The Pathless Trail, by Arthur O. (Arthur Olney) Friel

The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Pathless Trail, by Arthur O. (Arthur
Olney) Friel

THE PATHLESS TRAIL

by

ARTHUR O. FRIEL

Made in the United States of America

THE PATHLESS TRAIL

Copyright, 1922, by Harper & Brothers
Printed in the United States of America

TO
THE MEMORY OF
MY FATHER
GEORGE WILLIAM FRIEL

THE PATHLESS TRAIL

CHAPTER I.

SONS OF THE NORTH

Three men stood ankle deep in mud on the shore of a jungle river,
silently watching a ribbon of smoke drift and dissolve above the somber
mass of trees to the northwest.

Three men of widely different types they were, yet all cradled in the
same far-off northern land. The tallest, lean bodied but broad
shouldered, black of hair and gray of eye, held himself in soldierly
fashion and gazed unmoved. His two mates–one stocky, red faced and red
headed; the other slender, bronzed and blond–betrayed their thoughts in
their blue eyes. The red man squinted quizzically at the smoke feather
as if it mattered little to him where he was. The blond watched it with
the wistfulness of one who sees the last sign of his own world fade out.

Behind them, at a respectful distance, a number of swarthy individuals
of both sexes in nondescript garments smoked and stared at the trio with
the interest always accorded strangers by the dwellers of the Out
Places. They eyed the uncompromising back of the tall one, the easy
lounge of the red one, the thoughtful attitude of the light one. The
copper-faced men peered at the rifles hanging in the right hands of the
newcomers, their knee boots, khaki clothing, and wide hats. The women
let their eyes rove over the boxes and bundles reposing in the mud
beside the three.

“_Ingles?_” hazarded a woman, speaking through the stem of the black
pipe clutched in her filed teeth.

“_Notre-Americano_,” asserted a man, nodding toward the broad hats.
“Englishmen would wear the round helmets of pith.”

“_Mercadores?_ Traders?” suggested the woman, hopefully running an eye
again over the bundles.

“_Exploradores_,” the man corrected. “Explorers of the bush. Have you no
eyes? Do you not see the guns and high boots?”

The woman subsided. The others continued what seemed to be their only
occupation–smoking.

The smoke streamer in the north vanished. As if moved by the same
impulse, the three strangers turned their heads and looked
south-westward, upriver. The red-haired man spoke.

“So we’ve lit at last, as the feller said when him and his airyplane
landed in a sewer. Faith, I dunno but he was better off than us, at
that–he wasn’t two thousand miles from nowheres like we are. The
steamer’s gone, and us three pore li’l’ boys are left a long ways from
home.”

Then, assuming the tone of a showman, he went on:

“Before ye, girls, ye see the well known Ja-va-ree River, which I never
seen before and comes from gosh-knows-where and ends in the Ammyzon.
Over there on t’other side the water is Peru. Yer feet are in the mud of
Brazil. This other river to yer left is the Tickywahoo–”

“Tecuahy,” the blond man corrected, grinning.

“Yeah. And behind ye is the last town in the world and the place that
God forgot. What d’ye call this here, now, city?”

“Remate de Males. Which means ‘Culmination of Evils.'”

“Yeah. It looks it. Wonder if it’s anything like Hell’s Kitchen, up in
li’l’ old N’Yawk.”

They turned and looked dubiously at the town–a row of perhaps seventy
iron-walled and palm-roofed houses set on high palm-trunk poles, each
with its ladder dropping from the doorway to the one muddy street. Then
spoke the tall man.

“Before you see it again, Tim, you’ll think it’s quite a town. Above
here is nothing but a few rubber estates, seven hundred miles of unknown
river, and empty jungle.”

“Empty, huh? Then they kidded us on the boat. From what they said it’s
fair crawlin’ with snakes and jaggers and lizards and bloody vampires
and spiders as big as yer fist. And the water is full o’ man-eatin’ fish
and the bush full o’ man-eatin’ Injuns. If that’s what ye call empty,
Cap, don’t take me no place where it’s crowded.”

A slight smile twitched the set lips of the tall “cap.”

“They’re all here, Tim, though maybe not so thick as you expect. Lots of
other things too. Who’s this?”

Through the knot of pipe-puffing idlers came a portly coppery man in
uniform.

“Well, I’ll be–Say, he’s the same chap who came onto the boat in a
police uniform. Now he’s in army rig,” the light-haired member of the
trio exclaimed. “O Lordy! I’ve got it! He’s the police force and the
army! The whole blooming works! Ha!”

Tim snickered and stepped forward.

“Hullo, buddy!” he greeted. “What’s on yer mind?”

“_Boa dia_, senhor,” responded the official, affably. With the words he
deftly slipped an arm around Tim’s waist and lifted the other hand
toward his shoulder. But that hand stopped short, then flew wildly out
into the air.

Tim gave a grunt and a heave. The official went skidding and slithering
six feet through the mud, clutching at nothing and contorting himself in
a frantic effort to keep from sprawling in the muck. By a margin thin as
an eyelash he succeeded in preserving his balance and stood where he
stopped, amazement and anger in his face.

“Lay off that stuff!” growled Tim, head forward and jaw out. “If ye want
trouble come and git it like a man, not sneak up with a grin and then
clinch. Don’t reach for no knife, now, or I’ll drill ye–”

“Tim!” barked the black-haired one. “Ten-_shun_!”

Automatically Tim’s head snapped erect and his shoulders went back. He
relaxed again almost at once. But in the meantime the tall man had
stepped forward and faced the raging representative of the government of
Brazil.

“Pardon, comrade,” he said with an engaging smile. “My friend is a
stranger to Brazil and not acquainted with your manner of welcome. In
our own country men never put the arm around one another except in
combat. He has been a soldier. You are a soldier. So you can understand
that a fighting man may be a little abrupt when he does not understand.”

The smile, the apology, and most of all the subtle flattery of being
treated as an equal by a man whose manner betokened the North American
army officer, mollified the aggrieved official at once. The hot gleam
died out of his eyes. Punctiliously he saluted. The salute was as
punctiliously returned.

“It is forgotten, Capitao. As the capitao says, we soldiers are
sometimes overquick. I come to give you welcome to Remate de Males. My
services are at your disposal.”

“We thank you. Why do you call me capitao?”

“My eyes know a capitao when they see him.”

“But this is not a military expedition, my friend. Nor are any of us
soldiers now–though we all have been.”

“Once a capitao, always a capitao,” the Brazilian insisted. Then he
hinted: “If the capitao and his friends wish to call upon the
superintendente they will find him in the intendencia, the blue building
beyond the hotel. It will soon be closed for the day.”

The tall American’s keen gray eyes roved down the street to the
weather-beaten house whose peeling walls once might have been blue. He
nodded shortly.

“Better go down there,” he said. “Come on, Merry. Tim, stick here and
keep an eye on the stuff. And don’t start another war while we’re gone.”

“Right, Cap.” Tim deftly swung his rifle to his right shoulder. “I’ll
walk me post in a military manner, keepin’ always on the alert and
observin’ everything that takes place within sight or hearin’, accordin’
to Gin’ral Order Number Two. There won’t be no war unless somebody
starts somethin’. Hey, there, buddy, would ye smoke a God’s-country
cigarette if I give ye one?”

“_Si_,” grinned the soldier-policeman, all animosity gone. And as the
other two men tramped away through the mud they also grinned, looking
back at the North and the South American pacing side by side in
sentry-go, blowing smoke and conversing like brothers in arms.

“Tim likes to remember his ‘general orders,’ but he’s forgotten Number
Five,” laughed the blond man.

“Five? ‘To talk to no one except in line of duty.’ Don’t need it here,
Merry.”

“Nope. The _entente cordiale_ is the thing. Here’s hoping nobody makes
Tim remember his ‘Gin’ral Order Number Thirteen’ while we’re gone, Rod.”

He of the black hair smiled again as his mate, mimicking Tim’s gruff
voice, quoted:

“‘Gin’ral Order Number Thirteen: In case o’ doubt, bust the other guy
quick.'”

CHAPTER II.

AT SUNDOWN

Past the loungers in the street, past others in the doorways, past
children and dogs and goats, the pair marched briskly to the faded blue
house whence the federal superintendent ruled the town with tropic
indolence. There they found a thin, fever-worn, gravely courteous
gentleman awaiting them.

“Sit, senhores,” he urged, with a languid wave of the hand toward
chairs. “I am honored by your visit, as is all Remate de Males. In what
way can I serve you?”

The blond answered:

“We have come, sir, both for the pleasure of making your acquaintance
and for a little information. First permit me to introduce my friend Mr.
Roderick McKay, lately a captain in the United States army. I am
Meredith Knowlton. There is a third member of our party, Mr. Timothy
Ryan, who remained on the river bank to talk with–er–a soldier of
Brazil.”

The federal official nodded, a slight smile in his eyes.

“We are here ostensibly for exploration,” Knowlton continued, candidly,
“but actually to find a certain man. I think it quite probable that we
shall have to do considerable exploring before finding him.”

“Ah,” the other murmured, shrewdly. “It is a matter of police work,
perhaps?”

“No–and yes. The man we seek is not wanted by the law, and yet he is.
He has committed no crime, and so cannot be arrested. But the law wants
him badly because the settlement of a certain big estate hinges upon the
question of whether he is alive or dead. If alive, he is heir to more
than a million. If not–the money goes elsewhere.”

“Ah,” repeated the official, thoughtfully.

“I might add,” McKay broke in with a touch of stiffness, “that neither I
nor either of my companions would profit in any way by this man’s death.
Quite the contrary.”

“Ah,” reiterated the other, his face clearing. “You are commissioned,
perhaps, to find and produce this man.”

“Exactly,” Knowlton nodded. “From our own financial standpoint he is
worth much more alive than dead. On the other hand, any absolute proof
of his death–proof which would stand in a court of law–is worth
something also. Our task is to produce either the man himself or
indisputable proof that he no longer lives.

“The man’s name is David Dawson Rand. If alive, he now is thirty-three
years old. Height five feet nine. Weight about one hundred sixty. Hair
dark, though not black. Eyes grayish green. Chief distinguishing marks
are the green eyes, a broken nose–caused by being struck in the face by
a baseball–and a patch of snow-white hair the size of a thumb ball, two
inches above the left ear. Accustomed to having his own way, not at all
considerate of others. Yet not a bad fellow as men go–merely a man
spoiled by too much mothering in boyhood and by the fact that he never
had to work. This is he.”

From a breast pocket he drew a small grain-leather notebook, from which
he extracted an unmounted photograph. The superintendent looked into the
pictured face of a full-cheeked, wide-mouthed, square-jawed man with a
slightly blasé expression and a half-cynical smile. After studying it a
minute he nodded and handed it back.

“As you say, senhor, a man who never has had to work.”

“Exactly. For five years this man has been regarded as dead. It was his
habit to start off suddenly for any place where his whims drew him,
notifying nobody of his departure. But a few days later he would always
write, cable, or telegraph his relatives, so that his general
whereabouts would soon become known. On his last trip he sent a radio
message from a steamer, out at sea, saying he was bound for Rio Janeiro.
That was the last ever heard from him.”

“Rio is far from here,” suggested the Brazilian.

“Just so. We look for Rand at the headwaters of the Amazon, instead of
in Rio, because Rio yields no clew and because of one other thing which
I shall speak of presently.

“It has been learned that he reached Rio safely, but there his trail
ended. As he had several thousand dollars on his person, it was
concluded that he was murdered for his money and his body disposed of.
This belief has been held until quite recently, when a new book of
travel was published–_The Mother of Waters_, by Dwight Dexter, an
explorer of considerable reputation.”

The Brazilian’s brows lifted.

“Senhor Dexter? I remember Senhor Dexter. He stopped here for a short
time, ill with fever. So he has published a book?”

“Yes. It deals mainly with his travels and observations in Peru, along
the Marañon, Huallaga, and Ucayali. But it includes a short chapter
regarding the Javary, and in that chapter occurs the following, which I
have copied verbatim.”

From the notebook he read:

“‘It falls to the lot of the explorer at times to meet not only hitherto
unclassified species of fauna and flora, but also strange specimens of
the _genus homo_. Such a creature came suddenly upon my camp one day
just before a serious and well-nigh fatal attack of fever compelled me
to relinquish my intention to proceed farther up the Javary.

“‘While my Indian cook was preparing the afternoon meal, out from the
dense jungle strode a bearded, shaggy-haired, painted white man, totally
nude save for a narrow breechclout and a quiver containing several long
hunting arrows. In one hand he carried a strong bow of really excellent
workmanship. This was his only weapon. He wore no ornament, unless
streaks of brilliant red paint be considered ornaments. He was wild and
savage in appearance and manner as any cannibal Indian. Yet he was
indubitably white.

“‘To my somewhat startled greeting he made no response. Neither did he
speak at any time during his unceremonious visit. Bolt upright, he stood
beside my crude table until the Indian stolidly brought in my food.
Then, without a by-your-leave, the wild man rapidly wolfed down the
entire meal, feeding himself with one hand and holding his bow ready in
the other. Though I questioned him and sought to draw him into
conversation, he honored me with not so much as a grunt or a gesture.
When the table was bare he stalked out again and vanished into the dim
forest.

“‘After he had gone my Indian urged that we leave the place at once. The
man, he said, was “The Raposa”–a word which denotes a species of wild
dog sometimes found on the upper Amazon. He knew nothing of this
“Raposa” except that he apparently belonged to a wild tribe living far
back in the forest, perhaps allied with the cannibal Mayorunas, who were
very fierce; and that he appeared sometimes at Indian settlements,
where, without ever speaking, he would help himself to the best food and
then leave. My man seemed to fear that now some great misfortune would
come to us unless we shifted our base. When the fever came upon me soon
afterward, the superstitious fellow was convinced that the illness was
attributable directly to the visit of the human “wild dog.”

“‘Aside from the nudity and barbarism of the mysterious stranger,
certain personal peculiarities struck me. One was that his eyes were
green. Another was a streak of snow-white hair above one ear.
Furthermore, the red paint on his body outlined his skeleton. His ribs,
spine, arm- and leg-bones all were portrayed on his tanned skin by those
brilliant red streaks. In this connection my Indian asserted that in the
tribe to which “The Raposa” probably belonged it was the custom to
preserve the bones of the dead and to paint them with this same red dye,
after which the bones were hung up in the huts of the deceased instead
of being given burial. Beyond this my informant knew nothing of the “Red
Bone” people, except that to enter their country was death.'”

Knowlton returned the book to his pocket and carefully buttoned the
flap.

“When that appeared,” he continued, “efforts were made to get hold of
Dexter, with the idea of showing him the photograph of the missing man
and learning any additional details. Unfortunately, by the time the book
was published Dexter had gone to Africa to seek a race of dwarfs said to
exist in the Igidi Desert, and thus was totally out of reach. Then we
were called upon to follow up this clew and find the Raposa if possible.
Men with green eyes and patches of white hair above one ear are not
common. So, though our knowledge of this strange wild man is confined to
those few words of Dexter’s, we are here to learn more of him and to get
him if we can.”

He looked expectantly at the official. The latter, after staring out
through the doorway for a time, shook his head slightly.

“Something of this Raposa and of those red-streaked people has come to
my ears, senhores, but only as rumors,” he said, slowly. “And one does
not place great faith in rumors. Yet I have repeatedly been surprised to
learn, after dismissing a story as an empty Indian tale, that the tale
was true.

“Of the Mayorunas more is known. They are eaters of human flesh,
inhabiting both sides of the Javary, deadly when angered, and very
easily angered. Their country is not many days distant from here, but as
they never attack us we do not attack them. It is an armed neutrality,
as you senhores would say. True, we have to be careful in drinking
water, for they sometimes poison the streams against real or imaginary
enemies, and the poisoned waters flow down to us, causing those who
drink it to die of a fever like the typhoid. Yet,” and he smiled, “there
is a saying, is there not, that water is made not to drink, but to bathe
in?”

Knowlton laughed. McKay’s eyes twinkled.

“I’m sorry to say that water’s about all a fellow can get to drink in
the States now,” the blond man said, ruefully. “That is, of course,
unless a man knows where to go.”

“_Si._ It is a pity. But here in Brazil one need not drink water unless
he wishes, and often it is better not to. Of the Mayorunas, senhor–you
do not intend to go among them, seeking this wild man of the red bones?
If you should do so it would be a matter of regret to me.”

“Meaning that we should not come out again? That’s a risk we have to
face. We go wherever it is necessary.”

“I am sorry. I regret also that I can give you no definite information.
Yet I wish you all success, senhores, and a safe return. This much I can
do and gladly will do: I can send word to another white man who now is
in the town and who knows much of the upper river. He may be able to
assist you, and without doubt will be eager to do so. He is staying at
the hotel, just below here–Senhor Schwandorf.”

The eyes of the two Americans narrowed. The official coughed.

“Senhor McKay has been a soldier. And Senhor Knowlton–”

“I was a lieutenant.”

“Ah! But the war has passed, senhores. Senhor Schwandorf was not a
soldier of Germany–he has been in Brazil for more than six years.”

“War’s over. That’s right,” McKay agreed. “But don’t bother to send
word. We’ll find him if he’s at the hotel. Going there ourselves. Glad
to have met you, sir. Good luck!”

“And to you also luck, Capitao and Tenente,” smiled the official. McKay
and Knowlton strode out.

“Guess this is the hotel,” hazarded McKay, glancing at a house which
rose slightly above the others. “I’ll go in and charter rooms. You get
Tim and have somebody rustle our impedimenta up here.”

He turned aside. Knowlton trudged on through the glare of sunset to the
river bank where Tim and the army of Remate de Males still loafed up and
down, the admired of all beholders.

“All right, Tim. We’re moving to the hotel. No more war, I see.”

“Lord love ye, no,” grinned Tim. “Me and this feller are gittin’ on
fine. He’s Joey–I forgit the rest of his names; he’s got about a dozen
more and they sound like stones rattlin’ around inside a can. But Joey’s
a right guy. After me tour o’ duty ends he’s goin’ to buy me a drink and
maybe introjuce me to a lady friend o’ his. Want to join the party,
Looey?”

“Not unless the ladies are better looking than these,” laughed the
ex-lieutenant, moving his head toward the pipe-smoking females.

“Faith, I was thinkin’ that same meself. Unless he can dig up somethin’
fancier ‘n what I see so far, I’d as soon have Mademoiselle.”

“Who?”

“Mademoiselle of Armentières. Sure, ye know that one, Looey. Goes to the
tune o’ ‘Parley-Voo.'”

Wherewith he lifted up a foghorn voice and, much to the edification of
“Joey” (whose name really was Joao) and the rest of Remate de Males,
burst into song:

“Mademoiselle of Armenteers,
Pa-a-arley-voo!
She smoked our butts and bummed our beers,
Pa-a-arley-voo!
She had cockeyes and jackass ears
And she hadn’t been kissed for forty years,
Rinkydinky-parley-voo!”

As his musical effort ended, out from the dense jungle hemming in the
town burst a hideous roaring howl. Again and again it sounded in a
horrible crash of noise.

“Holy Saint Pat!” gasped Tim, throwing his rifle to port and bracing his
feet. “Now look what I went and done! Is that the echo, or a couple
dozen jaggers all fightin’ to oncet?”

“Guariba, Senhor Ree-ann,” snickered Joao. “Not jaguars–no. Only one
little guariba monkey. The howler.”

“G’wan! Ye’re kiddin’!”

“But no, _amigo_. It is as I tell you. One monkey. It is sunset, and the
jungle awakes.”

“My gosh! I’ll say it does. Sounds like a Sat’day night row in a Second
Av’noo saloon, except there ain’t no shootin’. Guess you boys have some
night life, too, even if ye are away back in the bush.”

“Time for us to move, Tim,” laughed Knowlton. “It’ll be dark in no time.
Joao, will you have our baggage moved to the hotel?”

“_Si_, senhor. _Immediatamente._ Antonio–Jorge–Rosario! And you, too,
Meldo–_vem cà_! Carry the bundles of the gentlemen to the hotel,
presto! Proceed, senhores. I, Joao d’Almeida Magalhaes Nabuco Pestana da
Fonseca, will remain here on guard until all your possessions have been
transported. Proceed without fear.”

CHAPTER III.

THE VOICE OF THE WILDS

McKay, eyes twinkling again, awaited them at the top of the hotel’s
street ladder.

“Rooms any good, Rod?” hailed Knowlton.

“Best in the house, Merry.”

“See any insects in the beds?”

“Nary a bug–in the beds.” The twinkle grew. “Didn’t look in the bureaus
or behind the mirrors. Come look ’em over.”

Entering a sizable room evidently used for dining–for its chief
articles of furniture were two tables made from planed palm
trunks–McKay waved a hand toward a row of four doorways on the right.

“First three are ours,” he explained. “Only vacancies here. Eight rooms
in this hotel–the other four over there.” He pointed across the room,
on the other side of which opened four similar doors. “They’re occupied
by two sick men, one drunk–hear him snore?–and one she-goat which is
kidding.”

“Huh?” Tim snorted, suspiciously. “I think ye’re the one that’s kiddin’,
Cap.”

“Not a bit. I looked. The last room on this side is the Dutchman’s, and
these are ours. Take your pick. They’re all alike.”

Knowlton stepped to the nearest and looked in. For a moment he said no
word. Then he softly muttered:

“Well, I’ll be spread-eagled!”

“Me, too,” seconded Tim, who had been craning his neck.

The room was absolutely empty. No bed, no chair, no bureau, no
rug–nothing at all was in it except two iron hooks. Its floor consisted
of split palm logs, round side up, between which opened inch-wide
spaces. Its walls were rusty corrugated iron, guiltless of mirrors or
pictures, which did not reach to the roof.

“Observe the excellent ventilation,” grinned McKay. “Wind blows up
through the floor–if there is any wind–and then loops over the
partition into the next fellow’s room.”

“Yeah. And I’ll say any guy that drops his collar button is out o’ luck.
It goes plunk into the mud, seven foot down under the house. But say,
Cap, how the heck do we sleep? Hang ourselves up on them hooks?”

“Exactly.”

“Kind o’ rough on a feller’s shirt, ain’t it? And the shirt would likely
pull off over yer head before mornin’.”

“Yes, probably would. But the secret is this–you’re supposed to hang
your hammock on those hooks. You provide the hammock. The hotel provides
the hooks. What more can you ask of a modern hotel?”

“Huh! And if a guy wants a bath, there’s the river, all full o’ ‘gators
and cattawampuses and things. And if ye eat, I s’pose ye rustle yer own
grub and pay for eatin’ it off that slab table there. There’s jest one
thing ye can say for this dump–a feller can spit on the floor. But with
all them cracks in it he might not hit it, at that. Mother of mine! To
think Missus Ryan’s li’l’ boy should ever git caught stayin’ in a hole
like this, along o’ drunks and skiddin’ she-goats and–did ye say a
Dutchman?”

“German. Chap named Schwandorf.”

“Yeah?” Tim’s tone was sinister. “Say, Cap, gimme the room next that
guy. And if ye hear anybody yowlin’ before mornin’ don’t git worried. It
won’t be me.”

“None of that, Tim,” warned Knowlton. “The war’s over–”

“Since when? There wasn’t no peace treaty signed when we left the
States.”

“Er–ahum! Well, technically you’re right. But this fellow may be useful
to us. He knows the upper river, they say.”

“Aw, well, if ye can use him I’ll lay off him. Where is he?”

“Out somewhere,” answered McKay. “I haven’t seen him yet. Want this
first room, Merry?”

“Just to play safe, I’ll take the one next the German. And if I hear any
war in the night, Tim, I’m coming over the top with both hands going.”

“Grrrumph!” growled Tim.

“That goes, Tim,” warned McKay. “I’ll take this room and you can have
the one between us. Here comes the baggage train with our stuff. In
here, men!”

Puffing and grunting, Antonio and Jorge and Rosario and Meldo shuffled
in with the boxes and bundles. Under the directions of McKay and
Knowlton, these were stowed in the bare rooms. Then the four shuffled
out again, grinning happily over a small roll of Brazilian paper reis
which McKay had peeled from a much larger roll and handed to them.
Immediately following their departure, in came a youth carrying three
new hammocks.

“Our beds,” McKay explained. “I sent this lad to a trader’s store for
them. He’s the proprietor’s son. Thank you, Thomaz. Tell your father to
put these on our bill, and take for yourself this small token of our
appreciation.”

More reis changed hands. The young Brazilian, with a flash of teeth,
informed them that the evening meal would soon be ready and disappeared
through a rear door.

“Do they really feed us at this here, now, hotel?” Tim demanded. “Then
the goat’s safe.”

“Meaning?” puzzled Knowlton.

“Meanin’ I didn’t know but we had to kill our supper, and I was goin’ to
git the cap’n’s goat. That is, the goat the cap’n’s kiddin’–I mean the
goat that’s kiddin’ the cap–the skiddin’ she-goat–Aw, rats! ye know
what I’m drivin’ at. Me tongue so dry it don’t work right.”

Wherewith Tim retreated in disorder to his room and began wrestling with
his new hammock and the iron hooks.

Swift darkness filled the rooms. The sun had slid down below the bulge
of the fast-rolling world. Thomaz re-entered, lit candles stuck in empty
bottles, and, with a bow, placed one of these crude illuminants at the
door of each of the strangers. By the flickering lights McKay and
Knowlton disposed their effects according to their individual desires,
bearing in mind Tim’s observation that any small article dropped on the
floor would land in the mud under the house, whence sounded the grunts
of pigs. Their work was soon completed, and they sauntered together to
the small piazza.

“Nice quiet little place,” commented Knowlton. “Make a good sanitarium
for nervous folks.”

The comment was made in a tone which, in the daytime, would carry half a
mile. McKay nodded to save a similar effort. The outbreak of the howling
monkey which so startled Tim had been only the first note of the night
concert of the jungle. Now that the sun was gone the chorus was in full
swing.

Beasts of the village, the jungle, the river, all hurled their voices
into the uproar. From the gloom around the houses rose the bellowing of
cows and calves, the howls and yelps of dogs, the yowling of cats, the
grunts and squeals of hogs. In the black river, flowing past within a
stone’s throw of the hotel door, sounded the loud snorts of dolphins and
the hideous night call of the foul beast of the mud–the alligator. Out
from the matted tangle of trees and brush and great snakelike vines
behind the town rolled the appalling roars of guaribas, raucous bird
calls, dismal hoots, sudden scattered screams. And over all, whelming
all other sound by the sheer might of its penetrating power, throbbed
the rapid-fire hammering of millions of frogs.

“Frogs sound like a machine-gun barrage,” the blond man added.

“Or thousands of riveting hammers pounding steel.”

“Queer how much worse it is when you’re right in it. We’ve heard it all
the way up two thousand miles of Amazon, but–”

“But you’re right beside the orchestra now. Position is everything in
life.”

The double-edged jest made Knowlton glance sidelong at his mate. Of the
tall, eagle-faced Scot’s past he knew little beyond what he had seen of
him in war, where he had met him and learned to respect him
whole-heartedly. From occasional remarks he had learned that McKay had
been in all sorts of places between Buenos Aires and Nome; and from a
few intangible hints he suspected that his “position in life” had once
been much higher socially than at present. But he asked no questions.

“Some orchestra, all right,” he responded, casually. “Plenty of jazz.
It’ll quiet down after a while.”

For a time they stood leaning against the wall, staring abstractedly out
at the dark. One by one the domestic animals ceased their clamor and
settled themselves for the night. The jungle din, too, seemed to
diminish, though perhaps this was because the ears of the men had become
accustomed to it. At length through the discordant symphony boomed the
voice of Tim.

“By cripes! I know now what folks mean when they talk about a howlin’
wilderness. Always thought ’twas one o’ them figgers o’ speech, but I’ll
tell the world it ain’t no joke! Gosh! Think of all the things that’s
layin’ out there and bellerin’ and waitin’ for us pore li’l’ fellers to
come in amongst ’em and git et up.”

“You’ll find the same things in the cities up home,” said Knowlton, a
bit cynically. “Different bodies and different methods of attack, but
the same merciless animals under the skin. Snakes in silk
suits–foul-mouthed alligators in dinner jackets–hunting-cats and
vampires, painted and powdered–and all the rest of it.”

“Yeah. Ye said a mouthful, Looey. But say, Tommy’s shovin’ some grub on
the table. Mebbe we better hop to it before the flies git it all.”

After a glance at the vicious attack already begun by the aforesaid
flies, the pair adopted Tim’s suggestion and hopped to it. Manfully they
assailed the rubbery jerked beef, black beans, rice, farinha, and thick,
black, unsweetened coffee which comprised the meal. All three were
wrestling with chunks of the meat when Tim, facing the door, stopped
chewing long enough to mutter:

“Dutchland overalls. Here’s the goose stepper.”

The heads of the other two involuntarily moved a little. Then their
necks stiffened and they continued eating. Tim alone stared straight at
a burly, black-whiskered Teuton who had halted in the outer doorway. And
Tim alone saw the ugly look crossing the newcomer’s visage as he gazed
at the khaki shirts, the broad shoulders under them, and the
unmistakably Irish–and hostile–face of Tim himself.

Catching the hard stare of the red-haired man, he of the black beard
advanced at once, his eyes veering to the door of his own room. Straight
to that room he marched with heavy tread. He opened the door with a
kick, shut it behind him with a slam. The three at the table glanced at
one another.

“Say what ye like,” grumbled Tim, “but me and that guy don’t hold no
mush party. I don’t like his map. I don’t like his manners. And he looks
too much like the Fritz that shot me in the back with a kamerad gun
after surrenderin’. I was in hospital three months. D’ye mind that time,
Looey?”

Knowlton nodded. He remembered also that Tim, shot down from behind and
almost killed, had reeled up to his feet and bayoneted his man before
falling the second time. Wherefore he replied:

“He isn’t the same one, Tim.”

“Nope,” grimly. “That one won’t never come back. All the same, if you
gents want to chew the fat with this feller I’m goin’ slummin’ with me
friend Joey Mouthgargle Nabisco Whoozis. Then I won’t be round here to
make no sour-caustic remarks and gum up yer party.”

“Might be a good idea,” McKay conceded.

“There he is now, the li’l’ darlin’! Hullo, Joey, old sock! Stick around
a minute while I scoop a few more beans. Be with ye toot
sweet–vite–presto–P.D.Q.”

Wherewith he demolished the rest of his meal with military dispatch,
proceeded doorward, smote the grinning army of Remate de Males a buffet
on the shoulder, and vanished into the night. A moment later his
stentorian voice rolled back through the nocturnal racket in an
impromptu paraphrase of an old and highly improper army song:

“We’re in the jungle now,
We ain’t behind the plow;
We’ll never git rich,
We’ll die with the itch.
We’re in the jungle now!”

CHAPTER IV.

THE GERMAN

The door of the German’s room opened. The German came out and marched to
the table. Two paces away he halted and faced the Americans, ready to
speak if spoken to, equally ready to sit and ignore them if not greeted.
McKay and Knowlton rose.

“Herr von Schwandorf?” inquired Knowlton.

“Schwandorf. Neither Herr nor von. Plain Schwandorf.”

The reply came in excellent English, though with a slight throaty
accent.

“Knowlton is my name. Mr. McKay. The third member of our party, Mr.
Ryan, has just left.”

Schwandorf bowed stiffly from the waist.

“It is a pleasure to meet you. White men are all too few here.”

Seating himself at a place beyond that just vacated by Tim, he
continued, “You stay here for a time?”

“Not long.” They reseated themselves. “We go up the river as soon as we
can arrange transportation.”

The black brows lifted slightly.

“It is a dangerous river. You would do well to travel elsewhere unless
you have some pressing reason to explore this stream.”

With an accustomed sweep of the hand he shooed the flies from the bean
dish and helped himself to a big portion. Over the legumes he poured
farinha in the Brazilian fashion.

“We have. We are seeking a tribe of people who paint their bones red.”

Schwandorf’s hand, conveying the first mouthful of beans upward, stopped
in air. His black eyes fixed the Americans with an astounded stare. He
lowered the beans, stabbed absently at a chunk of beef, sawed it apart,
popped a piece of it into his mouth, and sat for a time chewing. When
the meat was down he spoke bluntly:

“Are there not ways enough to kill yourselves at home instead of
traveling to this place to do it?”

McKay smiled. The directness of the man amused him.

“As bad as that?” asked Knowlton.

“As bad as that. Blow your head off if you like. Cut your throat. Take
poison. Jump into the river among the alligators. Step on a snake. But
keep away from the Red Bones.”

“Why?” shot McKay.

“Cannibals–and worse.”

“Worse?”

“Truly. Most of the Brazilian savages do not torture. The Red Bones do.”

“Pleasant prospect.”

“Very. Nothing to be gained among them, either. If you’re hunting gold,
try the hills over west of the Huallaga. None here.”

Knowlton filled and lit a pipe. McKay slowly drank the last of his
syrupy coffee and rolled a cigarette. Schwandorf continued shoveling
food into his capacious mouth.

“Know anything about the Raposa?” Knowlton asked.

The Teuton’s eyelashes flickered. He ground another chunk of meat
between his jaws before answering.

“Of course,” he said then. “Wild dog. Sharp snout, gray hair, bushy
tail. I’ve shot a couple of them.”

“This one is a man. Green eyes, streak of white hair over the left ear.
Paints himself like the Red Bones, as you call them, but is a white
man.”

“Oh! That one? Heard of him, yes. Wild man of the jungle. Want to catch
him and put him in a circus?”

“Maybe. We’d like to see him, anyhow. Heard about him awhile ago. Any
way to get him that you know of?”

“Might try a steel trap,” the German suggested, callously. “But I don’t
know where you’d set it. Best way to get a wild dog is to shoot him, and
he isn’t much good dead. Or would this one be worth something–dead?” A
swift sidelong glance accompanied the question.

“Not a cent!” snapped McKay.

“And perhaps he’d be worth nothing alive,” added Knowlton. “But we have
a healthy curiosity to look him over. Guess the Red Bone country would
be the likeliest place. How far is it from here?”

“Keep out of it,” was the stubborn reply.

The Americans rose.

“We are not going to keep out of it,” Knowlton declared, coldly. “We are
going straight into it. Thank you for your assistance.”

“Not so fast,” Schwandorf protested. “If you are determined to go I will
help you if I can. Shall we sit on the piazza with a small bottle to aid
digestion? So! Thomaz! Bring from my stock the kümmel. Or would you
prefer whisky, gentlemen?”

“Ginger-ale highballs are my favorite fruit,” admitted Knowlton. “Can
ginger ale be bought here?”

“Indeed yes. At one milrei a bottle.”

“Cheap enough. Thomaz, three bottles of ginger ale and one of North
American whisky–the best. Cigars also. Out on the piazza.”

“Si, senhores.”

Schwandorf got up.

“If you will pardon me, I will drink my kümmel. Frankly, I do not like
whisky.”

“And frankly, we do not like kümmel. All a matter of taste.”

“Truly. So let each of us drink his own preference. I will join you in a
moment.”

The Americans sauntered to the door, while the German strode into his
room.

“Blunt sort of cuss,” Knowlton commented.

“Ay, blunt. But not candid. Knows more than he’s telling.”

Disposing themselves comfortably, they sat watching the lights of the
town and the jungle–the first pouring from windows and open doors, the
latter streaking across the darkness where the big fire beetles of the
tropics winged their way. As Knowlton had predicted, the night noise of
forest and stream had diminished; but now from the village itself rose a
new discord–a babel of vocal and instrumental efforts at music
emanating from the badly worn records of dozens of cheap phonographs
grinding away in the stilt-poled huts.

“Good Lord!” groaned McKay. “Even here at the end of the world one can’t
get away from those beastly instruments.”

A throaty chuckle from the doorway followed the words. Schwandorf
emerged, carrying a big bottle.

“Yet there is one thing to be thankful for, gentlemen,” he said. “In all
this town there is not one man who attempts to play a trombone.”

The others laughed. Thomaz appeared with bottles and thick cups. Corks
were drawn, liquids gurgled, matches flared, cigars glowed. Without
warning Schwandorf shot a question through the gloom:

“Have you seen Cabral–the superintendent?”

“Yes.”

“Ask him about the wild man?”

“Yes.”

“Get any information?”

“Nothing definite. He suggested that we see you.”

“So.”

A pause, while Schwandorf’s cigar end glowed like a flaming eye.

“The Red Bones live well up the river,” he began, abruptly. “Twenty-four
days by canoe, five days through the bush on the east shore. That would
bring you to their main settlement–if you were not wiped out before
then. They’re a big tribe, as tribes go. Ever been here before?”

“No. Not here,” Knowlton told him. “I’ve been in Rio, and McKay here has
knocked around in–”

A stealthy kick from McKay halted him an instant. Then, deftly shifting
the sentence, he concluded, “–in a number of places.”

“So.” Another pause. “Then I should explain about tribes. Tribes here
generally consist of from fifty to five hundred or more persons living
in big houses called ‘_malocas_.’ Unless the tribe is very big, one
house holds them all. There may be any number of _malocas_, the
inhabitants of which are all of the same racial stock; yet each _maloca_
is, as far as government is concerned, a tribe to itself, controlled by
a chief. No _maloca_ owes any duty to any other _maloca_. There is no
supreme ruler over all, nor even a federation among them. They live
merely as neighbors–distant neighbors. At times they fight like
neighbors. You understand.”

“‘When Greek meets Greek–‘” quoted McKay.

“Just so. When I say, then, that the Red Bones are a big tribe, I mean
that there are about five hundred–maybe more–individuals in their main
settlement. They live in huts, not in one big tribe-house like the
Mayorunas. They are not Mayorunas, in fact; they paint differently, are
darker of skin, and more cruel.

“The Mayorunas, by the way, are not so debased as you might think.
Though cannibals, they do not kill for the sake of eating ‘long pig,’
like the cannibals of the South Seas. Neither do they eat the whole
body. Only the hands and feet of their dead enemies are devoured. These
are carefully cooked and eaten as delicacies along with monkey meat,
birds, fish, and other things prepared for a feast in honor of a
victory. The eating of human flesh seems to be symbolism rather than
savagery. Furthermore, they do not range the jungle hunting for victims.
They eat only those who come against them as enemies.

“So it is quite possible, you see, that strangers might go among them
and escape death. It would depend largely on the ability of the
strangers to convince the savages that they were friends. The difficulty
is that the savages consider all strangers to be enemies until
friendship is proved.”

“A sizable difficulty,” McKay remarked.

“Almost insurmountable. Yet it might be done. Mind, I speak now of the
Mayorunas, not of the Red Bones. I tell you again that the Red Bone
country is closed.”

“And where is the Mayoruna region?”

“In the same general section. The Mayorunas are much more widely
distributed. They are on both banks of the Javary and extend as far west
as the Ucayali.

“Now if I sought to enter the Red Bone region–and again I say I would
not–this would be my way of going at it. I would go first among the
Mayorunas near the Red Bones and seek to convince them that I was their
friend. I would make the Mayoruna chief as friendly to me as possible. I
might even take a Mayoruna woman for a time–some of them are handsome,
and such a step would make me almost a Mayoruna myself in their eyes.
Then I would persuade the chief to send messengers to the Red Bones with
word of me and a request that I be allowed to visit their settlement.
The request, coming from the Mayoruna chief, probably would be granted.
I would then go in with a bodyguard of Mayorunas, do my business, and
come out via the Mayoruna route.”

A thoughtful silence ensued. Bottle necks clinked against the cups.

“Something in that idea,” conceded Knowlton. “A good deal in it. Barring
the woman part, of course.”

“Ay,” spoke McKay, his tone casual as ever. “When you came out what
would you do with your woman, _mein Herr_?”

Schwandorf, tongue loosened a bit by his kümmel, chuckled.

“Ho-ho! The woman? Leave her, of course, when she had served my purpose.
Why bother about a woman here and there?”

“I see.” McKay’s face, indistinct in the gloom, was unreadable, but his
tone had a caustic edge.

Schwandorf laughed again. “You are fresh from the woman-worshiping
United States and you disapprove. But this is the jungle, and all is
different. ‘_Cada terra com seu uso_,’ as these Brazilians say–each
land with its own ways. Perhaps when you have met the Mayoruna women,
looked on their handsome faces and shapely forms–they wear no clothing,
by the way–you will change your ideas. More than one man along this
border has risked his life to win one of those women. But that rests
with you. And now if you will excuse me, gentlemen, I have an engagement
with a man at the other end of town.”

“Certainly. We are indebted to you for your interest.”

“It is nothing. Remember that I strongly advise you not to go. But if
you will go, I shall gladly do whatever lies in my power to aid you in
preparing for the trip. Do not hesitate to call on me.”

He passed into the house, returning almost at once.

“By the way,” he added, “one of you has the room next mine?”

“I have it,” said Knowlton.

“Yes. Are you a good sleeper? I sometimes snore most atrociously, I am
told. So perhaps–”

“Don’t worry. I can sleep in the middle of a bombardment.”

“You are fortunate. Good evening, gentlemen.”

When he was gone they sat for a time smoking, sipping now and then at
their highballs. At length McKay said, “Humph!”

“Amen. Pretty square sort of chap, though, don’t you think?”

“I’m not saying,” was the Scot’s cautious answer. “Seems to be trying to
discourage us and egg us on at the same time. Something up his sleeve,
perhaps.”

“Can’t tell. But his line of talk rings true so far. Checks up all right
with what we’ve heard about the Mayorunas and so on. And that scheme of
working in through the Mayoruna country sounds about as sensible as
anything. Desperate chance and all that, but it might work. Say, why did
you kick me when I was going to tell him you’d been in British Guiana?”

