paddled through this wild wonderland. Sometimes they saw stupendous cataracts plunging downward from the summits of the cliffs. Once the stream broadened into a lake-like expanse dotted with innumerable rocky pillars standing above the water, like ruined columns of some submerged city, and again they passed beneath a mighty natural bridge which spanned the broad river in one grand majestic arch.
Sundown found them still hemmed in by lofty cliffs, but the mountains were less precipitous and trees and verdure clothed the hollows and the river banks with a mantle of green. Again they camped beside the stream, using the last of their buccaned meat for supper, but this caused them little worry, for fish were in the river and, ere dark, Joseph secured enough for breakfast.
Before dawn they were again upon their way and soon afterwards the sound of falling water reached their ears and, passing a jutting point, they found the river ended in an abrupt line, clear-cut against the sky beyond.
"A cataract," exclaimed Frank and instantly the canoe was run ashore, and the three occupants made their way along the bank to examine the falls which barred their further progress.
The brush was thick and dense, numerous large trees towered above the lower palms and vines and the ground was rough and broken. Steadily they pushed forward, cutting a narrow path as they proceeded, and ever guiding their footsteps by the sound of the waterfall which was now close at hand.
At last, breaking through the final barrier, they came forth upon a narrow, rocky shelf and cries of wonder issued from their lips. At their feet the cataract plunged downward for perhaps a hundred feet—a splendid sight—but they gave it little heed, for their gaze was riveted upon the scene which lay before them.
Surrounded by low, forest-covered hills was a broad, green valley, and in its centre—like a bowl of silver—gleamed a circular lake a mile or more across. And the likeness to a bowl was still further heightened by a barren ridge of white which encircled the sheet of water and stood forth, sharp and clear, against the greenery about. Across the plain from the cataract flowed the river to the lake and from it, on the further side, there flowed another stream which, forking, disappeared in two glistening ribbons in the distant forest.
But the fair valley, the placid lake within its crater-like hollow, and the winding rivers were but accessories—a lovely setting for that which held the attention of those upon the cliff and caused them to stare dumbfounded at what they saw.
Close to the borders of the lake, and spreading like a great fan across the plain, were the broad streets and innumerable buildings of a great city and, through the rift in the hills above the cataract, the rays of the rising run fell full upon the city by the lake and the massive buildings gleamed in the light like burnished gold.
"Manoa—the Golden City," whispered Frank in awe-struck tones.
"And in ruins," replied Mr. Andrews.
It was the truth beyond question. No sign of life was there, no moving figures thronged the silent streets of the town and, even from where they stood, Frank could see that many of the buildings were mere shapeless piles of crumbled masonry.
"It's like a dream-—it doesn't seem possible," exclaimed Frank after a long silence; "I can't believe my eyes."
"It's real enough," declared Mr. Andrews, "marvellous as it is. Hello! what's the matter with Joseph?"
So intent had they been upon the scene spread beneath them that they had quite forgotten their Indian comrade, but now they turned to find Joseph prostrate, as if in adoration of the valley and the city.
"What—" commenced Frank in surprise, but Mr. Andrews silenced him with a gesture. "Don't disturb him," he whispered, "he's worshipping the gods of his ancestors—but he's no more idea of what he's doing or why he's doing it than you have. It's a marvellous case of reversion to long-forgotten, ancestral habit. Don't ask him anything—take it as a matter of course. He'll furnish an interesting study before we're done I'll wager."
At this moment Joseph moved as if to rise and instantly his two companions turned away and continued to look towards the long-forgotten, long-sought city until the Indian again took his place by their side.
"It's no use trying to get the wood skin down there," declared Mr. Andrews; "we'll have to climb down and make a new canoe on the river yonder. Come along, Frank, I'm anxious to get a closer view of the place."
Suiting his actions to his words, Mr. Andrews commenced clambering down the cliff and Frank and Joseph followed. It was a hard and hazardous descent for the rock was soft and crumbling, the narrow ledges formed a most precarious footing, and, at every step, masses of loose rock were dislodged and went crashing down to the vegetation below. Joseph's bare feet found little trouble in securing a grip upon the thread-like pathway, but the hard soles of the others' shoes slipped and slid and a dozen times both Frank and Mr. Andrews came within an ace of being hurled to death as they made their way downward.
But at last the bottom of the cliff was reached and the three stood upon the level floor of the plain and stopped to regain their breaths after their strenuous exertions.
Within a stone's throw of where they stood the cataract plunged in a great sheet of flashing water from the cliff top and before them the river flowed smoothly across the valley.
From far above, the place had seemed as level as a floor and clothed with soft, short grass—a perfect lawn—dotted with clumps of palms and thick-growing trees. But now they found that what had seemed greensward was tough, long grass and rank-growing weeds through which 'twas scarcely possible to force their way. However, the shores of the stream afforded a fairly open way and, following along the river's bank, they hurried across the valley towards the distant city by the lake. It was further than it had appeared from the cliff-top, but at last they saw the sloping rim of the bowl before them, with the deep cleft through which the river flowed. Here there was no space to walk beside the stream and, turning to one side, they started to clamber up the bank. Frank had thought the strange ridge composed of sand and pebbles when he had looked down upon it from afar, but now that they had reached it he found it a tumbled mass of boulders, broken stone, pebbles and gravel; bare of vegetation and scintillating with heat from the sun, and he panted and perspired as he climbed the slope, crawling over the great rocks, slipping on loose stones and sinking into the powdery sand at each step.
Suddenly Mr. Andrews stopped, reached down and picked up a dark rock-like object. He examined it carefully, and then, holding it towards Frank, asked if he knew what it was.
Frank looked at it, took it in his hand and shook his head. "It's heavy," he said, "and it looks like metal of some sort. What is it?"
"It's a bit of a meteorite," replied Mr. Andrews; "I think we've solved the mystery of the Piaiman's magic fire-stone. It also solves the mystery of this lake and this ridge of rock. As far as I know there's only one other such spot in the entire world. Frank, the hollow that contains this lake was formed by an enormous meteor."
"Formed by a meteor!" exclaimed Frank. "What on earth do you mean? How could a meteor make a lake?"
"Did you ever hear of a place known as Meteor Crater in your state of Arizona?" asked Mr. Andrews. "I believe it's also called Devil's Mountain on account of the superstitious fear which the Indians had for it."
Frank answered in the negative. "Well, it's one of the wonders of the world," continued Mr. Andrews. "An enormous hole, hundreds of feet in depth, and surrounded by a circular mountain, the whole formed by some inconceivably huge meteor striking the earth in ages past. This ridge on which we stand is of exactly the same nature. These huge boulders and stones—even the fine sand—are the broken and crushed materials forced up by the meteor when it plunged from space into this valley. Unlike the Arizona crater this one is filled with water, however, and streams have cut through the rim. Otherwise they are alike as two peas."
"But how do you know a meteor made this?" asked Frank, who could scarcely conceive of a meteorite large enough to cause such stupendous results.