“Don’t know exactly. Had a hunch. Seems to me I’ve seen that fellow
before somewhere, but I can’t place him. None of his business where I’ve
been, anyhow. We’re boobs from the States hunting for a wild man. That’s
all he needs to know.”

But it was not enough for Schwandorf to know. At that very moment he was
on his way to the home of Superintendent Cabral, with whom he had no
engagement whatever, to learn all he could concerning the business of
these military-appearing strangers; also to impress on that official the
fact that he had sought to dissuade them from starting on their mad
quest.

And much later that night, when Knowlton was making good his boast that
he was a sound sleeper, a black-bearded face rose silently above the
iron partition between his room and that of the German. A hand gripping
a small electric flashlight followed. A white ray searched the room,
halting on the khaki shirt lying over a box. A tough withe with a barb
at one end came over like a slender tentacle, hooked the shirt neatly,
drew it stealthily up to the top. Shirt, stick, lamp, hand, face all
dissolved into darkness.

After a time they reappeared. The shirt came down, swung slowly back and
forth, was dropped deftly where it had previously lain. The breast
pocket holding the grain-leather notebook and the photograph of David
Dawson Rand was buttoned as it had been, and the notebook bulged the
cloth slightly as before. But the contents of that book and the pictured
face of Rand now were stamped on the brain of Schwandorf. A sneering,
snarling smile curled the heavy mouth of Schwandorf. And softly, so
softly that none could hear it but himself, sounded the ironical
benediction of Schwandorf:

“Sleep well, _offizier americanisch_! Dream on, poor fool! In time you
will wake up. _Ja_, you will wake up!”

CHAPTER V.

INTO THE BUSH

Sleepy eyed and frowzy haired, with shirt unbuttoned and breeches and
boots unlaced, Tim emerged from his iron-walled cell into the
cool-shadowed main room, blinked at McKay and Knowlton lounging over
their morning coffee and cigarettes, stretched his hairy arms, and
advanced sluggishly to the table.

“Yow-oo-hum!” he yawned. “Ain’t they cute! All dressed and shaved like
they was goin’ to visit the C. O. And here’s pore Timmy Ryan lookin’
like a ‘drunk and dirty’ jest throwed into the guardhouse, and feelin’
worse. Top o’ the mornin’ to ye, gents!”

“Same to you, Tim,” McKay nodded.

“Who hit you?” asked Knowlton, squinting at bumps and scratches on Tim’s
forehead.

“Nobody. Couple fellers tried to, but they was out o’ luck. Oh, I see
what ye mean! I done that meself while I was gittin’ to bed.”

“Waves must have been running high on the ocean last night. Better drink
some coffee. Thomaz, another cup–big and black.”

“Thanks, Looey. ‘Twas kind of an active night, at that.”

“I heard you come in,” vouchsafed McKay. “Were you trying some high
diving in your room?”

“Faith, I done some divin’ without tryin’, but ’twas ragged work–I
pulled a belly smacker every time. I got to tame that hammick o’ mine.
It throwed me four times hand-running and the only way I could hold it
down was to unhook it and lay it on the floor.”

“Sleep well then?”

“I did not. Cap, I thought I knowed somethin’ about cooties, but I take
it back–I never knowed nothin’ about them insecks till last night.
Where they come from I dunno, but I’ll tell the world they come, and if
they wasn’t half an inch long I’ll eat ’em. They darn near dragged me
off whole, and all the sleep I got ye could stick in a flea’s eye.
Lookit here.”

He extended an arm dotted with swollen red spots.

“Ants!” said McKay, after one glance. “Ants, not cooties. They’re
everywhere. Especially under the floor. That’s one reason why folks
sleep in hammocks down here. Even then they’re likely to come down the
hammock cords and drive you out.”

“Ants, hey? Never thought o’ that. And I’d sooner spend another night
fightin’ all the man-eatin’ jaggers in the jungle than them bugs. It’s
the little things that count, as the feller said when his wife give him
his fourteenth baby.”

He downed the thick coffee brought by Thomaz, demanded another cup,
accepted cigarette and light from Knowlton, and sighed heavily.

“Who tried to hit you?” Knowlton persisted.

“Aw, I dunno. Two-three fellers took swipes at me with bottles and
things. Me and Joey went to a place where they’s card games and so
on–only place in town where the village sports can git action. Joey
offers to buy, and does. Stuff tastes kind o’ moldy to me, so I asks
have they got any American beer. They have. It’s bottled and warm, but
it’s beer and tastes like home. It goes down so slick I buy another
round, and then one more, lettin’ in a thirsty-lookin’ stranger on the
third round. That makes seven bottles altogether. Then I think mebbe I
better pay up now before I lose track. Looey, guess what them seven
bottles o’ suds come to in American money.”

“M-m-m! Well, say about three and a half or four dollars.”

“That’s what I figgered,” mourned Tim. “But them highbinders want
thirty-two dollars and twenty cents, American gold.”

“What!”

“Sad but true. Seems the stuff sells here for four bucks and sixty cents
a bottle. Thinkin’ I’m gittin’ rooked because I’m a tenderfoot, I raise
a row to oncet and start to climb the guy. Other folks mix in and things
git lively right off. But after I’ve dropped a couple o’ fellers Joey
winds himself round me and begs me not to make him arrest me, and also
tells me I’m all wrong–that’s the regular price. So o’course that makes
me out a cheap skate unless I come acrost, and I do the right thing.”

“Lucky you had the money on you,” said McKay, eying him a bit oddly.

“I didn’t,” chuckled Tim. “All the dough I had was one pore lonesome
ten-spot–the one I got from ye yesterday, Cap. But I don’t tell ’em
that. I jest wave my hand like thirty-two plunks wasn’t nothin’ in my
young life, and start to work meself out o’ the hole. After the two guys
on the floor are brought back to their senses I order up drinks for all
hands and git popular again. Then I git out the bones.”

“Oh! I see!” McKay laughed silently.

“Sure. Remember they told us on the boat that these guys will gamble on
anything? And that a feller without shoes on may be some rubber worker
packin’ a roll that would choke a horse? Wal, I make a few passes with
them dice o’ mine and their eyes light up like somebody had switched on
the current. Then I scrabble me hand around in me pants pocket, like I
was peelin’ a bill off a roll so big I didn’t want to flash the whole
wad, and haul out that pore li’l’ ten and ask would anybody like to play
a man’s game.

“They would. I’ll say they would. And they got the coin to back up their
play, too. Before I come home I was buyin’ beer by the case instead o’
the bottle. And it’s all paid for, and I got more ‘n a hundred dollars
left, besides givin’ Joey a fistful o’ money jest for bein’ a good
feller. This ain’t a bad town at all, gents. Outside o’ that
buckin’-broncho hammick and the man-eatin’ ants I had a lovely evenin’.”

“How about Joao’s lady friend?” quizzed Knowlton.

“Huh? Oh, I didn’t git to see her. When bones and beer are rollin’ high
and handsome I got no time for women. Besides, I found out she was
mostly Injun and fat as a hog. Nothin’ like that for li’l’ Timmy Ryan.
Oh, say, before I forgit it–I asked Joey about this Dutchman here, and
he says–”

McKay scowled, shook his head, pointed toward the closed door of
Schwandorf. Tim lifted his brows, winked understanding, and went on with
a break: “–that this guy Sworn-off is a reg’lar feller and knows this
river like a book. Says he’s one fine guy and a man from hair to heels.”

Following which he grimaced as if something smelled bad, adding in a
barely audible whisper, “And that’s the worst lie I ever told.”

“We met Mr. Schwandorf last night after you went,” Knowlton said,
easily, drawing down one eyelid. “Very likable sort of chap. He’s going
to help us get started upriver.”

“Uh-huh. When do we go? To-day?”

“If possible.”

“Glad of it. This big-town sportin’ life would be the ruination of a
simple country kid like me. Yo-hum! Wonder how all our neighbors are
this mornin’–the goat and the drunk and the two sick fellers. Kind o’
quiet over that side o’ the room.”

Thomaz entered just then with more coffee. Knowlton turned to him.

“Are the sick men better to-day, Thomaz?”

“Much better, senhor,” the lad said, carelessly. “They are dead.”

“Huh?” Tim grunted, explosively.

“Dead,” the youth repeated. “They were taken out at dawn. Do not be
alarmed. It was the swamp fever, which is not–what you say?–catching.”

“Humph! Sort of a reg’lar thing to die of fever here, hey?”

Thomaz shrugged as if hearing a foolish question.

“_Si._ Swamp fever, yellow fever, smallpox, beriberi–to-day we live,
to-morrow we are dead.”

“True for ye. They’s allays somethin’ hidin’ round the corner waitin’ to
jump ye, no matter where ye are. If ’tain’t one thing, it’s another.”

Despite his philosophical answer, however, Tim fell silent, his eyes
going to the doors of the rooms where Death had stalked last night while
he was gambling. Like most men in whose veins red blood runs bold and
free, he had no fear of the sort of death befitting a fighter–sudden
and violent–but a deep repugnance for those two assassins against which
a victim could not fight back–disease and poison. The Brazilian youth’s
nonchalant fatalism aroused him to the fact that here both those forms
of death were very near him; the one in the air, the other on the
ground–fever and snakes.

For the moment he was depressed. Then curiosity awoke.

“If this here, now, Javary fever ain’t catchin’, how does a feller git
it?”

“Mosquitoes,” McKay enlightened him. “The _anopheles_. It bites a man
who has fever, then bites a well man and leaves the fever in him. Inside
of ten days he’s sick, unless he takes a huge dose of quinine right
away. Mosquito attacks perpendicular to the skin. That is, it stands on
its head. If you ever notice one of them biting that way get busy with
the quinine.”

“Huh! Fat chance a feller’s got o’ seein’ just how all these bugs bite
him. And one muskeeter standin’ on its head does all that, hey?”

“So they say. Also they say it’s only the female that bites.”

“Yeah. I believe it. I been stung more ‘n once by females before now.
How about the yeller fever? Git that the same way?”

“Same way, only a different mosquito–the _stegomyia_. When you begin to
vomit black you’re gone. And if you get beriberi you’re gone, too. First
symptoms of that are numbness of the fingers and toes. Muscular
paralysis goes on until your heart stops.”

“Uh-huh. Nice cheerful place to die in, this Ammyzon jungle. Aw well,
what’s the odds?”

Wherewith he inhaled more coffee, flipped his cigarette butt at a small
lizard on the floor not far away, yawned once more, and swaggered out to
the piazza, bawling:

“And when I die
Don’t bury me a-tall,
But pickle me bones
In alky-hawl–”

When his roar had subsided and the two former officers had sat silent a
moment, smiling over his nocturnal adventures, the door of Schwandorf’s
room opened abruptly and the German stepped out.

“_Morgen_,” he grunted, striding to the table. “Thomaz!”

“_Si_, Senhor Sssondoff.” The youth faded away into the kitchen
quarters.

“Always feel grumpy until I eat,” grumbled the blackbeard. “None of this
coffee-cigarette breakfast for me. A real meal, coffee with gin in it, a
cigar–then I feel human. Sleep well?”

His bold gaze never flickered as it encountered Knowlton’s.

“Fine. If you snored I didn’t know it. Didn’t hear the bodies taken out
this morning, either.”

“Bodies! Oh! Those fellows dead?” He tilted his head toward the doors
behind which the sick men had lain. “Glad of it. Best for them and
everybody else. Hate to have sick people in the place.”

The Americans said nothing. They lit new cigarettes and waited for the
other to become “human.” And when his substantial breakfast was down,
his gin-flavored coffee had disappeared, and his big cigar was aglow, he
did.

“Well, gentlemen, have you decided to take good advice and let your
Raposa alone?” he asked, affably.

“Who ever follows good advice?” Knowlton countered. Schwandorf chuckled.

“_Niemand._ Nobody. So you will go.” He shook his head solemnly. “I have
said all I can without offense. But if you persist I can only help you
to start. If possible I should like to go with you up the river to the
place where you will take to the bush; but I must go to Iquitos, in
Peru, on the monthly launch which is due in a day or two, so all my
business is in the other direction. If now I can aid in the matter of a
crew–”

“That is what we were about to ask of you.”

“So. Then let us be about it. I have been thinking, since you showed
your determination last night, and have made inquiries about men. There
are now in Nazareth, the little Peruvian town across the river, several
men from whom you can pick an excellent crew. Men of the river and the
bush, not worthless loafers like these townsmen here. Men who are not
afraid of hell or high water, as the saying is. Not remarkable for
either beauty or brains, but good men for your work–by far the best you
can obtain. I would suggest a large canoe and six or eight of those men
as crew.”

The others smoked thoughtfully. Then McKay said, “We should prefer
Brazilians.”

“Not if you knew the people hereabouts as well as I. It, of course,
makes no personal difference to me what sort of crew you get, but I tell
you that these men are best. What does it matter which side of the river
they come from? Men are men.”

“True,” McKay conceded.

“Can’t be too fussy here,” Knowlton added. “Let’s see the men.”

All rose. But then Schwandorf suggested:

“No need of your going to Nazareth. Better stay here, unless you want to
go through a great deal of ceremonious foolishness over there. It’s
Peruvian ground and the barefooted ignoramuses of officials may insist
on showing their importance by demanding your papers and all that. I can
go across, get the men, and be back here before you’d be half through
the preliminaries. Saves time.”

“All right, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“A good deal less trouble than if you went, to be frank. I’m known, and
I can go straight about the business. So sit down and wait. Thomaz! My
hat!”

Out he tramped to the piazza, where he paused a moment to run a swift
eye over the disheveled figure of Tim, who had fallen sound asleep in a
chair. Then, without a further word or glance, he descended the ladder
and swung away down the street. The Americans, watching him from the
doorway, observed that children in his path hastened to get out of it,
and that he spoke to nobody.

“Prussian,” rasped McKay.

“M-hm! Done time in the Kaiser’s army, too, even if he has been here
since before the war. But he’s treating us pretty white.”

The captain made no answer. Their eyes followed the big figure until
they saw it go sliding away toward Peru in a canoe propelled by two
languid townsmen. Then McKay dropped a hand on Tim’s shoulder. The
red-lashed eyes flew open instantly.

Briefly, quietly, Knowlton told of what had passed while he napped, then
asked what information he had gleaned from Joao.

“He says,” answered Tim, “this guy is a queer duck. Been around here
quite a while, but Joey don’t know what’s his game. He goes off on trips
upriver, stays quite a while, comes back unexpected, and nobody knows
where he’s been or why. He don’t use Brazilian boatmen–gits his men on
the other side. And the Peru boys themselves dunno where he goes, or,
anyways, they say they don’t.

“Two of ’em come over here awhile back and got drunk, and Joey tried to
pump ’em, but all the dope he got was that this here Fritz goes away
upstream to a li’l’ camp, and from there he goes off into the bush
alone, and the Peru guys jest hang around the camp till he gits back.
Sounds kind o’ fishy to me, and Joey says it does to him, too, but he
couldn’t work nothin’ more out o’ the drunks because about that time
Sworn-off himself comes buttin’ in and asks these guys what they think
they’re doin’ on this side the river, and they beat it back to Peru toot
sweet. He’s got their goat, all right, and I wouldn’t wonder if he’s got
Joey’s, too. Anyways, Joey tells me he’s off this geezer and advises me
to lay off him, too, though he can’t name a thing against him.”

“Queer,” said Knowlton, looking again at the canoe out on the water.

“Gun running?” suggested McKay.

“Nope,” Tim contradicted. “I thought o’ that, but Joey says they’s
nothin’ to it; they watched this sourkrout close, and he don’t never git
no guns from nowheres. Besides, they’s nobody up there to run guns to
but Injuns, and them Injuns are so wild they don’t want no guns; they
stick to the bow and arrer and such stuff, which they sure know how to
use. Whatever his game is, he plays a lone hand as far’s this town
knows. Got no pals here, and nobody wants to walk on his corns.”

“May be perfectly all right, too,” mused Knowlton. “A little gold cache
or something–though he said there was none in this region. Oh, well,
what do we care? We have our hands full with our own business, and all
assistance is appreciated.”

An hour drifted past. Men of the town lounged by, looking curiously at
the strangers, some nodding and voicing a friendly, “_Boa dia._” Women,
too, watched them from windows and doors, and children slyly peeped
around corners until something more important–such as a cat, a goat, or
a gorgeous butterfly–came their way. Tim went inside and slicked up a
bit by buttoning and lacing his clothes and combing his rebellious hair.
At length a long boat put out from the farther shore and came surging
across the sun-gleaming river.

“Handle themselves well,” McKay approved, noting the easy grace of the
crew. In the bow a tall, slender fellow stood with arms folded,
balancing himself to the sway of the rather clumsy craft and watching
the water ahead. In the stern, on a little platform whence he could look
over the heads of the others and catch any signal from the lookout, a
squat, dark-faced steersman lounged against his crude rudder. Between
these two the paddlers stood, each with one foot on the bottom of the
long dugout and the other on the gunwale, swinging in nonchalant unison
as their blades moved fore and aft. Under the curving roof of a
rough-and-ready cabin, open at the sides to allow free play of air,
Schwandorf lolled like some old-time barbarian king.

Down to the landing place trudged the three Americans, and there the
employers and the prospective employees looked one another over with
interest. Eight men had come with Schwandorf, and a hard gang they were.
The bowman, hawk nosed, slant eyed, black mustached, with hairy chest
showing under his unbuttoned cotton shirt, had the face and bearing of a
buccaneer chieftain; and the effect was intensified by a flaring red
handkerchief around his head and the haft of a knife protruding from his
waistband. The rowers behind him, though of varying degrees of
swarthiness and height, all had the same sinewy build, the same bold
stare, the same devil-may-care insolence of manner; and though none but
the lookout wore the piratical red around his brow, more than one knife
hilt showed at their waists. The steersman, whose copper-brown skin and
flat face betokened a heavy strain of Indian blood, gazed stolidly at
the Americans with the unwinking, expressionless eyes of a snake. Back
into the minds of McKay and Knowlton came Schwandorf’s words, “Men not
afraid of hell or high water.” They looked it.

“Here they are,” announced the German, stepping ashore deliberately.
“José, the _puntero_”–his hand indicated the lookout–“Francisco, the
_popero_”–pointing to the steersman–“and six _bogas_. Good men.”

McKay ran a cold eye along the line of faces, his gaze plumbing each.
Under that chill scrutiny the third man’s stare wavered and dropped.
That of the next also veered aside. The rest fronted him eye to eye.

“Two of them will not do,” he asserted, in the brusque tone of a captain
inspecting his company. “Numbers Three and Four–fall out!”

Literal obedience would have put Three and Four into the river,
wherefore they stood fast. But, though they did not quite understand the
meaning of the words, they grasped the fact that they were not wanted.
One laughed impudently, the other slid a poisonous glance at the
bleak-faced officer. The squat Francisco scowled. So did Schwandorf.

“No man who cannot look me in the eye is needed on this trip,” McKay
declared. “Also, six men are enough. If necessary we will bear a hand at
the paddles ourselves. José, you have been told by Senhor Schwandorf
what we want?”

“_Si._”

“You can start at once?”

“_Si._”

“What pay?”

“We leave that to you.”

“Um! A dollar a day for each man?”

“Money or goods?”

“American gold.”

“_Si. Bueno._”

“Very well. Take those two men back to Nazareth, get what belongings you
need, return here, and report to me at the hotel. I am captain.
Understand?”

“_Si_–Capitan.”

“All right. On your way!”

As the boat drew out the two rejected men bade the Americans an ironical
“_adios_,” and one spat in the stream. In the faces of the others,
however, showed something like respect for the crisp-spoken captain, and
José snarled something at the ill-mannered Three and Four.

“You might need those men,” mumbled Schwandorf.

“Guess not,” McKay answered, serenely, turning toward the hotel. “Come
on, boys. Let’s get our stuff ready to ride.”

Less than two hours later their rooms were vacant, their duffle was
stowed in the long dugout, the Peruvian crew stood arrogantly eying the
Brazilians who had gathered to witness the departure, and the Americans
were bidding good-by to Remate de Males in general and its German
resident in particular.

“Mr. Schwandorf, we thank you for your efficient aid,” said Knowlton,
extending a hearty hand. “You have helped us to get going with all
dispatch, and we trust that we can repay the favor soon.”

“You owe me no thanks,” was the curt reply. “I would expect you to do as
much for me if our positions were reversed. I wish you luck.”

“Get aboard, Tim!” McKay ordered, setting the example himself. Tim
obeyed, first giving the important Joao d’Almeida Magalhaes Nabuco
Pestana da Fonseca a real American handgrip and getting in return a
double embrace from that worthy official. Whereafter he winked and
grinned expansively at several women garbed in violent hues of red,
yellow, and green, frowned slightly at Schwandorf, lit the last cigar he
was to smoke for many a long day, and, as the dugout began to move,
erupted into a more or less musical farewell to the females of the
species:

“The Yanks are goin’ away,
Pa-a-arley-voo!
They’re movin’ on to-day,
Pa-a-arley-voo!
The Yanks are goin’ away, they say,
Leavin’ the girls in a heartless way,
Rinkydinky-parley-voo!”

With one final wave of his cigar to the gesticulating Joao and the
grinning women he turned his back on the town and faced the little-known
river and the inscrutable jungle. But neither his eyes nor his thoughts
traveled beyond the bow of the boat. Through narrowed lids he studied
the swaying paddlers and the piratical José. And in his mind echoed the
whispered warning of Joao, delivered during the effusive embrace at
parting:

“Comrade, watch those _bastardos Peruanos_.”

CHAPTER VI.

IN THE NIGHT WATCH

Day by day the long canoe crawled into the vast unknown. Day by day the
down-flowing jungle river pushed steadily, sullenly against its prow, as
if striving to repel the invasion of its secret places by the
fair-skinned men of another continent. Day by day it slid past in
resentful impotence, conquered by the swinging blades of the Peruvian
_bogas_. And day by day the close companionship of canoe and camp seemed
to weld the voyagers into one compact unit.

Through hours of blazing sun, when the mercury of the thermometer which
Knowlton had hung inside the shady _toldo_ cabin fluctuated well above
100 degrees, the hardy crew forged on. Through drenching rains they
still hung doggedly to their work, suspending it only when the water
fell in such drowning quantities that they were forced to tie up hastily
to shore and seek cover in order to breathe. When sunset neared they
picked with unerring eye a spot fit for camping, attacked the bush with
whirling machetes, cleared a space, threw up pole frameworks, swiftly
thatched them with great palm leaves, and thus created from the jungle
two crude but efficient huts–one for themselves and one for their
_patrones_. When night had shut down and all hands squatted around the
fire in a nightly smoke talk they regaled their employers with wild
tales of adventures in bush and town, some of which were not at all
polite, but all of which were mightily interesting. And despite all
discomforts, fatigue, and the minor incidents and accidents which often
lead fellow travelers in the wilderness to bickering and bitterness, no
friction developed between the men of the north and the men of the
south.

Not that the Peruvians were at all obsequious or servile. They were a
reckless, lawless, Godless gang, perpetually bearing themselves with the
careless insolence which had characterized them at first, blasphemous of
speech toward one another–but never toward the North Americans.
Disputes arose among them with volcanic suddenness, and more than once
knives were half drawn, only to be slipped back under the tongue-lashing
of the hawk-nosed _puntero_, José, who damned the disputants completely
and promised to cut out the bowels of any man daring to lift his
blade clear of its sheath. Five minutes afterward the fire eaters
would be on as good terms as ever, shrugging and grinning at their
passengers–particularly Tim, who, shaking his head disgustedly, would
grumble:

“Aw, pickles! Another frog fight gone bust!”

Yet Tim, for all his disparagement of these abortive spats, knew full
well that any one of them held the makings of a deadly duel and that
José’s lurid threats were no mere Latin hyperbole. He realized that the
red-crowned bowman ruled his crew exactly as any of the old-time
buccaneers whom he resembled had governed their free-booting gangs–by
the iron hand; and that, though these men sailed no Spanish Main and
flew no black flag, the iron-hand government was needed. He saw also
that the rough-and-ready courtesy of this crowd toward their passengers
was due largely to the attitude of Captain McKay, who had enforced their
respect at the start by his soldierly bearing and retained it ever since
by his military management.

For the captain, experienced in directing men, conducted himself at all
times as a commanding officer should: he saw all, said little, treated
José as a subordinate officer, and left the handling of the crew
entirely to him. His aloofness forestalled any of that familiarity
which, with such a gang, would have led to contempt. On the other hand,
his avoidance of any assumption of meddlesome authority prevented the
irritation and dislike which free men inevitably feel for the
self-important type of leader. Thus he cannily steered himself and his
mates between the two rocks which might have wrecked the expedition
before it was well started. And Knowlton, ex-lieutenant, and Tim,
ex-sergeant, seeing and understanding, followed his example.

So the days and nights rolled by, the miles of never-ending jungle shore
fell away behind, and, save for the occasional outbreaks between members
of the crew, all was serene. To all appearances the Peruvians were
whole-heartedly interested in serving their employers faithfully, and
the North Americans were gliding onward with no thought of insecurity.
Yet appearances frequently are deceptive.

In the heat of the day–in fact, before the broiling sun neared the
zenith–Tim and Knowlton habitually fell asleep inside the _toldo_, not
to awake until two hours before sunset, when, according to the routine
agreed upon, the night’s camping place would be sought and two or three
of the Peruvians would go into the bush with rifles, seeking fresh meat.
McKay never slept during the day’s traverse. Nothing escaped his eye
from the time when he emerged from his mosquito net in the misty morning
until he entered it again by firelight. The men in the boat; the
floating alligators and wading birds of the water; the flashing parrots,
jacamars, toucans, trogons, and hummers of the air; the yard-long
lizards and nervous spider monkeys of the tangled tree branches
alongshore–all these he watched quietly as the boat forged on. And the
sinister Francisco, watching him in turn, and the paddlers throwing
occasional glances his way, came to regard him as the only alert member
of the trio. Wherein they erred.

The truth was that every one of the three adventurers was on his guard.
Tim had not forgotten the last words of his boon companion, Joao, and at
the first opportunity he had quietly passed on that warning. Moreover,
McKay and Knowlton, without discussing the matter, had meditated on the
unexpected assistance of Schwandorf, the speed with which the crew had
been obtained, the promptness of José to accept the first payment
offered, and other things. Wherefore it had come about that at no hour
of the twenty-four was every eye and ear closed. And the real reason why
red Tim and blond Knowlton slept by day was that they thus made up the
slumber lost at night.

Not that either of them patrolled the camp in sentry go. So far as the
Peruvians knew, they slept as soundly as McKay. But, lying in their
hammocks, they divided the night watches between them on a schedule as
regular as that of a military camp, though the shifts necessarily were
longer. As sunset came always at six o’clock and all hands sought their
hanging beds two hours later, Tim’s “tour of duty” lasted until one in
the morning. When the phosphorescent hands of his watch pointed to that
hour he stealthily reached out and jabbed Knowlton, sleeping beside him.
When a barely audible “All right” reached his ears he was officially
relieved.

Night followed night, became a week, lengthened into a fortnight. Still,
so far as the crew was concerned, nothing happened. A little rough
banter among them as they smoked their last cigarettes, then sleep and
snores; and that was all until morning. Men less experienced in night
vigils than the ex-soldiers would have abandoned their watches long
before this–if, indeed, they had ever adopted them. But these three
were schooled in patience. Moreover, neither Tim nor Knowlton had ever
before penetrated the jungle, and at times the light of the waxing moon
revealed to their eyes strange things which they never would have seen
by day. So the tedium of the long hours of wakefulness might be broken
at any moment.

Once they camped close to a conical hillock of compact earth, some four
feet high and almost stone hard, from which radiated narrow covered
galleries–the citadel and viaducts of a community of termites. Tim,
still harboring vivid recollections of his ant battle at Remate de
Males–though by this time he had trained himself to sleep in his
hammock, where he was comparatively safe–looked askance at it when told
what it was, and was only partly reassured by the information that
termites were eaters of wood rather than of flesh. After sleep had
embraced the rest of the camp he still was uneasy, lifting his net at
long intervals and squinting at the moonlit mound as if expecting a
horde of pincer-jawed insects to erupt from it and charge him. And
during one of these inspections he saw something totally unexpected.

From the black shadows of the forest had emerged another shadow, so
grotesque and misshapen that it seemed a figment of indigestion and
weird dreams–a thing from whose shaggy body protruded what appeared to
be only a long tubular snout where a head should be, and which looked to
be overbalanced at the other end by a great mass of hair. It stood stone
still, and for the moment Tim could not decide which end of it was head
and which was tail, or even whether it were not double-tailed and
headless. Then, slowly, the apparition moved.

Into that hard-packed earth it dug huge hooked claws, and from its
tapering muzzle a wormlike tongue licked about, gathering the outrushing
white ants into its gullet. For minutes Tim lay blinking at it,
wondering if he really saw it.

Then, picking up his rifle, he slipped outside his net and advanced on
the creature.

The animal turned, sat back on its great tail, lifted its terrible
claws, and waited. Six feet away, just out of its reach, Tim stopped and
stared anew. Then he grinned.

“You win, feller,” he informed the beast. “What ye are I dunno, but any
critter that’s got the guts to ramble right into camp and offer to gimme
a battle is too good a sport for me to shoot. Help yourself to all the
ants in the world, for all o’ me. I’m goin’ back to bed. Bon sewer,
monseer.”

Wherewith, still grinning, but warily watching, he backed until sure the
big invader would not spring at him. Knowing nothing of ant bears, he
did not know it was hardly a springing animal.

Its claws looked sufficiently formidable to disembowel a man–as,
indeed, they were, if the man came near enough. But when Tim had
withdrawn and the sluggish brute had decided that it would not need to
defend itself, it sank to all-fours and passed stiffly away into the
shades whence it had come.

On another night, when Tim slept, Knowlton detected a creeping,
slithering sound which made him slip off the safety catch of his
heavy-bulleted pistol and peer at the hut where slept the crew. No man
was moving there. Still the sound persisted. Lifting his net, he spied
beyond the hut of the Peruvians a moving mass on the ground–a
cylindrical bulk which looked to be two feet thick, and which glided
past like a solid stream of dark water flowing along above the dirt. Its
beginning and end were hidden in the bush, and not until it tapered into
nothing and was gone did he realize fully that he had been gazing at an
enormous anaconda. Then he kicked himself for not shooting it. But
before long he congratulated himself for letting it go.

Perhaps an hour later the startled forest resounded with an agonized
scream, so piercing and so appallingly human that all the camp sprang
awake. The outcry came but once, sounding from some place not far off,
near the water’s edge, and in the direction toward which the huge
serpent had disappeared. Before the watcher had time to tell the others
of what he had seen, one of the boatmen discovered the rut left in the
soft ground by the reptile. Thereafter Knowlton kept his own counsel,
listening to the excited curses of the men and observing their pallor
and their nervous scanning of the shadows. José said the screech
undoubtedly was the death shriek of some animal caught and crushed in
the snake’s tremendous coil. McKay concurred with a nod. And when
Knowlton casually said it was tough that nobody had been awake to shoot
the thing as it passed the camp, José emphatically disagreed.

A bullet fired into that fiendish giant, he averred, would have meant
death to one or more men; for the serpent’s writhing coils and lashing
tail would have knocked down the sleeping-hut and shattered the spines
of any men they struck. No, let Señor Knowlton thank the saints that the
awful master of the swamps had gone its way unmolested. For the rest of
that night Knowlton kept his watch openly, accompanied by José and three
of the paddlers, who refused to sleep again until they should be miles
away from the vicinity of that dread monster.

Two nights afterward the camp was aroused again. Tim alone saw the start
of the disturbance, and he kept mum about it because he did not choose
to let the Peruvians know he had been on the alert. Out from the gloom
and straight past the huts a thick-bodied, curve-snouted animal came
charging madly for the river, carrying on its back a ferocious cat
creature whose fangs were buried deep in its steed’s neck–a tapir
attacked by a jaguar. With a resounding plunge the elephantine quarry
struck the water and was gone. The tiger cat, forced to relinquish its
hold or drown, swam hurriedly back to the bank below the encampment,
where it roared and spat and squalled in a blood-chilling paroxysm of
baffled fury. And though every man was awakened, not one left the flimsy
shelter of his net. Nor did anyone so much as speak until Tim, wearying
of the noise, announced his intention to “go bust that critter in the
nose and give him somethin’ to yowl about.”

The proposal met with instant and peremptory veto.

“As you were!” snapped McKay. “Let him alone! You wouldn’t have a
Chinaman’s chance in that black bush. A jaguar is bad all the time, and
when he’s mad he’s deadly. Never fool with one of those beasts, Tim.
I’ve met them before and I know what they can do.”

To which José agreed with many picturesque oaths, declaring that a
jaguar was no mere beast–it was a devil. Tim, grumbling, obeyed orders.
The jaguar, hearing their voices, stopped its noise and probably
reconnoitered the camp. But no man saw the brute, and its next roar
sounded from some spot far off in the jungle.

Other things, too, passed within Tim’s range of vision from time to time
in the moonlit hours: a queer bony creature which he took for some new
kind of turtle, but which really was an armadillo; a monstrous hairy
spider which slid like a streak up his net, hung there for a time,
decided to go elsewhere, and departed with such speed that the man
inside rubbed his eyes and wondered if he was “seein’ things that
ain’t”; a couple of vampires which flitted in from nowhere like ghoulish
ghosts, wheeled and floated silently on wide wings, seeking an exposed
foot protruding from the hammocks, found none, rested a moment on the
roof poles, chirping hoarsely, and veered out again into the night.

To Knowlton’s watch came a strange owl-faced little monkey with great
staring eyes and face ringed with pale fur–one of those night apes
seldom seen by man; a small troop of kinkajous, slender, long-tailed
animals which looked to be monkeys, but were not, and which leaped
deftly among the branches like frolicsome little devils let loose to
play under the jungle moon; a big scaly iguana, its back ridged with saw
teeth and its pendulous throat pouch dangling grotesquely under its jaw;
and more than one deadly snake and huge alligator, the first gliding
past with venomous head raised and cold eye glinting, the second lying
quiescent except for occasional openings of horrific jaws.

To the ears of both the hammock sentinels came the mournful sounds of
living things unseen. From the depths beyond drifted the weird plaint of
the sloth, crying in the night, “Oh me, poor sloth, oh-oh-oh-oh!” Goat
suckers repeated by the hour their monotonous refrains, “Quao quao,” or
“Cho-co-co-cao,” while a third earnestly exhorted, “Joao corta pao!”
(“John, cut wood!”). Tree frogs and crickets clacked and drummed and
hoo-hooed, guaribas poured their awful discord into the air, and on one
bright breathless night there sounded over and over a call freighted
with wretchedness and despair–the wail of that lonely owl known to the
bushmen as “the mother of the moon,” whose dreadful cry portends evil to
those who hear it.

Sometimes the air shook with the thunderous concussion of some great
falling tree which, long since bled to death by parasitical plant
growths, now at last toppled crashing back into the dank soil whence it
had forced its way up into a place in the sun. Other noises, infrequent
and unexplainable, also drifted at long intervals from the mysterious
blackness. And in all the medley of night sounds not one was cheerful.
The burden of the jungle’s cacophonic cantanta ever was the
same–despair, disaster, death.

Then came the fifteenth day. It dawned red, the sun fighting an
ensanguined battle with the heavy morning mists and throwing on the
faces of the early-rising travelers a sinister crimson hue. Before that
sun should rise again some of those faces were to be stained a deeper
red.

CHAPTER VII.

COLD STEEL

Some two hours after the start, while Knowlton and Tim loafed at the
fore end of the cabin, enjoying the comparative coolness of the early
day, another boat hove in sight up ahead–a longish craft manned by
eight paddlers and without a cabin.

As it came into view its bowman tossed his paddle in greeting. The
Peruvians ignored the salutation. The bowman, after shading his eyes and
peering at the flamboyant figure of José, resumed paddling without
further ceremony, evidently intending to pass in silence. But then McKay
arose, waved a hand, and told José to steer for the newcomers. José,
with a slightly sour look, gave the signal to Francisco, and the course
changed.

The other canoe slowed and waited. Its men watched the tall figure of
McKay. Tim and Knowlton scanned the bronzed faces of those men and liked
them at once. The paddlers evidently were Brazilians, but of a different
type from the sluggish townsmen of Remate de Males–alert,
active-looking fellows, steady of eye, honest of face, muscular of
arm–in all, a more clean-cut set of men than the Peruvians. All three
of the Americans noticed that no word was exchanged between the two
crews.

“_Boa dia, amigos!_” spoke McKay. “Who are you and whence do you come?”

“We are rubber workers of Coronel Nunes, senhor,” the bowman answered,
civilly. “We go to make a new camp. This land is a part of the
_seringel_ of the coronel, and we left his headquarters yesterday.”

“Ah! Then the headquarters is above here?”

“One more day’s journey,” the man nodded.

“I thank you. Good fortune go with you.”

“And with you, senhor. May God protect you.”

With the words the Brazilian glanced along the line of Peruvian faces
and his eyes narrowed. Though his words were only a respectful farewell,
his expressive face indicated that McKay might be badly in need of
divine protection at no distant date. As his paddle dipped and his men
nodded their leave-taking, Francisco, the _popero_; sneered raucously:

“Hah! Mere _caucheros_! Workers! Slaves!”

And he spat at the Brazilian boat.

Fire shot into the eyes of the bowman and his comrades. Their muscles
tensed.

“Better be slaves–better be dogs–than Peruvian cutthroats!” one
retorted. “Go your way, and keep to your own side of the river.”

“We go where we will, and no misborn Brazilians can stop us,” snarled
Francisco. To which he added obscene epithets directed against
Brazilians in general and the men of Coronel Nunes in particular.

The unprovoked insults angered the Americans as well as the Brazilians.
Knowlton leaped through the _toldo_ and confronted Francisco.

“Shut your dirty mouth!” he blazed.

For reply, the evil-eyed steersman spat at him the vilest name known to
man.

An instant later, his lips split, he sprawled dazedly on his platform,
perilously close to the edge. Knowlton, the knuckles of his left fist
bleeding from impact with the other’s teeth, stood over him in white
fury. Francisco’s right hand fumbled for his knife. Knowlton promptly
stamped on that hand with a heavy boot heel.

“Good eye, Looey!” rumbled Tim’s voice at his back. “Boot him some more
for luck. Hey, you! Back up or I’ll drill ye for keeps!” This to a pair
of the Peruvian paddlers who had come scrambling through the cabin.

After one searching stare into Tim’s hard blue eyes and a glance at his
fist curled around the butt of his belt gun, the _bogas_ backed up. A
moment later they were thrown boldly into their own part of the boat by
José, who blistered them with the profanity of three languages at once.
Then McKay came through and took charge.

“That’ll do, Tim! Same goes for you, Merry! José, I’ll handle this. You,
Francisco! Get up!”

The curt commands struck like blows. Every man obeyed. And when the
squat steersman again stood up McKay went after him roughshod. In the
colloquial Spanish of Mexico and the Argentine, in the man talk of
American army camps, he flayed that offender alive. José himself,
efficient man handler though he was, stared at his captain in awe. And
Francisco, though not given to cringing, skulked like a beaten dog when
the verbal flagellation was finished.

Turning then to the Brazilians, McKay formally apologized for the
insults to them.

“It is nothing, senhor,” coolly answered the bowman–though his glance
at the Peruvians said plainly that it would have been something but for
the swift punishment by the Americans. “Again I say–may God protect
you! Adeos!”

The Brazilian boat glided away. The Peruvian craft crawled on upstream
in silence.

When the next camp was made all apparently had forgotten the affair. The
men badgered one another as usual, though none mentioned Francisco’s
split mouth; and Francisco, himself, albeit sulky, betrayed no sign of
enmity. After nightfall the regular camp-fire meeting was held and at
the usual time all turned in. One more night of listening to the sounds
of the tropical wilderness seemed all that lay ahead of the secret
sentinels.

Sleep enveloped the huts. Snores and gurgles rose and fell. Tim himself,
for the sake of effect, snored heartily at intervals, though his eyes
never closed. Through his mosquito bar he could see only vaguely, but he
knew any man walking from the crew’s quarters must cast a very visible
shadow across that net, and to him the shadow would be as good a warning
as a clear view of the substance. But the hours crept on and no shadow
came.

At length, however, a small sound reached his alert ear–a sound
different from the regular noises of the bush–a stealthy, creeping
noise like that of a big snake or a huge lizard. It came from the ground
a few feet away, and it seemed to be gradually advancing toward his own
hammock. Whatever the creature was that made it, its method of progress
was not human, but reptilian. Puzzled, suspicious, yet doubtful, Tim
lifted the rear side of his net, on which no moonlight fell. Head out,
he watched for the crawling thing to come close.

It came, and for an instant he was in doubt as to its character, for
around it lay the deep shadow of some treetops which at that point
blocked off the moon. It inched along on its stomach, its black head
seeming round and minus a face, its body broad but flat–a thing that
looked to be a man but not a man. Then, pausing, it raised its head and
peered toward the hammock of Knowlton. With that movement Tim’s doubts
vanished. The lifting of the head showed the face–the face of
Francisco, the face of murder. In its teeth was clamped a bare knife.

Forthwith Tim applied General Order Number Thirteen.

In one bound he was outside his net, colliding with Knowlton, who awoke
instantly. In another he was beside the assassin, who, with a lightning
grab at the knife in his mouth, had started to spring up. Tim wasted no
time in grappling or clinching. He kicked.