"Partly by the fact that it could be produced in no other known manner, partly by the character of the rocks and sand of the rim, but mainly by the fragments of meteoric iron scattered about," replied Mr. Andrews. "That bit of metal you are holding is such a fragment and, no doubt, you can find many more by looking about. The greatest number are probably buried under the lake, however."
Frank's eyes turned to the barren waste about him as Mr. Andrews spoke, and he commenced searching for stray bits of the meteor. Presently he spied a queer yellowish lump and picked it up. The next instant he gave a great shout:—The object he had found was a huge nugget of gold!
"I'll bet this is the Piaiman's gold mine," cried the excited boy as, the first surprise of his find over, they commenced seeking diligently for more nuggets; "do you suppose the gold came down in the meteorite?"
"No," replied Mr. Andrews, "but it's easy to understand how the meteorite brought it here, nevertheless. There was doubtless a rich placer or pocket, or perhaps even a vein of gold hereabouts, and the blow of the meteorite threw the nuggets out with the rest of the debris. I shouldn't wonder if you're right about this being the Piaiman's source of gold as well as iron. Hello! Here's another nugget."
For some time the three kicked and scraped at the sand and pebbles, for Joseph had joined in the search, but no more nuggets rewarded them.
"I guess that's all," said Frank reluctantly. "Whew! It's hot work. Let's go on up to the top. I'd almost forgotten about the city."
During their hunt for the nuggets they had unconsciously worked towards the summit of the ridge, and a dozen steps carried them to the top and in sight of the lake.
With one accord all turned to the strange city, the nearest buildings of which were within plain view and scarce half a mile distant. Consumed with curiosity to visit this mysterious city, Frank and Mr. Andrews hurried along the crater's rim and while Joseph followed close behind he seemed ill at ease and hung back.
"Me no likeum," he exclaimed as they approached the buildings which now proved to be cracked, broken and ruined.
"Don't be afraid," replied Frank; and then, relapsing into talky-talky, he added, "What for no likeum? House all same dead, feller what livum all same dead; no can hurtum."
"Me tellum same place piai," answered the Indian, "long time piai, all feller Buckman sabby."
"Well, I'm not afraid of the piai," laughed Frank, "a lot of good it did that Acuria chap."
They were now abreast of the outlying buildings and stopped to gaze about. From the distant cliff by the cataract, the streets had appeared wide, straight and even and most of the buildings had seemed impressive and in perfect condition but now, at the portals of the town, they found it scarce more than a pile of debris-—a pitiful ruin of a once splendid city.
The highways—once smoothly paved—were uneven, cracked, full of holes and chasms, and in many places choked by the fallen houses. 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 their carved cornices and ornate columns lay shattered on the pavements, and Frank remarked that they looked as if they had been bombarded by modern artillery. Close to the ridge about the lake the devastation seemed far greater than in the more distant parts of the city, where many fine buildings could be seen, apparently intact. Presently Frank noticed several ruins, so broken down and half hidden beneath the hill of rocks and sand on which he stood that they seemed scarcely more than portions of the ridge itself. "That's funny," he exclaimed, calling Mr. Andrews' attention to the partly buried buildings.
"It explains everything," declared his companion; "I've been wondering how the city was destroyed—it didn't look exactly as if an earthquake had ruined it—but now I understand. Your remark that it appeared as if it had been shelled was very apt. It has been bombarded, but by something far more terrible and powerful than any guns made by man. The city was destroyed by the meteor which made this crater. The shock of the impact must have been terrific and the gases and heat generated no doubt killed all the inhabitants instantly. I expect a large part of the town was completely destroyed and ground to bits where the meteorite struck. No wonder the place is in ruins. The effect of that mountain of metal falling from the sky must have been like the bursting of a shell multiplied millions of times. Try to imagine a shell, a thousand feet or more in diameter and weighing a million tons or more, and travelling faster than a rifle ball and white hot, and you'll have some conception of what happened when the meteorite fell."
"I can't imagine it," declared Frank, "but I can see its effects well enough. Now you speak of it the place does look like one of those shell craters I've seen in pictures of the European War. How long ago do you suppose it all happened?"
"It's impossible to say," replied Mr. Andrews; "if this is the city of Manoa—and we've every reason to believe it is—the meteorite must have struck long before the discovery of America by Europeans, for the oldest traditions mentioned the lake."
"Perhaps there was another lake here before the crater was made," suggested Frank.
"Maybe," agreed Mr. Andrews, "but even if that were so the descent of such a stupendous aerolite would have been recorded—why the light it made, as it travelled through the air, must have been visible for thousands of miles, and the detonation, as it struck, would have been felt over half the continent. Such an event would have been handed down in traditions of the Indians, even if no Europeans witnessed it. No, in my opinion, it must have happened ages ago—a thousand years, five, even ten thousand years perhaps—very likely before the first Indians roamed the forests of Guiana. But it proves one thing conclusively, and that is that this city is very ancient; perhaps the oldest city in the world. What archaeological treasures may it not contain! Frank, my boy, we've stumbled upon the most marvellous discovery ever made in America."
"But why aren't the ruins overgrown with jungle?" queried Frank irrelevantly. "There's nothing but a little grass in the streets and a few trees growing here and there in the ruins."
"That's puzzled me," replied Mr. Andrews. "I admit I can't explain it. Perhaps it's something in the soil. All I know is that it's so. Come on; let's take a stroll through the lost city of Manoa."
Near where they stood, a wide avenue stretched away from the rim of the crater and half-scrambling, half-sliding down the steep declivity, the two reached the pavement of what had been the main street, where Joseph—very silent and uneasy—joined them. For a moment they stood and looked about, filled with a vague awe at thus standing in this dead city of the past.
"Isn't it wonderful," exclaimed Frank in a half whisper, "just to think of actually being here—here in the Golden City that so many men have lost their lives in seeking? But I thought Manoa was supposed to be covered with gold."
"So it was, in fable," replied Mr. Andrews, also speaking in a low tone, "but no doubt that was poetic license, so to speak—the city is golden when the sun strikes on it at dawn. I expect its site was selected with reference to that—probably its inhabitants were sunworshippers or something of that sort."
They were now walking slowly along the avenue and peered into the various buildings they passed, but all were in ruins and the interiors were filled with fallen debris of stone and masonry.
But the farther they proceeded from the lake the more intact were the edifices that lined the highway, and Frank exclaimed in wonder and admiration as they reached this portion of the city and he saw the beautiful carvings and elaborate decorations which covered the stonework in many places.
"It's the strangest architecture I've ever seen or heard of," declared Mr. Andrews; "see that building"—he pointed to a huge edifice which occupied an entire square—"the walls lean outward like certain ruins in Yucatan, but in every other respect it's absolutely different."
Frank examined the strange building with care. "Well, the chaps who built this were some masons," he announced; "all the stones are actually dovetailed together."
"Yes, and no mortar was used to fasten them," said Mr. Andrews; "I'd like to know what sort of tools they used. This stone is the hardest sort of diorite."
"Let's go inside," suggested Frank; "it doesn't seem to have tumbled down much and I suppose it's perfectly safe."
Acting on his suggestion the two entered the wide portal, flanked on either hand by weird carvings, while Joseph followed at their heels with a half-frightened, questioning expression on his face which caused Frank to declare that he looked like a "dog with its tail between its legs."
"That's queer," exclaimed Frank, as within the building he glanced curiously about; "the roof's fallen in, but I don't see any of it scattered on the floor."
"It never had a roof," declared Mr. Andrews, who was carefully studying the walls; "or at least, if it did, it was merely an awning or light covering of some sort which has turned to dust centuries ago. See, the edges of these walls are perfectly smooth and finished—nothing's been broken away there except in one spot; that's where a stone came tumbling through. There 'tis over yonder." He pointed to a large irregular boulder lying in one corner of the immense room.
"I suppose that was tossed in here when the meteor struck," said Frank as they wandered across the room and approached the object which had torn the gaping hole in the cornice.
"Undoubtedly," agreed Mr. Andrews. "By Jove! It's a meteorite itself."
There could be no doubt of it and they examined the aerolite with interest. "Isn't it a whopper," exclaimed Frank; "it's gone clean through the floor."
"It would have gone out of sight beneath if it had struck with its full force," declared Mr. Andrews; "I expect it was merely a fragment, knocked off when the main mass hit the earth; just bounded up and fell in here."
From the large room which contained the meteorite numerous doorways opened and Frank and his companions entered one after another of these, or peered into their dim interiors, but all seemed empty save for little piles of dust and pieces of highly decorated pottery, many of which lay cracked and broken and half-buried in the dust heaps.
"What do you suppose caused those piles of dust?" enquired Frank; "they couldn't have blown in and I don't see why they should be in such regular heaps."
"I believe they are all that remain of wooden furniture," replied Mr. Andrews. "The broken pottery points to that theory. Probably the jars once stood upon tables or benches, which have crumbled away to dust, and the pots were broken as they fell with their supports."
"I guess that's right," agreed Frank; "look at all these funny carvings." He pointed to the intricate designs which covered the walls.
"Those are hieroglyphs," declared Mr. Andrews, examining the stones. "If we could only translate them we'd learn a great deal about the city. Many ruins in Central America are covered with similar picture-writings, but no one has ever yet been able to decipher the inscriptions, and no key has been discovered. When they do become legible—if they ever do —we'll be able to obtain the true story of prehistoric America perhaps. Until then, it's mainly guesswork."
"Well, this isn't half as interesting as I expected,” declared Frank. “Goodness! What's that?"
They were passing a dark aperture—a low, narrow doorway in the wall—and from within came a short, half-smothered cough.
Frank felt a nervous chill sweep over him. It was so silent and dead and spooky that the unexpected sound startled them both, and they stood there, staring into the darkness, not knowing what they might see. Then once more the cough broke the awed silence and Frank grasped bis companion's arm convulsively.
"There," he exclaimed in a hoarse, frightened whisper; "look! I see it—wha—what is it?"
Their eyes had now grown accustomed to the darkness and, peering within the tomb-like chamber, they saw a dim, shadowy something crouching close to the floor and stealthily moving across the room.
"I see it," whispered Mr. Andrews, himself far more nervous than he would like to admit; "I don't know what 'tis—perhaps it's—"
"Tiger," exclaimed Joseph so suddenly that both the others jumped. "Me smellum. Look, seeum eyes."
In the blackness gleamed two green, luminous balls and Frank, without stopping to think of consequences, raised his gun and fired a charge of buckshot point-blank at the gleaming eyes.
There was a deafening roar as the building echoed to the report of the gun; bits of masonry came rattling down; there was an awful scream; Frank was bowled heels over head as something struck him in the chest, and Joseph uttered a piercing shriek.
Frank scrambled to his feet, gasping with surprise and fright. Mr. Andrews was just rising from the floor where he had fallen and Joseph was seated a few feet away, gazing about in a dazed manner.
"What the—" began Frank and then he gave a lusty shout: "I got him," he cried, and sprang forward. Stretched upon the floor beyond the Indian was an immense black jaguar.
"Bully for you," exclaimed Mr. Andrews; "but that chap came near getting us instead. He knocked us over like tenpins, but he didn't injure any of us as far as I can see. He didn't frighten me half as much as your gunshot, however. Don't shoot inside one of these ruins again, my boy. You might bring the whole place about our heads—my heart was actually in my mouth as those pieces of stone came rattling down."
"I didn't think of that," admitted Frank apologetically; "I'll be more careful hereafter. But isn't he a beauty? I've got my tiger after all."
"Yes, he's certainly a fine one," agreed Mr. Andrews; "but how about eating? It's past noon and we've had nothing since dawn. I don't expect jaguar is very palatable, but I guess we'll have to dine off one of this fellow's steaks."
Joseph had dragged the jaguar to the door and was already busy skinning it, and Frank and Mr. Andrews wandered about seeking for fuel.
"We'll have to go outside the city to find wood," said Frank, after they had searched diligently for some time. "There's not a stick of dry wood about here."
"It's not very far to those trees by the stream yonder," replied Mr. Andrews; "it will be easier to carry meat there than to bring fuel here, and besides we need water. We'll wait until Joseph has skinned the beast and cut off some meat and then we'll all go over and lunch under the trees."
The Arekuna soon finished his work and, having spread the hide on the floor of the building, to await their return, the three started towards the river bank and the fringe of trees. But they were not fated to test the edible qualities of jaguar. Hardly had they reached the edge of the thicket when a flock of tinamous fluttered up and three of the birds fell to the report of Frank's gun.
"We won't have to starve here at any rate," remarked Frank; "I'll bet this valley is full of game and that there are plenty of fish in the streams. I'd like to stay here until we've explored every bit of the place. There must be treasure somewhere in the city and we might find it. Besides, there's the gold in that ridge around the lake—why, there may be fortunes there just waiting to be picked up."
"Perhaps there are," assented Mr. Andrews; "and I've no doubt there is treasure in the city yonder. But it would be of no value to us at present. You forget we're still lost and have a long way to go, and we'll be obliged to travel over unknown rivers in a woodskin. We couldn't weigh ourselves down with gold, Frank."
"That's so," admitted the other reluctantly; "but we could come back for it later."
"Exactly," said Mr. Andrews; "and the sooner we get away and reach the settlements the sooner we can return, properly equipped to explore this marvellous city and secure any treasure it may contain. We'll have a look around this afternoon and then, to-morrow, we must begin work on a canoe. I hope to leave by the day following."
Lunch was soon over and once more the three made their way to the city. The long, straight avenue, which ran through the centre of the town, seemed the most promising place to investigate and, stopping frequently to poke about in the larger buildings which bordered the highway, they wandered on.
Suddenly Mr. Andrews stopped, and, stooping, examined a low bush growing from a crevice among the stones of a low wall.
Then, turning towards Frank with a puzzled expression, he asked: "What do you make of this, Frank?"
The other looked closely at the bush. Much to his surprise the leaves concealed a short, stout stem which had been cut off.
"Why, it looks as if it had been chopped down," exclaimed Frank; "but of course that's impossible," he added.