His heavy boot, backed by the power of a hundred and ninety pounds of
brawn, thudded into the Indian’s chest. Francisco was hurled over
sidewise on his back. Another kick crashed against his head above the
ear. He went limp.

“Ye lousy snake!” grated Tim. “Crawlin’ on yer belly to knife a sleepin’
man, hey? Blast yer rotten heart–”

“What’s up?” barked McKay from his hammock.

“Night attack, Cap. If ye’re comin’ out bring along yer gat. Hey, Looey,
got yer gun on? Some o’ these other guys might git gay. They’re comin’
now.”

True enough, the Peruvian gang was jumping from its hut. With another
glance at the prostrate Francisco to make sure he was unconscious, Tim
whirled to meet them, fist on gun.

“Halt!” he roared. “First guy passin’ this corner post gits shot. Back
up!”

The impact of his voice, the menace of his ready gun hand, the sight of
Knowlton and McKay leaping out with pistols drawn, stopped the rush at
the designated post. But swift hands dropped, and when they rose again
the moonlight glinted on cold steel.

“Capitan, what happens here?” demanded José, ominously quiet.

“Knife work,” McKay replied, curtly. “Your man Francisco attempted to
creep in and murder Señor Knowlton. If you and the rest have similar
intentions, now’s your time to try. If not, put away those knives.”

“Knives! _Por Dios_, what do you mean?”

“Look behind you.”

José looked. At once he snarled curses and commands. Slowly the knives
slipped out of sight. The paddlers edged backward to their own shack,
leaving their _puntero_ alone.

“The capitan has it wrong,” asserted José. “We awake to find our
_popero_ being kicked in the head. We want to know why. If Francisco has
done what you say I will deal with him. That I may be sure, allow me to
look.”

“Very well. Look.”

José advanced, stooped, studied the ground, the position of Francisco’s
body, the knife still clutched in the nerveless hand. Tim growlingly
vouchsafed a brief explanation of the incident. When José straightened
up, his mouth was a hard line and his eyes hot coals.

“_Si. Es verdad._ To-morrow we shall have a new _popero_.”

With which he stooped again, grasped the prone man by the hair, dragged
him into the moonlit space between the huts, and flung him down. “Juan,
bring water!” he ordered.

One of the paddlers, looking queerly at him, did so. José deluged the
senseless man. Francisco, reviving, sat up and scowled about him. His
eyes rested on the three Americans standing grimly ready, shoulder to
shoulder, before their hut; veered to his mates bunched in sinister
silence beside their own quarters; shifted again to meet the baleful
glare of José. His hand stole to his empty sheath.

“Your knife, Francisco _mio_?” queried José, a menacing purr in his
tone. “I have it. It seems that you are in haste to use it. Too much
haste, Francisco. But if you will stand instead of crawling as before,
you may have your knife again–and use it, too.”

Francisco, staring sullenly up, seemed to read in the words more than
was evident to the Americans. He lurched to his feet, staggered, caught
his balance, braced himself, stood waiting.

“You know who commands here,” José went on. “You disobey. You seek to
stab in the night–”

“Now or later–what is the difference?”

“–and now the boat is too small for both of us.” José ignored the
interruption. “Here is your knife. Now use it!”

He flipped the weapon at the other, who caught it deftly. José dropped
his right hand to his waist. An instant later naked steel licked out at
Francisco’s throat.

The steersman’s knife flashed up, caught the reaching blade, knocked it
with a scraping clink. For a few seconds the two weapons seemed welded
together, their owners each striving to bear down the other’s wrist.
Then they parted as the combatants sprang back.

José side-stepped twice to his right. Francisco, turning to preserve his
guard, now had the light full in his face. But the moon rode so high
that the steersman’s disadvantage was negligible, and the next assault
of the _puntero_ was blocked as before. And this time the wrist of the
_popero_ proved a bit the better; he threw the attacking steel aside and
struck in a slashing sweep at his antagonist’s stomach.

A convulsive inward movement of the bowman’s middle, coupled with a
swift back-step, made the slash miss by a hair’s breadth. With the
quickness of light José was in again. His knife hand, still outstretched
sidewise, stopped with a light smack of flesh on flesh. Then it jerked
outward. His steel now was red to the hilt.

One more rapid step back, a keen glance at his opponent, and José stood
at ease. From Francisco burst a bubbling groan. He staggered. His knife
dropped. His hands rose fumblingly toward his neck. Suddenly his knees
gave way and he toppled backward to the ground. The silvery moonlight
disclosed a dark flood welling from his severed jugular.

With the utmost coolness José ran two fingers down his wet blade,
snapped the fingers in air, and spoke to his crew:

“As I said, we shall have a new _popero_. To-morrow, Julio, you will
take the platform.”

A rumble ran among the men. Their eyes lifted from Francisco to the
Americans, and in them shone a wolfish gleam. The bowman turned sharply
and faced them.

“Who growls?” he rasped. “You, Julio?”

“_Si, yo soy_,” Julio answered, harshly, fingering his knife. “I will be
steersman, but I steer downstream, not up. Francisco spoke the truth.
Now or later–what is the difference? Let it be now!”

A louder growl from the others followed his words. One stepped back into
the shadow of the hut.

“_Perros amarillos!_ Yellow dogs! You go upstream, fools! The Americans
must be taken–”

A raucous sneer from Julio interrupted him. Simultaneously the paddler’s
hand leaped upward, poising a knife.

“The gringos stay here–and you, too, you Yanqui cur!”

The poised knife hissed through the air at José.

Out from the crew house shot a streak of fire and a smashing rifle
report.

José dodged, staggered, screeched in feline fury, the knife buried in
his left arm.

McKay grunted suddenly, fell, lay still.

“God!” yelled Tim. “Cap’s gone! Clean ’em, Looey!”

With the words he leaped aside and pulled his pistol, just as another
rifle flare stabbed out from the other hut and a bullet whisked through
the space where he had stood. An instant later he was pouring a stream
of lead at the spot whence the burning powder had leaped.

Knives flashing, teeth gleaming, the other paddlers charged across the
ten-foot space between the huts.

José, his left arm helpless, but his deadly right hand still gripping
his knife, hurled himself on Julio, who had seized a machete from
somewhere.

Knowlton slammed a bullet between the eyes of the foremost _boga_, who
pitched headlong. He swung the muzzle to the other man’s chest–yanked
at the trigger–got no response. The gun was jammed.

With a triumphant snarl the blood-crazed Peruvian closed in, slashing
for the throat. Knowlton slipped aside, evaded the thrust, swung the
pistol down hard on his assailant’s head. The man reeled, thrust again
blindly, missed. Knowlton crashed his dumb gun down again. It struck
fair on the temple. The man collapsed.

Tim was charging across the open at the crew house. José and Julio were
locked in a death grapple. No other living man, except Knowlton, still
stood upright. Stooping, he peered into the red-dyed face of McKay. Then
he laid a hand on the captain’s chest. Faint but regular, he felt the
heart beating.

“Thank God!” he breathed. With a wary eye on the battling Peruvians he
swiftly raised the captain and put him into Tim’s hammock. As he turned
back to the fight Tim emerged from the other hut, carrying a body, which
he dropped and swiftly inspected. At the same moment the fight of José
and Julio ended.

With a choked scream Julio dropped, writhed, doubled up. Then he lay
still. José, his face ghastly, stared around him. His mouth stretched in
a terrible smile.

“So this ends it,” he croaked, his gaze dropping to Julio. “_Adios_,
Julio! The machete is not–so good as the knife–unless one has–room
to–swing it–”

He chuckled hoarsely and sank down.

For an instant Knowlton hesitated, his glance going back and forth
between McKay and José. Swiftly then he ran his finger tips over McKay’s
head. With a murmur of satisfaction he turned from his comrade and
hurried to the motionless bowman, over whom Tim now bent.

“Bleedin’ to death, Looey,” informed Tim. “Ain’t cut bad excep’ that
arm. That flyin’ knife must have got an artery. Can we pull him through?
He’s a good skate.”

“I’ll try. You look after Cap. He’s only knocked out–bullet creased
him–”

“Glory be! He’s all right, huh? Sure I’ll fix him up. Everybody else
dead? I got that guy in the bunk house–drilled him three times.”

“Look out for that fellow over there. Maybe I brained him, but I’m not
sure.”

Knowlton was already down on his knees beside José, working fast to loop
a tourniquet and stop the flow from the pierced arm. With a handkerchief
and his pistol barrel he shut off the pulsating stream.

“Yeah, he’s done,” judged Tim, rising from the man whom Knowlton had
downed at last. “Skull’s caved in. What ‘d ye paste him with?”

“Gun. Cursed thing stuck.”

“Uh-huh. Them automats are cranky. Say, lookit the mess Hozy made o’
that guy Hooley-o.”

Knowlton glanced at Julio and whistled. José’s oft-repeated threat to
disembowel a refractory member of the crew had at last been literally
fulfilled.

But the lieutenant had seen worse sights in the shell-torn trenches of
France, and now he kept his mind on his work. Wedging the gun to hold
the tourniquet tight, he lifted his patient from the red-smeared mud and
bore him to the nearest hammock in the crew quarters. Striding back, he
found Tim alternately bathing McKay’s head and giving him brandy. In a
moment the captain’s eyes opened.

“Some bean ye got, Cap,” congratulated Tim, vastly relieved at sight of
McKay’s gray stare. “Bullet bounced right off. Here, take another
swaller. Attaboy! Hey, Looey, we better pack this crease o’ Cap’s, huh?
She keeps leakin’.”

“Yep. Dip up the surgical kit. And give José a drink. I’ll have to tie
his artery, too. How do you feel, old chap?”

“Dizzy,” McKay confessed. “What’s happened?”

“Lost our crew,” was the laconic answer. “All gone west but José, and
he’s bled white. We’ll have to paddle our own canoe now.”

For a time after his head was bandaged McKay lay quiet, staring out at
the tiny battlefield and at his two mates working silently on the
wounded arm of José. When they came back he spoke one word.

“Schwandorf.”

“Yeah! He’s the nigger in the woodpile, I bet my shirt. But why? What’s
his lay, d’ye s’pose?”

“Perhaps José knows,” suggested Knowlton. “But he’s in no shape to talk
now. Let’s see. Schwandorf said he was going to Iquitos?”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

“Probably not. Well, maybe José can explain.”

There were some things, however, which José could not have told if he
would, for he himself did not know them. One was that Schwandorf really
had gone to Iquitos, where was a radio station. Another was that from
that radio station to Puerto Bermudez, thence over the Andes to the
coast, and northward to a New York address memorized from Knowlton’s
notebook, already had gone this message:

McKay expedition killed by Indians. Rand search most dangerous, but
if empowered I attempt locate him for fifty thousand gold payable
on safe delivery Rand at Manaos. Reply soon a possible.

KARL SCHWANDORF.

CHAPTER VIII.

THE DOUBLE-CROSS

Noon, sweltering hot. A blazing sun pouring vertical rays down on a
blinding river. A long canoe wearily creeping up the glaring waters,
minus a lookout, heedless of the ever-present danger of sunken tree
trunks; propelled by three sun-blistered white men, one of whom wore a
bandage around his head; steered perfunctorily by a pallid pirate whose
left arm hung in a sling. Atop the right bank an unbroken, endless
tangle of jungle growth. Ahead, on the left shore, a gap gouged out of
the forest and a number of boats at the water’s edge.

“Guess that’s it,” panted Knowlton, shielding his eyes and squinting at
the clearing. “One more day’s journey, the Brazilian chap said. We’ve
been two and a half.”

“One day’s journey for six hardened rivermen, señor,” corrected José.
“Not for three men doing six men’s work and hampered by a cripple.”

“Aw, ye’re no crip, Hozy,” dissented Tim. “Any guy that can steer a tub
like this here one-handed after losin’ a couple gallons o’ juice is in
good shape yet, I’ll say. If ye had both legs shot off and yer arms
broke and yer head stove in, now, ye might call yourself sort o’
helpless. Ease her over to the left a li’l’ more, so’s we’ll hit the
bank right at the corner o’ that gap. Me, I don’t want to take one
stroke more ‘n I have to. Every muscle in me is so sore it squeaks.”

“Same here,” admitted Knowlton. “I’m one solid ache.”

José nodded. The clumsy craft veered a bit. The three put a little more
punch into their lagging strokes, noting, as they neared the steep bank,
that a couple of men had appeared at its top and were staring at them.
Gradually the long dugout worked in to the muddy shore, where the
paddlers stabbed their blades into the clay and held it firm.

“Ahoy, up there! This the Nunes _seringal_?”

From the edge, some thirty feet above, the taller of the two watchers
answered:

“_Si_, senhor. The headquarters of the coronel. Do you come to visit
him?”

“Right.”

“Then permit me to help you. The path is a little ahead. Pull up and tie
to this stake.”

The tall fellow came dropping swiftly downward. At the same time the
other Brazilian stepped back and was gone.

With a dexterous twist the man of Nunes moored the boat to the
designated stake. Then he reached a hand toward Tim to help him out.

“I ain’t no old woman, feller,” Tim refused, and hopped aground
unassisted. McKay and Knowlton followed. But José, after moving
languidly forward and contemplating the sharp slope, hesitated and then
shrugged his shoulders.

“I am tired, señores,” he said. “And perhaps it would be well for one to
stay here and watch.”

The tall Brazilian’s eyes narrowed.

“There is no danger of loss,” he asserted, with dignity. “We men of the
coronel are not thieves.”

The slight emphasis of his last sentence might have been taken as an
intimation that some one else not far away would bear watching. José’s
mouth tightened. For a moment Brazilian and Peruvian eyed each other in
obvious dislike. Then, with a glance at his crippled arm, José shrugged
again.

“Better come along, José,” McKay said. “Stuff’s safe enough.”

“As you will, Capitan.”

He lounged to the edge, hesitated, wavered slightly. At once the
Brazilian darted out a hand and gave him support. And while the four
clambered up the slope he retained a grip on the Peruvian’s arm, aiding
him to the top. When they emerged on the level, however, he dropped his
hand immediately. José gave him a half-mocking bow of thanks, to which
he replied with a short nod. Then he stepped back and let the Peruvian
precede him toward a number of substantial pole-supported houses a
hundred yards away.

“No love lost between them two,” thought Tim, who had watched it all.
“Good skate, though, this new feller. Ready to help a guy that needs it,
whether he likes him or not; ready to knock his block off, too, if he
needs that. Bet he’d be a hellion in a scrap. Dang good-lookin’ lad,
too.”

Wherewith he introduced himself.

“Don’t git sore because I growled at ye down below,” he said, with a
friendly grin. “Sounded rough, mebbe, but that’s my style. I’m Tim Ryan,
from the States. I bark more ‘n I bite.”

The overture met with instant response–a quick smile and a twinkle in
the warm eyes.

“It is not words that give offense, senhor, but the way they are
spoken–and the man who speaks them. One man may growl, but you like
him. Another may speak smoothly, but you itch to strike him. Is it not
so? I am Pedro Andrada, a _seringueiro_ who should be tapping trees
instead of loafing here. But my partner and I have just come in from a
long trip into the _sertao_–wilderness–and are resting.”

“Yeah? Was that yer buddy I seen with ye?”

“My–ah–buddee? Partner? Yes, that was he–Lourenço Moraes, the best
comrade one ever had. He has gone to tell the coronel of your arrival.
Have you met with an accident downriver?”

He moved a thumb meaningly toward the only remaining member of the crew.

“Yeah,” grimly. “Bad accident.”

Tim tapped his pistol significently, raised five fingers, winked, and
twitched his head toward the Peruvian. Pedro lifted his brows, nodded
quick understanding, pointed to the bad arm of José, and made motions as
if pulling a trigger. Tim shook his head and enacted the pantomime of
drawing and throwing a knife. Whereat the Brazilian, aware that José was
not a prisoner and probably knowing that North Americans were not knife
throwers, looked much puzzled. But their sign manual went no farther,
for they now approached the house which evidently formed the dwelling
and office of Coronel Nunes.

At the foot of the ladder stood a broad-shouldered, square-jawed,
thick-muscled, deeply tanned man, who, without speaking, pointed a thumb
upward. Above, in the doorway, waited an elderly Brazilian of medium
height and spare figure, standing with soldierly erectness and garbed in
white duck of semimilitary cut. He beamed down at McKay and Knowlton,
but as his black eyes encountered those of José they seemed suddenly to
become very sharp. Then his gaze rested on Tim’s broad face and he
smiled again.

“Enter, gentlemen,” he invited. “_Esta casa e a suas ordenes_–this
house is at your disposal.”

McKay, with a bow, climbed the ladder, followed by Knowlton. José, with
a swaggering stare at the wide-shouldered man, who stared straight back
without facial change, also went up. Tim came fourth and last, for Pedro
stopped beside his countryman, who evidently was Lourenço.

The travelers found themselves in a room which, in view of its distance
from civilization, seemed palatial. Its floor was tight, its furniture
modern, its walls decorated with a few excellent pictures, of which the
largest was a superb view of the rugged harbor of Rio de Janeiro.
Comfortable chairs were ranged along the walls, and the middle of the
room was occupied by a massive square-cornered table on which lay a
jumble of hand-written business papers, a number of books, a high-grade
violin and bow. Beyond the table stood a swivel chair, evidently the
usual seat of the coronel. Table and chair were so arranged that the
master of this house sat always with his back to a wall and his face
toward the door. And on a couple of hooks on that wall, ready for
instant service, hung a high-power rifle.

On their way up the river the Americans had passed, at long intervals, a
few small rubber estates, whose headquarters consisted mainly of a crude
shack or two, hardly better than the dingy houses of Remate de Males.
This place was more imposing. They had observed, while crossing the
cleared space, that it was at least half a mile square; that its
warehouse for supplies was big and solid; that a goodly number of
_barracaos_, or rubber workers’ huts, surrounded the house of the master
at a respectful distance; and that the owner’s home was no one-room
cabin, but big enough to contain six or eight rooms. This well-appointed
reception room and the formal yet sincere courtesy of its owner showed
that Coronel Nunes was no mere native of the frontier. Later they were
to learn that he was a gentleman of Rio who, exiling himself from the
capital after the death of his wife, had carved from this forbidding
jungle a fortune in the rubber trade.

With the correct touch of Latin punctilio McKay spoke the introductions
and stated that they were on their way upriver to explore the
hinterland. With equal politeness the coronel bowed and begged his
illustrious guests to be seated. Then he touched a small bell. A door at
one side opened and a white-suited negro appeared.

“Café,” the coronel ordered. As speedily as if these visitors had been
long expected, the servant brought in a tray bearing cups of syrupy
coffee. Each of the guests accepted one. Whereafter the decorum of the
occasion was shattered by Tim, who, at the imminent risk of scalding
himself, gulped his refreshment and vociferated his satisfaction.

“O-o-oh boy! That hits right where I live! Gimme another one, feller,
and make it man’s size!”

The black fellow struggled with his quick mirth and then laughed
outright–the throaty, infectious laugh of his race. The coronel’s eyes
twinkled. And when Tim fished a damp cigarette from his shirt,
nonchalantly scraped a match on his host’s table, blew a cloud of smoke,
and sprawled back with one leg dangling over a chair arm, formality went
a-glimmering.

“_A quem madruga Deus ajuda_,” laughed the coronel. “Or, as you North
Americans put it, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ Let us not be
ceremonious, gentlemen. ‘Tonio, bring more coffee. And cigars. And–”

Down behind his table, where only the servant saw the motion, he
twitched a finger as if pulling a cork. ‘Tonio, his ebony countenance
split by a grin, ducked his head and vanished into the other room.

“How is the rubber market, sir?” asked Knowlton, seeking to divert
attention from Tim.

“Not so good,” the old gentleman replied, with a deprecatory gesture.
“In truth, it is very poor since the war–so poor that soon I shall
abandon this _seringal_ and go out to spend the rest of my life on the
coast. With rubber selling at a mere five hundred dollars a ton in New
York and the artificial plantations of the Far East growing greater
yearly, there is no longer much profit in bleeding the wild trees of our
jungle. I really do not know why I stay here now, unless it is because I
have become so much accustomed to this life.”

“Why, I understood that there was much money in rubber!”

“You speak truth–there was. Now there is not. The world moves and times
change. Years ago foreigners came into Brazil, helped themselves to the
seed of our wild trees, and planted it in Ceylon and the Malay region.
That seed now bears such fruit that the world is flooded with rubber.
Ten years ago, senhores, a ton sold for six thousand five hundred
dollars. Now, in this year nineteen-twenty, the price is only
one-thirteenth of what it was in those days. It scarcely pays for the
gathering. I hope you have not come expecting to make fortunes in
rubber.”

“No. We are here to find a race of men known as Red Bones.”

The coronel’s brows lifted. They kept on lifting, and he opened his lips
twice without speaking. After a long stare at Knowlton he looked at
McKay, at Tim, and finally at José. A frown grew on his face. And the
Americans, following his look at the Peruvian, were surprised to see
that José himself was staring blankly at the speaker.

“José Martinez!” snapped the coronel, leveling a finger pistollike at
the _puntero_. “What devil’s game are you working now?”

José recovered himself and lifted his coffee cup.

“I do not understand you, Nunes,” he replied, languidly. “I am but the
humble _puntero_ of the crew engaged by these señores. My only work has
been to earn my pay. And you may ask _el capitan_ whether I have earned
it.”

“Ay, he has,” corroborated McKay. “Killed two of his own crew in our
defense.”

The coronel’s jaw dropped. He blinked as if disbelieving his ears.

“He–José? Not possible!” he stuttered. “José–this man–defended you
against his companions?”

“Exactly.”

The Brazilian slowly shook his head. Then suddenly he nodded as if an
illuminating thought had crossed his mind.

“I see. José is very well paid.”

“One dollar a day,” was McKay’s dry retort.

At that moment ‘Tonio re-entered with a larger tray than before, bearing
more coffee, long cigars, and squat glasses in which glowed a golden
liquid. Tim sat up with a grunt and helped himself with both hands. When
the coronel’s turn came he disregarded the drinks, but lit the cigar as
if he needed it.

“_De noite todos os gatos sao pardos_,” he said. “At night all cats are
gray. I am much in the dark, gentlemen. If you would be so good as to
enlighten me–”

He paused, looking sidewise again at José as if the _puntero_ had
suddenly grown wings or horns.

“All right,” nodded Knowlton, biting and lighting his cigar. “We are
somewhat in the dark ourselves as to why José has been so zealous, for
he has been very taciturn since the recent fight at our camp. Perhaps
José also is a bit hazy about our expedition–he looked rather surprised
just now. So here is the situation.”

Briefly then he outlined the object of the search, stating that the
identity of the mysterious Raposa was a matter of some concern to
certain persons in the United States and that the expedition had been
formed with the view of settling the question. From the time of the
landing at Remate de Males, however, he narrated events more fully,
giving complete details of Schwandorf’s activities, Francisco’s offense,
and the final attack by the crew. While he talked the coronel’s frown
deepened. Also, José gradually assumed the expression of a thundercloud.
And when the tale was done the _puntero_ exploded.

“_Sangre de Cristo!_” he yelled. “_El Aleman_–the German–he told you
we would go among the cannibals? We? Peruvians? _Madre de Dios!_ If ever
I get within knife length of him! Nunes, you see, do you not?”

The coronel nodded grimly.

“I see that he planned to have all of you destroyed. Senhor Knowlton,
that black-bearded and black-hearted man suggested that you take
Mayoruna women? He told you they were shapely of body and tried to put
into your minds the thought of making them your paramours? The snake!

“He did not tell you, then, that the Mayoruna men allow no trifling with
their women; that any alien man attempting to embrace one of them would
be killed. But it is true. If you should succeed in establishing
friendly relations with the men–which is not at all likely–you would
forfeit all friendship, and your lives as well, by the slightest
dalliance with any of the women.

“He told you that more than one man has risked his life to win a
Mayoruna woman? That is true. But he gave you a false impression as to
the way in which the risk was incurred. He did not tell you that
Peruvian _caucheros_ have sometimes raided small isolated _melocas_ of
the Mayorunas, shooting down the men and carrying off the girls to be
victims of their bestial lust. He did not tell you that for this reason
any Peruvian is considered their enemy and is killed without mercy
wherever found. Yet he tried to send you with Peruvian guides into their
country. He knew the Peruvians would be killed on sight–and you with
them.”

CHAPTER IX.

FIDDLERS THREE

Black looks passed among the men as the duplicity of Schwandorf lay
plain before their eyes. Tim growled. José hissed curses. The coronel
whirled to him.

“José! What was his object in trying to destroy you and your crew? You
have been his man. You know much about him. He wanted to stop your
mouth, yes? Dead men tell no tales.”

The _puntero’s_ eyes glittered. For a moment the others thought he was
about to reveal important secrets. Then his face changed.

“I know no reason why we should be killed,” he declared.

“I do not believe you,” the coronel declared, bluntly.

José shrugged, calmly drank the coronel’s wine, lighted the coronel’s
cigar, leaned back in the coronel’s chair, and eyed the coronel with
imperturbable insolence.

“See here, José,” demanded McKay, “you’ve had something up your sleeve
all along. Now come clean! What is it?”

José puffed airily at the cigar, saying nothing.

“What orders did Schwandorf give you?”

This time the reply came readily enough.

“To take you twenty-four days up the river and put you ashore. To
prevent any trouble before that time.”

“Ah! And after that?”

“Nothing. At least, nothing to me. What may have been said to the other
men I do not know. Schwandorf came to me last, after he had picked all
the others.”

“And what do you know about Schwandorf?”

“What is between me and Schwandorf will be settled between me and
Schwandorf. My duty to you señores lies only in handling the crew. Now
that there is no crew my duty ends. Also, Capitan, I would like my pay
now.”

“You quit?”

“Why not? I have done my best. I can do no more. I am crippled. I am of
no further use to you. Give me my pay, a little food, a small canoe, and
I go.”

“It is possible, Senhor José,” spoke the coronel, with ironic
politeness, “that you may not go so soon. You have killed two men
recently. You refuse to reveal some things which should be known about
the German. Perhaps the law–”

José burst into a jeering laugh.

“Law? You speak of law? There is no law up the river but the law of the
gun and the knife. And if there were, señor, what then? I killed in a
fair fight. I killed men who would do murder. I killed on the west bank
of the river–Peru. Neither you nor any other Brazilian can lay hand on
me. And though I now have only one good arm, it will not be well for
anyone to try to hold me. My knife and my right hand still are ready.”

“By cripes! the lad’s right!” Tim blurted, impulsively. “And I’ll tell
the world I’m for him. He’s got a right to keep his mouth shut if he
wants to. He don’t owe us nothin’. Mebbe he’s got somethin’ up his
sleeve, at that; but he stuck with us in the pinch, and–”

“And we’ll give him a square deal, of course,” Knowlton cut in. “José,
your own wages to this point, at a dollar a day, are eighteen dollars.
The wages of the five other men to the place where they–quit–would
aggregate seventy-five dollars. Grand total, ninety-three. The others
chose to take their pay in lead instead of gold, so their account is
closed. Therefore I suggest that their pay go to you as _puntero_,
_popero_, and good sport. What say, Rod?”

“Make it a hundred flat,” McKay agreed.

“Right. A hundred in gold. Satisfy you, José?”

“Indeed yes, señor. I did not expect such generosity.”

“That’s all right, then. We’ll fix you up before we move on, and–Say!
Are you in Schwandorf’s pay, too?”

José hesitated. Then he replied:

“Since you mention it, I will admit that _el Aleman_ offered me certain
inducements to make this journey. I now see that he had no intention of
meeting his promises. But you can leave it to me to collect from him
whatever may be due.”

Even the coronel nodded at this. The gleam in the Peruvian’s eyes
presaged unpleasantness for Schwandorf.

“You gentlemen, of course, will not attempt to continue your journey for
the present,” the coronel suggested. “You are fatigued and I shall
greatly appreciate the pleasure of your companionship. New arrangements
also will be necessary in the matter of a boat and men.”

“We’ve been wondering about getting another boat and a new crew,”
Knowlton said, frankly. “The canoe we have is too big for three men to
handle, and I’ll admit we’re tired. José, too, is in no shape to travel
yet–”

“José, of course, is my guest also,” the old gentleman interrupted. “The
question of new men can be solved. But there is time for everything, and
now is the time for all of you to rest. As our proverb has it, ‘_Devagar
se vae ao longe_’–he goes far who goes slowly.”

McKay arose, glass in hand.

“To our host,” he bowed. The toast was drunk standing. Whereafter the
host tapped the bell twice and ‘Tonio reappeared with a tray of fresh
glasses. A toast to the United States by the coronel followed, and as
soon as the black man arrived with a third round the Republic of Brazil
was pledged. Then the coronel directed the servant:

“‘Tonio, if Pedro and Lourenço are outside, ask them to move the
belongings of the gentlemen from the canoe. And make ready rooms for the
guests.”

‘Tonio disappeared down the ladder. The coronel raised the violin,
tendered it to the others, accepted their pleas to play it himself, and
for the next half hour acquitted himself with no mean ability. Snatches
of long-forgotten operas and improvisations of his own flowed from the
strings in smooth harmony, hinting at bygone years amid far different
surroundings for which his soul now hungered and to which he would
return. Pedro and Lourenço, transporting the equipment, passed in and
out soft-footed and almost unnoticed. At length the player, with a
deprecatory smile and a half apology for “boring his guests,” extended
the instrument again toward the visitors. And McKay, silent McKay, took
it.

Sweet and low, out welled the haunting melody of “Annie Laurie.” Tim,
who had listened with casual interest to the coronel’s music, now
grinned happily. And when the plaintive Scotch song became “Kathleen
Mavourneen” he closed his eyes and lay back in pure enjoyment. “The
River Shannon” flowed into “The Suwanee River,” and this in turn blended
into other heart-tugging airs of Dixieland. When the last strain died
and the captain reached for his half-smoked cigar the room was silent
for minutes.

Then, to the astonishment of all, José spoke:

“Señores, there was a time when I, too, could draw music from the
violin. If I may–” His eyes rested longingly on the instrument.

“_Certamente_, if you can use the arm,” the coronel acquiesced. With a
little difficulty José drew his arm from the sling, balanced his left
elbow on the chair arm, and poised the violin. A half smile showed in
the eyes of the coronel as he glanced at his guests. He, and they as
well, expected a discordant, uncouth attempt to scrape out some obscene
ditty of the frontier.

But as José, after jockeying a bit, began drifting the bow across the
strings, the suppressed smiles faded and eyes opened. Here was a man
who, as he said, once could play. And he wasted no time on airs composed
by others and known to half the world. Under his touch the mellow wood
began to talk, and in the minds of the listeners grew pictures.

City streets, blank-walled houses, patios, the rattle of the hoofs of
burros over cobbles, the shuffle of human feet, the toll of bells from a
convent tower. Gay little bits of music, laughter, flashing eyes, a
voluptuous love song repeated over and over. A sudden wild outbreak,
fighting men, shots, the clash of steel–again a tolling bell and a
requiem for the dead. A horse galloping in the night. Mountain winds
crooning mournfully, rising to the scream of tempest and the crash of
thunder. Dreary uplands, the hiss of rain, the sough of drifting snow,
the patient plod of a mule along a perilous trail. And then the jungle:
its discordant uproar, its hammering of frogs, its hoots and howls, the
dismal swash of flood waters. A monotonous ebb and flow of life,
punctuated by sudden flares of fight. Then a long, mournful wail–and
silence.

His bow still on the strings, José sat for a minute like a stone image,
his eyes straight ahead, his pale face drawn, his red kerchief glowing
dully in the semishadow like a cap of blood. For once his face was empty
of all insolence, changed by a pathetic wistfulness that made it tragic.
Then, wordless, he lowered the violin, held it out to the coronel,
fumbled absently at his sling, and slowly incased his wounded arm. When
he looked up his old mocking expression had come back and he once more
looked the reckless buccaneer.

For a time no one spoke. Each felt that he had glimpsed something of
this man’s past; felt, too, that he who now was a bloody-handed borderer
had once been a _caballero_, moving in a much higher circle. Certainly
he could not play like this unless he had been of the upper class in his
youth. The coronel’s face was thoughtful as he took back the violin.
When at length he began to talk, however, it was on a topic as remote as
possible from music and present personalities–the reconstruction of
Europe as the result of the World War.

With this and kindred subjects, aided by the attentive ministrations of
‘Tonio, the afternoon passed swiftly. Dinner proved a feast, the _pièce
de résistance_ being tender, well-cooked meat which the Americans took
for roast beef, but which really was roast tapir. More cigars, coupled
with the fatigue of the past two days of paddling, eventually caused the
visitors to seek their rooms, where McKay and Knowlton paired off and
Tim took José as his “bunkie.”

When Tim awoke the next morning he found himself deserted.

To Knowlton, who drew from the small gold-chest the hundred dollars
allotted to José and handed it to him before redressing his wound, the
_puntero_ quietly revealed his intention to go before sunrise.

“Say nothing, señor,” he requested. “You need know nothing of it, if you
like. I am here to-night–I am gone to-morrow–that is all. I am of no
further use to you, I am unwelcome in this house of Nunes, and I go. Oh,
have no fear for me! I have my gun, my knife, and my good right arm, and
I can take care of myself very well. No doubt the coronel will be
astonished to find that on leaving to-night I have neither cut anyone’s
throat nor stolen anything–ha! I have a black name on this river, and
it is well earned, perhaps. Yet few men are as bad as those who dislike
them think they are. I may borrow a small canoe, but any Indian would do
the same. An unoccupied canoe is any man’s property.

“Before our ways part, señor, let me say that as José Martinez never
forgets his enemies, so he never forgets friends. Where some men would
have turned me loose like a sick dog with my eighteen dollars, you and
Señor McKay give me a hundred. And far more than that, you saved my life
at a time when many men would have said, ‘Bah! let the bloody one die!
He is nothing but scum of the border and leader of that murdering crew.’
You had only to let me lie a few minutes longer and you would be rid of
me. No, José does not forget.

“That is all, except–if you will, in parting, take the hand of a man
known as a killer and other things–”

Knowlton gripped that hand with swift heartiness. He would have
protested against such a departure, but the other’s steady gaze
betokened inflexible purpose. So he merely said:

“Then good luck, old chap! And if you meet Schwandorf give him our
affectionate regards.”

“_Si_, señor,” was the sardonic answer. “I will do that thing. And here
is something that may be of interest to you. I happen to know that
before we left Remate de Males a swift one-man canoe left Nazareth, and
that the man in it was an Indian who is in the German’s control. It went
upstream while we were loading your supplies, and it has not returned.
By this time it must be many hours above this place. I do not know what
message that Indian carries, nor where he goes. But he is a short man,
and his left leg is crooked. If you meet such a one make him talk.
Good-by, señor.”

Just how and when the _puntero_ cat-footed his way out that night none
ever knew but himself. But before the next dawn he had vanished from the
Brazilian shore.

CHAPTER X.

BY THE LIGHT OF STORM

“One thing I can’t understand,” Knowlton said, toying with his coffee
cup the next morning, “is why Schwandorf should double-cross us. We
never did anything to him. Another thing I don’t quite get is how he
expected to have the Peruvians wiped out when he knew blamed well they
were aware of the enmity of the cannibals. They’d hardly be likely to go
into the bush with us under those circumstances.”

“My guess is this,” McKay replied. “He set a trap. He is on a friendly
footing with some of the savages above here, no doubt. He dispatched
that Indian messenger to stir them up with some false tale and bring
them to some place where they’d be pretty sure to get us. He primed the
crew to jump us at the same place, perhaps. Then the crew would kill us
or we’d kill them, and whichever side won would be smeared by the
Indians. Sort of a trap within a trap. Why he did it doesn’t matter
much. He double-crossed us, he double-crossed the crew, he
double-crossed José. First thing he knows he’ll find he’s double-crossed
himself.”

“Yeah,” Tim grunted. “He better beat it before we git back!”

“He wanted no killing before we reached the cannibal country,” McKay
went on, “because then it would all be blamed on the savages and he
could show clean hands. Francisco’s vengefulness tipped over his cart.”

“Still, he might have known we’d stop here for a call on the coronel,
and that there was a big chance for us to be warned here about the feud
between Mayorunas and Peruvians.”

“That probably was provided for. Crew doubtless had orders to prevent
any such visit, by lying to us or in other ways. We probably would have
gone surging past here at top speed.”

“Wal, it don’t git us nothin’ to talk about things that ‘ain’t
happened,” interposed the practical Tim. “Question is, where do we go
from here? And how?”

All eyes went to the coronel, who sat languidly smoking his morning
cigar.

“Coronel, we are in your hands,” McKay said, bluntly. “Your men, I
presume, are all out at work in various parts of the bush. We want a
crew and, if possible, guides. Can you help us?”

The coronel flicked off an ash and spoke slowly:

“I have two men, senhores, who have no peers as bushmen. They are the
two whom you saw yesterday. Frankly, they are most valuable to me, and I
hesitate about sending them on so dangerous a mission as yours. Yet they
might succeed where most men would fail, for they have repeatedly gone
into the bush on risky journeys and returned unharmed. Their adventures
would fill books.

“The older of these two, Lourenço Moraes, has been more than once among
the cannibals of this region, and so he knows something of them.
Naturally he did not live long among them; he left them as soon as he
could. But he has the faculty of extricating himself from hopeless
positions–or perhaps it would be better to say that his cool head and
good fortune together have preserved him thus far. ‘_Tanta vez vae o
cantaro a fonte ate gue um dia la fica_’–the pitcher may go often to
the spring, but some day it remains there.

“Pedro Andrada, the younger, is not so steady and cool-headed as
Lourenço. Yet he is a most capable man, and the two together–they are
always together–make a very efficient team.”

“I bet they do,” Tim concurred, heartily. “I like that Pedro lad fine.”

“So do I,” the coronel smiled. “Now, gentlemen, I will not order these
men to go with you. If they go it must be of their own choice. They have
only recently returned from a hazardous mission and they are entitled to
rest. Yet I have little doubt that they will jump at the chance to risk
their lives in a new venture. If they choose to go, I suggest that you
place yourselves entirely in their hands and give them free rein. You
would look far for better men.”

“And we’re lucky to get them,” Knowlton acquiesced. “To them and to you
we shall be greatly indebted.”

“Not to me, senhor,” the coronel demurred “I do nothing but bring you
men together. Theirs is the risk. ‘Tonio! Find Pedro and Lourenço. Shall
we go into the office, gentlemen?”

Chairs scraped back and an exodus from the dining room ensued. Outside,
the lusty voice of the negro bawled. Soon he was back, and at his heels
strode the lithe Pedro and the quiet Lourenço. They ran their eyes over
the group, then stood looking inquiringly at their employer.

“Be seated, men. Roll cigarettes if you like,” said the coronel. Coolly
they did both. Pedro, catching Tim’s friendly grin, flashed a quick
smile in return. Lourenço, unsmiling, looked squarely into each man’s
face in turn and seemed satisfied with what he saw. Both then glanced
around as if missing some one.

“Your friend José has left us,” the coronel informed them, dryly,
interpreting the look. “He disappeared in the night.”

“Ah! That is why one of our canoes is gone,” said Pedro. “We are ready
to start.”

“You mistake,” the old gentleman laughed. “We do not want him back.
Nothing else is missing.”

Whereat Pedro looked slightly surprised. Lourenço’s lips curved in a
faint grin. Neither made any further comment.

The coronel plunged at once into the business for which they had been
summoned. Succinctly he stated the purpose of the North Americans in
coming here, pointed out their need of guides–and stopped there. He
said nothing of the dangers ahead, mentioned no reward, did not even ask
the men whether they would go. He merely lit a fresh cigar and leaned
back in his chair.

A silence followed. Again Lourenço looked searchingly into the face of
each American. Pedro contemplated the opposite wall, taking occasional
puffs from his cigarette. At length Knowlton suggested, tentatively:

“We will pay well–”

Both the bushmen frowned. The coronel spoke in a tone of mild reproof:

“Senhor, it is not a matter of pay. These men can make plenty of money
as _seringueiros_.”

“Pardon,” said Knowlton, and thereafter held his tongue.

Deliberately Lourenço finished his smoke, pinched the coal between a
hard thumb and forefinger, and spoke for the first time.

“May I ask, senhor, if you are the commander?” His gaze rested on McKay.

“I am.”

“And do I understand that we shall at all times be subject to your
orders?”

“In case any orders are necessary–yes. But I assume that you will not
need commands.”

A quiet smile showed in the bushman’s eyes. He glanced at Pedro. The
latter met the look from the corner of his eye, without wink, nod, or
other sign. But when Lourenço turned again to McKay he spoke as if all
were arranged.

“When do we start, Capitao?”

Tim slapped his leg and cackled.

“By cripes! there ain’t no lost motion with these guys. Hey, Cap?”

McKay smiled approvingly.

“We shall get on together” he said. “Lourenço and Pedro, this is not a
one-man party. We are three comrades, who now become five. If at any
time one man needs to command, I, as senior officer, will take that
command. Otherwise we are all on an equal footing.”

“Just so,” Lourenço agreed. “If it were otherwise you would still be
three men–not five. Since that is plain, let me say frankly that your
big canoe had best stay here, also everything you do not need in the
bush. Two light canoes are faster, easier to handle and to hide. Pedro
and I have our own canoe and will provide our own supplies. We will pick
out a three-man boat for you and load it with what you select from your
equipment. After that every man swings his own paddle.”

“_Cada qual por si e Deus por todos._ Each for himself and God for us
all,” Pedro summarized.