"Is it?" remarked Mr. Andrews interrogatively and looking fixedly at his companion with a peculiar expression. "I'm beginning to think nothing's impossible," he continued; "that bush has been cut as sure as fate, and what's more it's been cut recently—not longer ago than a few weeks at any rate. Frank, human beings have been in this city within the month. For all I know they may be here now. Heaven alone knows what we may run into."
"Say, you make me nervous," exclaimed Frank, glancing about; "you really don't mean that the place is still inhabited."
"I don't know what to think," replied the other, as they proceeded more cautiously, "Hold on! What's this?"
Again he stopped, knelt down and examined the pavement. "Here's further proof," he declared, pointing to a crack between the stones where fresh earth showed. "Believe me or not, Frank, this street has been weeded. Look, there's the dry grass that was pulled up from between the stones. No wonder the city's not overgrown with jungle; the vegetation's been destroyed as fast as it sprung up. Ghosts or spirits don't chop down trees or pull up grass. There must be men of some sort here who are looking after this city. Frank, I feel as if I’d taken leave of my senses. It's too mysterious and impossible to be true, but it's an indisputable fact, nevertheless."
"Piai!" ejaculated Joseph who had remained silent hitherto; "me tellum this feller place all same Piai."
Mr. Andrews looked at the Indian searchingly. "There's something back of all this," he murmured, half to himself. "I'll wager you know more about this place than we imagine," he added, and then, addressing Joseph, he demanded: "What you sabby all same this place? How come for sabby him Piai? You sabby this feller long time?"
The Indian's eyes shifted uneasily and he moved first one foot and then the other upon the ground: "No sabby long time," he replied at last; "all same sabby Piai. All Buckman sabby Piai this place. All same me one C'rist'n Buckman. My fadder same way; all same he fadder fadder tellum long time gone this feller place Piai. One feller gold man livum this side. He all same God for Buckman that time. Me tellum mebbe plenty Buckman he likeum gold man all same this time. Gold feller plenty piai; this feller place, all same whereum live, plenty piai."
"It's the same old story of El Dorado," remarked Frank, as Joseph finished his long involved story; "but it doesn't throw any great light on the present mystery."
Mr. Andrews was deep in thought. "I'm not sure of that," he said after a moment. "Talky-talky has its limitations as a medium for expressing one's ideas. If I'm not mistaken, Joseph intends us to understand that formerly the Indians considered Manoa a sacred spot—the abode of some heathen god whom he describes as the 'gold man,' and who was doubtless identical with the fabled El Dorado —and that even to-day some of the Bucks still worship him. There are many pagan Indians left and even those who arc nominally Christians often have a secret, lingering belief in the gods of their ancestors, as proved by our Arekuna's behaviour when he first set eyes on this valley. Christianity's a mighty thin veneer and barely skin deep with most of these Indians."
"I can understand that, now you explain it," declared Frank, "but that doesn't prove who the people are who pull up the grass and chop down the bushes here."
"I think it does," replied Mr. Andrews; "I'm beginning to see light. I shouldn't wonder if the Bucks who worship this place, or the god who's supposed to dwell here, consider it their duty to look after the city and prevent it from being overwhelmed by the jungle. They may even make pilgrimages to the ruins at stated intervals. We whites know mighty little about our red brothers' lives and ways. They keep their private affairs to themselves, and we only know what they want us to know."
"But wouldn't some of them have told about the city if they knew about it?" asked Frank; "I should think they'd have brought out gold at any rate. They're all so poor that even a few nuggets would be a fortune to them."
"That's precisely what they wouldn't do," declared Mr. Andrews positively; "nothing could induce them to divulge the whereabouts of a spot they hold sacred. They know the whites would soon be here and take possession and their presence would be desecration. As for the gold, they are cunning enough to realise that a white man will go through anything in his lust for wealth, and the Bucks wouldn't take the risk of being followed here by taking out the gold. Moreover, it's probably sacred, or at least, Piai. We've proof enough that one Indian came here; the Piaiman of the Acurias. If one, why not others? I'll wager every Piaiman in Guiana knows of this spot. To them it's like Mecca to the Mohammedans."
"It's all very complicated and weird and mysterious," declared Frank. "It seems too dreamy and impossible to be real. Hello! here's the end of the road."
As they had been talking, they had walked slowly along the broad avenue and now they discovered that they had reached the limits of the city and that the street ended at a massive building a few rods ahead.
"Yes, and it appears to lead directly into that building," remarked Mr. Andrews; "I believe that's a temple of some sort. There may, be something interesting inside."
Before them a flight of immense stone steps led up from the end of the avenue to an enormous doorway, and Mr. Andrews called Frank's attention to the fact that it was wider at the top than at the bottom.
"Looks as if it was bottom side up," remarked Frank.
"It has some significance, I expect," said Mr. Andrews; "the walls of this temple lean out, as did that other building where you killed the jaguar, but most of the buildings have perpendicular sides."
"What's that funny thing over the door?" asked Frank; "it looks like a cross."
"It's a swastika," replied Mr. Andrews; "I noticed the same design on some of the other buildings. It's a mystic symbol and is known to have been used by nearly every race and nationality."
They had now entered the portal of the temple and found themselves in a short passage ending in a flight of steps some ten feet in height. Mounting these steps they readied the top and stood spellbound at what they saw.
They stood at the threshold of an enormous room, the walls and floor of which were of dark-green, polished stone, and lit only by a single narrow window facing the east. The chamber was in the form of a gigantic swastika and in the very centre—facing the doorway and the window, and seated upon a massive throne of black stone, sat a gigantic semi-human figure of burnished gold.
"El Dorado," whispered Frank, as the two stood gazing fixedly at the wonderful statue. "The Golden Man in very truth," replied Mr. Andrews.
As for Joseph, the Indian was again prostrate upon the floor.
"Do you suppose he's really gold?" asked Frank, after a long silence.
"Undoubtedly," replied the other; "no other material would have remained untarnished for all these years. But the image may not be solid—possibly he's stone, plated with gold, or he may be formed of thin sheets. Let's have a look'"
Stepping across the floor of the temple the two approached the strange golden god.
At first glance it had appeared fashioned in human form, but as they slowly took note of details they found that 'twas a grotesque combination of man and beast. The head was that of a jaguar, but in place of the great cat's teeth the wide-open mouth showed the two great fangs and forked tongue of a rattlesnake. In one hand the image held a carved staff, the other grasped a golden club, while a third arm, springing from the breast, supported a golden swastika. The body and legs were human, however, although curiously decorated and engraved, and about the neck hung a string of huge, golden moons.
Joseph, who had risen, had followed the other two, but instead of approaching the statue directly, he sidled to one side and stood silent and awed in the furthest alcove, or arm, of the swastika-shaped room.
Once their first surprise was over, Mr. Andrews and Frank had commenced to examine the gold god, which towered above their heads for a dozen feet and more. Suddenly Mr. Andrews caught sight of some objects resting at the statue's feet upon the black throne.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "look at this, Frank; "there are a lot of flowers and fruits; they're wilted and rotten, but they've not been here very long. Offerings left by the same chaps who chopped that bush and cleaned the street, I'll wager. Hello! here's something else." Poking about among the decayed flowers strewn upon the dais he drew forth an elaborately-carved wooden club.