“That’s the dope,” applauded Tim. “Now say, Renzo, old feller, what d’ye
know about these here, now, Red Bones up above here? And have ye got
anything on that Raposy guy?”

Lourenço shook his head.

“I know little of the Red Bone people, for I have never met them. That
is one reason why I now should like to meet them. I have heard of them,
yes; and the things I have heard are not pleasant. Yet it may be that
the tales are worse than the people. I have also heard terrible stories
of the light-skinned cannibals, the Mayorunas; yet I have been among the
cannibals and found them not so bad–though it is true that they eat the
flesh of their enemies; I have seen it done. But it makes a very great
difference how they are approached and who the men are who approach
them. It is possible that we may go unharmed among even _los Ossos
Vermelhos_–the Red Bones. We shall see.

“Of the Raposa I think I do know something. I have seen him.”

Everyone except Pedro sat up with a start.

“You have seen him?” exclaimed the coronel. “When? Where? How? Why have
you not spoken of it?”

“Because, Coronel, I forgot it until now. It meant nothing to us–yes,
Pedro was with me–except that it was one more queer thing in the bush.
In time I might have remembered it and told you. But you know we have
been busy.”

“True. But go on.”

“It was only a little time ago. We were returning from the scouting trip
on which you sent us to locate new rubber trees. We were
seven–eight–seven–”

“Eight days’ journey from here,” prompted Pedro.

“_Si._ We were in our canoe when a sudden storm broke and we got
ashore to wait until it was over. The place was on an _ygarapé_–a
creek–about two days away from the river. The trees were large and the
ground free from bush. In a flash of lightning we saw a man peering out
at us from a hollow tree.

“He was naked and streaked with paint–that was all we saw in the
flashes that came and went. The rain was heavy, and we stayed where we
were until it ended. Then we ordered that man to come out.

“He came, and he held bow and arrow ready to shoot. We, too, were ready
to shoot, but we held back our bullets and he held back his arrow. We
saw that his paint was red and that it traced his bones; that his skin
was that of a tanned white man and his hair was dark with a white streak
over one ear. No, we did not notice the color of his eyes–the light was
not good and he stood well away from us.

“We looked around for other men, but saw none. We asked him who he was
and what he wanted, but he gave no answer. He looked at us for a long
time, and we at him. Then he began walking away sidewise, watching us
steadily, holding his arrow always ready. Finally he disappeared among
the trees and we saw him no more. But we heard him, senhores; twice
before we lost sight of him he spoke out in a queer voice like that of a
parrot. And the thing he said was, ‘Poor Davey!'”

McKay thumped a fist on his chair.

“Davey! David Rand!”

“Perhaps so, Capitao. I do not know. But he spoke English.”

“By thunder! David Rand! Merry, where’s that picture?”

Knowlton was already unbuttoning his pocket flap. Quickly he produced
the photograph.

“That the fellow?”

Lourenço studied the face. The eagerly anticipated affirmative did not
come.

“I cannot say surely. This is a full-faced, clean-shaven man with hair
close trimmed. That one’s face was gaunt, covered partly with beard and
partly by long hair, and we were not close to him, as I have said. I
would not say the two were the same until I could have a better look at
the wild man.”

“You didn’t follow him?”

“No. Why should we? He had done nothing to us and we let him go his way.
We did look at his hollow tree, though. But it was only an empty tree,
not his home; a place where he had stepped in out of the storm. We had
other things to do, so we got into our canoe again and paddled off.”

“You can find the place again?”

“Yes. But I much doubt if we shall find him there.”

“Never mind. We’ve something to start with now, and that’s worth a lot.
Get busy with your boats and supplies, boys, right away. Tim and Merry,
let’s dig out our essentials and start. We’re on a hot trail at last.
Let’s go!”

CHAPTER XI.

OUT OF THE AIR

Again the sun fought the mists of a new day, casting a pallid, watery
light on the livid green roof of the limitless jungle. High up under
that roof, more than a hundred feet above the ground, the morning alarm
clock went off with a scream, the sudden chorus of monkeys and macaws
awaking after a few hours of silence. Down on the eastern shore of the
river, in a little natural port where the shadows still lay thick, men
stirred under their black mosquito nets, yawned, and waited for more
light before starting another day’s journey.

To three of the five men housed under those flimsy coverings the somber
hue of their nets was new. On leaving Remate de Males the insect bars
had been clean white; and though they had grown somewhat soiled from
daily handling, they never had approached the drab dinginess of the
barriers draping the hammocks of the Peruvian rivermen. In fact, their
owners had been at some pains to keep them as clean as possible, folding
them each morning with military precision and stowing them carefully.
Wherefore they were somewhat taken aback when informed that nice white
nets were decidedly not the thing in this part of the world.

“Up to this place, senhores, they have done no harm,” Pedro said, before
leaving the coronel’s grounds. “But from here on they will not do at
all. The weakest moonlight–yes, even starlight–would make them stand
out in the darkness like tombstones. A few days more and we shall be in
the cannibal country. And it is an old trick of those eaters of men to
skulk along the shore by night, watching a camp until all are asleep,
and then sneak up with spears ready. A rush and a swift stab of the
spears into those white nets, and you are dead or dying from the
poisoned points. I would no more sleep under a white net than I would
lie in my hammock and blow a horn to show where I was. Your light nets
must stay here. We will find dark ones for you.”

Thus the voyagers learned another of those little things on which
sometimes hinges life or death. Even McKay, with his experience of other
jungles, had never thought it necessary to drape himself in invisibility
at night. But when his attention was called to it he recognized its
value at once, and the white nets were forthwith abandoned.

Now, on the first morning out from the Nunes place, the three Americans
stretched themselves in lazy enjoyment after a night passed without a
sentinel. The stretching evoked sundry grunts due to the discovery that
their muscles still were lame. The long steamer journey from their own
land, followed by the daily confinement of the Peruvian canoe, had
afforded scant opportunity for keeping themselves fit, and the sudden
necessity for doing their own paddling had found every man soft. But
they now were hardening fast, and the steady swing of the paddles was
proving a physical joy. These were men ill accustomed to sitting in
enforced idleness for weeks on end.

Matches flared under the nets and cigarette smoke drifted into the air,
rousing to fresh activity the mosquitoes humming hungrily outside.
Gradually the shadows paled and the weak light reflecting from the
fog-shrouded water beyond grew into day. The nets lifted and the
bloodthirsty insects swooped in vicious triumph on the emerging men. But
again matches blazed, flame licked up among kindlings, a fire grew, and
in its smoke screen the voyagers found some surcease from the bug
hordes. Soon the fragrance of coffee floated into the air.

Tim yawned, coughed explosively, and swore.

“Fellers can’t even take a gape for himself without gittin’ these cussed
bugs down his throat,” he complained, and coughed again. “Gimme some
coffee! I got one skeeter the size of a devil’s darnin’ needle stuck in
me windpipe.”

“A devil’s darning needle? What is that, Senhor Tim?” inquired Pedro,
passing him a cup of hot coffee. When the liquid–and the “skeeter”–had
passed into Tim’s stomach he enlightened the inquirer.

“Ye dunno what’s a devil’s darnin’ needle? Gosh! I’m s’prised at ye. I
seen lots of ’em right on this here river. He’s a bug about so long”–he
stuck out a finger–“and he’s got jaws like a crab and a long limber
tail a with reg’lar needle in the end, and inside him is a roll o’ tough
silk–tough as spider web. And he’s death on liars. Any time a feller
tells a lie he’s got to look out, or all to oncet one o’ them bugs’ll
come scootin’ at him and grab him by the nose with them jaws. Then he’ll
curl up his tail–the bug, I mean–and run his needle and thread right
through the feller’s lips and sew his mouth up tight. Then he flies off
lookin’ for another liar.”

“_Por Deus!_ And the liar starves to death?”

“Wal, no. O’ course he can git somebody to cut the stitches. But the
needle is a good thick one and it leaves a row o’ holes all along the
feller’s lips. Any time ye see a guy with li’l’ round scars around his
mouth, Pedro, ye’ll know he’s such an awful liar the devil bug got him.”

McKay coughed. Knowlton blew his nose into a big handkerchief. Lourenço
squinted sidewise at Tim, who was solemn as an owl. Pedro, his eyes
twinkling, bent forward and scrutinized Tim’s mouth.

“You have been fortunate, senhor,” he said, simply–and stepped around
to the other side of the fire.

“Huh? Say, lookit here, ye long-legged gorilla–”

Knowlton exploded. McKay and Lourenço snickered.

“It’s on you, Tim!” vociferated Knowlton. “You dug the hole yourself.
Now crawl in and pull it in after you.”

Tim snorted wrathfully, but his eyes laughed.

“Aw, what’s the use o’ trying to educate you guys?”

“You swallowed a mosquito just now, but I cannot swallow that devil
bug,” Pedro grinned.

Tim rumbled something, solaced himself with a cigarette, then squatted
and joined the others in their frugal breakfast of coffee and
_chibeh_–a handful of farinha mixed with water in a gourd. When it was
finished McKay, who never smoked in the morning until he had eaten,
filled a pipe and suggested:

“Guess we’d better plan our campaign. We didn’t take time yesterday. In
case we find no trace of the Raposa at the place where you fellows saw
him, what’s your idea?”

Lourenço, puffing thoughtfully, stared into the fire.

“There will be time enough to decide that, Capitao, after we have
visited that place,” he said, slowly. “Still, perhaps it is best to make
some plan; it can be changed at any time.”

For a moment longer he looked at the dying flame. Then, dropping his
cigarette stub into it, he continued:

“If I were going alone to find a man among the Red Bones, I should go
first to the Mayorunas and work through them to make sure of a friendly
reception by the other people. I would–”

“Why, that’s the very thing Schwandorf suggested!”

“Yes? I have not heard what he said. Tell me.”

McKay did so. Lourenço smiled.

“Sometimes, Capitao, the devil puts into the hands of men a weapon which
is turned against himself. So it is now. That _Allemao_, Schwandorf,
never expected you to reach the people you seek, but the plan is good.
It would not be good if you followed it exactly as he laid it out, but
things have changed; and what you could not do with Peruvian companions,
or alone, you perhaps can do with us. I will show you.

“It happens that I have been twice among the cannibals living in a
certain _maloca_ which I can find again. Perhaps you know that those
people live in scattered _malocas_, each ruled by its own chief–”

“Yes, we know about that.”

“Good. Now if we went to any _maloca_ where we were not known we might
be killed at once. But at that _maloca_ of which I speak I am known to
the chief and all his fighting men, for I once led them on a raid into
Peru. So they will remember me–”

“What’s that?” Knowlton interrupted, in amazement. “You led a cannibal
tribe on the warpath?”

“Just so, senhor. It is a long story, but these are the facts:

“There was in Peru a gang of killers, robbers–and worse–who called
themselves the Peccaries. They raided one of the coronel’s camps where I
was in charge, killed all my gang except myself and one other, and used
us two as slaves and beasts of burden.

“The other man died from poison. I lived only to revenge myself on those
foul outlaws. There was much rubber of the coronel’s, worth much money
at that time, in the camp they had raided. So, after driving me like a
beast to their stronghold in the hills of Peru, they came back with
boats and Indian porters to get out that rubber.

“On that return journey I tried to kill the leader, who was called El
Amarillo–yellow-skinned. I failed, and he had me nailed with long
thorns to a tree where I might hang in torment for days, dying slowly.
See. Here are the marks.”

All three of the Americans had noticed on the previous day that each of
Lourenço’s hands was disfigured by a scar which looked as if a spike had
been driven through. Now he held those hands forward for their
inspection. Then he pulled off his loose shirt and rolled up his
trousers. They saw other scars in the big muscles before the armpits, in
the soft flesh under the ribs, in the thighs and calves.

“The dirty Hun!” Tim grated.

“That was not all, Senhor Tim. They also put fire ants on me, which bit
so cruelly that I nearly lost my mind from pain. Then they went on,
intending to have more sport with me when they came back with the
rubber. But after they left me two hunters of the cannibal tribe who had
been following a tapir’s track found me and took me down from the tree.

“Now the Peccaries before this had stolen some women from a Mayoruna
_maloca_ and were treating them like dogs–I saw one of those women
brutally murdered while I was captive in the outlaw camp. I managed to
tell the two hunters I could lead them to the Peccary stronghold and
give them revenge. They carried me to their _maloca_–I could not
walk–and told their chief what I had said. The chief caused my hurts to
be cured, and then I kept my promise.

“I guided the savages to the outlaw camp; they surrounded it, and in the
fight that followed every Peccary was killed except their leader. Now
that cannibal chief has not forgotten me–”

“Wait a minute,” protested Knowlton. “Did that Peccary leader escape?”

“No. He was kept alive until a big herd of peccaries was met. Then,
because he called himself ‘King of the Peccaries,’ he was nailed to a
tree, as I had been, and told to make the peccaries take out the thorns.
The wild pigs tore him into ribbons with their tusks.”

Calmly he donned his shirt again. Tim, staring at him, twitched his
shoulders as if a chill had gone down his back.

“Ugh!” muttered Knowlton.

“So now,” Lourenço resumed, “if I can find that chief again–he may have
been killed in some tribal fight before now–he may be friendly to all
of us. Or he may not. Savages cannot be relied on with much certainty.
But if any of the Mayorunas will help us, he will. It is worth trying.”

“And if he is not friendly–” Knowlton paused.

“We do not come back,” Pedro finished. “Have you a better plan?”

All shook their heads.

“Laurenco’s idea is excellent,” said McKay. “I was thinking along the
same line, though I did not know he had any such friendly relations with
a chief. That makes it all the more advisable to try it, unless we find
the Raposa first. We, of course, will not land at the place where
Schwandorf told us to go ashore, seven days from here.”

“By no means,” Lourenço concurred. “In five days we leave the river and
travel along the _ygarapé_. If we go to the _maloca_ it will be from
another direction than the river.”

He began preparing to travel. The others also went about the work of
breaking camp. By the time the canoes were loaded the mists had lifted
and the river lay open and empty before them. In the bush around and
beyond, gloom still lay thick and the forest life yelped, howled,
clattered, and wailed. But out on the water it was broad day, and far
overhead sounded the harsh cries of unseen parrots flying two by two in
the sunlight above the matted branches. The world of the pathless tropic
wilderness, ever dying, ever living, was about its daily business. The
five invaders were about theirs.

As the paddlers dipped, however, Knowlton held back.

“Say, Rod, we didn’t tell these fellows about Schwandorf’s Indian. Hold
up a second, men.”

While all rested on their paddles he spoke of the mysterious messenger
dispatched from Nazareth. Pedro and Lourenço contemplated the river,
then frowned.

“That may be of importance, senhores,” said Lourenço. “It may change
everything for us. We saw a lone Indian go past the coronel’s place,
traveling fast, three days before you came. I would give much to know
where he is now and what word he carries. A short man with a bad left
leg, you say. We shall keep watch for such a man. Perhaps we may meet
him.”

Wherein he predicted more accurately than he knew.

The canoes swung out and the paddlers settled into the steady stroke to
which they were growing accustomed. Hour after hour they forged on, the
Brazilians adjusting their speed to that of the Americans, who had not
yet attained the muscular ease of habitual canoemen. The miles flowed
slowly but surely behind them, the sun rolled higher and hotter, the
silence of approaching noon crept over the jungle on either side. Then,
as the time drew near when they would land for a more hearty meal than
that of the morning, Pedro pointed ahead.

Up out of the bush on the Peruvian shore rose a vulture. It flapped
sullenly away as if disappointed. The bushmen, quick to note anything
that might be a sign, paid no attention to the bird’s flight, but marked
with unerring eye the spot whence it had taken wing.

“Let us cross, comrades, and see what we may see,” Pedro called. “If
nothing is there, we can eat.”

But something was there. All saw it before they landed–the stern of a
small, speedy canoe almost concealed in a narrow rift at the bottom of
the bank. In the soil of the rising slope were the prints of bare feet.
And Pedro, scanning the tracks narrowly after he and the others reached
shore, asserted, “These were not made to-day.”

Up the bank they climbed, silent and watchful. At the top Lourenço took
the lead. In under big trees the five passed in file. A short distance
from the edge Lourenço stopped, looking at the ground. The others spread
out and stared at the thing he had found.

Between the buttress roots of a tall tree was a crude shelter of palm
leaves. Before this lay the scattered bones of a man. The skull had been
crushed by a mighty blow.

The bones were picked clean–had been stripped and torn asunder days
before, and the vulture which had just left had gotten nothing for its
belated visit. Among them were remnants of cloth, a belt and a machete,
and strands of coarse black hair. A few feet away lay a cheap “trade”
gun. Lourenço inspected the weapon and laid it back.

“Did he shoot before he was downed?” asked Knowlton.

“No. The gun is loaded. His death came from above.” The bushman ran his
eye up the towering tree, then pointed to a large dark object on the
ground near by.

“Castanha–Brazil-nut tree,” he explained. “That heavy nut fell and
smashed the Indian’s skull like an egg. Indian, yes. His gun, his
shelter, and his hair show that. And”–stooping and pointing at one of
the bones–“that bone shows who he was. See, Capitao.”

McKay looked down on a leg bone. At some time the leg had been broken
and badly set, if set at all. The bone was crooked.

“A short Indian with a crooked leg. Schwandorf’s messenger!”

“_Si._ No man will ever receive the message he bore. He camped here days
ago. Now he camps here forever.”

CHAPTER XII.

THE ARROW

Slowly, silently, two canoes glided along the still, dark water of a
gloomy creek over-arched by the interlaced limbs of lofty trees.

The first, propelled by the slow-dipping blades of two Brazilian
bushmen, seemed to be seeking something; for it nosed along with
frequent pauses of the paddles, during which it drifted almost to a stop
while its crew searched the solemn jungle depths reaching away from the
right-hand shore. The second, carrying three bronzed and bearded men of
another continent, was only trailing the leader. It moved and paused
like the first, but the recurrent scrutiny of the farther gloom by its
paddlers was that of men who saw only a meaningless, monotonous bulk of
buttresses and trunks and tangle of looping lianas. In this dimness and
bewildering chaos the trio might as well have been blind. The eyes of
the tiny fleet were in the first boat.

The progress of the dugouts was almost stealthy. Not a paddle thumped or
splashed, not a voice spoke. They moved with the alert caution born not
of fear, but of wary readiness for any sudden event–like prowling
jungle creatures which, themselves seeking quarry, must be ever on guard
lest they become the hunted instead of the hunters.

For the past two days they had moved thus. The last fresh meat had been
shot miles down the river, where a well-placed bullet from the rifle of
McKay had downed a fat swamp deer. Since that day not a gun had been
fired. The rations now were tough jerked beef and monkey meat, slabs of
salt pirarucu fish, and farinha, varied by tinned delicacies from the
stores of the Americans. Henceforth gunfire was taboo unless it should
become necessary in self-defense.

At length the fore canoe halted with an abruptness that told of back
strokes of the blades hidden under water. McKay, bowman of the trailing
craft, also backed water, while his mates held their paddles rigid. The
two boats drifted together.

“This is the place,” Lourenço said, speaking low.

The Americans, scanning the shore, saw nothing to differentiate the spot
from the rest of the wilderness growth. Yet Lourenço’s tone was sure.
Pedro’s face also showed recognition of his surroundings. With no
apparent motion of the paddles–though the wrists of the paddlers moved
almost imperceptibly–the canoe of the bushmen floated to the bank. They
picked up their rifles, twitched their bow up on land, and turned their
faces to the forest.

“Stay here,” was Pedro’s subdued command, “until you hear the bird-call
which we taught you down the river.”

He and Lourenço faded into the dimness and were gone.

“Beats me how them guys find their way ’round,” muttered Tim. “I could
land here twenty times hand-runnin’, but if I went away and then come
back I’d never know the place.”

“It’s all in the feel of it,” was McKay’s low-toned explanation. “They
find places and travel the bush as an Indian does–by a sixth sense.
Take them to New York City, guide them around, then turn them loose–and
they’d be hopelessly lost in ten minutes.”

The others nodded agreement and sat watching. In the shadows no creature
moved. Afar off some bird cried mournfully like a lost soul condemned to
wander forever alone in the grim green solitudes. No other sound came to
the listeners save the ever-present hum of the big forest mosquitoes, to
which they now had become indifferent. For all they could see or hear of
their two guides, they might as well have been alone. Yet they knew the
Brazilians were not far away, threading the maze with sure step and
scouting hawk-eyed for any sign of danger.

At length a long soft whistle sounded in the bush ahead. Any Indian
hunter hearing that sound would straightway have begun scanning the high
branches, for the liquid call was that of the mutum, or curassow turkey.
But the waiting trio knew it for Pedro’s signal that all was clear. At
once they slid their canoe to shore, lifted its bow to a firm grip on
the clay, and, after plumbing the shadows, quietly advanced in squad
column.

A few steps, and they halted suddenly and whirled. A voice had spoken
just behind them. There, squatting leisurely between the root buttresses
of a huge tree, Lourenço looked up at them in amusement. They had passed
within rifle length of him without seeing him.

“Of what use are your eyes, comrades?” he chaffed. “In the bush one
should see in all directions at once. You were looking at that patch of
sunlight just ahead, yes? But danger lurks in the shadows, not in the
glaring light.”

Without awaiting an answer, he arose and took the lead. At the edge of
the small sunlit space beyond he halted.

“You were heading for the right place,” he added then. “Look around. Do
you see anything?”

Swiftly they scrutinized the gap left by the fall of a great tree whose
gigantic trunk had bludgeoned weaker trees away in its crushing descent.
Seeing nothing unusual, they then peered around them. Tim suddenly
snapped up his rifle.

“Holler tree there–and a man in it! Hey! come out o’ there!”

“Your eyes improve,” Lourenço complimented. “But the man is Pedro.”

Tim lowered the gun as Pedro, grinning, came out of his concealment.

“That is the tree of the Raposa,” Lourenço went on. “The lightning
flashing in from above showed us the man. But now, senhores, I think we
must tramp the bush for some time before we find that Raposa again.
There is no trace of him here.”

“Hm!” said Knowlton. Striding to the hollow tree, he peered about inside
it. The cavity was almost big enough to sling a hammock in, but it was
empty of any indication of habitation, human or otherwise. A temporary
refuge–that was all.

“No sign anywhere around here, eh?” queried McKay.

“We have found none. We shall look farther, but I have small hope. If
you senhores will make the camp this time we shall start at once and
stay out until dark. Build no fire until we return. And if you hear the
call of the mutum, pay no attention to it; we may use it to locate each
other if we separate, and also perhaps as a decoy. Any wild man, red or
white, hearing that call would seek the bird making it, for a fine fat
mutum is well worth killing. Keep quiet and be on guard.”

“Right. Go ahead.”

The bushmen turned at once and stole away. The others returned to the
canoes, transported the necessary duffle to the base of the hollow tree,
made camp with a few poles, and squatted against the trunk to smoke,
watch, and wait. Several times they heard mutum calls receding in the
distance. Then came silence.

The sun-thrown shadows in the gap crawled steadily eastward. Knowlton
tested the feed of his automatic, which, since its balkiness in the
fight with the Peruvians, he had kept carefully oiled and free from the
slightest speck of rust. Tim arose at intervals and paced up and down in
sentry go, eyes and ears alert–a useless activity, but one which
provided an outlet for his restless energy. McKay let his gaze rove over
the small area visible from their post, studying the contours of the
towering trunks, the prone giant whose fall had opened the hole in the
leafy roof, the parasitical vines twined about other trees, the thin,
outflung buttresses supporting the mighty columns–all familiar sights
to him, but the only things to occupy his vision. So limned on his brain
did the scene become that after a time he could close his eyes and see
it in every important detail.

It might have been two hours after Pedro and Lourenço had departed–the
shadows had grown much longer–when over McKay stole the feeling that he
was being watched. He glanced at his companions and found that neither
of them was looking at him. Knowlton, sitting with hands clasped around
updrawn knees, was dozing. Tim, though wide awake, was staring absently
at a fungus. The captain’s eyes searched the short vistas all about,
spying nothing new. Still the feeling persisted. Then all at once his
roaming gaze stopped, became fixed on a point some forty feet away.

There rose a rough-barked red-brown tree, and from it, near the ground,
projected a blackish bole. McKay was very sure the protuberance had not
been there before. He had stared steadily at that tree more than once,
and its shape was quite clear in his mind. Was that bump an insensate
wood growth now revealed for the first time by the changing sun slant,
or–

For minutes he watched it. It did not move. Then Tim, restless again,
rose directly in McKay’s line of sight, yawned silently, swung his gun
to his shoulder, and began another slow parade of his self-appointed
post. When he had stepped aside McKay looked again for the puzzling
bole.

It was gone.

With a bound the captain was up and dashing toward the tree, drawing his
pistol as he ran. But within three strides he went down. A tough vine,
unnoticed on the ground, looped snakily around one ankle and threw him
hard. His gun flew from his hand. As he fell a tiny whispering sound
flitted past, followed by a small blow somewhere behind him. Ensued a
gruff grunt from Tim and the swift clatter of a breech bolt.

Raging, McKay kicked his foot loose and heaved himself up. Empty handed,
he continued his rush for the tree. But when he reached it he found
nothing behind it. If anything had been there it now was gone, and the
vacant shadows beyond were as inscrutable as ever.

Feet padded behind him and Tim and Knowlton halted on either side. A
moment of silent searching, and Tim broke into reproach.

“Cap, don’t never do that again! If ye take a tumble in my line o’ fire,
for the love o’ Mike stay down till I shoot! I come so near drillin’ ye
when ye hopped up that I’m sweatin’ blood right now.”

In truth, the veteran was pale around the mouth and his broad face was
beaded with cold drops.

“I seen more ‘n one time in France when I felt like shootin’ my s’perior
officer, but I never come so near doin’ it as jest now. I had finger to
trigger and had took up the slack, and a hair’s weight more pull would
have spattered yer head all around. And besides givin’ me heart failure
ye let that guy git away. We’ll never find him–”

“You saw him?” McKay cut in.

“I seen somethin’ beyond ye–couldn’t make out what ’twas, but from the
way ye was goin’ over the top I knowed it must be a man. And then when
the arrer come–”

“Arrow?”

“Sure. Missed ye when ye took that flop, and stuck in the tree over
yonder. What’d ye rush the guy for, anyways? Whyn’t ye drill him from
where ye was?”

In the reaction from his sudden fright Tim was as wrathfully ready to
“bawl out” his captain as if he were some raw rookie. McKay, with a cool
smile, explained his abrupt action, meanwhile reconnoitering the dimness
for any further sign of the vanished assailant. None showed.

While Tim stood vigilant guard the other two stooped and moved around
the base of the tree, narrowly examining the ground. Beyond it they
paused at one spot, fingered the soil lightly, and lit a match or two.

“No ghost,” said Knowlton. “Barefoot man. Didn’t leave much trace, but
enough to show he was here. Let’s look at that arrow.”

Back to the hollow tree they went, retrieving McKay’s pistol on the way.
About a yard above the earth a long shaft projected from the bark.
Knowlton reached for it, but McKay held him back and drew it out.

“M-hm! Thought so!” he muttered. “Poisoned.”

“Oof! Nice, gentle sort of a cuss,” rumbled Tim. “That smear on the
point–is that poison?”

“Poison. Quickest and deadliest kind of poison. Mixes instantly with
blood. Paralysis–convulsions–death. The least scratch and you’re gone.
Wicked head on this thing, too: looks like a piece of serrated bone. See
all those little barbs along the edges? War arrow, all right.”

“Meanin’ that we’ll be jumped pretty soon by more Injuns. If that guy’s
on the warpath he ain’t alone.”

“Wouldn’t be a bad idea to take cover,” nodded McKay. Turning the
five-foot shaft downward, he plunged its head into the soft ground and
left it sticking there, harmless.

“Tim, go down and guard the canoes. Merry, lie in between these roots
and keep watch off that way. I’ll go over to that tree where the spy
hid.”

For another hour the camp was silent. Each in his covert, finger on
trigger, the trio watched with ceaseless vigilance, expecting each
instant to detect dusky forms crawling up from tree to tree. Yet nothing
of the sort came. Nor did any hostile sound reach them. Somewhere
parrots squawked, somewhere else the puppylike yapping of toucans
disturbed the solitude; nothing else.

The wan light faded. The sun crawled up the trees, leaving all the
ground in shadow. Then, not far off, sounded the soft whistle of the
mutum. Suspicious, the watchers held their places until, with another
whistle, Pedro came into view, followed by Lourenço.

McKay arose, met them, and briefly explained the situation. They nodded,
but seemed undisturbed.

“We can start a fire now, Capitao,” Lourenço said. “Night comes and we
are hungry. There will be no danger before another dawn.”

With which he leaned his rifle against a tree and started immediate
preparations for a meal. Pedro continued on to the canoes, made sure
they were drawn up high enough to remain in place in case of any sudden
rain, and returned with Tim. Around them now resounded the swiftly
rising roar of the nightly outbreak of animal life. The sun vanished. At
once blackness whelmed all except the little fire.

“See anything while you were out?” asked McKay.

“We found no trace of the Raposa,” Lourenço evaded.

“What do you plan to do now?”

“Eat–smoke–talk–sleep.”

McKay eyed the bushman keenly, feeling that he was holding something
back. But, feeling also that this pair knew what they were about, he
bided his time. When all had eaten and tobacco smoke was blending with
that of the burning wood, Lourenço drew the arrow from the ground and
studied it. Then he passed it to Pedro, who, after a critical
examination, held it in the blaze until the deadly head was burned away.

“A big-game arrow of the cannibal Mayorunas,” said Lourenço. “The point,
with its sawtooth barbs, is made from the tail bone of the araya, the
flat devilfish of the swamp lakes. That fish, as you perhaps know, has a
whiplike tail armed with that bone; and if he strikes the bone into your
flesh it breaks off and stays in the wound, and you are likely to die.”

“But in that case death comes from gangrene,” McKay remarked. “This
point has been dipped in wurali poison.”

“You have seen such arrows before, Capitao?”

“Seen the poison before, yes. Over in British Guiana. The Macusi Indians
make it from the wurali vine, some bitter root or other, a couple of
bulbous plants, two kinds of ants–one big and black with a venomous
bite, the other small and red–a lot of pepper, and the pounded fangs of
labarri and couanacouchi snakes. They boil all this stuff down to a
thick syrup, and that’s the poison. The man who makes it is sick for
days afterward.”

“Our cannibals make that poison in much the same way. Yet Guiana is many
hundreds of miles from here, and our Indians know nothing of those
Macusi people. Queer, is it not, that the same plan should be used by
savages thousands of miles apart?”

“Rather odd. Must have started from some common source hundreds of years
ago and spread around. Queerest thing is, though, that a poison so
deadly doesn’t spoil meat for eating.”

“Huh?” exclaimed Tim. “Mean to say them cannibals can kill us by
scratchin’ us with a poison arrer and then stummick us afterwards?”

“Exactly. You’d taste just as sweet as ever, Tim–maybe more so. Cheer
up! They say it doesn’t hurt much to die that way; you’re paralyzed so
quick you just sort of fade out.”

Tim shook his head, his abhorrence of poison strong as ever. Knowlton
spoke.

“I’ve heard that this wurali poison is much overrated, that it will kill
only birds and monkeys, not men.”

“_Por Deus!_ Whoever said that was a fool trying to appear wise!” Pedro
snorted. “We have seen the poison death, and we know.”

McKay also shook his head.

“Experiments have been made with the wurali of the Macusis,” he stated.
“It was tried on a hog, a sloth–and a sloth is mighty hard to
kill–also on mules, and on a full-grown ox weighing almost half a ton.
It killed every one of them.”

A momentary silence followed. Tim gazed sourly at the arrow, now
harmless but still sinister.

“Urrrgh!” he growled. “Cap, ye had a narrer squeak–come near gittin’ it
from in front, and behind, too. Wisht I could have drilled that guy.”

The bushmen grinned. And Lourenço’s next speech was amazing.

“Be thankful you did not. That bullet might have killed us all.”

After enjoying their puzzled expressions a moment he continued.

“We are nearer to a Mayoruna _maloca_ than I thought. Not the one I
intended to seek, but a smaller one. It is about three days’ journey
from here, and to reach it we must go through the bush. The man who left
this arrow here to-day is from that _maloca_.

“A week ago his brother went hunting, and he has not returned. So this
young savage and three of his comrades now are searching the bush for
some sign of him. To-day they separated, each going in a different
direction, agreeing to meet again to-night at a place less than half a
day’s journey from here. This man circled around and worked along this
creek, knowing his brother would hardly go beyond the water. He spied
our canoes, then sought the men who had come in them and found you.

“He watched you for some time, and if you had not rushed at him he would
have slipped away without attacking you, for he was alone and he saw
your guns. But when you, Capitao, suddenly leaped at him he darted away,
then stopped long enough to send an arrow at you. After that he dodged
out of sight and ran to the camp of his three friends. He is there now,
telling about you.”

“Great guns! You chaps are wizards!” cried Knowlton. “How do you know
all this?”

“Because we met him while on our way back here. He was running hard, and
we heard him, so we blocked him. After we convinced him that we were
friendly we talked for some time–I can speak their tongue–and he told
us about you. He was sure you were enemies to him and his people, and
believed also you had killed his missing brother, and he was going first
to rejoin his companions and then hasten to the _maloca_ to bring all
their fighters against you. It was well that we met him in time. It was
well, too, that you did not shoot him–or even shoot at him. His
companions would have learned of it, and then–death for us all.”

“And now what?”

“Now, comrades, we all go to the _maloca_ of that man. We meet him and
the other three to-morrow at the place where we talked to him to-day. I
told him we were going to visit that other chief whom I knew, and,
though he was at first suspicious of a trap, he finally agreed to lead
us to his own chief. So in the morning we march. Now let us sleep.”

Knowlton and McKay glanced at each other and nodded.

“Luck’s with us so far,” said the captain.

“Right. We just march right into Jungle Town with bodyguard and
everything. Pretty soft! Wonder if they’ll turn out the tomtom band to
drum us in.”

Tim said nothing. He squinted again at the headless arrow, then
inspected the breech bolt of his rifle.

CHAPTER XIII.

THE WAY OF THE JUNGLE

Dawn came, dismal, damp, and chill. Moisture dripped drearily from the
upper reaches, and under the dense canopy of leaves and limbs the gloom
and the fog together made a murk wherein the early-rising bushmen were
scarcely visible to the North Americans ten feet away. Yet day had come,
or was coming; the noise of the animal world left little doubt of that.

By the light of a sullen smoky fire and oil-smeared torches Pedro and
Lourenço made up their packs, cording them roughly with bark-cloth
strips brought from headquarters. The Americans, after eating a more
solid meal than the Brazilians seemed to require, also rolled their
blankets, hammocks, nets, and other paraphernalia; strapped the outfits
into the army pack harnesses which they had transported for thousands of
miles and never yet used; crammed their web belts with cartridges; slung
their sheathed machetes down their left thighs; looked to their guns;
and announced themselves ready to go.

While the northerners made these final preparations their guides slipped
away for a time. Pedro, on his return, announced that the canoes had
been concealed. Lourenço, bringing back the freshly filled canteens of
the ex-army men, delivered with them the marching orders of the day.

“If you thirst, comrades, drink only from your canteens. If the canteens
fail, never fill them from flowing water unless the Indians also drink
from the stream. There are always small pools to be found, and, though
their water may be warm and stale, it is not likely to be poisoned, as
the streams may be.

“To-day, and every day after we meet the cannibals, make no suspicious
moves. Do not speak harshly. Do not laugh or sneer at them. They are
unreasoning and easily insulted, and lifelong foes when angered. Let me
do the talking.

“Do not hold a gun in a threatening manner or draw pistols unless you
must fight. Then kill.

“Above all, pay no attention to their women.

“Now we go. I lead.”

He turned and strode away into the fog as easily and surely as if
cat-eyed and cat-footed. Pedro swung nonchalantly after him. The others
followed in order, hitching at their backstraps.

The ghostly haze about them now was paler, but through the interstices
overhead came no glint of sunshine, nor even the glow of a clear dawn.
The whole sky evidently was overcast, and around the marching men the
gloom still lay thick. Yet Lourenço’s eyes seemed to bore through the
shades and the dark shroud blurring the trunks, for his steady gait did
not falter. The little file hung close together, for all knew that any
man straggling would be instantly lost.

Worming around gigantic columns, crawling over rotting trunks long laid
low, changing direction abruptly when blocked by some great butt too
high to be scaled, sinking ankle-deep in clinging mud, the venturesome
band wound along through the wilderness. Repeated glances at his compass
showed McKay that the general trend of the march was southeast; but the
impassable obstacles encountered at frequent intervals necessitated not
only detours, but sometimes actual back-tracking.

“Walk four miles to advance one,” was his thought. And for some time it
seemed that such was the case. But then the ground changed, the light
improved, the trees thinned, and the undergrowth became more dense–and,
paradoxically, the rate of progress improved.

This was because the smaller growth gave the two leaders a chance to cut
their way straight onward instead of dodging about; and cut they did.
Their machetes swung with untiring energy, opening a path through what
seemed an impenetrable tangle. Now every yard of movement was a yard
gained. But the ground was rising and the struggle up some of the sharp
slopes winded more than one man.

Then the slope dipped the other way, and they slipped down into a ravine
where water gleamed darkly. Here a halt was called while the leaders
sought for a fallen tree. Tim squatted and mopped his face for the
hundredth time.

“Gosh! This is what I call travelin’!” he panted. “Flounderin’ round in
mud soup, bit to death by skeeters and them what-ye-call-’em
flies–piums–sweatin’ yerself bone dry and totin’ forty thousand
pounds, on yer back, not to mention hardware slung all over ye–this
ain’t no place for a minister’s son or a fat guy, I’ll tell the world.
And this is only the start!”

A call from Pedro forestalled any answer. The trio struggled along to
the spot where the guides waited at the butt of a slanting tree trunk
spanning the gulf. As they reached it Pedro walked carefully up the
trunk, carrying a long slender sapling, which he lowered and fixed in
the bottom of the stream. Then, steadying himself with the upper end of
this pole, he continued his journey to the other side, where he flipped
the sapling back to Lourenço. One by one the others crossed, slipping,
almost losing balance, but managing to evade a fall. Tim, walking the
precarious bridge and looking down, saw that the surface of the water
was dotted with the heads of venomous snakes.

“Are you following your trail of yesterday?” demanded McKay.

“No, Capitao. Yesterday we circled. To-day we go as nearly straight as
possible.”

“And you can find the appointed place by this new route?” The captain’s
tone was dubious.

“Certainly. Else I should go the other way. Come.”

Up another bank they toiled, and on through rugged country which seemed
momentarily to become higher and harder to traverse. In the minds of the
Americans grew suspicion that, for the first time, the Brazilians were
bluffing; it seemed impossible for any man to keep his sense of
direction in such a maze. But they said no word and followed on.

At length the leader paused and sent the long call of the mutum floating
through the trees. No answer came. After a moment the line moved on,
each man peering ahead with sharper gaze, each holding a little tighter.
To the Americans, at least, the thought of possible ambush loomed large.

Four man-eating savages, hidden in this labyrinthine tangle and armed
with arrows whose slightest scratch meant death, could strike down every
man of this expedition without even a wound in return; for of what avail
were high-power guns, automatic pistols, and machetes against invisible
enemies? Yet there was assurance in Lourenço’s confident air, and
reassurance in the thought that these tribemen would be unlikely to
assail a band avowedly on its way to visit their chief.
Besides–Knowlton smiled grimly–even if the Mayorunas hungered for
human flesh it would be more economical of labor to let the meat travel
to the slaughterhouse on its own legs than to kill it here and carry it
home.

Again the mutum whistle drifted away. Again no answer came. For a short
distance farther the file continued its march. Then, in a small opening
where the uptorn roots of a tree rose like a wall at one side, it
halted.

“The place of meeting,” Pedro said. All peered around. None saw anything
but the upstanding roots, the forest jumble, the misty serpentine
lianas. None heard any sound but their own hoarse breathing, the solemn
drip of water, the insect hum, and the occasional melancholy notes of
birds. The place seemed bare of life. Yet upon McKay came again that
feeling of being watched.

Slowly, deeply, Lourenço spoke. The words meant nothing to his mates.
They were like no words they knew. His eyes roved about as he talked,
and it was evident that he saw no more than did the silent men behind
him. But they guessed that he said he and they were there as agreed,
with peace in their hearts, and that he was telling the men of the
wilderness to come forward without fear. And they guessed rightly.

As quietly as a phantom of the mist a man took shape at the edge of the
tree roots. Tall, straight, slender, symmetrically proportioned, with
unblemished skin of light-bronze hue, straight black hair, and deep dark
eyes, he was a splendid type of savage. Face and body were adorned with
glossy paint–scarlet and black rings around the eyes, two red stripes
from temple to chin, wavy lines on arms and chest. He held a bow longer
than himself, with a five-foot arrow fitted loosely to the string and
pointed downward, but ready for instant use. Diagonally across his body
ran a cord supporting a quiver, from which the feathered shafts of
several arrows projected above his left shoulder. Around his waist
looped another cord from which dangled a small loin mat. Otherwise he
was totally nude–a bronze statue of freedom.

Lourenço spoke again in the same quiet tone. The savage stepped warily
forward. At the same moment three other naked men appeared with equal
stealth from tree trunks which had seemed barren of all life. Like the
first, each of these held an arrow ready, but pointing downward; and
each moved with the slow, velvety step of a hunting jaguar. Their eyes
searched those of these strange men of another world who, wearing
useless clothing, carrying heavy weapons of steel, burdening themselves
with queer weights on their backs, now invaded the wilderness which they
and their fathers had roamed untrammeled for centuries. The invaders in
turn studied the faces of the Mayorunas, of whom so many gruesome tales
were told. For long silent minutes primitive and civilized man probed
each other for signs of treachery–and found none.