"I'd like to know what tribe this belonged to," he muttered, examining the weapon carefully; "perhaps Joseph will know. I'll soon find out."
So saying, he walked across the floor towards the Indian who stood motionless, his eyes fixed upon the back of the god. Frank, meanwhile, had clambered upon the throne and was tapping and examining the metal surface of the image.
"Isn't he the ugly old boy?" he exclaimed, as at close quarters he gazed at the repulsive head of the figure. "Talk about those two-fingered chaps; this fellow's got them beaten to a frazzle for looks."
Then the third arm, with its shield-like swastika, attracted him and, reaching up, he grasped the superfluous limb. As he did so he uttered a cry of surprise—the arm moved downward at his touch.
"Oh! I say," he cried, "look, Mr. Andrews, this fellow's extra arm's loose. Just see here," and as he spoke he peered around the side of the figure to catch a glimpse of his companions. As he did so, his foot slipped; he clutched at the golden arm and uttered a piercing yell, for the arm swung outward with his weight and, at the same instant, his two comrades and the floor shot swiftly to one side and out of sight. Only a dark, blank wall was visible where the two men had stood but a moment before.
Dully, wonderingly, uncomprehendingly, Frank stared at the spot where his friends had stood. It was so sudden, so unbelievable, so terrible that he was absolutely stunned, and for a space he stood there by the idol, unable to move or even to cry out. And then, as the enormity of the catastrophe dawned upon him, he leaped down and, dashing across the floor, beat his fists upon the cold stone wall and screamed his missing comrades' names until hoarse. But no answer came from the massive stonework, no sound replied, save the mocking echo of his shouts. His friends were gone; swallowed up in some mysterious manner forever and he was left alone—alone with that awful, hideous, golden image in the ruined city of the dead.
And with realisation of his utter helplessness and his overwhelming loss came a terrible fear and hatred of the idol and the dismal, tomb-like temple and, turning, he rushed madly towards the entrance; his one thought to gain the open air and sunshine—anywhere away from the accursed spot.
But no portal was there. The solid wall rose smooth and unbroken from the floor to the narrow window far above, and no crack nor crevice gave hint of where the doorway had been. Frank was caged, trapped, imprisoned, and he flung himself upon the pavement utterly beaten, discouraged and hopeless.
Suddenly he started, trembling with mingled hope and fear, for his ears had caught the faint sounds of human voices, but whether of friends or foes he knew not. Again he heard it and with a glad cry sprang to his feet, for the voice was that of Mr. Andrews.
"Hello, Frank!" it cried; "we're all right. Can you see me? I can see you easily enough." A merry laugh followed.
Frank gazed about, mystified and perplexed. The words came from near at hand—from the centre of the temple he thought—but no sign of living being could he see.
"I can't see you," he shouted; "where are you? What's happened?"
"We're here," came the answer; "inside of old El Dorado. I'm looking out through his mouth. Climb up and you'll be able to see me. I don't know what happened. First thing we knew we were carried into a small chamber with a flight of steps leading down to a passage. We hurried along, hoping to find a way out, and came to another stairway which brought us up here in the idol. Clever sort of arrangement those old chaps had. I expect you started things going by accident; probably touched a secret spring on the statue."
Frank had now clambered upon the golden image and could look into its mouth. There was a small opening in the throat and from this came his friend's voice, but the aperture was too small and dark to enable him to distinguish Mr. Andrews' face.
"It must have been the arm," he exclaimed; "I grabbed it when I slipped and it pulled right down and you disappeared. The door to the temple has gone, too."
"The arm must connect with machinery inside here," said Mr. Andrews. "Wait a minute and I'll see."
Frank could hear him scrambling about within the image for a moment. "I've found it," came in muffled tones; "there's a lever in here with a chain hanging down below. Move the arm slowly and keep your eye on what happens."
Frank grasped the arm, which projected horizontally from the figure's breast, and pushed upward. It moved easily and, as he pressed upon it with one hand, he glanced first to one side of the room and then to the other.
Slowly and silently a portion of the walls moved; the door was exposed and an opening appeared where Mr. Andrews and Joseph had disappeared.
"Hurrah!" cried Frank; "the door's half open and there's a hole in the back of the room."
"Will the arm stay where 'tis now?" asked Mr. Andrews.
Frank carefully released his hold, but the idol's limb remained motionless.
"Yes," he replied; "it doesn't move unless I push it."
"All right," said Mr. Andrews; "we'll come out. Better hold onto that arm though. It might slip and I don't fancy being caught by those moving walls."
Then the voice ceased and Frank, holding tightly to the golden arm, waited anxiously for his companions to appear.
Minute after minute passed and Frank was getting nervous, when he heard the sound of footfalls and Mr. Andrews and Joseph stepped from the opening in the rear of the room.
Frank leaped from his perch and rushed to greet them.
"It took us longer to get out than to get in," exclaimed Mr. Andrews; "there are several passages down there and we had trouble in finding the right one. You must have had a beastly fright, Frank."
"I did," replied Frank; "I thought I'd never see you again and when I tried to run outside, and found the door shut, I went all to pieces—it was simply too awful for words, being shut up in this place with that idol."
"I'd like to know how the thing works," declared Mr. Andrews presently, and approaching El Dorado; "whoever built this place was a splendid mechanic. I expect it's simple enough, but it's marvellous that any machinery should remain in good working condition for all these centuries. Climbing upon the statue he moved the arm to its original position and, descending, examined the door and the spot where he had first stood. Then, returning, he pulled the arm down. Instantly the door closed and a section of the rear wall opened, a strip of floor slipped into the aperture and the opposite wall moved forward and closed the opening. There was no jar, no jolt, no sound as the ponderous masses of stone were shifted, and the closest scrutiny failed to reveal the joints cleverly concealed in the intricate carvings that covered the walls.
"I'm for a look around down below," announced Mr. Andrews; "there's some reason for this thing and I'd like to know how the apparatus operates. What do you say, Frank? Are you game to explore the passages?"
"Rather!" replied Frank. "I'm wild to explore the place. Perhaps the treasure's down there. But suppose some one should come along and move the arm while we're below. We'd be in a nice fix."
"No danger of that," declared the other; "It's to prevent that very thing that the chaps who lived here arranged to shut the only door when the secret way opened; they didn't want to be interrupted by visitors. But I'm not taking any chances; I'm going to fasten the arm so it can't move accidentally."
Soon the arm was secured in position, by means of Joseph's bowstring, and the three companions entered the aperture in the wall and descended the narrow stone steps.
Frank had expected to find it dark in the underground passage, but it was light enough to distinguish surroundings quite easily, and an investigation showed that narrow shafts extended from the roof of the passage to the summit of the temple walls. Mr. Andrews led the way to where the stairs ascended to the statue and Frank, climbing up, peered forth through the idol's mouth as had Mr. Andrews.
But there was little to interest them in the statue itself and the party again descended and regained the passage beneath the temple. They soon found the heavy chain which connected with the lever and arm above, and by following this they came to the machinery which operated the masses of stone. To Frank it was a bewildering affair of wheels, levers and chains, but Mr. Andrews seemed to think it very simple.