Tim, forgetting the orders of the day, spoke out abruptly. At the gruff
jar of his voice the wild men started and raised their weapons.

“Say, are those guys cannibals? I was lookin’ to see some ugly mutts
with underslung jaws and mops o’ frizzy hair, like them Feejee Islanders
ye see pitchers of. Barrin’ the paint, I’ve seen worse-lookin’ fellers
than these back home.”

With which he gave the savages a wide, unmistakably approving grin.

“Shut up!” muttered McKay.

Lourenço, unruffled, made instant capital of Tim’s remarks.

“My comrade of the red hair,” he said in the Indian tongue, “has never
before seen the mighty warriors of the Mayorunas, and is astonished to
find them such handsome men. He says his own countrymen are not so good
to look upon.”

Slowly the menacing arrows sank. As the savages studied Tim’s wholesome
grin and absorbed the broad flattery of Lourenço a slight smile passed
over their faces. They stood more at ease. The whites sensed at once
that, for a moment, at least, a friendly footing had been established,
and relaxed from their own tension.

Once more Lourenço spoke, motioning toward the farther distances. The
Indian who had first appeared now replied briefly. Two of the others
stepped back to their trees and lifted long, hollow tubes.

“What’s them?” demanded Tim.

“Blowguns,” Pedro answered. “They use them for small or thin-skinned
game. See, the two blowgun men carry also short darts in their quivers,
and small pouches of poison.”

“Uh-huh. They like their poison a dang sight better ‘n I do. Say, are
them guys goin’ to march behind us? I don’t want no poison needles
slipped into my back, accidental or other ways.”

Two of the savages were walking toward the rear of the line. Knowlton,
exasperated, snapped out:

“They’ll walk where they like, and you’ll do well to give us more
marching and less mouth. You nearly spilled the beans just now, and if
Lourenço hadn’t said something that pleased these fellows we all might
be in the soup this minute. Pipe down!”

“Aw, Looey, I only said these guys were good-lookin’. Ain’t no fight in
words like that.”

“You heard the orders this morning. Let Lourenço do the talking. That
goes! We’re skating on thin ice–so thin that if it breaks we drop plump
into hell. Less noise!”

“Right, sir,” was the sulky answer. “I’m deaf and dumb.”

“March,” added McKay. The head of the column already was on the move,
led by the tallest Indian and a blowgun man, behind whom walked the two
Brazilians. The whole line took up the step in turn and passed on into
the unknown.

Again McKay consulted his compass at intervals, finding that now the
route led more to the south, though there still was an easterly trend.
After a time, however, the telltale needle informed him that they were
proceeding almost due east, and glances at the surroundings showed that
on their right was a densely matted mass of undergrowth. Not long
afterward another interwoven brush wall blocked the way, and this time
the leader veered to the west. Not until an opening appeared did he
resume his southward course. It dawned on McKay that the savages, having
no bush knives, were accustomed to follow the line of least resistance.
This obviously increased the distance traveled.

The men of Coronel Nunes, too, perceived this. A halt was called, during
which Lourenço talked with the guide, tapped his machete, and evidently
protested against needless detours. The leader, with a few words,
pointed south. Lourenço nodded and replied. The march was resumed, and
when the next impenetrable tangle was encountered the Indians in the van
stepped aside, the machetes of the Brazilians flashed out, and a way was
cut straight through. From that time on the long knives came into
frequent play and a direct course was maintained.

Suddenly, with a grunt of warning, the tall tribesman stopped. The plan
of chopping through instead of going around had brought the Indians into
a part of the forest which they had not heretofore traversed in their
search for the missing hunter. Now they stood in a small trough between
the knolls, under good-sized trees around which grew little brush. The
ground was soft, almost watery. In the damp air, faint but unmistakable,
hung the odor of death.

The savages at the rear came forward at once. All four of them spread
out and, sniffing the air, advanced up the trough. A cry broke from one
of them. The others, and the white men, too, hastened to the spot whence
the call had come.

Scattered about in the soft muck were bones, two skulls, bits of tawny
fur, a long bow, several big-game arrows. Around them the ground was
marked with many tracks. Most of the imprints were of the vultures which
had stripped the bones, but there were others–those of a barefoot man,
of a great cat, and of a couple of wild hogs. The peccary tracks went
straight on, but those of the man and the cat showed that a fierce
struggle had occurred. And one of the two grinning skulls was that of a
jaguar.

The story was plain. The hunter, following fast on the trail of the
hogs, had suddenly met the jaguar. He had shot it; one arrow, blood
stained for more than a foot above the barb, proved that. But in the few
seconds of life left to it the animal had sprung and fatally torn the
man. Then, as usual, had dropped the black scavengers of the sky to rend
them both.

Silently the men of the bush and the men of the north looked down at the
brief history written in the mud–a story only a week old, yet ancient
as human life itself–primitive man and ferocious brute destroying each
other as in the prehistoric days when saber-toothed tiger and troglodyte
hunted and slew for the right to live. And as it had been then, so it
was now. The living read the tale of tragedy and passed on, leaving the
bones behind them. Only, before they went, the Mayorunas threw the
remnants of the jaguar aside and piled the bones of their dead comrade
together in one place. Then, bearing with them his bow and arrows, they
resumed their way without a word.

CHAPTER XIV.

A DUEL WITH DEATH

Rain came and went.

The first night’s camp of the strangely assorted company was a wet one,
for well on in the day the skies poured down the watery weight which had
been troubling them once morning. Yet even in such miserable weather the
four tribesmen of the Mayorunas declined to sleep in the same camp with
the whites. They accepted the food tendered them, but when it was eaten
they withdrew to some covert of their own to spend the night. Whereby
the whites knew that, though their guides now could no longer suspect
them of killing the lone hunter, they still were not accepted as
friends.

“Did ye say them guys had a trick of jabbin’ men in their hammicks at
night, Renzo?” was Tim’s significant question after the Indians had
departed.

“Have no fear,” Lourenço assured him. “They have promised to take us
safely to their chief.”

“How much is the word of a cannibal worth?” asked Knowlton.

“Worth everything, so long as you do nothing to make them forget it,
senhor. Being uncivilized, they are not liars.”

The lieutenant eyed him sharply, half minded to regard the answer as
insolent. But there was no insolence in the Brazilian’s straightforward
gaze, and McKay laughed approvingly.

“Well spoken!” was the captain’s comment.

“Among those people there are but two great crimes,” Lourenço added.
“They are, to speak falsely or to be a coward.”

“Wherein a goodly portion of the so-called civilized world would fail to
measure up to the standards of these cannibals,” McKay said. “By the
way, have you asked them about the Raposa?”

“No, Capitao. It is as well not to put into their heads the idea that we
are hunting anyone here. I shall say nothing of that matter until we
reach the chief who knows me.”

“Good idea.”

With that the talk ended and all sought their hammocks, dog tired from
the day’s travel. No watch was kept, for, as Pedro quaintly phrased it,
“We now are in the hands of God and the cannibals.” Nor was any watch
needed.

Daybreak brought sunlight. While the breakfast coffee was being boiled
the four wild men appeared silently and simultaneously, one bringing a
red howling monkey and another a large green parrot as their
contributions to the morning meal. Neither bird nor animal showed any
wound except a slightly discolored spot surrounding a skin puncture no
larger than if made by a woman’s hatpin–the marks left by poisoned
darts from the ten-foot blowguns. When the meat was cooked they offered
portions to the whites, of whom Tim alone refused.

“I’d as quick eat a rat killed with Paris green,” he growled. “No
poisoned meat gits into my stummick if I know it.”

“Bosh!” scoffed McKay. “It’s perfectly wholesome–though it’s tough as a
rubber boot.”

“And I might tell you, senhores, that among these people it is an insult
to refuse any food offered you,” added Lourenço. “I advise you to forget
about the poison hereafter and eat what is put before you, even if it
stinks.”

His advice was emphasized by the evident displeasure of the tribesmen,
who, though saying nothing, looked rather grimly at the man who had
despised their provisions. But Lourenço then smoothed over the matter by
telling them that the red-haired man was sick at the stomach that
morning–which, at that particular moment, was not far from the truth.

Soon the triglot column was once more on its way across the hill
country, which hourly grew higher and rougher–a constant succession of
ridges and ravines. Lourenço, pointing out the absence of water marks on
the trees of the uplands, said that now the land of the great annual
floods had been left behind; for even the sixty-foot rise of waters in
the rainy season could not reach to these hilltops. With the entry into
this terra firma the travelers had also found the sun again, the dank
mist of yesterday having vanished. Nevertheless, the going was fully as
hard as on the previous day, because of the density of the bush and of
the labor of crossing the narrow but deep streams flowing at the bottom
of nearly every clove. Few words were exchanged, every man needing his
breath for the work of walking.

As before, the keen machetes of the Brazilians opened a direct route
through all opposing undergrowth. When a brief halt was called at noon
the Mayorunas, who seemed to know exactly where they were despite the
fact that they had never before followed this straight course, informed
Lourenço that much circuitous traveling had already been saved, and that
by tramping hard until sundown they might succeed in reaching the tribal
_maloca_ that night. But McKay vetoed the idea of a forced march.

“This gait is fast enough and hard enough,” he declared. “No sense in
exhausting ourselves to save a few hours’ time. Also, we don’t want to
go staggering into the Mayoruna village with our tongues hanging out and
our knees wabbling. First impressions are lasting with such people, and
they might get an idea we were weaklings.”

To which all except the savages, who did not understand the language of
the white man, assented approvingly.

Yet it was the Mayorunas themselves who delayed arrival at their
_maloca_–the Mayorunas and a monkey. When the sinking sun was still two
hours high, and while the leader was forcing the pace as if determined
to reach home that night whether the rest liked it or not, the monkey
upset any such plan.

He was a big gray monkey, and he was high up in the branches of a tall
matamata tree, where he deemed himself safe from the many creatures
laboring along the ground below. Wherefore he chattered impudently down
at them and, as the tall Indian guide halted, showed his teeth
derisively. The savage grunted. The man behind him also grunted and
lifted his blowgun. But the leader growled at him and the blowgun sank.

With a swift sweep of the hand the guide drew from his quiver one of
those long, poisoned arrows and fitted it to the bow cord, which he had
laid on the ground. With two toes of each foot he held the cord firmly
on the soil. His right hand lightly grasped the arrow and aimed it up at
the insolent primate. His left drew the bow up, up, into an arc.

_Twang!_ the cord thrummed as his lifted toes released it. The arrow
whirred aloft. Then a snarl of chagrin from the marksman blended with
the grunts of his mates. The arrow had failed to reach the quarry.

It had missed, however, by a mere hand’s breadth–missed only because it
struck the limb directly under the monkey, where it hung by the tip from
the bark. Muttering something which may have been a Mayoruna
malediction, the savage moved aside a step or two, drew another arrow,
and set it to the cord with more care than before. But while he did this
the monkey was not idle.

Chattering in rage, the animal leaned down, worked the arrow loose from
the bark, and threw it aside. The deadly shaft turned in air, then
plunged aimlessly earthward. At that instant all below were watching the
guide, who in turn was looking at his toes and placing the new arrow in
position. Unseen, the other missile hurtled down–and ripped across the
back of the marksman’s left hand.

For an instant the tall cannibal stood as if petrified, staring at his
cut hand and the shaft now sticking upright in the ground beside him.
Then, in simple symbolism, he reversed the new arrow and stabbed it also
into the dirt. Dropping his bow, he lay down on his back.

“Yuara will draw bow no more. Yuara goes to join the spirits of the
dead,” he said, calmly.

Mechanically Lourenço translated the words. McKay sprang forward.

“No!” he disputed. “Not without a try for life, anyhow! Merry, sling a
tourniquet! Quick!”

Knowlton jumped to the side of Yuara, tied a handkerchief above the
elbow, twisted it tight. McKay whipped from a pocket a keen-bladed
knife. In one swift ruthless slash he laid open the arm from elbow to
knuckles.

“Keep that tourniquet tight!” he snapped. “If the blood once gets past
it he’s gone. Tim, get out the salt bag! Lourenço, tell this fellow to
breathe deep and keep it up!”

While Tim burrowed into his pack for the salt, Lourenço spoke, as much
for the benefit of the other tribesmen as for that of Yuara; for the
three Mayorunas stood in ominous silence, watching the outrush of blood
caused by the knife of the white man.

“The white man of the black beard, who is very wise, will save Yuara to
draw many a good bow if Yuara will do as he says. Let Yuara breathe
deeply, that the spirit of life remain in him to fight against the demon
of death. Even now the poison rushes out of the arm of Yuara.”

“Yuara cannot live,” was Yuara’s cool reply. “Where once the poison has
entered, there follows death.”

“Is Yuara then a coward, that he will die without a fight? Then he is no
Mayoruna, for no Mayoruna is a coward. Let Yuara die if he will. His
comrades shall carry to their _maloca_ the tale that, although the white
man would have saved him, he died like an old woman, because he had not
the will to live!”

Fire shot into the eyes of the prostrate man. He ground his teeth and
struggled to rise and throttle the insulting Brazilian.

“No, not that way,” Lourenço went on at once. “Yuara can fight the death
demon only by drawing into himself the air in which is the spirit of
life. The wise white man has stopped the poison at the place where the
cloth is tied, and he knows the air spirits will help Yuara if Yuara
will breathe deep and long. If he will not, then the white man’s
medicine cannot save him. Yuara’s life or death is in his own hands.”

In his heart Lourenço had faint hope that the injured man would live.
But he knew the rest of the cannibal tribe must soon hear the tale of
this incident from the three now present, and he was preparing an
excellent excuse for the failure of McKay to save him. Whether Yuara
lived or not, the Mayorunas now would know that the whites had done
their utmost for him, and that very fact might make a vast difference.

Yuara, though his eyes still flamed, sank back under McKay’s restraining
weight and obeyed orders. After the first couple of breaths he settled
into his task and his chest rose and fell rhythmically.

“Here’s yer salt, Cap. What’ll I do with it?”

“You come here and hold this tourniquet. Don’t let it slip! Merry, fill
this chap’s mouth with salt. Lourenço, tell him to hold it as long as
possible, then swallow it. Now, Merry, fix up a good strong salt
poultice. The rest of you make camp. We’ve got a stiff fight on our
hands, and we can’t go farther until we’ve either won or lost.”

The Brazilians glanced at the sun shadows and remained where they were.
According to their experience, Yuara should be dead within ten minutes
at most. Time enough to make camp when they knew how this venture would
result. The Mayorunas also stood fast and watched for the shadow of
death to blanch the face of their stricken mate.

But the minutes dragged past and Yuara’s eyes did not grow dim. His
first resignation over and his fighting blood aroused, he was battling
grimly against fate. At times his deep respirations were broken by
sudden gasps, and spasmodic quivers shook his whole body. But he
breathed on, paying no heed to the burning pain of his ripped and salted
arm.

“By cripes! he’s puttin’ up a man’s scrap!” blurted Tim. “Stay with it,
old feller. Ye’ll win out yet!”

And as more minutes passed and the wounded man still breathed, a murmur
of wonderment passed among the cannibals and the men of Nunes. Yuara
should be dead, yet he was not even paralyzed. Such a thing had never
before been known in this bush.

Lourenço touched Pedro’s arm.

“Find a spot where we can make camp,” he said. “I must stay here to
speak to the wild men if words are needed.”

Reluctantly Pedro went away. Soon he was back with news of a suitable
place. He found all bending closer over Yuara, whose breathing had
become stertorous and whose eyes seemed fixed.

“Going!” was the bushman’s thought. But the others would not have it so.

“How ’bout a shot o’ booze to jolt his heart, Cap?” suggested Tim, whose
whole soul was in the fight.

McKay nodded. Knowlton quickly produced brandy and poured a stiff dose
down Yuara’s throat. It took hold at once, and light came back into the
Indian’s eyes.

“Got a good chance yet,” McKay asserted. “Don’t loosen that tourniquet.
Let the arm mortify, if necessary, but hold that blood away from the
heart at all costs. I’ll chop his arm off at the shoulder before I’ll
give in.”

His hard-set face showed he meant it.

Lourenço spoke to the Mayorunas, urging that camp be made at once. He
and Pedro strode away, and all three of the Indians followed.

“Really think he’ll pull through, Rod?” Knowlton asked, then. “If he
does you’re a miracle worker.”

“It’s an experiment,” McKay confessed, watching Yuara with unswerving
intentness. “Never saw this done, but it’s worth a try–and I honestly
believe it will work. I saved an Indian over in Guiana once by cutting
off his arm as soon as he was hit, but I want to keep this fellow’s arm
for him if possible. Feed him some more salt.”

Time passed unheeded. Sounds of labor not far off told that camp was
being built. Presently the absent five returned, two of the Mayorunas
carrying a crude but strong litter constructed from saplings and
giant-fern leaves. McKay rose stiffly on cramped legs.

“All right. You can move him,” he consented.

Carefully Yuara was lifted to the litter and transported to the new
camp. There the Americans found not only the open shed, or _tambo_,
usually constructed by the Brazilians, but also a somewhat similar
shelter erected by the Indians. In the latter stood two stout crotched
stakes, firmly braced–the handiwork of Pedro and Lourenço. And to
these, with tough bush rope, the Indians fastened the litter of Yuara,
thus forming a rude but effective hammock.

While McKay and Knowlton continued their ministrations to the stricken
man the rest of the camp work was completed, the Mayorunas making
hanging beds for themselves from withes, leaves, and bush cord, and the
Brazilians slinging the hammocks of their own party and opening packs.

Night fell and the wounded man lived on. Supper was eaten, pipes smoked,
the regular activities of the early hours of darkness gone through–and
Yuara lived on. His deep breathing had become automatic, and his eyes
stared straight up in concentration on his battle with the death demon.

At length he was seized with violent nausea which convulsed him for a
time. But when the spasms passed he lay back more easily, and a faint
smile flitted over his face as he looked at the white men.

“Been expecting that,” said McKay. “Might loosen that ligature now–just
a few seconds…. Tighten it! All right.” Alter watching the sick man a
little longer he added: “Now I’m going to eat and smoke. Feel like
taking a drink, too, but guess I won’t. The Indian will pull through
now, I think.”

When he had returned to the Indian hut with pipe aglow, Knowlton asked
him, “Now tell us how you doped out this cure.”

“Combination of various things. Salt is a partial antidote to venom in
the blood, and I got it into him in three ways–by mouth absorption, by
the stomach, and by the salt poultice, which drew out some of the poison
from the forearm and helped neutralize what remained. Ripping his arm of
course let out a lot of bad blood. Ligature above the elbow stopped most
of the rest–though some sneaked past that point, I’m pretty sure.

“Big thing, though, was the deep breathing. Remember I told you about
the experiments that killed mules and an ox? Another experiment was
this–opening the windpipe of a poisoned mule after the heart stopped,
inserting a pair of bellows, and starting artificial respiration. After
four hours of this the mule came to life and stayed alive–though he was
a wreck for a year afterward.

“I just put all these together, made the Indian do his own
breathing–and here he is. I’m going to sit up awhile longer and watch
him, but the critical period is over. You chaps can turn in.”

But none turned in until midnight, when no doubt remained that
Lourenço’s prophecy would come true–that Yuara would live to draw bow
again. Then, when the slashed arm had been thoroughly cleansed and
bound, Lourenço spoke once more to the savages.

“The medicine of the wise white man and the air spirits have saved Yuara
from the death demon. Yuara has fought as a man of his tribe should
fight, and so has lived when he would have died. To-morrow Yuara shall
once more see his people, the first man of the Mayorunas to come back
from the death of poison. And he and his comrades shall tell of the
white man’s wisdom, without which he now would lie cold on the ground.”

“So shall it be,” Yuara himself faintly answered. “Yuara, son of Rana,
second chief of the men of Suba, will not forget.”

“_Por Deus!_” exclaimed Lourenço. “Comrades, this man is no common
hunter, but son of a subchief. Capitao, you have done good work to-day.”

CHAPTER XV.

THE CANNIBALS

Through the long, dim shadows of early morning the little column passed
on the last leg of its journey to the _maloca_ of Suba, chief of this
outlying tribe of the Mayorunas. At its head marched Yuara, his left arm
incased in bandages, his face drawn and pallid, his stride stiff and
springless, but still carrying his weapons and stoically setting the
pace as befitted the son of a subchief. He had had no sleep; he had lain
in the gates of death; his arm ached cruelly; yet a warm glow shone in
his hollow eyes as he reflected on the fact that in all the unwritten
history of his people he was the first man to survive the inexorable
power of the wurali. As long as he lived this fact would lift him above
the level of all his fellows. Even the chief could not boast of such a
superhuman feat.

The undergrowth this morning was not so thick as it had been, and the
machetes of Lourenço and Pedro stayed in their sheaths. The ground, too,
was more level and the footing more firm. After some three hours of
walking the Americans found that they had come into a faint path.

Somewhat to the bewilderment of the white men, who expected the Indians
to increase their speed now that the way home lay under their feet, the
leading pair slowed their gait. Moreover, they scanned the trail with
intent care and watched the trees along the way. At length, with a
warning grunt, Yuara stepped out of the path and began a detour. His
comrade and the Brazilians followed. The Americans stopped.

“What’s the idea?” demanded McKay, looking along the innocent-appearing
path.

“Probably a man trap, Capitao,” answered Pedro. “Follow us.”

“Let’s see the trap first.”

Lourenço called to Yuara, who stopped and grunted two words.

“_Si_, it is a trap. A pit, Yuara says.”

Yuara spoke again, and Lourenço added: “He says we must not touch it. It
is there just before you, covered so cunningly that it looks exactly
like the rest of the ground. The cover is a framework of sticks balanced
on a pole, and the instant a man steps on it it gives way. He falls into
a nine-foot hole whose sides are dug inward, so that they overhang above
him. There the cannibals find him and kill him. I fell into one of those
holes when I first came into this Mayoruna country, so I know just how
they are made.”

“So? How did you get out?”

“There were two of us, and I stood on the other man’s shoulders while he
lifted me high enough to jump out. Then I tied bush rope to a tree and
he climbed up the rope. Come. Yuara waits.”

After a short circuit around the danger point the party returned to the
path, and as they went on Lourenço explained further concerning the pit:

“Every approach to the _malocas_ has this kind of trap hidden in it, and
others also. The Indians recognize the places by some secret signal
known only to themselves–a certain kind of stick or vine or something
of the kind, placed where it can be seen by those who understand. The
traps are made to stop any enemies who try to sneak up on the _malocas_
and catch these people unawares. Another kind of trap is a spring bow or
a blowgun shot by a vine stretched across the path. Still another is a
piece of ground studded with poisoned araya bones which pierce the bare
feet of anyone walking on them. It is well for us that we now have
friendly guides.”

“Quite so,” McKay agreed, dryly.

Some distance farther on the leader again left the path, and this time
all filed after him without comment. Pedro pointed significantly at a
thin, tight-drawn bush cord stretched across the path at the height of a
man’s ankle–the trigger which would discharge hidden death at anything
touching it. At another point, perhaps a hundred feet farther along, a
third and last detour was made, and this time the nature of the trap was
not revealed by anything on the ground. No questions were asked.

With the passing of these three menaces Yuara resumed his former pace
and abandoned his circumspection. Before long came sounds of communal
life–the barking of a dog and shouts of children. Then suddenly the
forest thinned, and after a few more strides the marchers found
themselves in a clearing.

Before them rose a big round house, about forty feet high and a hundred
feet in diameter, its sides composed of palm logs, and its roof a thick
thatch of palm leaves, whence smoke oozed lazily through an opening at
the peak. A single low door, not more than four feet high, opened toward
a creek a few rods away at the right. Near this doorway a couple of
naked children, boy and girl, were playing with the dog, while beyond
them a number of women, also nude, were busy at some kind of work.

As Yuara and his fellow-tribesmen entered the open space the boy shouted
a greeting and started running toward them. Then, seeing the white men
filing from the bush behind the warriors, the youngster stood as if
shocked motionless. After one long stare he screamed and bolted for the
shelter of the _maloca_. Other screams echoed his as the women also saw
the bearded outlanders. They, too, dived through the doorway.

Out from behind the house leaped three warriors, two of whom already had
fitted arrows to their bows, while the third–a powerful
fellow–clutched a four-foot war club. Weapons raised, faces contracted
into fighting masks, they stared speechless at the spectacle of the
subchief’s son calmly leading gun-bearing whites among them.

Knowlton, though his attention was riveted on the astonished warriors,
caught the quiet snick of Tim’s safe-lock being turned off.

“None of that, Tim!” he warned. “Put that safety on again. And don’t
hold your gun as if you intended to use it.”

“Aw, I was jest tryin’ her to make sure she was all right.”

“Put it on!” snapped the lieutenant. Another tiny click told him the
order was obeyed.

Out from the doorway darted another warrior, stooping low to avoid
hitting his head. Others followed instantly, all armed and ready for
action. The opening was still vomiting tribesmen when Yuara and the rest
reached it. But none made a hostile move when it was seen that the son
of the subchief was in command and that the strangers seemed friendly.
Yuara spoke, briefly but authoritatively, and the weapons sank. Then,
with a word to his three companions, he ducked through the doorway. The
other three remained where they were.

“We shall have to wait now, comrades, until Yuara tells his father and
the chief about us,” Lourenço said. “So let us take off our packs and
rest.”

He set the example by laying his rifle on the ground, unslinging his
pack, squatting beside it, and coolly rolling a cigarette. Apparently he
was paying no attention whatever to the savages, who watched his every
move. But McKay, glancing at him as he followed suit, saw that, for all
his seeming unconcern, the Brazilian bush rover was keenly watchful and
that his gun lay within reach of his hand.

From within the tribal house sounded the monotonous voice of Yuara.
After listening a moment Lourenço quietly addressed the nearest warrior.
A slightly surprised looked passed over the cannibal’s face. He replied,
and a slow conversation ensued.

Meanwhile the others looked over the array of savage fighting men.
Except for difference of stature, build, and expression, they were as
like as brothers. All were light skinned–hardly darker than the
river-tanned whites themselves; all had straight-set eyes, with no hint
of the slant often found among the Indians of the Amazon headwaters; and
the cheek bones of all were fairly low. Their average stature was a
little under six feet, and most of them had an athletic symmetry of
physique. Their feet, McKay noticed, were small and shapely.

All wore tall feather headdresses of parrot and mutum plumes. All had
the scarlet and black rings around the eyes, the streaks from temple to
chin, the wavy design on their bodies. And each wore in the cartilage of
his nose a pair of small feathers slanting outward. At another time and
under other circumstances the white men might have smiled at those nose
feathers, which resembled odd mustaches; but as they studied the austere
faces around them they found no occasion for merriment. Nor was the
tension lessened by the sight of the weapons grasped in the strong hands
of the warriors.

Great bows and arrows, such as the hunters had borne, were supplemented
here by the long clubs of heavy wood and by ugly spears. The clubs
terminated in balls studded with jaguar teeth. The spears were triple
pronged, each prong ending in a saw-toothed araya bone and each bone
darkened by the fatal wurali. Frightful weapons they were–the one
designed to smash skulls and tear out brains, the other to stab and
poison at the same thrust.

Lourenço stopped talking, and the others observed that now the wild men
stood more easily, their holds on their weapons loosened.

“I have shown them, Capitao, that I can speak their tongue, and told
them we go to visit the chief Monitaya as friend,” he explained. “They
tell me Monitaya has grown great since last I saw him. Another tribe
which lost its chief and subchiefs by a swift sickness has joined his
own, and he now rules two big _malocas_ together. He is a powerful
fighter, and if he is friendly to us we have a good chance of success.
Ah! here is Yuara.”

The son of the subchief came through the doorway as he spoke, followed
by an older man whose facial resemblance and ornaments indicated that he
was the subchief himself. His headgear was more elaborate than that of
his men, and around his shoulders and down his chest hung a brilliant
feather dress, while a wide belt of green, blue, and black plumes
encircled his hips. Yuara himself had inserted feathers in his nose and
donned a headband of tall parrot plumes a trifle more ornate than those
worn by the ordinary fighters, and somehow the simple addition seemed to
transform him into a bigger, fiercer man. Also, his eyes now held a
smoldering light which had not been there before.

The older man, Rana, the subchief, glanced swiftly along the line of new
faces. Then his gaze returned to McKay. His mouth set and his
countenance turned hard. He spoke curtly to Yuara, who replied with one
word. After another long, unpleasant look at McKay, who stared coldly
back at him, Rana grunted a few words and re-entered the house.

Lourenço, nonplussed by the frigidity of the subchief where he had
expected gratitude or at least hospitality, glanced questioningly at
Yuara. But the young man stood mute, looking straight ahead.

“The subchief says we shall enter and see the chief. We must leave our
guns outside.”

“Don’t like that,” muttered McKay. “That subchief looks ugly.”

“But we must obey or provoke a fight, Capitao. Besides, our rifles would
be useless inside, as they would be instantly seized if we lifted them.
So let us make the best of it. But I think you can carry your pistols
with you; they are covered by the holsters, and I do not believe these
people know what they are. And since Rana spoke only of guns, we will
keep our machetes. Come.”

“Wait a second.”

McKay dived a hand into his haversack and brought forth a heavy hunting
knife with a gaudy red-and-white bone handle, sheathed and attached to a
leather belt.

“Brought this along as a present for some Indian who might do us a good
turn,” he explained. “Been thinking of giving it to Yuara, but now I’ll
pass it to the chief. Might make a difference. All right, let’s go.”

With confident tread, but with some misgiving, the five advanced,
leaving guns and packs on the ground. One by one they bent low and got
through the doorway. Yuara, with a word to a clubman and a motion to the
equipment, followed the whites, trailed in turn by his three companions
of the forest. The clubman, after a curious inspection of the packs,
stood on guard among them, his bludgeon grasped loosely but
suggestively, ready to prevent any undue inquisitiveness by the rest.
But soon he found himself alone, for the other tribesmen transferred
their attention and themselves to the interior of the _maloca_.

Within the house the soldiers of fortune halted a moment, adjusting
their vision to the sudden diminution of light. Except for the sunshine
pouring in at the smoke hole above and at the tiny door behind, the only
light in the big room came from small cooking fires scattered about the
place, and for the moment details were withheld from the newcomers’
sight. Then they found themselves in what seemed a labyrinth of poles
and hammocks.

Through this confusion Yuara passed with familiar step, and in his wake
the travelers went to a central fire around which was a comparatively
clear space. Beyond, in a big hammock dyed with the symbolic scarlet and
black and tasseled with many squirrel tails, sat a fat, small-eyed,
heavy-jawed man whose elaborate feather dress and authoritative air
proclaimed him chief. Beside him stood Rana and another subchief, lean
and somber-faced. Behind this bulwark of tribal might huddled the women
and children, staring wide-eyed. As the visitors stopped and returned
the chief’s unwinking regard the warriors packed themselves at their
backs, blocking all chance of exit.

When the shuffle of feet had died and no sound was audible, Yuara began
to talk. In his deliberate way he told the complete narrative of his
journey, which previously he had sketched only in outline. His three
companions corroborated his tale from time to time by nods, and when the
discovery of the slain hunter’s bones was described one of those three
stepped forward and laid the dead man’s weapons on the ground before the
chief. As Yuara went on he touched his bandaged arm and pointed to McKay
and Knowlton. And as he concluded he motioned toward Lourenço.

Ignorant of the Indian language, but guessing the nature of his talk
from his motions, the Americans stood patiently awaiting the next move.
For a time all three of the chiefs remained silent; but all of them
studied McKay, standing bolt upright with arms folded and the
belt-wrapped knife partly concealed in the hollow of one elbow. Though
it was evident that Yuara had given the captain full credit for saving
his life, the faces of the head men showed no sign of friendliness. In
fact, their expressions were distinctly ominous.

At length the chief turned his eyes to Lourenço. The veteran bushman
promptly stepped forward and said his say. At the end he turned, took
from McKay the knife, unrolled the belt, and dangled the weapon before
the eyes of the rulers. They stared at it in obvious ignorance of its
character. Not until the Brazilian drew the blade from its sheath and
the glint of steel struck their vision did they show recognition. Then
Chief Suba grunted, his little eyes lit up, and he reached for it.

For a few minutes he sat gloating over the gift, admiring the bone
handle, hefting the weight of the long blade, while the subchiefs gazed
in envy. When he looked up his face was beaming. But then the sour-faced
subchief at his left hand muttered something, and Suba’s visage
darkened. His eyes rested again on McKay, went to the bandaged arm of
Yuara, dropped to his knife–the first steel knife ever owned by him or
any man of the Suba tribe–and rose again to the black-bearded captain.
Abruptly then he spoke out.

Lourenço stared in blank astonishment. After a puzzled moment he shook
his head as if unable to believe he had heard aright. Suba, scowling,
repeated what he had said. Lourenço shook his head again, this time in
vehement denial, and began to talk. But Suba, rising with surprising
agility for a man of his weight, stopped him imperiously and spoke with
finality. Slowly the Brazilian nodded and turned to his captain.

“I do not understand this, Capitao. But these are the words of the
chief:

“‘The white man with the black beard tries a trick, but it does not
deceive the free men of the forest. The thing which he thinks to be
hidden in his own heart is known to Suba and his chiefs. It is known
also to the chief Monitaya, and to his chiefs, and to his men also. The
white man is bold. And now his own boldness shall be his death.

“‘Since the white man has said he goes to visit the chief Monitaya, and
since by some demon’s power the white man has saved the life of Yuara,
who is a man of Suba, the men of Suba will allow him to go in peace from
this place. But Suba will see that he and his companions go to Monitaya,
who will know how to deal with his visitors. The men of Suba will take
the strangers at once to the canoes and carry them to Monitaya.

“‘If the white man of the black beard and the black mind thought the men
of the jungle blind to the foulness he would do here, he is a fool. It
is useless for him or his men to lie and say they know not what Suba
means. Let him look into his own heart and he will know well.

“‘Suba has spoken.’

“Something is wrong, Capitao, but I do not know what it is. It will do
no good to argue. Let us go at once.”

Suba snarled commands to the warriors. They trooped toward the door.
Without another word or glance at the three chiefs Lourenço stalked
after the Indians, and his comrades followed with stiff dignity.

Outside, the savages picked up the rifles and packs and carried them to
the creek, where small canoes lay. The five strangers were allowed to
crowd themselves together in a four-man canoe, but their guns and packs
were distributed among four other dugouts, into which armed paddlers
entered. Other Indians brought provisions to the outgoing craft. In a
very short time the leading canoe started off downstream, followed by
the boat of the white men, behind which the other craft pressed close
and vigilant.

They swung in among the trees, and the _maloca_ of Suba was blotted out.

CHAPTER XVI.

BLACKBEARD

“Well,” said Knowlton, after a period of silent paddling, “we have met
the enemy and we are his’n. No harm done so far, though, and if old man
Calisaya, or whatever his name is, wants to act nasty we can send him
and a few others along the road to glory with our gats. We’ll travel the
same road, of course, but we’ll take company with us.”

“_Si_, senhor,” Pedro agreed. “And besides your pistols we still have
our machetes. Yet I believe Lourenço’s words to the chief Monitaya will
make all well. But I cannot help wondering–” He glanced at McKay.

“I’m wondering, too, Pedro,” said the captain. “It’s hardly possible
that these people know why we’re here, and hardly likely that they have
any interest in the Raposa. Lord knows I’ve nothing else up my sleeve.
It’s a riddle to me.”

It remained a riddle to the rest, for no explanation could be gleaned
from the Mayorunas. At the first halt, which did not come until nearly
sundown, the Americans discovered that one of the men in the fore canoe
was Yuara, who had been lying in the bottom of the craft and sleeping
all the afternoon. From him Lourenço attempted to get information as to
the reason for Suba’s enmity–but in vain. The tall fellow spoke not a
word in reply, and his face remained unreadable.

Camp was made, and by Yuara’s direction the packs of the adventurers
were restored to them. The rifles, however, remained under guard of
savages appointed by the subchief’s son. When the night meal was out of
the way nothing remained but to seek hammocks and sleep, for further
attempts at conversation by Lourenço met with the same silent rebuff
from every cannibal addressed. None showed active hostility by either
look or manner, but it was plain that between wild and civilized men
stood a wall–a wall not too high for the jungle dwellers to leap over
in deadly action if occasion should be given. Wherefore the whites held
themselves aloof, said little, and slept early.

“I am glad Yuara is with us,” Lourenço said. “As he promised, he does
not forget what was done for him. He will keep this band in control, and
unless I am much mistaken he will tell Monitaya all he knows of us,
which surely will not do us any harm. At any rate, we can sleep in
safety to-night. And since it does no good to puzzle about what is gone
by or to worry about what has not yet to come to pass, let us sleep
now.”

“Ho-hum!” yawned Tim. “Renzo, ye spill more solid sense to the square
inch than any feller I seen in a long time. We’re here because we’re
here; to-day’s dead and to-morrer ain’t born yet, and li’l’ Timmy Ryan
hits the hay right now. Night, gents.”

So, surrounded by man eaters, the trailers of the Raposa slept far more
securely than on any night down the river when their companions had been
supposedly civilized Peruvians. Whether a watch was kept by their guards
during the night they neither knew nor cared, since they had no
intention of attempting escape.

They awoke to find the men of Suba diminished in number by half. Yuara,
deigning to speak for the first time since leaving the _maloca_,
explained that the absent men had gone hunting for their breakfasts.
Before long the hunters came straggling back, bearing monkeys and birds,
which were divided among their companions. None of this meat was offered
to the prisoners, who ate unconcernedly from their pack rations. Tim,
after watching the Indians sink their sharp-filed teeth into broiled
monkey haunches and tear the meat from the bones, snorted and turned his
back to them.

“Look like a gang o’ bloody-faced devils gobblin’ babies,” he muttered.
“I’ll believe now they’re cannibals, all right.”

So uncomfortably apt was his simile that the others grimaced and turned
their eyes elsewhere until the savage meal was finished. Then their
attention became riveted on a queer proceeding at the canoe wherein
Yuara had journeyed yesterday.

To the gunwales amidships two of the men fastened a couple of small
crotched posts. In the forks was laid a pole, crosswise of the boat, and
from this, by slender fiber cords, four slabs of wood were hung.
Strolling down to the canoe, the travelers found that athwart its bottom
had been laid a crosspiece supporting two shorter crotched posts,
between which stretched another transverse pole; and from this pole in
turn the lower ends of the four slabs had been suspended. Now the
savages joined the tips of each pair of slabs by carved end sections,
and the contrivance seemed to be complete–a sort of grate, its bars
sloping at an angle of forty-five degrees.

As the Americans eyed the arrangement in perplexity, one of the crew
picked up from the bow of the canoe a pair of mallets the heads of which
were wrapped in hide. With these he struck the slabs in rapid
succession. Out rolled four notes of astonishing volume–the first four
notes of the musical scale. Again and again he ran them over, then
stopped. The deep tones thrummed away along the creek and died.

“By George! a big xylophone!” Knowlton exclaimed, admiringly.

“It sure talks right out loud,” said Tim. “Lot o’ class to these guys,
at that. Bet this is their brass band, and we’ll go rip-snortin’ into
the next town like we was on parade. Oughter have some flags to hang up
in the boats, and mebbe a drum corps to help out. Wisht I had a tin
whistle or somethin’ and I’d join the orchester. I can toot a whistle
fine.”

“My favorite instrument is the old-fashioned dinner horn,” laughed
Knowlton. “But I think you’re wrong–this is some kind of signaling
apparatus.”

“You have it right, senhor,” Lourenço affirmed. “I have heard this sort
of thing used, though I never before saw the instrument itself. Those
notes will carry at least five miles, and the cannibals send messages by
striking the bars in different order. This run which we have just heard
is always used first, and no message is sent until a reply is received.”

“Bush telegraph,” nodded McKay. “First call your operator and then shoot
the message in code. Pretty ingenious for a bunch of absolute savages.”

Lourenço turned to Yuara and asked a question. Yuara curtly replied.

“He says, Capitao, that this is to tell Monitaya we come. But we now are
too far off for Monitaya’s men to hear. The bars are made ready before
starting so that they can be used as soon as we are within hearing. He
says also that we start now.”

The Mayorunas already were entering their canoes. With cool deliberation
the whites gathered up their equipment and settled themselves for the
journey at whose end lay either life or death. The boat of Yuara
started, and once more the flotilla was on its way.

For an hour or more it swung on among the forested hills before the
telegraph instrument was put to use. Then it paused, and the sonorous
voice of the xylophone spoke to the jungle. A period of waiting brought
no reply.

The canoe moved on for a mile. Again the mallets beat the wood in the
ascending scale of the call. And then, faint, mellow, far off, sounded
the answer.

While every man sat silent the bars boomed out their fateful news. Slow,
brief, deep as a bell tolling a dirge, a reply rolled back. And with the
solemnity of a funeral cortége the canoes once more moved on, unhurried,
inexorable, the measured swing of the paddles beating like a pulse of
doom.

At length the crew of Yuara held their paddles. Yuara himself turned
toward the second canoe and talked a minute. A signal to his men, and
his boat proceeded. All the others remained where they were.

“He goes to Monitaya to speak of us,” said Lourenço. “He will return. We
have only to wait.”