"An adaptation of the Spanish Windlass," he declared, "in combination with duplex levers carefully balanced and adjusted by means of counterweights. I wonder what they're made of. Looks like bronze. By Jove! it's solid gold."
"Gold!" cried Frank; "why, if all those things are gold they must be worth millions. But I thought gold was too soft to use for such purposes."
"So it is, when pure," replied his companion, who was busily examining the machinery. "But I expect this is an alloy, it seems almost as hard as steel. Do you know, Frank, I'm beginning to believe the people who lived here in Manoa knew a lot about some things that we don't know. I'm going to follow these chains and see how those walls slide so easily."
The chains led through narrow, dark tunnels and the explorers were compelled to crawl on hands and knees, feeling their way by touching the massive links, while Joseph in the rear kept muttering, "Piai, piai," as they proceeded; but the others had become accustomed to his oft-repeated words and gave no heed to his remarks.
Presently the tunnel opened into a large, dimly-lit room hewn from the rock, and Mr. Andrews uttered an exclamation of surprise as he glanced about.
"No wonder those walls move so smoothly," he cried; "they're operated by toggle-joints and run on ball bearings!"
"Well, that may be all very wonderful and interesting," said Frank, "but I don't understand machinery and I'd much rather be hunting for treasure. Come along, Mr. Andrews, let's go back and explore those other passages."
Mr. Andrews burst out laughing. "You are keen after treasure," he exclaimed; "but there's more treasure right here within sight than any two white men ever saw before. Why, Frank, my lad, that chain we followed would almost buy the Bank of England and that's only one of half a dozen; to say nothing of these levers and wheels and pulleys and shafts. How much wealth do you want?"
"I'd quite forgotten that," said Frank, looking about with a curious, bewildered expression; "seeing it made into machinery this way it doesn't seem like treasure. Besides, you said 'twas an alloy, you know."
"So it is," replied the other, "but it may be worth all the more for that, and it would be easy enough to separate the gold, probably. But come on. I've seen all I wanted of 'how the wheels go round.' We'll have a look at the rest of the place now."
They soon retraced their way to the main passage and entered the first opening they saw. It was a narrow hallway and ended in a large vault or chamber, and piled around two sides of the room, were countless irregularly rectangular objects which gleamed dully in the faint light.
"Here's your treasure," announced Mr. Andrews, lifting one of these. "Gold ingots, Frank, and enough to make you a millionaire."
Frank stood gaping, round-eyed, at the marvellous wealth that lay before him; "I—I can't make it seem real," he stammered: "Oh, dear! can't we take it away with us?"
Mr. Andrews shook his head. "Not this trip, Frank. We can take some of it, perhaps —a few bars—but we can't afford to risk our lives and safety by loading down a woodskin with gold. It's been here for ages and there's no fear of its vanishing before we can return."
Frank drew a long sigh of regret. "It's too bad," he declared; "but I know you're right. Do you suppose the other rooms are all full of gold too?"
"We'll soon find out," replied his companion and, reluctantly leaving the treasure chamber, Frank followed Mr. Andrews into the passage. The next room was smaller than the gold vault and no piles of ingots were within, but several huge stone chests rested on the floor and Frank hurried to the nearest and glanced inside.
"Oh, look here," he cried; "this chest is full of those funny gold moons."
"And these also," exclaimed Mr. Andrews, who had been examining the contents of the other coffers; "you can take some of these, Frank, they're not worth as much as the ingots but they're as good as so many guineas and worth far more as specimens. Before we leave we'll fill our pockets with them. Lord! what a find for an archaeologist."
"Perhaps there are still more things in the other vaults," cried Frank, flushed and excited at their discoveries, and, followed by Mr. Andrews, he hurried to the next opening. But this vault was empty, and only one other opening could be seen in the passage. Entering this they were surprised to find that there was no room beyond, but that it was a narrow, winding passage which soon became inky dark.
"I wonder where this goes to," remarked Frank, as they proceeded with the utmost caution, feeling their way along the walls and carefully testing the floor at each step.
"That's what I'm trying to find out," replied Mr. Andrews from the darkness ahead; "I wish I had a torch, it's black as a pocket in here."
Hadn't we better turn back?" asked Frank, a few minutes later; "we must have gone pretty near a mile already. We may be lost if we keep on."
"No danger of getting lost," Mr. Andrews replied; "the wall is unbroken. We can feel our way back all right. It does seem a long way, but I don't believe we've gone half a mile. Take care, here's a flight of stairs going up."
Slowly they mounted the stairs and a dim light appeared ahead; then they crossed an open space and reached more steps, upon which bright light was falling from above.
"Well, we're coming out somewhere," exclaimed Frank, greatly relieved.
The stairs were steep and narrow, but at last they reached the top and came to a small room, into which the sun was streaming through a rough, broken hole in the masonry.
Mr. Andrews reached the aperture and glanced out. "By Jove!" he exclaimed; "I never would have guessed it."
"Where are we?" cried Frank, hurrying to the other's side and then he too uttered an exclamation of surprise. Beneath them was a large room and within plain sight upon the floor below was the jaguar's skin. They were gazing through the opening in the cornice made by the meteor in the building where Frank had killed a jaguar!
"O pshaw!" exclaimed Frank, his first surprise giving way to disappointment. "After all that trouble, just to come out on the roof here. What's the use of the old tunnel anyway?"
"I expect this building was some sort of temple also," replied Mr. Andrews. "Probably the old priests used to appear and disappear mysteriously, first in one place and then another. Or it may be they kept watch of what was going on through peep holes up here and the idol's mouth. Or again, they may have worked the oracle act, like the old Romans and Greeks. It's interesting, but not much use to us, as you say. There doesn't seem any way of getting down here so we'd better go back. It's getting late and we must hustle to find food and camp for the night."
Turning, they descended the stairway, felt their way back through the long tunnel, reached the passage under the idol in safety and once more emerged from their subterranean trip and came forth in the rear of El Dorado. Mr. Andrews mounted the throne, detached the string which secured the idol's arm, pushed the limb up against the golden chest and leaped down.
"Now for a hunt and a quiet night," he said; "we've had enough of exploration for one day."
"But I didn't fill my pockets with those moons," complained Frank, "I just took a few."
"Never mind," replied Mr. Andrews; "there's no use in carrying them about while we're here. When we're ready to start we'll come back and take what we can. Hello! What's Joseph carrying?"
Frank glanced at the Indian. "Why, it's one of those gold bricks," he exclaimed.
Mr. Andrews chuckled. "Seems to have got over his fear of Piai," he said; "Joseph isn't quite enough pagan to let such a chance of easy wealth slip by."
The Indian, catching the other's meaning, grinned sheepishly. "Me tellum mebbe Piai," he said; "mebbe Piai, how can tell. All same me sabby this feller catchum plenty money."
His hearers laughed merrily. "Good for you, Joseph," cried Frank. "You've an eye for the main chance all right."