“Yeah,” grunted Tim, disgustedly. “We’ll wait till night if he takes as
long to go through his rigmarole as he done yesterday. If I got to fight
I want to hop to it, not set round in the shade o’ the shelterin’ palm
while them guys are heatin’ up the stewpot. This waitin’ stuff gits my
goat.”

“You might sing us a song, senhor, to pass the time,” Pedro suggested,
with a tight-lipped smile.

“Say, I’ll do that, jest to show these guys I don’t give a rip. And
while their ears are dazzled by me melody I’m goin’ to git me holster
unbottoned and me masheet kinder limbered up. Git set. Here it comes:

“Ol’ Hindyburg thought he was swell,
Pa-a-arley-voo!
He made the kids in Belgium yell,
Pa-a-arley-voo!
But the Yanks come over with shot and shell
And Hindyburg he run like hell,
Rinkydinky-parley-voo!”

Under cover of his outbreak, which made the savages clutch their weapons
and glare at him in mingled suspicion and amazement, there proceeded a
furtive loosening of pistols and machetes.

“A noble sentiment, and more or less appropriate,” grinned Knowlton.
“But don’t give them another spasm for a few minutes, or they may rise
up and kill us all in self-defense. They’re on the ragged edge now.”

“Aw, them guys dunno how to appreciate good singin’. But I should worry;
I got me gat fixed now like I want it.”

Time dragged past. The Americans and Brazilians smoked and exchanged
casual comments on subjects far removed from their present environment.
The Mayorunas watched them with unceasing vigilance, as if expecting a
sudden break for life and liberty. Their chief had intimated that
Monitaya would kill these men; and now was their last chance to try to
dodge death. But neither the black-bearded McKay nor any of his mates
manifested the slightest concern. And at last the canoe of Yuara came
back.

It came, however, without Yuara himself. The son of Rana had remained at
the _malocas_ ahead, whence he sent the command to advance. Closely
hemmed in by the men of Suba, the white men’s boat surged onward at a
brisk pace. Around a bend in the creek it went, and at once the domain
of Monitaya leaped into view.

Two big tribal houses, each considerably larger than the one of Suba,
rose pompously in a wide cleared space beside the stream. Before them,
ranged in a semicircle, stood hundreds of Mayorunas–men, women,
children–all silently watching the canoes of the newcomers. In the
center of the arc, like the hub of a human half wheel, a small knot of
men waited in aloof dignity, four of them adorned with the ornate
feather dresses of subchiefs, backed by a dozen tall, muscular savages,
each armed with a huge war club. Before all stood a powerful,
magnificently proportioned savage belted with a wide girdle of squirrel
tails, decked with necklaces of jaguar teeth and ebony nuts, crowned by
plumes which in loftiness and splendor surpassed all other headgear
present–the great chief Monitaya.

At the shore, beside a row of empty canoes, Yuara was waiting. He
mentioned for his men to bring their dugouts to the regular landing
place, and when they obeyed he gave commands. Then he turned and walked
toward Monitaya.

“I go,” stated Lourenço, rising. “You stay here until called. Yuara has
told his men to leave all weapons in the canoes.”

He walked away after the son of Rana, and if any misgiving was in his
heart it did not show in his confident step. Halting before the big
chief, he began talking as coolly as if there were not the least doubt
of welcome for himself and those with him. Monitaya gave no sign of
recognition, of friendliness, or of enmity. Proud, statuesque, he stood
motionless, his deep eyes resting on those of the Brazilian.

“Sultry weather,” remarked McKay.

“Just so, Capitao,” agreed Pedro, narrow eyed. “We shall soon know
whether we shall have storm.”

“Indications are for violent thunder and lightning soon,” Knowlton
contributed. “See those husky clubmen awaiting? Looks as if a public
execution were about to be pulled off.”

“Yeah. But say, ain’t that chief a reg’lar he-man, though! No
pot-bellied fathead like that there, now, Suby guy. Hope I don’t have to
drill him. I bet I won’t, neither. He looks like he had brains.”

Hoping Tim was right, but dubious, all watched the progress of the
parley. Lourenço evidently was stating his case in logical sequence,
recalling to the chief’s mind the time when he had led him to revenge
against the Peccaries of Peru, then going on to tell of the arrival of
the strangers and the object of their search. Yuara’s sudden, quick
glance at him showed that the Raposa had been mentioned for the first
time. A little later his face became slightly sullen, and the watchers
guessed that Lourenço was now referring in somewhat uncomplimentary
terms to the treatment received in the _maloca_ of Suba. Soon after that
the Brazilian ended his speech.

In a deep, quiet tone Monitaya spoke first to Lourenço, then to one of
his subchiefs. The bushman beckoned to his waiting companions. At the
same time the subchief stepped out and called two names. As McKay,
Knowlton, Tim, and Pedro arose and stepped ashore with the weaponless
men of Suba, out from the great human arc came two men. All advanced
toward the chief. And though the Americans were studying the central
figures as they walked, they also noticed that the pair of Mayorunas who
had been summoned were lame. One walked with a stiff knee, the other as
if a whole leg was paralyzed.

“Squad–halt!” muttered McKay. A step and a half and the four stood
aligned and alert, two strides from Monitaya.

The eyes of the chief dwelt long on McKay, and they were hard eyes.
Without shifting his gaze he grunted a few words. The two crippled
Indians stumped forward and stared into McKay’s face. Through a long
minute the Americans felt a sinister tension grow in the air about them.
Then, slowly, the cripples turned about and faced their ruler. In the
tones of men sure of themselves, they spoke one word.

With the utterance of that word the tension broke. Through the long line
of watching tribesmen ran a murmur. The clubmen relaxed from their ready
poise. The subchiefs glanced at one another as if disappointed. And the
stern face of Monitaya himself was transformed by a wide, friendly
smile.

A sweeping gesture and the cordial timbre of the chief’s voice told the
Americans plainly what Lourenço translated a moment later.

“We are welcome, comrades. We shall sleep in the _maloca_ of Monitaya
himself and a feast shall be made for us. Our lives have just hung on
one word, but now that the word is spoken we are safe. I cannot tell you
more now, for I do not wholly understand this matter myself as yet–but
I shall learn. Now is the time, Capitao to give presents, if you have
any for the chief.”

“I have. But our packs are in the canoe, and I’ll be hanged if I’ll make
a beast of burden of myself at this stage of the game.”

“I will have all the packs brought up, Capitao. The men of Suba took
them from us at their _maloca_; now they shall restore them before all
these people.”

He addressed Monitaya affably, then spoke more brusquely to Yuara. That
young man, whose previous austerity now had dissolved into open
friendliness, uttered four words. Immediately his men returned to the
canoes and brought up not only the packs, but the rifles.

From his blanket roll McKay brought forth a cloth-wrapped package out of
which he drew a half-ax, its blade gleaming dully under a protective
coating of grease, which he swiftly swabbed off. From his haversack he
produced a heavy chain of ruby-red beads. Under the bright sun the beads
glowed like living things, and the glittering steel flashed back a
dazzling beam. The two gifts together had cost considerably less than
ten dollars in New York, but to the chieftain they were priceless
treasures; and as McKay, with a formal bow, extended them to him, his
face shone with delight. Yet he made no such greedy grab for them as had
been displayed by Suba when tendered the knife. His acceptance was
achieved with a calm dignity which brought a twinkle of approval to the
eyes of the white men.

In the same dignified manner he led the way to the _maloca_ which
evidently was the older of the two and which had always been his home.
The semicircle of his subjects broke up into a disorderly crowd which
streamed after him and his guests or surrounded the men of Suba with
holiday greetings. Within the tribal house the adventurers proceeded to
the central space where burned the chief’s fire. There Monitaya ordered
certain hammocks removed to make room for those of the visitors. Soon
the travelers were seated at ease in their hanging beds, their packs and
rifles lying on the ground beneath them, while near at hand clustered
groups of Mayorunas, staring at them in naïve curiosity.

Pedro drew a long breath.

“Senhores, that was a very close call,” he declared. “As Lourenço says,
our lives have hung on one word. What was that word, comrade?”

“The word was, ‘No,'” answered Lourenço. “Monitaya asked those two
crippled men, ‘Is this the man?’ As you saw, they looked at the capitao,
giving no attention to the rest of us. Then they said, ‘No.’ You will
remember that the capitao was the one whom Suba also picked upon. As
soon as Monitaya finishes talking with those men I shall ask him what
all this means.”

The big chief was giving directions to a score of young fellows, who
presently scattered to various parts of the house and accoutered
themselves for hunting. Thereupon Lourenço approached Monitaya with the
familiarity of former acquaintance, being received with a good-humored
smile. For a time the two conversed. As they talked the smile of the
ruler faded and his face grew dark, while into the Brazilian’s voice
came a wrathful growl. Finally both nodded. Lourenço returned to his
hammock, frowning.

“Capitao, it is all because of your black hair and beard. Through all
the _malocas_ of the Mayorunas, far and near, has gone the word to watch
for a big, black-bearded man who is neither a Brazilian nor a Peruvian,
but of some country unknown to these people; and when such a man is
caught, to kill him and his companions without mercy. And the reason for
such a command is this:

“For many moons the Mayorunas, especially those of the smaller and
weaker _malocas_, have been losing women. From time to time sudden raids
have been made by gangs of gun-carrying Peruvian Indians and
_mestiços_–half-breeds–who shot down the defenders of the houses
before they could reach their weapons, and carried off girls. This, of
course, is nothing new here, for such things have happened occasionally
for many years. But within the past five years there has been a
difference in these attacks which has made them much more deadly.

“These raids used to be made always at night, and they were few and far
between. But of late they have come about also in the day, at times when
almost all the men of the small _malocas_ were far out in the forest
hunting meat and the women had little protection. Several chiefs have
been killed by the raiders, who seemed to be acting according to an
agreed plan, to be organized for this work, and to know when to strike
and how to get away quickly. And what is more, the men who did this were
not chance parties who came only to get women for themselves and then
stayed away. The same men came back time after time.

“A few of these were killed, but only a few; and all the dead were
Peruvians. Being dead, they could tell nothing. But the Mayorunas felt
that all these raids were directed by one mind. And they became sure of
this when one captured girl escaped by killing a Peruvian with his own
knife and returned to her own _maloca_. She said the raiders took her
and the other girls to the big man with the black beard, who waited at a
safe place a day’s march from the tribal house.

“A few weeks later another small _maloca_ several miles from here was
attacked at night while two men of Monitaya were there, having stayed
out too late on a hunting trip and taken refuge with their neighbors
until day. Both these men were hit and crippled by bullets in the wild
shooting that opened the attack. One was struck in the knee, the other
in the lower part of the back. But both caught a glimpse of the leader’s
face and saw that he was the black-bearded man himself.

“So you see, Capitao, why we have been near death. Suba and Monitaya
both thought you were the man. We were lucky to escape alive from Suba,
and still more lucky that hero were two men who knew the face of the
blackbeard.”

“Schwandorf!” barked McKay.

“Yes, Capitao, it must be the German–”

“I know it’s Schwandorf! And I know his game! He’s a slaver!”

“A slaver?”

“That’s it. Knew I’d seen that sneak before. He worked the same game in
British Guiana eight years ago on a small scale. Had a gang of tough
bush niggers from over in Dutch Guiana to do his dirty work. Stole
Macusi girls–they’re the best-looking Indians in B. G.–and sold them
like cattle to gold miners. Cleaned up quite a pot before the English
got on to him, but had to get out of the country on the hot foot–didn’t
have time to take his gold with him. His name wasn’t Schwandorf over
there, and he had no beard; he was thinner, too, and posed as a Russian;
but he’s the man. Must have made his get-away by the back door–down the
Branco to the Amazon. Now he’s running Mayoruna girls into Peru. He
could sell them to rubber men or miners and make good money, eh,
Lourenço?”

“_Si._”

“Sure. And that’s why he wanted to kill off his Peruvians–they knew too
much; probably were trying to bleed him for hush money. He must have a
regular slave route and a gang of border cutthroats to do his
raiding–men who don’t go downriver. Murderer, slaver–wonder how many
other crimes are on his soul.”

“Them two are enough,” growled Tim. “And he ‘ain’t got no soul.”

“No soul,” echoed Pedro. “You have said it, Senhor Tim. And if ever
these people capture him he soon will have no body.”

CHAPTER XVII.

FEVER

In the _maloca_ of Monitaya a feast was in the making.

Fires glowed all about the great room. Hunters came in, bearing birds or
beasts which were placed before the tribal ruler for inspection and
approval. Fishermen armed with tridents or crude harpoons arrived with
sizable trophies of their skill. And at length two young bowmen advanced
proudly with a freshly killed wild hog. After glancing at this the chief
added to his usual nod a few words of praise which made the huntsmen
grin with all their pointed teeth.

Lourenço, squatting comfortably on a jaguar skin beside the lavishly
decorated hammock of Monitaya, carried on a lazy-toned monologue which
probably dealt with his various experiences since his last meeting with
these people and which appeared to interest and amuse the chief. The
others, lolling back in mingled fatigue and relief from tension, studied
the interior of the place and watched the activities around them.

As in the _maloca_ of Suba, the small forest of poles and hammocks
seemed a higgledy-piggledy maze wherein was neither beginning nor end.
Yet, as the newcomers took time to observe it, they presently found that
the confusion was only apparent and that there existed an efficient and
orderly arrangement. The hammocks, seemingly slung from any available
pair of poles in utter disregard of one another, really were arranged in
triangles. On the ground under the hanging beds lay woven grass mats and
hides of the sloth and the jaguar; and in the space inclosed by each
trio of hammocks burned a small fire. The hammocks were the beds of men,
the mats and furs the couches of women and children, and each fire was
the focal point of the family residing in that triangle.

Above the hammocks, from transverse poles, were suspended the weapons of
the men: the great bows, the long blowguns, the fighting spears whose
deadly points now were sheathed in thick scabbards of grass, the
unpoisoned fish spears and harpoons. From these poles also hung the
quivers of arrows and darts and the small rubber-covered pouches wherein
a little fresh poison was carried by warrior or hunter. Thus both the
ground and the air were utilized, and by the compactness of the
arrangement an entire family with its worldly goods, was enabled to live
in a comparatively small space. Looking around the wide room and
remembering the big half circle of Indians who had stood outside, the
two ex-officers estimated that in this tribal house and its twin dwelt
seven hundred people.

Tim and Pedro, less interested in the Mayoruna domestic economy than in
the Mayorunas themselves, were scanning the figures moving about in the
reddish haze of smoke. Most of them were women, all nude and naïvely
unconscious of any need of clothing. Like the men of the tribe, they
bore the red and black rings and streaks on face and body; but, unlike
the males, each wore a facial ornament in the shape of an oval piece of
wood thrust through the lower lip. From time to time those near by
glanced up from their work and gave the new men unmistakably friendly
looks–particularly several young but well-grown girls who obviously
were still unmated. In fact, these last smiled openly at the lithe,
handsome Pedro, and red Tim was by no means overlooked.

“I got me orders,” said Tim, _sotto voce_, “and I’m danged if I crack a
smile back at them girls. But I sure feel like grinnin’. Watch yourself,
old-timer; they’re tryin’ to flirt with ye.”

Pedro, mindful of watchful eyes, turned his gaze to Tim’s face before
allowing himself to smile. Then he laughed.

“Do not fear,” he said. “My heart is still my own.”

“Same here. Specially when I remember these females would grin jest the
same if them club swingers had spattered our brains all over the front
yard awhile back. But I wisht sombody’d give the girls a nightie or
somethin’ to wear. I been around some and I seen quite a lot, but I
ain’t used to bein’ vamped by a bunch of undressed kids with goo-goo
eyes the size of a plate o’ fish balls. I’m only a bashful country kid
from N’Yawk.”

“Live and learn,” chuckled Pedro. “And clothes really have nothing to do
with modesty.”

“True for ye. Clothes is mostly a disguise, anyhow, specially with
women, and an awful expense, besides. These guys are lucky, I’ll say;
they ‘ain’t got to buy their wives no fur coats or silk stockin’s or
nothin’. All the same, I got all I can do to hold me face straight when
I see these li’l owl-eyes givin’ us the glad look. I’d oughter stayed
back in Remate de Males, where a feller can wink at a woman without
gittin’ all his pardners massacreed.”

“Perhaps it would not be fatal, now that we are guests of the chief. But
it is best to take no chances.”

“Safety first. That’s us. Grin at one of ’em and another might git sore
because she missed out, and first thing ye know ye’ve started somethin’
without meanin’ to. Let’s look at somethin’ harmless–one o’ them
poisoned spears, f’r instance.”

At that moment Monitaya and Lourenço both arose, the chief to inspect in
person the progress of the arrangements for the feast, the bushman to
return to his companions with additional news.

“Monitaya tells me,” he said, “that his people have lost girls in other
ways than by the murderous attacks of the gunmen. A number of young
women who have gone into the bush near their _malocas_ to get urucu and
genipapa, which they use to make the red and black body dyes, have
disappeared. So have several who went to the creeks for their daily
baths. Warriors who tried to trail them have found the footprints of a
few men, but always lost them at water. The girls had been taken away in
canoes. Even this tribe of Monitaya, which never has been attacked by
night raiders because it is too strong, has not been safe from these
stealthy woman stealings by daylight. Three girls have been taken from
here within the past two moons, and others have disappeared from other
_malocas_.”

“Hm! And Schwandorf hasn’t been here recently,” said Knowlton.

“No. It must be that he has agents who work when he is not here, or else
this is done without his knowledge. I have told Monitaya what I know of
Schwandorf, and he agrees that the women are taken as slaves. I have
also told him that when we return down the river we shall see that
Schwandorf troubles the Mayorunas no more.”

“Excellent,” McKay approved. “Have you asked him about the Raposa?”

“Not yet. It does not pay to hurry business with these people. After the
feast is out of the way I will talk further with him.”

No more was said for a time. The five lounged at ease, sniffing the
savory odors arising from the reddish clay pots and pans in which fruit,
fish, or fowl was frying in tapir lard, or meat was stewing. At length a
number of tall, shapely women, apparently the handsomest of their sex in
the tribe, laid a number of small mats in a semicircle on the ground
before the chief, and placed thereon a steaming array of edibles. Furs
were placed outside the line of mats. From somewhere appeared all four
of the subchiefs, accompanied by Yuara. Thereupon Monitaya, with a
smiling nod to his guests, squatted within the arc. Forthwith the
visitors advanced in a body, disposed themselves comfortably on the
furs, and assailed the viands with a vigor that brought a delighted grin
to the face of their barbaric host.

Fried bananas, tender fish, broiled parrot which was not so tender, a
thick stew of somewhat odorous meat seasoned with tart-tasting herbs,
roast wild hog, and other things at whose identity the whites could not
even guess, all were chewed and washed down with generous draughts of a
rather sour liquid resembling beer. Remembering Lourenço’s previous
warning, each man took care not to slight any portion of the meal or to
show distaste with anything, whether it pleased the palate or not.
Throughout the feast the tall women hovered near, bringing fresh
supplies whenever a dearth of any edible appeared to threaten. And when
at last the feasters were full to repletion Monitaya himself designated
what he considered titbits to tempt them further.

“Gosh! if I eat any more I’ll bust, and I’m danged if I’ll bust jest to
satisfy this guy,” asserted Tim. Wherewith he put one hand under his jaw
and patted his stomach with the other, signifying that he was filled to
the throat. Pedro lifted his elbows, dropped his jaw, and made motions
as if gasping for air. The chieftain grinned widely. The grin became a
chuckling when Tim, after a vain attempt to rise, lay back at full
length on his rug and begged some one to make a cigarette.

“Guess I’ll have to follow Tim’s example,” confessed Knowlton. And he
too stretched out. Pedro and Lourenço also sprawled back. McKay, after
glancing around, compromised with his dignity by leaning on one elbow.
The subchiefs and Yuara, with slight smiles, relaxed in various
postures. Monitaya alone arose–not without some difficulty–and got
into his hammock, where he beamed down at them.

“Suppose this is a compliment to the chief,” smiled McKay. “He thinks he
has eaten us helpless.”

“Speakin’ for li’l old Tim Ryan, that ain’t no joke, neither. Lookit all
the girls givin’ us the laff. Who are them tall ones that’s been rushin’
the grub? Waitresses or somethin’?”

“Those are the chief’s wives,” Lourenço explained.

“Huh? Gosh! he’s one brave guy, that feller! Two–four–six–eight–nine
of ’em! Swell lookers, too. I s’pose he has his pick o’ the whole crowd
here.”

“He does not have to pick them Senhor Tim. They pick him. He and the
subchiefs are the only ones who can take more than one wife. When a girl
wishes to become the wife of the great chief or of a subchief, she works
for months making feather dresses and necklaces and hammocks, and when
these are done she gives them all to him. If he likes her well enough he
accepts the gifts and allows her to be a wife to him.”

“Yeah? And she’s flattered to death, I s’pose. Wisht they’d start
somethin’ like that up home, or, anyways, fix it so’s a feller could get
an even break. Way it is now, a feller blows in every dollar he’s got,
and then when he’s fixin’ to git the ring the girl leaves him flat for
some other guy that ‘ain’t spent his dough yet. Yo-ho-hum! I’m goin’ to
take a snooze right there on the table. Wake me up, somebody, when the
next mess call blows.”

And with no further ado he shut his eyes and drowsed.

His companions lolled for some time, smoking and watching the family
life of the ordinary members of the tribe, nodding now and then to some
friendly-looking young fellow, but ignoring the mischievous glances of
the girls. Monitaya himself lay back in his hammock and dozed. His
wives, stepping nonchalantly among the strangers, cleared away the
remnants of the feast by the simple process of eating them. Then they
carried off the clay vessels.

For another hour all hands rested. Then Monitaya sat up, stretched his
big arms, looked casually around the house to see that all was well, and
smiled down at his guests. Lourenço, rising to a squat, began a new
conversation. After a while he turned to McKay.

“The Red Bones and the Mayorunas are neither friendly nor hostile toward
each other, and there is little communication between them,” he
reported. “From those _malocas_ to the town of the Red Bones is a
journey of five long days, so the men of Monitaya hardly ever go there.

“The Raposa whom we seek is known to the men of Monitaya, but he never
has come here to the tribal houses. Hunters from this place have met him
at times roving the wild forests, and some of the younger men fear him
as the bad spirit of the jungle. The Mayorunas believe in two spirits or
demons, one good and one bad, and the bad one is said to roam the
wilderness, seeking lone wanderers, whom he kills and eats; the people
sometimes hear this demon howling at night in the dark of the moon. So
the young men have thought the Raposa might be this demon and have
avoided him–it would do no good to try to kill a demon, and it would
only make their own deaths more sure and horrible.

“But the older men do not believe this. They say the wild man is of the
Red Bone people, and that the reason why his bones are marked in red on
his living body is that he is neither alive nor dead. If he were dead
his body would be thrown into the water and left there until his bones
were stripped by those cannibal fish, the piranhas, and then the bones
would be dyed red and hung up in his hut, as is the custom among those
people. If he were alive like other men he would not have those marks on
his body, but would wear only the tribal face paint. The bone paint on
him is a sign to all the _Ossos Vermelhos_ that he is alive, but dead,
and is not to be treated like other men.”

“Crazy!” exclaimed Knowlton.

“Yes. I think that is it. His body lives, but his mind is dead. Death in
life.”

“Has he been seen lately?”

The Brazilian repeated the question in the Indian tongue. The chief
looked toward a certain hammock some distance off, called a name, raised
an imperative hand. A slender savage came forward. To him the chief
spoke, then to Lourenço, who, as usual, relayed his information.

“This young hunter saw him six days ago while following a wild-hog trail
far out in the bush toward the Red Bone region. He came on the fresh
track of a man who was following the same hogs, and later he caught up
with that man. It was the red-boned wild man, and the wild man was very
lame, having a hurt foot. They stood and looked at each other, and then
the wild man walked away, watching him closely and ready to shoot with
his bow. After he disappeared in the forest this hunter heard a long,
shrill laugh and words that sounded like ‘Podavi.'”

“Podavi–Poor Davy!” ejaculated Knowlton. “That’s he, sure enough! Then
he’s near his own town now–he won’t go far with a bad foot. We’d better
move as soon as we can. Ask about an escort.”

Once more the bushman conversed with Monitaya. The ruler’s smile
disappeared. For some time he sat gazing out over the heads of all,
evidently weighing matters in his mind. When he responded, however, it
was without hesitation.

“There is neither friendliness nor enmity between the two peoples, as
has been said,” Lourenço stated. “Our business among the Red Bones is
our own affair, not that of Monitaya, and Monitaya will make no requests
for us. But in order that we may go safely and return without harm he
will send with us twenty of his best men. These men will have orders to
protect us at all times, unless fighting is caused by our making a
needless attack on the Red Bones. In that case the Mayorunas will do
nothing to help us. They will only defend themselves.”

“Fair enough!” nodded McKay. “Tell him we’ll start no fight. If any
trouble comes it will be from the other fellows. We’ll leave here
to-morrow morning.”

Lourenço translated the promise into Mayoruna. But the chief seemed not
to hear. His eyes had narrowed and were fixed on the face of Tim, who
still lay on his back and was giving no attention to what went on.
Following his look, the bushman gazed critically at the red-haired man.

Tim’s florid face had paled. His mouth was drawn and his eyes stared
straight up, wide and glassy. Slowly he rolled his head from side to
side.

“Gee! Cap,” he whispered, hoarsely, “I et too much. My head aches so I’m
fair blind, and I’m burnin’ up. Gimme some water.”

With a swift, simultaneous movement McKay and Knowlton put their hands
on his forehead. Lourenço and Pedro leaned closer and peered into his
face. All four glanced at one another. Pedro nodded. His lips silently
formed one dread word:

“Fever!”

CHAPTER XVIII.

FRUIT OF THE TRAP

Heavy hypodermic doses of quinine, aided by Tim’s rugged constitution
and the fact that this was his first attack of the ravaging sickness of
the swamp lands, pulled him back to safety within the next two days. To
safety, but not to strength. Despite his stout-hearted assertions that
he was ready to hit the trail and “walk the legs off the whole danged
outfit,” he was obviously in no condition to stand up under the grueling
pack work that lay ahead. Wherefore, McKay, after consultation with the
others of the party, and, through Lourenço, with Monitaya, gave him
inflexible orders.

“You’ll stay here. Stick in your hammock until you’re in fighting trim.
Then watch yourself. Don’t pull any bonehead plays that’ll get these
people down on you. Take quinine daily according to Knowlton’s
directions–he’s written them on the box. If we’re not back in a
fortnight Monitaya will send men to find out why. If they find that
we’re–not coming back–you will be guided to the river, where you can
get down to the Nunes place.”

“But, Cap–”

“No argument!”

“But listen here, for the love o’ Mike! I ain’t no old woman! I can
stand the gaff! I’m goin’ with the gang!”

“You hear the orders!” McKay snapped, with assumed severity. “Think we
want to be bothered with having you go sick again? You’re out of shape
and we’ve no room for lame ducks. You’ll stay here!”

Tim tried another tack.

“Aw, but listen! Ye ain’t goin’ to desert a comrade amongst a lot o’ man
eaters–right in the place where I got sick, too. Soon’s I git away from
here I’ll be all right–”

“That stuff’s no good,” the captain contradicted, with a tight smile.
“You didn’t get fever here. It’s been in your system for days. You got
it back on the river. These people don’t have it, or any other kind of
sickness. I’ve looked around and I know. As for the man eaters, they’re
mighty decent folks toward friends. We’re friends. You’ll be under the
personal protection of Monitaya, and his word is good as gold. It’s all
arranged, and you’re safer here than you would be in New York.”

In his heart the stubborn veteran knew McKay was right, but, like any
other good soldier ordered to remain out of action, he grumbled and
growled regardless. To which the ex-officers paid about as much
attention as officers usually do. They went ahead with their own
preparations.

“Be of good heart, Senhor Tim,” Pedro comforted, mischievously. “You
will not lack for company. The chief has appointed two girls to wait
upon you at all times.”

“Huh? Them two tall ones that’s been hangin’ round and fetchin’ things?
Are they mine?”

“Yes. They are quite handsome in their way, and strong enough to help
you about if your legs remain weak. In that case you will probably be
allowed to put your arms around them for support. I almost wish I could
get fever, too.”

Tim’s voice remained a growl, but his face did not look so doleful as
before.

“Grrrumph! I always seem to draw big females, and I don’t like ’em.
Gimme somethin’ cute like them li’l’ frog dolls in Paree–sort o’
pee-teet and chick. Still, a feller’s got to do the best he can. Mebbe
I’ll live till you guys git back.”

With which he availed himself of the prerogative of a sick man and
grinned openly at the two comely young women who stood near at hand,
awaiting any demand for services. They were not at all backward in
reciprocating, and, despite the tribal paint and their labial ornaments,
the smiles softening their faces made them not half bad to look upon.

“‘O death, where is thy sting?'” laughed Knowlton. “Be careful not to
strain your heart while we’re away, Tim.”

“Don’t worry. It’s a tough old heart–been kicked round so much it’s
growed a shell like a turtle. Besides, I seen wild women before I ever
come to the jungle.”

Notwithstanding his apparent resignation, however, Tim erupted once more
when his comrades shouldered their packs, picked up their guns, and
spoke their thanks and good-by to Monitaya. He arose on shaky legs and
desperately offered to prove his fitness by a barehanded six-round bout
with his commanding officer. When McKay, with sympathetic eyes but gruff
tones, peremptorily squelched him he insisted on at least going to the
door to watch his comrades start the journey from which they might or
might not return. Nor did he take advantage of his chance to hug the
girls on the way.

With one arm slung over the shoulders of a wiry young warrior who
grinned proudly at the honor of being selected to help a guest of the
great chief, he followed the departing column out into the sunshine,
where the entire tribe was assembled. And when the stalwart band had
filed into the shadows of the trees and vanished he stood for a time
unseeing and gulping at something in his throat.

Straight away along a vague path beginning at the rear of the _malocas_
marched the twenty-four, the two northerners bending under the weight of
their packs, the pair of Brazilians sweeping the jungle with practiced
eyes, the score of Mayorunas striding velvet footed, resplendent in
brilliant new paint and headdresses, armed with the most powerful
weapons of their tribe, and loftily conscious of the fact that they were
chosen as Monitaya’s best. Savage and civilized, each man was fit,
alert, formidable. Nowhere in the loosely joined chain was a weak link.

Before the departure the Americans had been at some trouble to rid
themselves of Yuara, who, with his men, had tarried at the Monitaya
_malocas_ during Tim’s sickness. While Knowlton was giving his ripped
arm a final dressing he had calmly announced his intention of joining
the expedition into the Red Bone country, and it had taken some skillful
argument by Lourenço to dissuade him without arousing his anger. All
four of the adventurers would gladly have taken him along had he not
been hampered by his injury, but, under the ruthless rule barring all
men not in possession of all their strength, he had to be left.

Now, as on the previous jungle marches, the way was led by two of the
tribesmen, followed by the Brazilians and the Americans, after whom the
main body of the escort strode in column. The leader and guide, one
Tucu, was a veteran hunter, fighter, and bushranger, who had been more
than once in the Red Bone region and withal possessed the cool judgment
of mature years and long experience; a lean, silent man who, though not
a subchief, might have made a good one if given the opportunity. With
him Lourenço had already arranged that a direct course should be
followed, and that whenever dense undergrowth blockaded the way the
machete men should take the lead.

For some time no word was spoken. The path wound on, faintly marked, but
easy enough to follow with Tucu picking it out. It was not one of the
frequently used trails of the Monitaya people, but a mere _picada_, or
hunter’s track; yet even this had its pitfalls to guard the tribal
house. Soon after leaving the clearing Tucu turned aside, passed between
trees off the trail, went directly under one tree whose steep-slanting
roots stood up off the ground like great down-pointing fingers, and
returned to the path. All followed without comment.

A considerable distance was covered before any further sign of the
presence of ambushed death was shown by the savages. Then it came with
tragic suddenness.

Tucu grunted suddenly, and in one instant shifted his gait from the easy
swing of the march to the prowl of a hunting animal. Behind him the line
grew tense. The click of rifle hammers and of safeties being thrown off
breech bolts blended with the faint slither of arrows being swiftly
drawn from quivers. Eyes searched the bush, spying no enemy.

Two more steps, and Tucu stopped, head thrust forward, eyes boring into
something on the ground. The rest, taking care not to touch one
another’s weapons, crowded around and looked down at the huddled form of
a man.

A matted mass of black hair, a neck burned copper brown by sun, tattered
cotton shirt and trousers, big, bare dirty feet, a rusty repeating rifle
of heavy caliber–these were what they saw first. The man lay straight,
his face in the dirt, his hands a little ahead as if he had been
crawling forward at the moment of death. Tucu turned him on his back,
revealing a blanched yellow-brown face which was proof positive of his
race.

“Peruvian,” said Pedro.

“What got him?” demanded Knowlton. “No wound on him.”

Lourenço questioned Tucu. The leader, who evidently knew just where to
look, tore open the thin shirt at the left side and pointed to a tiny
discoloration surrounding a red dot under the ribs. He muttered a few
laconic words.

“A blowgun trap,” Lourenço explained. “The gun is set a little way
beyond here. This man, sneaking along the path, broke the little cord
which shot the gun. The poisoned dart struck in his side. He must have
pulled out the dart, but he could not go far before his legs became
paralyzed, and he fell. Then, still trying to crawl, he died.”

Pedro picked up the dead man’s gun and worked the lever. The weapon was
fully loaded and showed no sign of recent firing. Pedro coolly pumped it
empty, gathered up the blunt .44 cartridges, and pocketed them for his
own use.

Tucu watched the proceeding in satirical approval. Then, leaving the
body where it lay, he went stooping along the path ahead, his keen eyes
searching the undergrowth. In a few minutes he returned with the
blood-stained dart which, as Lourenço had guessed, the stricken prowler
had pulled from his flesh and dropped. This he passed to a blowgun man.
The latter carefully opened his poison pouch, redipped the point of the
dart, held it a moment to dry in a shaft of sunlight, and slipped it
into his dart case among a score of unused missiles.

“No waste of ammunition here,” was McKay’s dry comment. “What happens to
this corpse now?”

Through Lourenço’s mouth Tucu answered.

“It will be left here until police warriors come from the _malocas_.
Certain men travel the paths daily to inspect the traps. When they find
this man they will cut off his hands and feet with their wooden knives
and throw the rest aside to be eaten by the animals. He has not been
dead long or he would have been devoured by some wild thing before we
came. The trail travelers will set the trap again and take the hands and
feet to the _malocas_, where they will be washed, cooked, and eaten.”

The faces of the Americans contracted slightly. A simultaneous thought
made them flash startled glances at each other.

“Tim–” Knowlton said, and paused. Lourenço smiled.

“No, Senhor Tim will not be expected to eat man meat,” he assured them.
“I thought of that before we left–one never knows when these traps will
yield human flesh. So, without letting Monitaya know why I spoke, I told
him you North Americans believed the flesh of an enemy to be poisonous,
and that you would not eat it on that account. Monitaya will remember
that.”

“By George! you have a head on your shoulders, old scout! I was worried
for a minute. If they offered Tim a broiled foot or a stewed hand he’d
go for his gun.”

Briefly Tucu spoke. The Mayorunas separated and went into the forest,
seeking any sign of other enemies.

“Queer that this chap should come here alone–if he was alone,” added
Knowlton. “Suppose he’s the fellow that’s been swiping stray girls? Or a
spy?”

“Neither, I think, senhor. The girls were captured by more than one man,
and I doubt if this one had been here before. Probably he was one of
those lone prowlers of the bush whose hand is against every man. He is a
half-breed, as you see, and came, perhaps, to steal a girl for himself.
The jungle is well rid of him.”

“Uh-huh. Guess you’re right. Say, I’d like to see how that blowgun trap
operates. Can’t understand what blows the dart when nobody is here.”

“I do not know, either, senhor. Perhaps Tucu will show us.”

The savage guide, after a moment’s hesitation, pointed along the trail
and stalked away, the others at his heels. At a spot some fifteen yards
farther on he turned into the bush at the right, walked a few paces away
from the path, turned again sharply to the left, advanced once more, and
halted. Before them, not easy to discern in the masking brush, even
though they were looking for it, hung the long barrel of the blowgun,
lashed to a couple of small trees and pointing toward the path.

Tucu stepped to the mouthpiece of the slender tube and pointed to a
sapling, just behind and in line with it, which had been cut off about
shoulder-high from the ground. From the tip of this thin trunk dangled a
wide strip of bark. The savage, having indicated this, stood as if the
action of the device were perfectly clear.

“Too deep for me,” admitted McKay, after a puzzled study of the tube and
the trunk. The others nodded agreement. Lourenço confessed to the Indian
the blindness of all.

Thereupon Tucu bent the sapling far over and released it. As it sprang
erect the bark strip slapped the end of the gun. Also, the watchers saw
something hitherto unnoticed–a thin, flexible vine attached to the top
of the thin stump. Lourenço’s face showed understanding.

“See, comrades, this is it: The little tree is bent far down and held by
the long vine. The vine passes around a low branch, then up over other
limbs, and out across the path, where it is fastened to a root near the
ground. A man following the path breaks the vine. The little tree then
flies up and the bark sheet strikes the wide mouthpiece of the gun. The
air forced into that mouthpiece by the blow of the bark shoots the
little dart. The dart does not fly as hard as if blown by a man, but it
goes swiftly enough to pierce the skin of anything except a tapir. As
soon as the poison is in the blood the work is done.”

“It sure is done,” Knowlton echoed, thinking of the short distance
covered by the dead Peruvian after passing this spot. “Mighty ingenious
apparatus. These people are no fools, I’ll say.”

“You say rightly,” Pedro muttered. Turning, they went out to the path,
looking askance at the thin death tube as they passed along it.

The scouting Mayorunas returned, having found nothing. Tucu resumed his
place at the head of the line. Without a backward glance at the body
sprawling in the trail at the rear, the column swung into its usual
gait.

The Americans, silent before, were silent again. They had looked for the
first time on the work of the Mayoruna traps; had observed the
cold-blooded way in which the Indiana handled the still form on the
ground; had visualized the forthcoming mutilation of that body and the
resultant cannibal rites. More vividly than ever before they realized
that these men and Monitaya himself were relentless creatures of the
jungle, and that, despite the present existent friendliness, there
yawned between them and their barbarous allies an impassable gulf.

For the moment the jungle itself seemed a poisonous green abyss of
creeping, crawling, sneaking death. And though they had faced death too
often in another land to fear it in any form, though they marched on
with unwavering step, their eyes were somber as in their hearts echoed
the last appeal of the man they had left behind them:

“Ye ain’t goin’ to desert a comrade amongst a lot o’ man eaters–”

CHAPTER XIX.

THE RED BONES

Four days the expedition tramped steadily onward through the rugged
labyrinthine hills. Four nights its members slept in utter exhaustion.
Neither by day nor by night was any sign of the Raposa seen, nor of any
other human being.

So tired from the constant struggle did the Americans become that their
jaded brains began to picture the mysterious wild man as a mere
legendary creature, which they never would find even though they
searched the inscrutable forests until the end of time. Yet when, on the
fifth day, Tucu informed them that they now were nearing the principal
settlement of the Red Bones, the announcement cheered them as if they
were about to enter a civilized city and there meet David Rand safe and
sane.

Not that any chance of striking his trail had been neglected in the
meantime. It was thoroughly understood that if he were met anywhere he
was to be made prisoner, and that thereafter the back trail should be
taken. Lourenço had impressed on Tucu the fact that the whole journey
had for its object the finding of the wild man, and that he must not be
killed if found. Since the Indians were not in the habit of hunting so
assiduously anyone but a bitterly hated foe, it is quite possible that
they misunderstood the spirit of the quest and believed the “dead-alive”
prowler would, if captured, undergo some extremely unpleasant treatment
at the hands of the white men. But so long as it was made clear that the
Raposa must be caught alive, if caught at all, Lourenço did not trouble
about what the Mayorunas might surmise.

Now, as the end of the long, pathless trail approached, arose a question
of which McKay had previously thought but had not spoken–how he was to
converse with the Red Bone chief. Lourenço asked Tucu whether the Red
Bones spoke the Mayoruna tongue. Tucu replied that they did not. He
added, however, that the languages were not so dissimilar as to prevent
some sort of understanding being reached between members of the two
tribes. The veteran bushman nodded carelessly.

“When the tongue fails, Capitao, the hands still can talk,” he said. “It
takes more time and work, that is all. Ah, here is a path!”

It was so. For the first time since leaving the Monitaya region a path
lay under their feet. And for the first time Tucu and his fellow
Mayorunas, glancing along that faint track, showed hesitation.

“Why the delay?” snapped McKay.

“They suspect traps. I will go ahead and feel out the way. I have done
it before on other paths.”

After a few words to Tucu, Lourenço cut a long, slim pole. With this in
hand he preceded the column, walking slowly, pausing sometimes,
continually prodding the path, studying it with unswerving gaze as he
progressed. The thin but rigid feeler, strong enough to tip the cover of
any pit or to spring any concealed bow or blowgun, was at least ten feet
long, and between the scout and the head of the line Tucu preserved
another ten-foot interval. Progress was necessarily slow, but it was
sure.

In this fashion they advanced perhaps half a mile. Not once did they
have to leave the path, but Lourenço’s caution did not diminish. Rather,
it increased as they neared the Red Bone town. At length another path
joined the one on which they were traveling. Here Lourenço paused for
minutes, inspecting with extreme care the ground and the bush.