"Talk about your Scotchmen," exclaimed Mr. Andrews; "our Arekuna friend is as canny as the best of them."
They had now reached the avenue and at once made their way into the thickets that covered the valley.
For some time they hunted in vain, but at last were rewarded by securing several large quail from a covey they flushed and, making their way to the river, prepared their evening meal while Joseph sought for fish in the stream. The fire was blazing merrily and the quail were broiling when he returned with two good-sized fish.
"I suppose we'd better sleep in one of the buildings," remarked Mr. Andrews; "It will be warmer and drier than out here."
"If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not," said Frank; "I'm not afraid of ghosts or anything like that, but it's too much like a graveyard over there. I'd much rather sleep here under the trees."
"I don't know but you're right," agreed Mr. Andrews; "it is kind of dismal and 'spooky' yonder. Besides, I don't expect Joseph would feel easy. It's not likely to rain and we're accustomed to sleeping out."
Thus it was agreed to spend the night under the trees by the river and, supper over, the three stretched themselves upon rude couches of dry grass and, tired out with their day's exertions, were soon sound asleep.
Frank was aroused by being jerked rudely to his feet, and awoke to full consciousness to find himself in the grasp of powerful arms. Madly he strove to wrench himself free; with all his strength he struggled, and kicked and, realising something terrible had happened, he screamed aloud to warn his comrades.
But all to no avail. He was held as in a grip of steel; rapidly he was bound, and his cries were stifled by something drawn across his mouth.
And then, finding his struggles hopeless; gagged, bound, terrified and helpless, he looked wildly about. His first thought was that the awful two-fingered men had captured him; then a dreadful unreasoning fear swept over him as he remembered the mysterious people who had left signs of their visit in the ruined city. He could distinguish nothing. It was pitch dark, but he knew he was still in the open air and he could hear stealthy movements all about, and ever and anon, he caught the sound of low-spoken words in a strange tongue. Then a light sputtered, a torch flared and by its glare he saw a knot of dusky figures and among them Mr. Andrews and Joseph, bound and gagged like himself, and the next instant some covering was thrown over his head, blindfolding him. Desperate as was his plight, he felt relieved, for now he knew his captors were not the monstrous black creatures he had dreaded. His one brief glance had proved that, for the figures he had seen were not gigantic, misshapen or black, but were undersized, and light brown, and while unrecognisable in the uncertain light of the torch, and hideous with paint, yet he was positive they were Indians.
But who were they? Frank knew that the red men of Guiana were peaceable; that they had never attacked or injured white men, and the only explanation of the midnight attack which occurred to him was that they were Acurias, who had followed the fugitives from the distant village. All these thoughts passed through his mind like a flash and then he felt himself urged forward. Some one walked ahead, leading him by a short rope, and another stalked close behind, but they were not rough, not brutal, and, as Frank stumbled blindly along, the fellow in the rear aided him constantly, holding aside boughs and brambles and uttering short, guttural exclamations which Frank soon knew were intended as warnings of obstacles in his path. This seemed strange to Frank, for, if the Indians intended to kill or injure him—if, as he thought, they were avengers from the Acuria village—why should they use care that he was not tripped, that he did not fall, that he was not torn or harmed by thorns? Rather, would they take pleasure in seeing him suffer, or more likely kill or maim him. They were certainly not behaving like Kenaimas and, finding it all a mystery and a puzzle, he wondered if he and his comrades were being taken to some distant spot to be tortured. Then his captors halted and Frank felt himself lifted in strong arms; there was a splash and swirl of water, he was carried for a short distance 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 the indescribable sense of movement, Frank knew the boat was under way. He wondered if his comrades were there too —he would have given anything to know—but he could not speak, he could not see, and he dared not move for fear of capsizing the canoe. For many hours the canoe moved steadily and swiftly. Several times the rushing sound of water, the leaping motions of the canoe and the excited voices of his captors, told Frank they were shooting rapids. Sometimes branches swept across the craft and showered drops of dew upon him, and, once or twice, he felt the bottom of the craft grate on rocks and, by the sounds and splashing, knew the Indians had leaped out and were lifting and hauling their boat into clear water. At last, by the light that filtered through the covering over his eyes, Frank knew that day had come and he wondered if his captors would let him starve or die of thirst, or whether they would ever stop. 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 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 a short distance; he was placed upon the ground and, without warning, the covering was jerked from his head and the gag was taken from his mouth.
Frank gave a gulp, drew one long, blessed breath; blinked his eyes and stared about. On every side was impenetrable jungle and near him squatted two naked, painted Indians, but not another human being was in sight.
What had become of his companions? Where was he? Who were these silent savages? He opened his mouth to speak, but instantly one of the Bucks made a warning gesture and held up the gag suggestively, and the words died on Frank's lips. Now one of the men approached with a calabash of water and held it to Frank's thirsty mouth, and the other placed cassava cakes, a roasted plantain and a buccaned powi before him, while his fellow loosened the bush rope that bound one of the captive's hands. Frank helped himself to the food eagerly, for he was terribly hungry, and, as he ate, he racked his brain for some solution to this strange abduction and for some scheme to escape. But he knew any attempt to free himself was useless, for the two Indians were muscled like trained athletes, each carried a blowgun and poisoned arrows, and each held a heavy club in readiness, as they stood over him. And to solve the mystery of their strange behaviour was as difficult as to form a plan to gain his freedom. Frank gave up both in despair and resigned himself to what fate might have in store for him.
No sooner had he finished his meal and taken his fill of water, than he was again bound and the covering drawn over his head, but this time, to Frank's intense joy, the gag was not replaced, although his captors made it plainly understood that any outcry or sound would result in the agonising thing being brought into use.
For hour after hour they kept on. Sometimes the sun beat down upon them with terrific heat; for long periods they were in semidarkness while the cool, damp air told of passing through dense jungles. Again and again they ran rapids and three times Frank was led along rough paths, where, by the roaring of water, he knew they were passing cataracts while the canoe was being portaged. Several times the canoe stopped and water was placed at the prisoner's lips and, towards midday, the canoe was run upon a bank, Frank was carried ashore and lunch was served in the midst of the forest, under the same conditions as breakfast, and, late in the afternoon, dinner was eaten in the same way.
Night fell and still they kept in motion. Frank wondered if the Indians never rested, if they never slept, and, tired and lulled by the gentle motion of the craft and the constant ripple of the water alongside, he fell asleep. He awoke cramped and numb and realised the canoe was at rest. Soon he was carried ashore, placed in a hammock and his bonds loosened. Gratefully he stretched himself, rubbed his wrists and ankles and luxuriated in the freedom from his fetters. But it was hopeless to dream of escape. The ever-watchful Indians squatted beside him and he realised that even if, by a sudden dash, he evaded them, he would be hopelessly lost in the forest. So far no harm had befallen him, he was beginning to think that, after all, he was in no danger of torture or death and, too tired and sleepy even to worry, he closed his eyes and was soon slumbering peacefully.
It was broad daylight when he was aroused by one of his guardians and, after a light breakfast, he was again blindfolded and carried to the canoe. Greatly to his relief his hands were left unbound, but his captors evidently intended he should not remove the covering over his head and tied it firmly about his neck.
The day passed much as that preceding and again night fell and found them still rushing down stream for, by the fact that they ran the rapids instead of pulling the boat through, Frank knew that they were descending the river and he wondered if the stream would never come to an end. They had been travelling almost ceaselessly for nearly forty-eight hours, and Frank realised that they must have covered fully two hundred miles. Where were they? Where were they taking him? If they were headed towards the coast they must be nearly there; if not, how could they always travel with the current? It was another puzzle and absolutely beyond him.
Again night fell; again Frank slept and again he was awakened as he was lifted from the canoe. This time he was not laid in a hammock as before, he was not set upon the ground, but instead he was placed in another canoe. Then the covering was unfastened from his neck, it was jerked from his head and Frank glanced about.
For a space he could distinguish nothing, but as his eyes became accustomed to the darkness he saw two figures seated before him in the canoe. He looked at them half-curiously, wondering why his captors had given him such unwonted liberty, and then he gasped, rubbed his eyes and peered searchingly at the two dark forms. Was he dreaming? Was he suffering from some strange hallucination? Surely it could not be, and yet—it must be, it must—yes, there was no question; the two other occupants of the craft were Mr. Andrews and Joseph!
And as the truth dawned upon him he gave a glad cry of joy, all unmindful of what swift punishment might follow. Instantly the nearest figure swung about.
"Frank!" came in surprised tones from the darkness; "thank God you're here."
"Wah-la!" exclaimed the other shadowy form; "me tellum plenty Piai."
"Oh, Mr. Andrews! Oh, Joseph!" cried the delighted, wonderstruck boy; "I can't believe it's really you. Where are we? Where are the Indians? What's happened?" As he spoke Frank started to scramble forward to his comrades.
"Hold fast, lad!" warned Mr. Andrews, as the canoe swayed and tipped; "don't capsize us. We're adrift in a canoe Heaven knows where. Hello! here's the shore."
At that instant the canoe grated on a bank, Mr. Andrews seized an overhanging limb and a moment later the three were on dry land; alone and free and, as Frank put it, "acting like a bunch of kids."
Before them lay the dark, mysterious water, above and behind them rose the black forest. They knew not where they were, they were without shelter or fire, but they gave no heed to their plight,—it was enough that they were again together, safe, alive and unharmed. Seated there upon the narrow strip of muddy bank between the forest and the river, they waited for day to dawn and told of what had occurred since they had been made prisoners at the lost city of Manoa.
But the tale of each was much the same and all had gone through experiences almost identical. Mr. Andrews and Joseph had never seen one another since their capture until they found themselves in the canoe, and Frank and Mr. Andrews had to laugh, as each described how he had thought the figure before him one of the Indians until Frank had spoken, while Joseph, in the bow of the canoe, had taken it for granted that his captors were still behind him and had not turned to look back.
"But who were those Indians?" exclaimed Frank; "why did they capture us and take us all this way and then let us go, and where have they gone?"
"I've spent most of my time trying to solve the mystery," replied Mr. Andrews. "A lot of theories have occurred to me but only one seems plausible. I believe those Bucks were members of the tribe, or tribes, who still worship El Dorado. Perhaps they were near, and watching us all the time we were at the city, or perhaps they came upon us by accident while we slept. In either case, their one idea was to get us away from the place without injuring us and without our knowing where we went. They've no intention of letting us find our way back if they can help it, and I guess they've succeeded pretty well. As near as I can make out they've been doubling on the route, descending first one stream and then another, paddling through creeks and itabus, and threading a perfect labyrinth of waterways ever since we left. Having reached this spot they evidently thought us sufficiently far away for safety and simply slipped off and left us in the darkness. It was a mighty clever trick."
"Then we'll never be able to go back to the Golden City," cried Frank; "and to think of all that treasure we missed. Why, no one will even believe we found it. I can scarcely believe it wasn't all a dream myself, I wonder— Hurrah! It was real."
As Frank had been speaking he had thrust his hand into his pocket and had felt the golden moons within. "They didn't rob me anyway," he exclaimed. "I've still got the gold moons in my pocket."
"Of course it was real," said Mr. Andrews. "I'll wager we will get back there some day— Indians or no Indians. At any rate you've the moons to prove our story. I wonder what became of Joseph's gold brick."
"Me tellum all same catchum this time," remarked the Arekuna. "Him feller Buckman no likeum. Him sabby Piai, no touchum."
As he spoke Joseph patted his leather pouch significantly.
"Well, you're fixed for life at any rate," laughed Frank; "I wonder what they did with my gun."
"It's nearly daybreak," remarked Mr. Andrews; "I can see the opposite shore now. It will be light in a few minutes. Then we'll see what our chances are for getting out of here."
Dawn came rapidly and, as the canoe became clearly visible Frank gave a shout. "There's my gun," he cried; "and there are paddles and food, too. They weren't such a bad lot after all."
"They're honest enough," said Mr. Andrews. "We'll not starve at any rate and with the good canoe and paddles they left us we'll eventually get somewhere. I'd like to know where we are. I haven't the remotest idea."
It was now quite light and the three looked curiously about their surroundings. That they were on a small creek or itabu was evident, for it was scarcely a dozen yards from the spot where they stood to the opposite bank and the jungle met in an archway overhead. There was no visible current, but stray leaves and twigs, upon the surface of the water, moved slowly to the right.
"The current runs that way—to the west," announced Mr. Andrews, after watching the drifting objects for a time; "but we might as well have something to eat before starting out."
In the canoe were cassava cakes, roasted and boiled yams and some buccaned meat and a good breakfast was made. As they approached the canoe Frank stopped and stared at the creek.
"That's mighty queer," he exclaimed; "a few minutes ago everything was floating to the west. Now there's a stick floating east."
Joseph uttered a shout. "Tide he wash," he cried.
"He's right," exclaimed Mr. Andrews. "By Jove! We're within reach of tidewater. Frank, my boy, we're below all the rapids and not a hundred miles from the sea,"
Filled with exultation the three piled into the canoe and, plying their paddles with all their might, drove the craft skimming down the creek towards the west.
Dodging around tacubas, crouching low as they swept beneath fallen trees, ploughing through backwaters thick with lilies, they sped on. The narrow jungle stream widened and presently a larger creek was seen ahead. Into this they paddled, but now the tide was flowing swiftly and against the strong current they could force their craft but slowly. The creek turned and twisted, gradually it broadened; mucka-muckas and mangroves grew along the shores and then—as they rounded a bend, the gleam of open water was before them.
A moment more and the creek was left behind and they floated upon the bosom of a large river.
And at the sight which greeted them a great shout rose from three throats. Across the river—scarce half a mile distant—was a little town!
A tiny locomotive puffed and snorted as it hauled a train along the bank and at the dock lay a river steamer.
"Wismar, by Jove!" yelled Mr. Andrews. "Come on, boys, we're in time for the steamer."
The three paddles churned the water into foam as, like a living thing, the canoe sprang forward.
"Hurrah!" shouted Frank; "we'll be in Georgetown this afternoon."