Suddenly he cocked his head as if listening. Then, with a backward
motion of the hand to enjoin silence, he faced down the branch path and
stood calmly waiting.

To those behind came a light rustle of leaves and a scuffle of moving
feet; a sudden cessation; then Lourenço’s voice speaking to some one
concealed behind the intervening undergrowth. His tone was slow, quiet,
easy–the tone which, even if the words were not understood, would
soothe suspicious and abruptly alarmed minds. After another short
silence he resumed talking, pointing carelessly to the place behind him
where stood the silent file of Mayorunas. A guttural voice replied. A
head peered cautiously from the edge of the bush, stared fixedly at
Tucu, and withdrew. The voice sounded again. Immediately three Indians
stepped into view, poised for action. Another interval of staring, and
they relaxed.

“Come forward, comrades,” said Lourenço. They came, halting again at the
junction of the trails. Tucu spoke to one of the newcomers, who scowled
as if only partly understanding, but grunted some sort of answer. Those
behind the Mayoruna leader craned their necks and scanned the Red Bone
men, who continued to eye with evident misgiving the tall-bonneted
cannibals and the broad-hatted pair of whites.

Man for man, these Red Bones were in every way inferior to the
emissaries of Monitaya. Their bodies were more gaunt, their skins more
coppery, their foreheads lower, and their expressions much less
intelligent. Furthermore, they wore not even the bark-cloth clouts which
formed the sole body covering of the Mayorunas–they were totally naked.
The one point of similarity between the two tribes was that the faces of
the Red Bone men were streaked with red dye. But the facial design was
much different: two short transverse stripes on the forehead, and three
lines on each cheek, running from the eyes, the end of the nose, and the
corners of the mouth, straight back to the ears. Studying those visages,
Knowlton and McKay recalled Schwandorf’s statement that these people not
only ate human flesh, but tortured prisoners of war. It was easy to
believe that he had told truth.

McKay, standing behind Pedro, shifted his position a bit. At once the
eyes of the three Red Bones widened and riveted on his face. Heretofore
they had seen only his hat and eyes, the rest being hidden from them by
Pedro’s neck and an intervening palm tip. Now that they saw his
black-bearded jaw, they started slightly and peered intently at him.

“I think, Capitao, you would do well to shave,” Pedro suggested, with a
smile.

“‘Fraid so,” the captain granted. “Black beards evidently are _de trop_
in the jungle social set at present.”

But then one of the Red Bone men came forward, still squinting narrowly,
and his expression was not hostile. In fact, it was more friendly than
it had yet been. After a closer scrutiny, however, his face turned
blank. Slowly he stepped back and muttered something to his companions.

At this Pedro’s eyes narrowed speculatively. But his expression did not
change, and he said nothing.

A lengthy conference took place between Lourenço and Tucu on the one
hand and the three Red Bone tribesmen on the other; a difficult talk in
which words and sign language both were used and frequently repeated.
Eventually an understanding was reached. The three stepped back, picked
up some small game which they had dropped on beholding Lourenço,
returned, and led the way along the path. Lourenço cast aside his poke
stick and resumed his usual place in the column. The whole line moved
ahead at a much smarter gait than before.

“Note–this path is not mined,” thought Knowlton.

This proved true. Moreover, the way now was more broad and firm, so that
travel on it was much easier. After twenty minutes of rapid tramping it
debouched abruptly into a cleared space. Here all halted.

Before them lay a town of small, low huts, crowded closely together in
two parallel rows which curved together at one end. The other end lay
open, giving access to a sizable creek whereon floated canoes. At the
water’s edge, along the crude street studded with charred stumps, and
among the damp-looking huts moved naked figures of men and women
occupied with various sluggish activities. Some of the men already had
spied the invading party and were standing at gaze.

“Comrades, we have reached the end of our trail,” said Lourenço, running
a cool eye over the place. “Now all we have to do is to find your Raposa
and get him and ourselves away alive.”

“That’s all,” Knowlton echoed, unsmiling. “The reception committee is
forming now.” And with the words he unbuttoned his holster.

A shrill yell had run along the double line of houses, and out into the
stumpy street now swarmed men armed with hastily seized weapons. Hands
pointed, confused exclamations sounded, and a compact detachment of
warriors came jogging toward the newcomers. The three guides drew away
from the Mayorunas. The latter promptly fitted arrows to their bows,
inserted darts in their blowguns, lifted spears or clubs, and with eyes
glittering awaited whatever might befall.

A couple of rods away the Red Bones halted, bows ready. A hatchet-faced
savage who seemed to be in command rasped something at the three
hunters, who quickened their pace toward him. Tucu strode out four paces
beyond his own men and stopped. Then both parties waited while the
hunters reported what they knew to the hatchet-face.

“What did you tell them, Lourenço?” asked McKay.

“That we came on a friendly visit to the chief, for whom we had
important words.”

“Nothing of the Raposa?”

“No. They wasted much time arguing that we must tell them all our
business and let them inform the chief, while we were to stay back on
the path until permitted to enter the town. We told them our talk was
for the chief alone, and that we should come here whether they liked it
or not. So, having no choice, they led us in.”

McKay made no comment. None was necessary. Furthermore, his steady eyes
had caught a simultaneous head movement of the Red Bones–a peering
movement, as if all were seeking some one man among the new arrivals.
Pedro observed this. He spoke softly to Lourenço.

“Lourenço, tell Tucu to say to the Red Bones that we come led by a
black-bearded white man; that this blackboard comes from the far-off
country where all men wear black beards; that the blackbeard will speak
with the chief only.”

The Americans looked queerly at the young Brazilian, as did Lourenço
himself. But without question Lourenço obeyed. Calling to Tucu, he gave
the message. Tucu moved his head slightly, but gave no other sign of
having heard.

“Now, Capitao, step forward a little and show yourself more clearly,”
prompted Pedro.

With another puzzled glance McKay did so. He saw that the brown eyes of
the younger man held a dancing gleam, but he could not read the thought
behind those eyes. Yet he noticed that as soon as he stepped out the Red
Bones all focused their gaze on him. More than that, the spokesman of
the three hunters pointed at him and said something to the
sharp-featured leader.

Now that leader came forward alone. Six feet from Tucu he halted again
and talked in a growling tone. The Mayoruna leader, cool and dignified,
made answer. After a somewhat protracted exchange Tucu turned his head
and motioned to Lourenço, who went forward, listened, replied shortly,
and came back. Meanwhile the first detachment of Red Bones had been
strongly reinforced by others who had come up singly or in small
parties. Now the expedition was outnumbered at least four to one by
hard-faced, brute-mouthed, naked men ready, if not eager, for trouble.

“The Red Bone says we shall see the chief,” Lourenço stated. “At first
he said only you, Capitao, should go to him. Then he insisted that we
all lay down our arms. Tucu has told him we lay down our arms for no man
or men; that we come in peace–otherwise there would be many more of us;
that we leave in peace unless the Red Bones themselves bring on a fight.
In that case, though we are few, there lies behind us the power of
Monitaya, and behind Monitaya the power of the Mayoruna chiefs, all
strong enough to wipe the Red Bone nation off the face of the ground.”

“Strong stuff, that,” said Knowlton.

“Strong, yes. But no stronger than is needed to impress these people.
Tucu intends to prevent trouble if he can; and often the best way to
prevent trouble is to make the other man realize what may happen to him
if he starts it. Also he has his orders from Monitaya to stay with us at
all times, and he will follow that order even if you, Capitao, try to
change it. Now we go together to the chief.”

He nodded to Tucu, who grunted to the Red Bone leader. The hatchet-face
in turn shouted something to the men behind. Slowly they drew apart into
two groups.

“You are the leader, Capitao,” suggested Lourenço. Promptly McKay
marched forward, head up, eyes front, face bleak. The rest followed,
Tucu falling in behind McKay when the captain passed him. Preceded by
the Red Bone spokesman, the line advanced between the two bodies of
copper-skins and swung along the evil-smelling avenue to its upper end.

There, in the very center of the loop joining the two rows of huts, was
a house twice as big as any other. From its doorway the inhabitant of
that house could watch the whole life of the Red Bone town. Obviously it
was the home of the chief. At its door a pair of warriors stood guard,
but of the ruler himself there was no sign.

Ten paces from it the thin-featured leader stopped and motioned to McKay
to halt. As the captain and the line behind him did so he stalked
onward, passed through the doorway, and faded from sight in the dimness
beyond. With one accord the members of the visiting party looked around
them.

The street behind now was filled with the mass of Red Bone warriors who
had trooped after the column. All exit in that direction was blockaded.
But the ex-officers noted that between the houses were spaces each wide
enough to hold a couple of men, and in an undertone McKay gave defensive
instructions to Lourenço.

“If fighting starts, have the Mayorunas take cover along these houses on
each side. We who have guns will use the chief’s house. We can sweep the
whole street from there. You two fellows capture the chief alive if
possible. He’ll be more useful as a hostage than as a corpse.”

Pedro beamed approval of this swiftly formed plan. Lourenço muttered to
Tucu, who in turn passed the word down the line. Then all stood waiting.

Presently the Red Bone man came out. He shouted a name. From the doorway
near at hand, where he had been standing and peering at the small but
formidable body of newcomers, an old man now stepped forth and advanced,
limping a little, to the hatchet-face. The latter talked briefly to him,
then to Tucu. The Mayoruna leader pointed to Lourenço. The old man spoke
to the Brazilian, who answered at once. Thereupon the wizened old fellow
entered the chief’s house.

“That old man speaks the Mayoruna tongue quite well, Capitao,” said
Lourenço. “He says you and I shall enter and talk through his mouth with
the chief. All others remain outside, and we must leave our rifles
here.”

“All right. Glad we can leave Tucu out here to control these fellows.
Here, Merry.” He passed his rifle to Knowlton. Pedro took Lourenço’s
gun. With packs still on their backs the chosen men proceeded to the
doorway and entered the house where waited the ruler of the Red Bone
tribe.

Behind them the line settled into easier postures of waiting. The Red
Bones, though so compactly ranged as to cut off any chance of escape,
held their distance, obviously neither inclined to fraternize nor ready
to precipitate conflict by crowding. Thus, while keeping their ears open
for any sound of a concerted movement from behind, the visitors could
use their eyes to inspect the huts nearest them.

In some of these, women stood near the doorways, staring with unwinking
absorption at the light-skinned, athletic men outside who were so much
better to look upon than their own mates. The Mayorunas returned the
stares with the brief glances of men accustomed to noticing everything
but totally uninterested–as well they might be, for these poorly
shaped, heavy-mouthed, mud-skinned females were not to be compared with
their own women. Knowlton and Pedro, too, looked them over, but with the
same expression as if inspecting a family of lizards. Then they glanced
into other huts now empty of life, and in a couple of these they saw
rigid red-hued objects hanging from the roofs.

“The red bones of the dead, senhor,” Pedro muttered, and his blond
companion, peering again at the sinister decorations, nodded without
reply.

Voices came to them from the chief’s house, talking with droning
deliberation. Evidently no cause for friction had yet arisen. They let
their eyes rove on beyond the guarded doorway, to pause at a house a
short distance away at the right. There stood a clubman, who leaned idly
on his weapon, but showed no intention of moving from his place. The
door of that house was closed. Not only closed, but barred on the
outside.

“Hm! Looks like a jail,” said Knowlton. Pedro smiled, but an intent look
came into his face and he studied the closed house.

Suddenly both started. At one corner of the house, unseen by the
clubman, a head had cautiously slipped forth. For only an instant it
hung there before dodging back out of sight. But both the watching men
had seen that the face, though half masked by long dark hair and a thick
beard, was much lighter than that of any Red Bone savage. And in the
hair above one ear was a white streak.

CHAPTER XX.

THE RAPOSA

McKay and Lourenço, in a broad, low, musty-smelling room, faced a man
who stood and a man who sat. The man who stood was the old savage who
could talk in the Mayoruna language. The man who sat was the chief of
the Red Bones.

In his first words to the visitors the old interpreter revealed that the
name of the Red Bone ruler was Umanuh. Later on Lourenço informed McKay
that in the Tupi _lengoa geral_ of the Amazonian Indians (which,
however, was not spoken by this tribe) the word “umanuh” meant “corpse.”
And whatever the name may have signified in the language of the Red
Bones, its Tupi definition fitted with disagreeable precision. For
Umanuh was a living cadaver.

Gaunt, gray skinned, lank haired, hollow of cheek and eye, with thin,
cruel lips so tight drawn that the teeth behind seemed to show through,
ribs projecting, clawlike hands resting on bony knees, his whole frame
motionless as that of a man long dead, the head man of the bone-dyeing
tribe was the antithesis of both the piggish Suba and the herculean
Monitaya. Only his eyes lived; and those eyes were cold and merciless as
those of a snake or a vulture. A man who ruled by ruthless cunning, who
would gaze unmoved on the most ghastly tortures, who would devour human
flesh with ghoulish relish–such was the creature who sat in a red-dyed
hammock and contemplated the impassive face of McKay.

“Umanuh, great chief, eater of his enemies, with fangs of the jaguar and
wisdom of the great snake, awaits the greeting of the one-whose-hair
grows-from-his-mouth,” droned the old mouthpiece of the chief.

“Makkay, leader of the fighting men of the Blackbeards, whose voice is
the thunder and whose hand spits lightning and death, gives greeting to
Umanuh,” responded Lourenço in a like droning tone.

A pause. Umanuh gave no sign of life. McKay, straight and cold, met the
unwinking stare of the chief with his own chill gray gaze. Between the
two who spoke not was a testing of wills.

“Makkay brings with him none of the Blackbeard warriors,” pointed out
the interpreter, who seemed to know his master’s thought. “He comes with
only the jungle men of light skins.”

“Makkay needs none of his own warriors when he comes in peace. If he
came in war the terrible Blackbeards with him would cause the whole
forest to fly apart in smoke and flame. Since he walks in peace to visit
his friend Umanuh, of whose wisdom he has heard, he brings only his
friends the Mayorunas, who are friends also to the men of the Red
Bones.”

Another pause. The old man now seemed somewhat uncertain of himself. The
silent duel between McKay and Umanuh went on. At length the chief’s eyes
flickered a trifle. In a hissing whisper he said something.

“The men of the Mayorunas never come to this country unless seeking
something,” the interpreter promptly spoke up. “What do they seek?”

“Only that which Makkay seeks.”

Then, turning to the captain, the Brazilian added: “Capitao, we now have
reached the point to talk business. Have you any presents? And is it
your wish to give them now or later?”

“I have a few things. But I’ll give them later–if at all. This chief is
hostile. Tell him what we’re here for and see how he acts.”

“It has come to the ears of Makkay,” Lourenço informed the man of
Umanuh, “that a man of the Blackbeards lives among the men of the Red
Bones. Makkay would see that man.”

Again the interpreter awaited his master’s voice before answering.

“No man of the Blackbeards is among the men of Umanuh,” he then denied.

“If he is not among them he is near them,” was Lourenço’s certain reply.
“He has been seen both by other Blackbeards and by the Mayorunas. I,
too, have seen him. He bears on his bones the sign that his mind is out
of his skull. His eyes are green and his hair touched with white. Umanuh
and his men know well that I speak true.”

The pause this time was longer than before.

“There was such a man, but he is gone.”

“Then Makkay asks his friend Umanuh to find that one. A chief so wise
can easily find him where others would see only water and mud.”

“If he could be found what would the great Blackbeard leader do with
him?”

Lourenço thought swiftly. To say the Raposa was McKay’s friend would do
little good. Friendship meant nothing to this unfeeling brute. Therefore
the bushman insinuated something which his cruel mind could comprehend.

“If a Red Bone man abandoned his people and went to another tribe, what
would Umanuh do to him when he was found?”

A cold glimmer in the chief’s eyes showed that he thought he understood.
Moreover, he would much like to see what sort of torture this hard-faced
Blackbeard would use on a fugitive. It might be something even more
fiendish than his own pastimes. So the next reply came promptly.

“If that man is found the blackbeard will pay for him?”

“There are gifts of friendship for Umanuh,” Lourenço nodded.

“The Blackbeard leader will pay more than the other Blackbeard?”

Lourenço almost blinked. What other Blackbeard? The Raposa himself? But
the Brazilian repressed his bewilderment.

“Makkay will first see the man to make sure he is the Blackbeard whom
Makkay wants,” he dodged. “Then he will pay well.”

“Umanuh will see the gifts now.”

“The gifts cannot be shown now. They are packed away. When Makkay has
looked on the man Umanuh shall look on the gifts.”

Another eye duel between the chief and McKay. As before, the captain’s
eye proved the harder.

“Umanuh will think of the matter. Night comes. The man hunted by the
Blackbeard is not here. The Blackbeard and his men may stay to-night
across the water. When the sun rises again Umanuh will talk further.”

“It is well. Let Umanuh tell his men to stay on this side of the water,
that we may not mistake them in the night for enemies.”

When Umanuh had hissed assent the old man stepped to the doorway and
summoned the hatchet-faced warrior. To him instructions were given. He
turned and carried the commands to the tribesmen.

“Makkay wishes Umanuh peaceful rest,” said Lourenço. With which he
flicked his eyes toward the door. McKay, with stiff stride, stalked out.
Lourenço followed. Both felt the snake eyes of the cadaverous chief
dwelling on their backs.

To the waiting Knowlton, Pedro, and Tucu it was briefly explained that
preliminary negotiations had been concluded and that camp now would be
made on the farther side of the creek. Tucu, observing that the Red Bone
mass behind was dividing again to let the visitors pass through, gave
the word to his men. The column began to move out, marching in reverse
order. Pedro muttered swiftly to his partner.

“Lourenço, see that house with the barred door where the clubman stands
guard. Remember where it is.”

The other swept the loop in one quick glance, located the house, and
fell into step without a word, the guarded structure fixed on his brain
as clearly as if he had studied it for an hour. Walking down the
malodorous street, he said, quietly, “There will be a small moon
to-night.”

“You are becoming a reader of the mind, comrade,” Pedro grinned. No more
was said.

Down to the shore of the creek trooped the party, followed closely by
the hatchet-face and a score of tribesmen. The whites and the Mayorunas
got into half a dozen of the waiting canoes and paddled across. In other
dugouts the Red Bone men also crossed, but they did not land. As soon as
the borrowed boats were empty the tribesmen took them in tow and
returned to their own bank. The visitors were left on a partly cleared
shore, separated from their uncordial hosts by some twenty yards of deep
water. Not one canoe was left them. Furthermore, the Red Bones now began
activities indicating an intention to establish a night-longwatch on the
irside of the stream.

“Taking no chances of our raiding them to-night, or even snooping around
town,” said Knowlton. “Keeping everything in their own hands. Reckon
we’d better post sentries to-night, Rod, just to keep an eye on that
outpost of theirs.”

McKay nodded.

“We four will take it in turn,” he agreed. “Lourenço–Pedro–you–I.
Three-hour tours.”

“Pardon, Capitao,” interposed Pedro. “It would be well to change that.
You two senhores take the first two watches.”

“Why?” frowned McKay.

“Because Lourenço and I wish to go visiting. We are much smitten with
the charms of the ladies here.”

The captain’s frown deepened, but he studied Pedro’s devil-may-care face
keenly before answering.

“Humph! What’s up your sleeve? Out with it!”

Pedro glanced around him and across the water. The tribesmen, both of
the Mayoruna force and of the Red Bones, were watching the colloquy.

“We are watched, Capitao. Let us make camp now and talk later. These men
do not understand our words, but we cannot tell what they may see in our
faces. Now speak harshly, as if I had been insolent.”

McKay did. He thundered at the young bushman as if about to do him
bodily injury.

Pedro retreated a step, as if taken aback by the storm he had unleashed.
When McKay stopped he replied: “Excellent, Capitao. Now I go to start
work on the _tambo_.”

He trudged away with a sullen gait. On both sides of the stream the
Indians muttered and looked at the tall commander with increased
respect. Truly, the Blackbeard was a fierce ruler and one who must not
be angered; he had the voice of a great gun and the temper of a jaguar.
That other man was lucky to have his head still on his shoulders!

When the camp was made at the edge of the bush and the four comrades
were grouped in their hammocks, Lourenço narrated in detail the
conversation with Umanuh. Knowlton reciprocated with news of what he and
Pedro had seen at the corner of the barred house.

“I almost jumped after him, Rod,” he admitted. “Had all I could do to
hold myself. But I knew anything sudden like that might start war right
there, and we wouldn’t have a Chinaman’s chance of getting away with
him, so I stood fast. But he’s here, and old Umanuh’s a liar by the
clock if he says otherwise.”

“He is the same man we saw in the forest, Lourenço, or my eyes are
twisted,” added Pedro.

“Hm! Something very fishy here,” commented McKay.

“Very fishy indeed, Capitao,” Lourenço echoed. “The man is within call,
yet Umanuh says he is not here. And Umanuh wants us to buy the man. What
is more, he asks if we will pay more than the other Blackbeard. What
other Blackbeard? The man himself has a dark beard, and since we left
headquarters Pedro and I have grown black whiskers, too. Yet Umanuh
cannot mean the crazy man would pay him to stay here, or that either of
us Brazilians would try to buy him. There are no other men with black
beards–except the German woman-stealer; and of course he cannot be the
one.”

“No?” Pedro asked, softly.

“No, certainly. Why? Of what were you thinking?”

Pedro’s brown eyes twinkled, but he made no answer. He only inhaled a
long puff from his cigarette and looked across the water at the
hairpin-shaped town.

“What about that visiting trip of yours to-night?” McKay asked.

“I wish to see what is in that house with the barred door, Capitao. When
I am curious about such a matter Lourenço always becomes curious, too,
so I shall have to take him with me. If I did not he would say I was
making love to the chief’s wives.”

“_Por Deus!_ That may be all the barred house holds–the wives of the
chief,” guessed Lourenço. “Why waste time and risk death to look into
that place?”

“_Quem nao arrisca nao ganha_, as the coronel would say–he who risks
nothing gains nothing. I feel that we should visit that house. Something
calls me back to it.”

Lourenço studied his partner a moment, then nodded slowly. But McKay
interposed decided objection.

“Too dangerous. Also unnecessary. We’ll get Rand–if the man is
Rand–through the chief. Your night spying might ruin everything and get
you killed into the bargain. Nothing to gain and all to lose. Stay
here.”

Pedro’s eyes hardened. But it was Lourenço who answered.

“Capitao, I think we had best do as Pedro says. It is a queer thing and
I cannot explain it, but I have known him to have such ideas in the past
and they have always worked out for the best. He himself does not know
why he does some things–things which look totally foolish and which
often are very dangerous–except that he feels like doing them. Yet I
have never known this foolishness to fail to turn out well. He and I
will go over to-night and see what we may see.”

The captain’s brows drew together. Flat insubordination! Then he
remembered that these men were not subordinates at all; remembered also
what Coronel Nunes said concerning their ability to get into and out of
dangerous situations. When Knowlton sided with them he capitulated.

“Up in the States we’d say Pedro was ‘riding his hunch,'” was the
lieutenant’s remark. “And I’ve known a hunch to bring all kinds of good
luck. Gee! I’d like to go across with you lads myself! But I’m no jungle
expert, especially after dark, and I’d only be in the way. Besides,
we’ll sure have to stick here and keep up appearances while you’re gone.
How will you get over? There’s no way but swimming, and this creek’s
probably inhabited by the usual ‘gators and snakes and things.”

“When one can travel only by swimming, one swims,” Pedro smiled. “Leave
that to us, senhores. Now the sun sinks fast and I have hunger. Let us
eat.”

Night was at hand. While the whites talked some of the Mayorunas had
quietly slipped away into the bush, seeking whatever fresh meat might be
obtainable without straying too far from camp. Naturally, the hunting
was poor so near an inhabited place, but now the absent men came
stealing back with a few small birds and one monkey. Though the savages
asked nothing and evidently expected nothing from the whites to eke out
this scant provision, the latter opened their meager larders to Tucu,
ordering him to see that every man had at least a few mouthfuls to eat.
Tucu, like a good commander, made no bones of accepting the invitation
for the good of his men. When all hands had stowed away the last meal of
the day the rations were reduced almost to the vanishing point.

“Those miserable whelps over there might have had the decency to give us
a few bites,” Knowlton growled, looking at the Red Bone men on the other
bank, who were gorging themselves on meat brought by their women.

“It is quite possible that they intend to give us several bites later
on,” Pedro suggested, with a mirthless smile.

“Uh-huh. Shouldn’t wonder. But it’s also possible that they’ll have to
assimilate a few lead pills before chewing us up. Rod, we’ll have our
work cut out standing guard to-night. I wouldn’t put it past that lying
old Umanuh to try rubbing us out before morning.”

“Nor I,” concurred McKay. “Only question is whether he dares take a
chance against our guns and against the likelihood that Monitaya will
send other men to investigate our disappearance. Better keep well out of
sight.”

As he spoke the last light of day vanished. Stars and a quarter moon
leaped out in the swiftly darkening sky. The small fire of the
expedition threw dim shadows against the poles of the night shelters.
Lights glimmered in the Red Bone huts, and other lights began to streak
across the gloom–the bright little lanterns of fireflies coasting along
the stream. But at the point where the Red Bone night guard lurked no
light shone. They had built no fire, and now they were almost invisible
in the faint moonshine–sinister shadows which even now might be
meditating murder or worse.

Lourenço lounged over to Tucu, who was watching those shadows with a
fixed cat stare, and informed him that until morning a man with a gun
would be always on guard while the rest slept. The Indian grunted
approval. By way of precaution against being killed by his own men, the
Brazilian added the information that later on he and his comrade would
leave the camp and go upstream for a time. At this Tucu’s eyes dwelt on
his, veered to the lights of the town, and returned. In them was a
plain, though unspoken, question. The bushman ignored it and strolled
back to his _tambo_.

The moon sailed higher. The animal uproar of early night began to
diminish. The fire, almost buried under slow-burning wood whose acrid
smoke alleviated the insect pests, smoldered dull red. McKay and
Knowlton drew lots for the first sleep, the captain winning and promptly
getting under his net. In the Mayoruna shelter all was dark and silent,
each man sleeping lightly with one hand on a weapon. The two Brazilians
also were out of sight in their hut.

Up and down, a barely distinguishable figure, Knowlton passed slowly
with holster unbuttoned and rifle cocked, eyes turning periodically to
the Red Bone outpost and ears intent to pick any unusual sound out of
the night noise. Gradually the small lights of the town faded out. To
all appearance, sleep had whelmed it for the night. The watchers on the
farther shore stirred a little at times, but the blot they made in the
moonshine remained fixed in the same spot. The only moving things were
the khaki-clad sentinel and the blazing fireflies.

Another hour rolled slowly by. The sentinel stopped and stood at a
corner of the _tambo_. Now was as good a time as any for the Brazilians
to start their perilous reconnaissance. Perhaps they had gone to sleep.
He squinted at their hammocks. Yes, they were occupied. Stepping softly
to the hammock of Pedro, he lifted the net to whisper to the occupant.
Then he stared, dropped the net, and lifted Lourenço’s curtain. A soft,
self-derisive chuckle sounded in his throat as he stole out again.

The hammocks were occupied, yes; but only by packs and rifles. Armed
only with machetes, the two bushmen now were–where? He did not even
know when or which way they had gone. Fine sentinel, wasn’t he, to let
two full-grown men sneak away right under his nose? And if they could
get out so slick, why couldn’t somebody else–a murderous Red Bone, for
instance–get in with equal facility?

Wherefore he became all the more alert. Instead of resuming his slow
pace, he stood quiet at a corner, scrutinizing everything within his
range of vision, listening more intently than ever. Two or three times
he leaned forward and lifted his piece as some splashing noise in the
creek came to him; but each time the cannibal guards on the other bank
also sprang to see what caused the sound, then grunted to one another
and relaxed, so he knew it was made by piscatory or reptilian life. Near
him nothing moved. And the moon sailed on westward, smoothly, steadily
measuring off the silent hours of the night watch.

Then all at once every nerve in him strained toward the back of the
_tambo_. Something was there! He had not heard it–seen it–smelled
it–but he felt it; a nameless thing that did not belong there. With
smooth speed he pivoted, looked, listened. Nothing there.

Motionless, feeling slightly creepy, concealed under the roof corner, he
waited. A sound came–a stealthy sound. Something was creeping in.
Lourenço and Pedro, perhaps? Stooping low, he peered along the ground
under the hammocks.

A man was coming–coming on all-fours like an animal. He was too
stealthy to be either of the Brazilians. Knowlton glimpsed him only
dimly, but he was sure this was no man who belonged here. And now, as on
a previous occasion almost identical in its circumstances, the watchman
acted in accordance with Tim Ryan’s General Order Number Thirteen.

In three jumps he was upon the invader. His gun butt crashed down on the
rising head. The other collapsed on the ground.

Swiftly Knowlton snapped a match with his thumb-nail. The sudden flare
half blinded him, but what he saw made him suck in his breath. When the
match went out he turned the senseless body over, drew his pocket
flashlight, stabbed its white ray downward. Then he committed the
unpardonable sin of the army–he dropped his rifle.

Dark haired, dark bearded, streaked with red dye and bleeding slightly
at the nose, at his feet lay the man for whom the indomitable trio had
traveled thousands of miles and dared all the deaths of the jungle–the
Raposa.

CHAPTER XXI.

SHADOWS OF THE NIGHT

“Rod! Wake up!”

The tense whisper aroused McKay instantly. With one sweep of the arm his
net was torn aside and he leaped out with pistol drawn.

“Right, Merry. What is it?”

“We’ve got him! Look!”

The electric ray again streaked the gloom. The astounded captain did not
drop his gun, but he came near it. For a long minute he stood as in a
trance. When he attempted to holster his weapon he fumbled three times
for the sheath before he found it.

“Whew!” he breathed. “Have you killed him?”

“Nope–don’t think so. Lord! I hope not! Now that I think of it, I did
give him a mighty solid smash. Used the butt. He was crawling in here,
and naturally I didn’t stop to ask for his card. Feel his head.”

McKay complied. His exploring fingers found only a huge bump under the
thick hair.

“No, his skull’s whole. Didn’t even split the scalp. You crowned him
hard, but unless he got concussion he’s still useful. His nosebleed
comes from hitting the ground, I think. Turn off the light. Are you
still on guard?”

“Yes. The Brazilians are out.”

“Take a turn and see that all’s clear. Can’t tell what might break any
minute now. Leave your flash here.”

Passing the flat, nickel light-box to the captain, Knowlton retrieved
his gun from the ground and resumed his patrol. Slight as the
disturbance had been, uneasiness was in the air. The savages on the far
shore were up, peering at the _tambo_ and muttering to one another.
Measuring the distance, the lieutenant saw that, though they had
undoubtedly seen the flashlight switched on and off and made out the
movements of men, they could not have discerned what lay on the ground
beyond the hammocks. Nearer at hand, Tucu and a couple of the Mayorunas
were awake and looking out. But the sight of the sentinel strolling up
and down in apparent unconcern and the absence of light in the _tambo_
gradually quieted the suspicions on both sides of the water. Soon the
Red Bones squatted again and the Mayorunas lay back with minds at ease.

Then a dim sheen of light showed for a time at the back of the white
men’s shelter, fading out after a few minutes into the usual gloom.
McKay had pulled a blanket over himself and the unconscious man, masking
his torch glare from any watching eye while he studied the face and form
of the invader. After the faint radiance vanished certain sounds came to
the sentry’s ears. Then McKay’s tall figure loomed in the vague
moonshine. Knowlton stopped beside him.

“It’s Rand,” the captain vouchsafed in an undertone. “No question of it.
Features identical, though face is drawn. White hair mark, broken nose,
green eyes. I opened one eye. Got a bad foot, partly healed; looks as if
he’d torn it on a stub. Poor devil seems nearly starved.”

“So? Then that’s why he sneaked in like that–wanted to steal some grub.
Those mutts over yonder probably haven’t fed him since he got hurt.”

“That’s it. He’s had to do his own foraging, and his foot has given him
mighty little chance. Damn those brutes!”

“Right! But now what? Look out that he doesn’t sneak away again.”

“He won’t. I tied his feet. He’s in Pedro’s hammock, still dead to the
world. If he wakes up and starts to yell I’ll gag him. We’ve got to get
away now as soon as we can.”

“How?”

“Don’t know. By water, perhaps. Wish those bushman were here. Haven’t
heard any noise over there, have you?”

“All quiet. They’re safe–or dead.”

“Hm! Confounded foolishness, anyway. But we’ve no means of getting out
until they’re back. Couldn’t desert them, besides. What time is it?”

“Ten-thirty. You go on watch at midnight.”

“I’m on watch now, inside. They may be back any time. If they don’t show
up in the next couple of hours I’ll send Tucu to find out why. We’ll
have to get those canoes over here, too. Water leaves no trail.”

He turned back into the hut, leaving Knowlton figuring chances. To
obtain those canoes was a man-sized job. To put the Red Bone guards out
of action without arousing the whole tribe was an even bigger job. But
no boats could be brought over until the outpost was silenced, that was
sure.

Another half-hour crept past. Still no noise from the town, no
suspicious move on the other shore. Then from the _tambo_ itself came a
low mumble of voices. Knowlton stepped swiftly into it. As noiselessly
as they had gone the two bushmen had returned.

In his usual concise phrases McKay was informing them of the capture of
the Raposa. With his back to the stream and the flashlight held close to
his body, he played the light for an instant on the face of the still
unconscious man. Then, once more in darkness, he asserted:

“Now that we have him, we must get out of here. Only chance to do that
is to get the canoes. With them we can at least be away from this town
by sunrise, and it will take the Red Bones just so much longer to find
our trail where we take to the bush. We’ll get a flying start that way.
Anything else to suggest?”

“That is the best plan, Capitao,” Lourenço agreed. For the first time
since the Americans had known him his voice held a note of suppressed
excitement. “It is the only plan worth while. And I do not think we
shall have to take to our legs soon–if at all. I believe this creek
connects with that which flows past the Monitaya _malocas_. We have
learned some things. _Por Deus!_ If only we had known the Raposa was
here!”

“Why?”

“Because then we could have brought company with us. Senhores, guess
what the barred house holds.”

“Well?”

“Women of the Mayorunas! Girls stolen from Monitaya and other
settlements!”

“Jumping Judas!” ejaculated Knowlton. “Are you sure?”

“Sure, comrades! These foul Red Bones are the men who have been lurking
around the Mayoruna tribe houses and capturing girls who went into the
bush. They have taken the prisoners to the water, where the trails
always were lost and where they could find hiding places until night,
then drive their canoes past the clearings and get out of that country.
So there must be some water connection by which these men travel, and by
which we too can travel. If we go downstream we are almost sure to find
it by daylight.”

“But why–what’s the idea of their stealing the girls? For victims? If
so, how are the girls still alive?”

“Do you not see, senhor?” Pedro broke in, impatiently. “Did not Umanuh
ask if we would pay more than the other Blackbeard for the Raposa? What
other Blackbeard?”

“Schwandorf!” the Americans blurted, simultaneously.

“Not so loud! Schwandorf, of course! Umanuh works with the German. He
catches girls by stealth and sells them to the German to add to his
slave gangs. While the Mayorunas all blame the Peruvians for the
disappearances, Umanuh works unsuspected. He is holding these women
until Schwandorf comes again–and it may be that Schwandorf is not far
off at this moment. Now that we have come seeking the wild man, Umanuh
at once thinks of selling him also; and he wonders whether we or
Schwandorf will pay the more for him.”

“By thunder! I believe you’re right!” Knowlton coincided. “He’s stalling
for time, holding us here while Schwandorf comes up, I’ll bet. No wonder
he and his men are wary of the Mayorunas–they thought we’d come to
snoop around and catch ’em with the goods. You fellows must have done a
mighty slick job to find out this stuff without getting caught. Isn’t
the house guarded at night?”

“Indeed it is! Two clubmen are there now, and there is only the one
door. Not even a window. But Lourenço worked a small hole between two
logs at the back while I watched the clubmen, and through the hole he
whispered with one of the women inside. If only we had known the wild
man was here we could have jumped the guards and tried to bring back the
women. But of course your business about the Raposa had to be thought of
first, so all we could do was to tell them friends were here.”

For a few seconds there was the silence of thought. Then Knowlton
chuckled.

“I’ll say we have our hands full this night. Now we not only have to get
ourselves and Rand out of here, but also rescue the fair damsels from
the clutches of the ogre. ‘Twon’t do to leave them here while we go back
to Monitaya and get the rest of his army. By the time we could come back
they’d be gone–one way or another. What’s done has to be done now or
never.”

“Right!” McKay commended. “We’ll have to save the women, of course.
Question is–how?”

Lourenço answered at once.

“My idea, Capitao, is this: We two will return. With us we will take
Tucu. The three of us can handle those guards quietly. We must have
Tucu, because the women do not know us and might balk at the last
moment. Women are queer creatures, and these might think themselves
safer inside prison walls than following two strange men through the
night; but Tucu can handle them. When once we are clear of the houses
Tucu can lead the women to the bank above here, and we shall try for the
canoes. Then it will be fast work to get away, but if we have good
fortune it can be done.”

“Confound it! You fellows are taking all the risks! Can’t you take more
men–”

“No. No man but Tucu. He has a cool head. These others, if they knew,
would go blood-mad and attack the Red Bones to avenge their lost women,
and so would get us all killed. Now I will talk with Tucu.”

He slipped into the Mayoruna shelter and returned with the cannibal
leader, whom he led to the far side of the _tambo_ before speaking.
Then, in whispers which the other tribesmen could not overhear, he
explained the situation. Knowlton took another turn or two along his
post, finding that the Red Bones across the water were stirring about
and evidently aware that something was going on; but they made no move
either to get into a canoe or to send a man to the houses beyond. As he
stopped again at the corner near the whispering pair he heard Tucu
grinding his teeth, and as the savage turned his face toward the Red
Bone outpost it was a mask of murder. But he spoke no word as he slipped
back to his own men.

“He will wake another man and tell him what to do,” Lourenço explained.
“But only we four shall know of the women until they are freed. Will one
of you lend Tucu a machete? He may need a weapon, and he cannot carry
his big bow on this trip.”

A few minutes later the three crept out behind the _tambo_, Tucu
gripping McKay’s machete. As a final word Lourenço said: “Our men here
may move about a little after a time, but do not try to keep them quiet.
It is a part of the plan.”

With that he was gone. Listen as they might, the Americans could hear no
sound to indicate that three men now were traversing the black tangle
beyond.

McKay took up his rifle and assumed the sentry work. Knowlton sat in his
hammock, grateful for the chance to rest his weary legs. From the
hammock where the Raposa lay no sound came. With a worried frown the
lieutenant leaned over him and laid hand on his heart. After a while he
sat up again in relief.

“Lord! I sure knocked him cold!” was his thought. “But he’s still with
us, and there’s no use in reviving him now; the less noise over here the
better. Hope I didn’t jar his brains loose altogether; he might wake up
a murderous maniac. Poor devil! A millionaire, yet half starved and more
than half nutty.”

He glanced at the dim scene before the hut. The moon now had journeyed
so far westward that the creeping shadows of the tall trees had moved
out almost to the creek, and the two crude shelters and the sentinel
were surrounded by dense gloom. The Red Bone men opposite must rely on
their ears alone hereafter, for they could not see through this
darkness. McKay was visible enough to his own party, but not to the
enemy. The blond man in the hammock watched the somber figure of his
comrade, followed the flight of a big firefly whose light floated near,
thought of the two bushmen out in the dark, and looked again at the
still form of Rand.

“Drifters all,” he soliloquized. “The fireflies and Rod and Tim and I
and those Brazilian dare-devils–all floating around because we can’t
keep still, and never getting anywhere. And you, you silly-ass Rand,
have a mint waiting for you up home, and we have to come find you and
lead you up there and shove your nose into it. And if you get your
brains back you’ll be a nine days’ wonder and a hero of the jungle and
all that, and the girls will all tumble over you–because you’ve got a
couple of millions in your sock. And we fellows who yanked you out of
hell by the left hind leg can pocket our pay and go jump off the dock,
for all anybody cares. Ho-hum! All the same, I’d rather be me than you,
old thing. Free to drift and able to handle myself. You can have the
money and the moths that hang around it.”

With which he yawned, squinted again at the sinister figure squatting
out yonder in the moonshine, arose, and made himself useful. Working
very quietly, he took down three of the hammocks, rolled them up, laid
them at the corner nearest the creek; made up the packs by sense of
touch and placed them and the rifles of the absent pair in the same
place. Then he lifted the Raposa from the one remaining hammock, laid
him on the packs, rolled up the hammock itself, and put it under the
unconscious man’s head. If given time when the crisis came, he meant to
save all equipment. If not, Rand lay where he could be grabbed without
delay.

Before he completed the work he became aware that the Mayorunas all were
awake. Not only awake, but moving stealthily about, as Lourenço had
predicted. McKay also knew it and stepped back into the hut, where
Knowlton told him what he had done. But so softly did the men of
Monitaya move that the Red Bone watchers showed no sign of alarm. Both
the Americans observed, however, that the cannibals across the stream
had their heads together and that occasionally one looked up at the
little moon.

“Get that, Rod? They’re waiting for the shadows to crawl over there and
cover them and the water. They know that then we can’t see what they’re
up to. I’m betting they intend to pull some dirty work after that.”

“Yep. But intention and accomplishment are two different birds. Wonder
what these Mayorunas are fixing to do. Wish I could talk their
language.”

“Tucu evidently left orders for them to get up at a certain time, but
why I don’t know. We’d better let them alone.”

The shadow line passed out upon the water, slipping by infinitesimal
gradations across its mirror surface. The Mayorunas had become quiet.
The whites waited in silent suspense for they knew not what. Far out in
the forest a jaguar gave his coughing roar at intervals. Little by
little the Red Bone men arose from their squat until they stood erect. A
tense stillness held both forces. And the shadows crawled on–on–and
reached the farther bank.

Then a Red Bone man shoved his head forward, squinting upstream as if he
had heard something move in the rank grass. He began to sneak softly in
that direction. At that moment, from the water’s edge a little above the
camp, sounded a loud hiss.

Before the sound died a sudden thrum of bow cords filled the air. A
whisper of five-foot shafts speeding over the water–a rapid-fire series
of tiny impacts–a couple of short groans–the thumps of falling
bodies–and the Red Bone outpost was no more. Shot through and through
by the deadly war arrows of the Mayorunas, they were dead before they
struck the ground. And from the men of Monitaya sounded one short,
subdued “Hah!” of savage satisfaction.

Up from the ground where that hiss had sounded rose a tall figure which
waved its arms and danced about in impromptu signals. Then it ran for
the canoes. Out from the gloom upstream other figures took shape,
running fast for the same point. With one simultaneous movement Knowlton
and McKay seized the Raposa and rushed with him to the stream.

“Senhores!” sounded Pedro’s voice, low but tense, across the water. “Be
ready!”

“Ready and waiting!” snapped McKay. “Who are those people. Your women?”

“_Si._ We are not discovered–”

Across his words smote a long shrill yell from the town.

“_Por Deus._ We _are_ discovered! Get our rifles, for the love of _Deus
Padre_.”

He leaped into a canoe, drove it headlong across, and dived for the
_tambo_. Behind him the other figures dashed panting up to the landing.
Tucu’s voice rasped in swift commands. The fugitives swarmed into other
dugouts. The Mayoruna men, still ignorant of the identity of these
people, but assured by Tucu’s voice and manner that they were not
enemies, lowered their weapons and rushed for the water. Up in the town
the yelling swiftly grew into a roar, and running figures came pelting
toward the creek.

The canoes struck the bank. Some were partly filled, some empty and in
tow. Into Pedro’s canoe the whites bundled the Raposa, while the
Mayorunas got into anything within reach. Lourenço appeared from nowhere
and urged the Americans to open fire. As he spoke, arrows thudded into
the ground and the water.

“Take this man and go!” rasped McKay. “We’re losing our equipment,
but–”

His rifle leaped to his shoulder. Flame spat from it. From the van of
the charging Red Bones shrilled a death scream.

Again and again the captain’s gun cracked. Knowlton’s joined in. Before
their rifles grew silent the blunt roar of Pedro’s repeater broke out.
And with the emptying of their long guns the Americans drew their short
ones, and in a concerted ripping crash the forty-fives volleyed death
and dismay into the oncoming cannibals.

The rush was checked. For a few seconds the Red Bones wavered and milled
about. Into their mass poured a cloud of arrows and blowgun darts from
the silent but no less deadly weapons of the Mayorunas. As the whites
paused to reload, Pedro opened a new blast from Lourenço’s rifle, which
his comrade had passed to him on the run. Lourenço was not shooting, but
working madly and alone to save the equipment. And, thanks to the
renewed deadly fire of the guns, he saved it.

Before the wicked belch of the three rifles and the two automatics the
Red Bones gave back more and more. Their arrows plunged all around the
fighting men, but they fell at random, for the gunmen and the canoes
were virtually invisible in the deep shadows. Downstream, Tucu’s harsh
voice jarred in commands as he straightened out the line of boats.

At the next lull in the firing Lourenço panted: “In, comrades! We are
loaded. In!”

“Great guns! Are you still here?” snapped McKay. “I told you–”

“In! Talk later. Come!”

The three gun fighters swiftly obeyed. With a powerful heave Lourenço
sent the canoe after the others. Americans, Brazilians, and the Raposa
hunched up among the packs, all went sliding down a jungle Styx.

A moment later the Red Bone warriors, taking heart from the cessation of
firing, poured an avalanche of arrows into the spot where they had been.
And as the canoe, last in the escaping line, was swallowed up in the
impenetrable blackness of the forest a hair-raising screech of
diabolical fury blended with a swift succession of splashes back where
the cannibals were plunging headlong into the stream to reach the dead
or wounded men whom they vainly hoped to find on the farther shore.

“I told you to take this man and go!” McKay fumed. “By disobeying orders
you risked losing him.”

“Oh, pipe down, Rod!” remonstrated Knowlton. “If they had, where’d we be
now? This was the last canoe.”

“_Si._ It is so,” added Lourenço, his voice hard edged. “As it is, the
man and the equipment and you also are here. And let me tell you this,
Capitao Makkay, whether you like it or not: Pedro and I would see this
wild man and a million others like him in a hotter place than this
before we would abandon fighting comrades.”

To which McKay, finding no adequate answer, made none whatever.

CHAPTER XXII.

THE SIREN OF WAR

Like a fleet manned by sightless sailors the line of boats blundered on
through the blackness. With no guiding light, the canoes bumped the
banks and collided with one another in perilous confusion. Speed was
impossible, yet speed was imperative. Knowlton and his little flashlight
solved the problem.

“Say, fellows, let’s take the lead,” he suggested. “This little light
isn’t much, but it’s something, and there are some extra batteries in my
haversack when this burns out. We can see a little way ahead, and pass
back the word to the rest. What say?”

“_Na terra dos cegos quem tem um olho e rei_–in blindman’s land he who
has one eye is king,” said Pedro. “That little white eye in your box may
save us all. Lourenço, tell those ahead to let us pass.”

Without question the preceding dugouts swerved, and the boat of the
white men slipped by. At the head of the line they found Tucu and his
crew struggling manfully to make progress without wrecking the whole
fleet at the turns. Vast relief and instant acceptance of the new
leadership followed Lourenço’s explanation. At once the floating column
began to pick up speed. And it was well that it did.

Howls of baffled hate came faintly through the tree mass from the Red
Bone town. Some time later more yells of rage sounded, much nearer–back
at a place on the creek which the last boat had cleared only a few
minutes previously. Some of the Umanuh men had made torches and run
along one of the Red Bone trails to a bend in the stream, only to find
the water bare of everything but dying ripples.

Whether the enemy attempted to follow in canoes the escaping party never
knew, for none succeeded in overtaking the rearmost boat. And after that
one snarling uproar on the creek bank they heard no more of the land
pursuit. The narrow margin of safety gained by the aid of the flashlight
proved enough to give a commanding lead, and from that time on the only
obstacles to their retreat were those of darkness and winding waters.

Hour after hour Knowlton squatted in the extreme bow, picking out the
turns and snags just ahead and passing the word back to Lourenço, who,
in the stern, steered in accordance with his orders and relayed the
course to Tucu, just behind. Amidships, Pedro and McKay plied steady
paddles and the Raposa lay all but forgotten on the baggage. There were
no halts. If any boat back in the blackness got into difficulties it
extricated itself as best it could, unaided by the rest, and fell into a
new place in the column.

At last a wan light, which was scarcely a light, but rather a lessening
of the density, came about the stream. The renewed racket of birds and
beasts announced that up overhead the sky had paled into dawn. Slowly
the nearest tree trunks began to take shape in the void, and presently
the shore line became visible to all eyes. At the same time Knowlton’s
tiny lamp dimmed and faded out.

“Another battery gone,” he announced, opening the case and dropping its
contents into the creek. “Ho-yo-ho-hum! Gee! I’m all in! Eyes feel like
a couple of burnt holes. Well, gents, I move that at the first available
spot we go ashore, feed our faces, look at the ladies, and perform our
morning salute to Umanuh–said salute consisting of applying the right
thumb to the end of the nose and snappily twiddling four fingers.”

“Motion carried.” McKay’s set face relaxed. Then, his glance dropping to
the Raposa, it tightened again. “Oh, hullo, Rand! How you feeling?”

The unconscious man was unconscious no longer. Moreover, his expression
was not that of one just emerging from a stupor and bewildered as to his
surroundings. Though he had made no movement to change his position, his
eyes indicated that he had been awake for some time. They dwelt steadily
on McKay, then strayed past the captain to Pedro, Lourenço, and the
first Mayoruna crew following a few feet behind. His face was
inscrutable, and he spoke no word.

“You’re with friends. Understand? Friends. You’re going home. These
Indians are friends, too. Get that? _Friends!_”

The green eyes hung on McKay’s face again; but, as before, no answer
came in word, movement, or expression.

“No good, Rod,” said Knowlton, who could not see the rescued man’s face,
but watched McKay’s. “‘Fraid I knocked his last brains down his throat.
Dead from the neck up.”

“I don’t know about that. He doesn’t look vacant. See here, Rand. We’re
going to land and eat! You hungry? Uh-huh. Thought you’d understand
that. He’s alive, Merry. Maybe not all here, but enough to get us.”

“Good!”

The blond man turned his attention downstream again. Soon he suggested,
“How about landing at that little open space down there at the left,
Lourenço?”

“Very good, senhor. It looks dry.”

The canoe swerved and floated down to a spot on the left shore where
bright light poured down from an opening in the overhead wall of
foliage.

“Now look here, Rand,” warned the captain. “We’ll untie you. But if you
try to duck into the bush, now or later, you get shot. Shot!
Understand?”

He tapped his pistol, and the gray eyes boring into the green ones were
hard as chilled steel. For the first time Rand responded–a slow, short
nod.

McKay cut the cord around the wild man’s ankles, then stepped ashore and
held out a hand. Rand arose quietly, jumped to the earth unassisted,
lifted his bad foot and stared at it, then limped onward into a spot
where the sun now shone bright and warm, and sat down to bask.

“Have to fix that foot, I expect,” yawned Knowlton. “But my eyes right
now are one solid ache, and I’m going to rest them. Watch him, will you,
Rod? Can’t tell what he might do. Of course you wouldn’t shoot him,
but–”

“Wouldn’t I? Not to kill, no. But if he makes one break I’ll drill a leg
for him. He’s going to the States!”

“Sure. I’m with you all the way. Now beat it and let me repose myself.”

He bathed his eyes, then lay down in the canoe with a wet handkerchief
across them. Pedro and Lourenço already were ashore and raiding the
slender packs for food. The Mayorunas were debarking and watching each
new boat as it drew up, their eyes on the women who had wielded paddles
with them but whose faces they now saw closely for the first time. In
the shaft of sunlight McKay stood tall and forbidding, rifle in the
crook of one arm, hat pulled low, guarding the gaunt man at his feet and
viewing the landing of the expedition.

The women, all young, numbered eleven. Their skins looked slightly
pallid, their eyes too big and black, their faces somewhat drawn–the
results of close confinement and anxiety; but none showed any sign of
abuse. For commercial reasons alone, Umanuh had seen to it that the
woman flesh he held for sale should remain uninjured. Now, saved from
the slave trail or worse, the girls showed no more emotion than if on a
mere journey after turtles or fish. A few spoke to men whom they
evidently knew. Others gathered in a dumb cluster and awaited whatever
might come next. With these Tucu talked in gruff monosyllables.

When all were ashore, a dozen of the men went into the jungle to hunt.
The others sought firewood, inspected weapons, talked with one another
and with the girls, who stared at McKay and asked who he was. A number
of the warriors looked sourly at Rand, whose face still bore the Red
Bone tribal streaks which now, to Mayoruna minds, was the insignia of
the enemy. All knew he was the man who had been sought, all saw that he
was not a Red Bone, but a white man; yet their mental reaction to the
sight of the sinister red cross on the forehead and the straight cheek
lines was rabidly hostile. McKay, all-seeing, decided to wash Rand’s
face for him before journeying much farther. But Rand himself gave no
sign that he either knew or cared what the feeling of the Mayorunas
might be. Utterly impassive, he stared back at them.

Then one of the women pointed at him and said something to Tucu. The
tall watchdog’s jaw set a little harder as he waited the effect.
Somewhat to his surprise, Tucu and a couple of the other men now gave
Rand a more friendly look. Soon afterward Tucu passed Lourenço, who
talked with him a few minutes. Catching the Brazilian’s eye, the captain
motioned him nearer and asked for any news.

“Tucu says, Capitao, that most of these girls are from _malocas_ other
than that of Monitaya, though some of Monitaya’s women also are here.
And one of them says this man, the Raposa, tried to release them a short
time ago and was nearly killed by the Red Bones for it. They let him
live only because he is crazy, and they fear to kill a crazy man.”

“What! He tried to get them clear?”

“Yes. He opened the door and motioned for them to run, but before they
could escape they were caught. He was badly beaten. You will remember
that he was hiding behind that same house when Pedro and Senhor Knowlton
saw him. Perhaps he meant to try again.”

“Hm! Crazy and wild, but a white man for all that. How did you manage to
free the women?”

“Very simple,” was the cool answer. “We stabbed the guards, opened the
door, and came back to the creek with the women.”

“Just like that, eh? And the guards made no resistance, I suppose.”

“Not much,” grinned the bushman. “They were not allowed to.”

“I see. Very simple, as you say. About as simple as our calm and
unhurried departure.”

“Something like that, Capitao. What do you desire for breakfast–salt
fish and coffee, or coffee and salt fish?”

“A little of everything, thanks. Here comes some monkey meat, too.”

The first of the hunters had returned, bringing two big red howlers.
Others drifted in at intervals, and not one returned empty handed; for
here in the virgin jungle the game was plentiful, particularly at this
early hour. Soon the air was heavy with the odor of broiling meat, and
from the fire of the Brazilians the fragrance of coffee was wafted to
the nostrils of the recumbent Knowlton. He arose, swallowing fast.

“Gee! I’m half drowned!” was his humorous complaint. “The smell of eats
makes my mouth water so fast I have to gasp for air. Must tickle your
nose, too, eh, Rand, old top?”

Rand, famished though he was, gave no sign of assent or of hunger. In
fact, he gave no sign of anything. Stoically he sat, eyes front.

“By thunder! the man’s got pride!” the lieutenant added, in a lower
tone. “Almost ready to keel over from lack of food, but stiff as a
cigar-store Indian. Darned if I’m not beginning to respect him!”

Tucu approached, carrying two big monkey haunches. One he offered to
McKay, the other to Rand. The latter’s immobility vanished in a flash.
With a lightning grab he seized the proffered meat and sank his teeth in
it. As he wolfed down the tough flesh the three men standing over
exchanged glances. Tucu laid a hand on his stomach and pressed inward,
signifying that the man had long gone hungry. The others nodded. Then
they split the other haunch between them and fell to gnawing.

Lourenço, bringing coffee to the captain, asked Tucu in what direction
the Monitaya houses lay. Without hesitation the Indian pointed off to
the left. The Brazilian glanced at the creek, estimating its general
direction and rate of flow, then returned to his fire.

Offered coffee, Rand took it and sipped it with evident relish. Likewise
he accepted a cigarette, which he puffed like a man just learning to
smoke–or one who has not smoked for years. For his meat, his drink, and
his smoke he gave no indication of gratitude. His attitude was as
indifferent and matter-of-fact as if he were one of the Mayorunas. When
his smoke was ended he began inspecting his bad foot.

“Let’s see that,” said Knowlton, dropping on one knee. “Looks pretty
sore. Yes, it’s more than sore; it’s infected. How’d you get it,
anyway?”

No answer. Knowlton probed his face keenly. Rand straightened out his
legs, wriggled his toes, and scowled.

“Queer!” muttered the lieutenant, rising. “He looks as if he actually
didn’t know how he got that wound. You’d think he’d remember that much,
anyhow. I sure am afraid his head is all scrambled up.”

He went to the canoe, returned with his meager medical kit, and knelt
again.

“Now listen here, Rand. I don’t know how well you understand me, but I’m
taking the chance. This foot has to be opened up and cleaned out.
Otherwise you’re going to have serious trouble with it. I’m going to
hurt you. If you raise a row you’ll get an anæsthetic–a swift punch
under the ear. Better sit still and make no fuss.”

With which he went to work. He did a thorough job, and there was no
doubt that it hurt. But Rand gave no trouble, nor even a sign of
pain–except that he dug his fingers into the dirt.

“Good boy!” the amateur surgeon approved, when he finished. “You’re a
Spartan–if you happen to remember what that is. Now we’ll move on. But
before we go, wash your face good and hard. Get that tribe paint off.
These Indians with us don’t like it. You’re no Indian, anyhow; you’re
white, like us. Savvy? White man. Wash off paint!”

He rolled up his kit and returned to the canoe. The Mayorunas, men and
women, were entering their own craft. Rand sat motionless a moment,
McKay and the Brazilians watching him keenly. Slowly then he got up of
his own accord, limped to the water’s edge, and began to scrub his face.

When he desisted the marks still showed, for the red dye clung
stubbornly to his skin; but they were fainter than before. The other men
eyed him thoughtfully, none speaking. He settled himself in his former
place, curled up, and began to doze.

“A queer fish!” Pedro said, softly. “Is he crazy or not?”

“Hanged if I know,” replied McKay. “He’s no maniac, anyhow. I’d give
real money to know just what his mental condition is. But we can forget
him for a while. I’m going to let you fellows sleep by turns now. I had
some sleep last night; you’ve had none at all. Merry, your eyes need
rest. You curl up in the bow and snooze one hour. Then another man, and
so on. And how about letting Tucu lead the parade again?”

“Excellent, Capitao! I was thinking of that.” Lourenço talked to Tucu,
who swung out into the current. The boat of the white men followed, then
the others. At a steady cruising speed the brigade surged on downstream.

Knowlton’s allotted hour passed. Pedro took his place and was instantly
asleep. In turn he was aroused, and Lourenço laid down his paddle. But
just then Tucu’s canoe slowed and floated in to the left bank.

The others backed water and looked at a very narrow ravine–almost a
cleft–in a rising hillside. Through it led a lane of water. From the
third boat, in which were two women of the Monitaya tribe, now came
voices carrying information to the Indian leader. At once he turned his
boat into the cleft.

“This is the connection we have been seeking.” Lourenço explained. “The
women say the boats of their captors came through this crack in the
hill. At the end we shall find the creek of Monitaya.”

The women spoke truth. After threading their way along the weedy
water-path, which was barely wide enough to give passage for the boats,
they emerged at a slant into another stream. Down this, with the sure
instinct for direction of the hereditary jungle-dweller, Tucu turned his
prow without asking the women whether to go with or against the current.
Once more on the waters of their home creek, the Mayorunas quickened
their strokes and howled merrily on toward their _malocas_.

Lourenço took his nap and resumed his place. Hour after hour the fleet
sped on. Noon passed without a halt, the paddlers munching at whatever
fragments remained from breakfast. By turns the Americans and Brazilians
each got another hour’s sleep, McKay consenting to relax when all his
mates had rested. Rand dozed and awoke at intervals, seeming content and
comfortable despite his cramped position.

By four o’clock even the Mayorunas began to lag in their strokes.
Excluding the halt at sunrise, they now had been journeying for fifteen
hours, in the last nine of which they had covered many miles of
serpentine water. The heat of the day and the constant drive of the
paddles had taken their toll, and now the body of every man fiercely
demanded more food. McKay, knowing that in jungle travel distance is not
a matter of miles, but of hours, had begun to figure that the journey
which had taken nearly five days of overland work might be completed
that night by the swiftly moving canoes. But now, recognizing the signs
of exhaustion, he realized that without some powerful spur the Indians
would not attempt to reach the home _malocas_ until the morrow.

Then the spur came. Even as Tucu began scanning the shores for a good
camp site, he and every other Mayoruna suddenly ceased paddling and
threw up his head. Faint and far, a xylophonic call of beaten wooden
bars rapped across the jungle, rising and falling in swift, regular
cadence–a sirenical flow and ebb of sound waves. Over and over it
undulated, rapid, incessant, imperative.

A chorus of excited grunts broke from the canoe brigade. The dugout of
Tucu leaped away like a roweled horse. Lourenço and Pedro buried their
paddles in mighty strokes, hurling their boat ahead to keep from being
run down by those behind.

Lourenço barked at Tucu, who flung back an answer.

“Paddle hard, Capitao! If we do not keep up we shall be wrecked. That
message is the war call of the Mayorunas–calling in the hunters from
the forest to take arms against an enemy. We must race now with these
madmen around us, or we go under. Paddle!”

CHAPTER XXIII.

STRATEGY

In the last light of the fast-fading day the canoes darted from the
forest into the clearing where stood the Monitaya _malocas_.

Long before their arrival the siren call had ceased, but there had been
no lessening of speed by the racing dugouts. On the contrary, the last
long mile had been covered in a final desperate spurt, the paddles
swinging in swift unison to the accompaniment of a ferocious chant of
one syllable: “Hough! Hough! Hough!” This explosive cadence had echoed
down the stream ahead of them; and now, as the panting crews emerged
from the jungle, they found themselves flanked by a long line of their
fellow-warriors, bristling with drawn arrows and ready spear points. But
of the enemy whose presence that great xylophone had betokened there was
no sign.

At sight of the familiar feather bonnets of their own men the tense
Monitayans let their weapons slowly sink. And when Tucu, leaping ashore,
gaspingly demanded news of the fight, the line dissolved into a mob
which rushed to welcome him and his mates. In the first few breaths it
was learned that no fight had yet taken place, but that all the warriors
had been brought in and ordered to prepare to march at the next sunrise;
and that the sudden war call had been sent out as the result of the
arrival of a stranger.

Then the crowd parted, and through it came striding two men whose
appearance caused the white men to erupt into hoarse shouts of greeting.
One, whose hard face swiftly relaxed into a half smile of relief, was
the great chief himself. The other, whose jutting jaw suddenly dropped
and whose blue eyes opened in incredulity, was Tim–Tim, once more
strong and florid and aggressive, gripping his rifle, astounded at the
sight of his comrades standing there alive and alert. They soon learned
why.

Dropping his gun, he sprang at them with an inarticulate roar of
welcome. He wrung their hands, pounded their shoulders, laughed, cried,
swore, all at once. Then he burst out:

“Glory be! Ye’re alive, homelier ‘n ever and tough as tripe! We thought
ye was wiped out sure! We was all set to start in the mornin’ and pull
them Red Bones to pieces. Mebbe we’ll do it yet, too. How’d ye break
through? Did ye kill Sworn-off and his gang?”

“Schwandorf? Gang? Haven’t seen anybody but Red Bones–though we sure
saw plenty of them,” replied Knowlton. “What are you talking about?”

“Then ye missed him by about one point windage. When’d ye leave? Last
night? I bet he’s there by now. Gee! Where’d ye git them girls? And
who’s this guy? Great gosh! Is he the Raposy? Wal, for the love o’
Mike–”

“Tim!” broke in McKay. “What’s all this about? Now wait. This is the
Raposa. These girls are Mayoruna women held prisoners by the Red Bones.
We got them last night and lit out in the middle of a general
engagement. Now open up with your news.”

“Right, Cap. We got a visitor to-day–old friend of ourn–li’l’ old
Hozy, the only white guy in that Peruvian crew we had. He’s all dolled
up like an Injun–shaved face, tribe paint, and so on. He come through
the Injun country that way–I dunno yet how he done it, him bein’ a
Peruvian and all, but he got through, and he says Sworn-off and a whole
gang of bad eggs is back here to git this Raposy guy and all the girls
they can lay hands on. He says Sworn-off’s got them Red Bones workin’
for him, and you fellers must be massacreed sure by now.

“Good thing I was here when he come, or he’d be cut up and in the
stewpot. Monitaya’s a good skate, but he sure is poison to anything
Peruvian, and soon as Hozy begun to try to talk he got wise and dang
near bumped him off. I got him to cool down some, and he believes Hozy’s
tellin’ the truth, but even at that they got Hozy tied up like a dog.
Come look at him.”

But it was necessary to wait awhile for Tucu and Lourenço to tell
Monitaya the tale of what had taken place; for the chief demanded
immediate and full details, and not until he had them would he return to
his _maloca_ and his hammock throne. By that time the little moon was
again ruler of the sky and the keen hunger of the voyagers had grown
ravenous. Followed by the rescued and the rescuers, he then stalked into
the tribal house and to his usual place, where he commanded that food be
brought.

On the ground, directly in front of the chief’s hammock, sat a gaunt,
painted Indian around whose neck was a stout noose, the other end of the
cord being held by a muscular savage whose skull-smashing club was
gripped loosely in his other fist. As the whites reached them the noosed
man’s face cracked in a grin.

“Greetings, señores,” said the voice of José. “You will pardon me for
remaining seated, yes? The man behind me is itching for an excuse to
crush my head.”

“José!” exclaimed both Knowlton and McKay. Though Tim had said José was
“tied like a dog,” they had not thought to find the expression literal
truth. The sight angered them and they turned to Lourenço.

“Tell Monitaya we want this man freed!” McKay snapped. At his peremptory
tone the cannibal chieftain looked oddly at him, and when Lourenço
translated the demand–though in a more diplomatic manner–he scowled.
But he gave the clubman the word and the rope was lifted from the
prisoner’s neck.

“_Gracias, amigos_,” he bowed. “If I still remain seated, it is because
I am very weary–and I have not eaten since yesterday.”

His thin face and his projecting ribs not only corroborated his simple
announcement, but indicated that for more than one day his food and rest
had been almost _nil_. Naked, painted, minus his fierce mustache and
flamboyant headkerchief, he appeared a far different man than the
domineering _puntero_ of a short time back. But his bold black eyes, his
reckless grin, and his mocking tone proved him the same swashbuckling
José, undaunted by hunger, exhaustion, or his position as prisoner of
man eaters whose enmity was implacable.

“Well, you’re going to eat now, or we’ll know why not!” vowed Knowlton.
“We understand that you brought a warning to Monitaya. Is this his way
of treating men who risk their lives to befriend him?”

José shrugged.

“Once an enemy, always an enemy. That is their rule. And do not think
that I traveled the bush and threw myself into this snake heap from love
of Monitaya. I do not care if he and all his race are blown to hell. I
am here because, as I once told you, José Martinez never forgets. Thank
you, señor, I will eat now and talk later.”

Deftly he extracted a chunk of meat from a clay pot which had been
placed before Knowlton and in turn tendered to him. Monitaya watched him
eat, but gave no sign of disapproval; and the Americans, and even the
Brazilians, made an aggressive show of friendship toward the lone
Peruvian for the express benefit of the chief. They knew well that by
their rescue of the Mayoruna women they had made their own position
among these people virtually impregnable, and that their recognition of
José as a friend probably would be his only bulwark. Wherefore they left
no doubt in the minds of the watchers as to where he stood in their
regard.

Monitaya, sitting in regal dignity, looked down upon two parties of
seven feasting with famished speed–the rescued women who were not
members of his own tribe, and the four Americans, two Brazilians, and
one Peruvian. All the others had scattered–Tucu and his band to their
own family triangles, and the four Monitaya girls to become the nuclei
of feminine groups which demanded intimate accounts of their capture and
treatment by the captors.

To the strange women at his feet the chief paid scant attention now,
though he meant to interrogate them after their hunger was satisfied.
His eyes dwelt on Rand, the strange combination of white man, Indian,
and jungle demon of whom he had heard so much and on whose tanned skin
the red skeleton streaks told the tale of a “mind out of the skull.”
José and Tim stared in frank curiosity at the dead-alive newcomer, whose
silent composure remained totally unperturbed. But the seven new girls,
though ignored by the chief and his guests, were by no means neglected
by the other men of the _maloca_, being thoroughly stared at by most of
the young bucks–and, it must be confessed, by a goodly proportion of
the married men also.

When at length the meal was finished Monitaya commanded the girls to
stand before him and narrate their experiences. The men lit smokes, José
seizing the proffered cigarette with avidity, Rand accepting his with
the usual odd deliberation.

“Wal, Hozy, old feller, ye’re in right with the chief now,” asserted
Tim. “Ye got all our gang with ye, and she’s some li’l’ old gang, I’ll
tell the world. This feller Renzo can talk cannibal so good he makes
Monitaya hunt for the dictionary, and he’ll tell the chief in ten
seconds what I tried half an hour to say this afternoon–that ye belong.
I ‘ain’t been here long enough to learn much o’ their lingo, ye
understand. If I could spout it like French, now, there wouldn’t been no
trouble.”

McKay and Knowlton snickered. They knew Tim’s French was several degrees
worse than the usual American doughboy’s “frog” talk.

“Good thing you couldn’t,” derided Knowlton. “You’d have had José
crucified before we got here.”

“That’s right, gimme the razz! Course, I did have a li’l’ trouble makin’
some o’ them frogs understand, but that was because they was so ignorant
they didn’t know their own language when they heard it spoke right.
Anyways, ye got to admit Hozy’s still with us and sassy as ever, and he
wouldn’t been if Timmy Ryan hadn’t been round to powwow for him.”

“You have it right, señor,” José agreed, gravely. “Without you I should
now be dead. I can speak the Mayoruna tongue quite well, but of what use
is it to talk any language when men will not listen? It was you and your
gun that saved me.”

“Gun? Good Lord! Did you pull a gun on Monitaya?” ejaculated the
lieutenant.

“Aw, no. That is–I guess mebbe I did wave me piece around while I was
arguin’–I can always convince a guy better if I got somethin’ in me
hand. But I didn’t git real rough.”

“You are lucky to be still alive, Senhor Tim,” said Lourenço. “If
Monitaya were not the man he is you would not be alive. I am glad we
have returned.”

“Meanin’ I need a guardeen? Say, lookit here now–”

“As you were!” clipped McKay. “We’re all wasting time. José, let’s hear
your report. I thought you were going to put Schwandorf out of action
for good?”

“And I am, Capitan! That is why I now am here. If I had reached him
immediately after leaving the Nunes place it would have been done at
once. But a man travels slowly when he is alone and has lost much blood,
and before I met Schwandorf again I had time to think coolly. Then when
I saw him I changed my plans.

“Some days down the river I met him traveling fast in a canoe paddled by
hard men whom I know. He pretended to be greatly grieved when I told him
you all were dead. Oh yes, señores, I told him that! I was playing with
him, and it amused me to see how he thought he was deceiving me when I
was really fooling him. I said we were attacked by Indians a short way
above the Nunes place and that I alone escaped. Then he said something
that made me decide not to kill him for a time.

“He told me he had learned that this man here–his name is Rand,
yes?–that the man Rand was a bank thief who had run away from North
America, and that a reward would be paid for him. He said your real
reason for coming here was that you were detectives trying to earn the
reward. That is false, is it not, señores?”

“We’re no detectives. Rand’s no thief.”

“Ah, so I thought. But Schwandorf often tells truth to conceal his lies,
so that it is sometimes hard to know which is true and which untrue. He
went on to say he had warned you not to come into this Indian country,
and he was sorry you had been killed–the snake–but since you were dead
we might get the money for ourselves. If we succeeded in catching the
man Rand and taking him out alive I should get half the reward, or five
hundred dollars.

“I saw plainly what his plan was. I might be useful to him in catching
Rand if Rand was out in the bush, for I have traveled this country alone
more than once and am a far better bushman than the German. But whether
I got Rand or not, I never should live to demand my part of the money. I
know too much about Schwandorf–things which I shall not tell now. So
when the right time should come, José would meet with a fatal accident,
such as a bullet in the back, or a knife in the throat while sleeping.
But I did not let him know I saw this. I pretended to fall in with his
plan like the fool he thought me to be.

“It was not Rand alone that brought him here. You have brought back
Mayoruna women from the Red Bone country, so you know the Red Bones are
women stealers. And they steal for Schwandorf. You may believe me or
not, señores, but I did not know this until the German told me. Oh yes,
I knew he dealt in women, but of the Red Bone part of his business I was
ignorant. As soon as I learned it I saw how I could put the illustrious
Señor Schwandorf out of action, as you say, and at the same time try to
save you.

“I sharpened my knife to a razor edge, deserted the German when we
reached the right place, shaved with my knife, painted myself with the
red and black plant dyes, and came overland to this place, thinking you
would be here if still alive. But you had traveled faster than I
expected and had gone into the Red Bone country, so my chance to save
you seemed to have passed. I could only try to tell this chief the Red
Bones were stealers of his women and that the German was with them,
knowing that if he believed me he would go on the war trail against them
and kill them all. But if Señor Tim had not befriended me I should have
died too soon to tell my tale. That is all, señores. Now can you spare a
little more tobacco?”

They could and they promptly did. With a new cigarette glowing he lay
back and looked quizzically at the women lined up before Monitaya.

“How many men has Schwandorf?” asked McKay.

“About twenty in all, Capitan. There were eight in his crew, and they
were to meet a dozen more at a place on the Peruvian side.”

“All riflemen?”

“_Si._ He brought many cartridges for them. They are to raid tribe
houses of these people.”

“Capture women and run them into Peru?”

“_Si._” José yawned as if speaking of a deal in salt fish.

The Americans looked thoughtfully around the big house. They saw that
every man near them was inspecting some kind of weapon–making sure that
bow cords were unfrayed, that arrow heads and spear points were firm,
that the long blowguns had received no cast from suspension, and that
darts were absolutely straight and true. The strong but cruel faces of
the warriors were stamped with malignant hatred of the Red Bone tribe
and the Blackbeard who enslaved their women. The command to prepare for
a march at dawn had not been withdrawn.

“We’ll be expected to go, too, and I’d sure like another crack at
Umanuh, not to mention the Schwandorf outfit,” said Knowlton, “but we
have friend Rand on our hands now, and our first duty is to get him out
of here safely.”

“Aw, Looey, have a heart! I ‘ain’t had no action since that li’l’ scrap
down the river, and I got to have some excitement before we blow. What’s
more, we can’t beat it now, with Monitaya dependin’ on us to fight on
his side. He’d git sore, and I don’t blame him.”

His superior officers and the Brazilians frowned. Every man of them
itched to close with the enemy in one final decisive battle. Yet–

“What ‘ll we do with Rand?” Knowlton voiced the general thought.

The green eyes of the Raposa turned to him, rested long on his, traveled
deliberately along the other faces. And then, to the utter astonishment
of all, the dumb spoke.

“I’ll fight,” said Rand.

Speechless, the men around him stared. His face was inscrutable as ever,
his eyes fathomless, his voice flat and toneless. But slowly he raised
his hands as if holding a bow; twitched his right thumb and forefinger
in the motion of loosing a shaft; let the hands sink. His gaze calmly
lifted from theirs and dwelt on the farthest wall. Not another word did
he speak.

“Begorry! there’s yer answer!” triumphed Tim. “He says, ‘Fight!’ And I
bet he can sling a wicked bow and arrer, at that. Don’t ye s’pose he
wants a crack at them Red Bones, after the way they used him?”

“I think, comrades, that the man has settled the matter for us,” Pedro
seconded. “None of us wants to run away; and, as Tim says, we are
expected to help Monitaya. We should be considered cowards, worse than
dogs, if we refused. If we do not fight the Red Bones we may have to
fight these Mayorunas, who now are our friends. We must stay.”

McKay nodded, still studying the expressionless countenance of Rand.

“That’s settled,” he announced, crisply. “Now, Lourenço, find out
Monitaya’s plan of battle.”

The chief had finished his examination of the women and Lourenço
promptly put the question. Monitaya laconically replied.

“His purpose is not changed by our arrival, Capitao. He and his men go
to-morrow to attack and destroy the Red Bones. When they reach the town
of Umanuh they will surround it, and all will rush in when the chief
gives his yell of war.”

“About what I expected. An Indian has a single-track mind always. But
his strategy is rotten. Might be good enough if he had only Umanuh to
deal with, but with Schwandorf in the game it’s different. Ask him how
he expects to protect his women while he’s gone.”

“He says,” Lourenço reported, “that there will be no danger to the
women, because his warriors will be between the women and their enemies
until those enemies are dead.”

“Very simple. So simple that it’s foolish. He doesn’t figure on the
other fellow’s mind at all; doesn’t realize that a man like Schwandorf
is bound to outguess him on such straightaway tactics and isn’t at all
likely to play into his hands. But that’s the exact situation. The
German will outguess him, and it’s up to him to outguess the German in
turn. We’ll do his guessing for him.

“Schwandorf goes into Umanuh’s town, learns what’s happened, finds the
Red Bones frothing at the mouth, and is sore himself. He figures that
we’ve returned here with the women, that Monitaya’s men are blood-mad
against the Red Bones, and that they’ll do just what they are planning
to do–march on Red Bone town and leave their women unprotected except
by the old men, whose defensive power is negligible. He is in this
country for the express purpose of getting girls, and with Monitaya’s
men away from their _malocas_ he has a wide-open chance to make the
biggest slave haul of his life. So he plans to outmaneuver Monitaya,
attack this place, capture all the young women, allow the Red Bones to
massacre everyone else and burn the houses, and then move on without the
loss of a man. After that perhaps he intends to find us and get Rand, or
perhaps to attack other Mayoruna _malocas_. At any rate, his first
objective is this place. Am I right so far?”

“Dead right,” Knowlton nodded.

“Very well. Now he may figure that, having found the water connection
between the two creeks, the Mayorunas will come against Umanuh by the
canoe route. Or he may think they’ll make the overland trip. In either
case, the Red Bones have to come through the bush, for the simple reason
that they haven’t boats enough to carry all their force. Their canoes
were rather few when we were there, and we commandeered several of them
for our own use. If they decide to come part of the way in canoes
they’ll have to work a come-and-go transport service, bringing the
fighting men down in batches to some rendezvous from which they must
finish the journey on foot. Chances are that they’ll disregard the
canoes and all march overland by some route that would dodge the
Mayoruna line of march. But in either case they’re coming here. And it’s
here, in the place where he’s not expected to be, that Monitaya should
meet them. Let him fortify himself and await the assault. It will come.”

“And we shall be saved many weary miles of leg work,” José smiled.
“Capitan, your strategy is magnificent.”

“Begorry! it ain’t so bad at that!” Tim approved. “Hozy, me and you will
have our hammicks slung out front here when the show starts and do our
shootin’ prone. Suits me fine. Put it up to the chief, Renzo.”

Lourenço did. Very carefully he explained it all to Monitaya, dwelling
on the fact that McKay himself was a warrior chieftain and familiar with
the fighting methods of such men as the atrocious Blackbeard, and
depicting graphically the horror of an attack by the barbarous Red Bones
on the defenseless women. It took him some time to divert the chief’s
stubborn mind from the original plan, but in the end he succeeded.

To the vast astonishment and disappointment of the vengeful warriors,
Monitaya curtly announced that the projected march would not take place.
They stared as if disbelieving their ears, and more than one black look
was given Lourenço. But not a man questioned the countermanding of
orders, not a mutter was heard. The great chief had spoken, and his word
was final.

Reluctantly they laid aside the weapons on which they had been toiling
with such purposeful zeal. The chief watched them with a little smile of
pride–pride in their zest for war, pride in their unquestioning
acceptance of his dampening order. Then he coolly told them to continue
their work; told them, further, that the next morning all the streams
were to be poisoned, new traps set, and scouts stationed far out on
every trail to await and report the approach of foes. Instantly their
faces flamed again and from every quarter of the wide house rose an
excited hum. They were to fight, after all!

“Tough eggs, these lads, if ye ask me,” yawned Tim. “Bet ye we’ll see a
row worth lookin’ at when she does break.”

He forebore to mention the fact that in rifle power their assailants
would outnumber them four to one.

CHAPTER XXIV.

THE BATTLE OF THE TRIBES

The next four days, though they were days of waiting, were busy enough
to satisfy the most impatient Mayoruna warrior.

Outposts were established on every route by which the attacking force
would be likely to approach the twin _malocas_, the watchmen being given
the strictest commands not to fight, nor even to allow themselves to be
seen, but to run at top speed with the warning.

Poison detachments went forth to collect the ingredients for making
deadly the water and the weapons. Those detailed to the work of
polluting the streams gathered quantities of blue-blossomed,
short-podded plants with yellow roots, the roots being pulped and thrown
into the slow currents, which straightway became fatal to man or beast
The wurali squad procured their favorite materials and, in a flimsy shed
well away from the houses, prepared a plentiful supply of the venomed
brew.

New traps were set at points where a man or two might be picked off,
though it was realized that these would have little effect on the final
result. And inside the big houses men especially skilled in the
manufacture of arrows and darts toiled swiftly and steadily from dawn
till far into the night.

These activities, however, were only the usual defensive preparations
made by the warriors whenever they knew a sizable body of foes was
somewhere in the vicinity. It remained for the brains of the white men
to devise additional features, simple enough in themselves, but
astounding to the savages, who were accustomed only to the primitive
battle tactics of their ancestors. For the first time in their lives the
cannibals found themselves digging in–and also digging out.

After a survey of the terrain and a catechism of Lourenço and Monitaya
as to the usual methods of attack and defense, the two officers broached
an idea born of the exigencies of the situation. As they expected, the
great chief was somewhat slow to approve it, for it involved a literal
undermining of the walls of his fortresses. But despite the natural
inflexibility of his mental processes he was an unusually intelligent
savage, and eventually the patient reiteration of the advantages of the
scheme won him first to assent and then almost to enthusiasm. Wherefore
the amazed tribesmen were set to work, armed with crude wooden shovels,
in digging holes under the logs which sheltered them from man, beast,
and jungle demon.

All along the walls, at intervals marked by McKay and Knowlton, the
tunnels were dug. At the same time another large gang excavated before
each of the _malocas_ a deep, curving trench, the two long pits being
separated by a ten-foot space of solid earth affording free passage from
the houses to the creek. Meanwhile the women and the older children were
weaving flimsy covers from withes and vines. As soon as a tunnel was
completed it was masked outside the walls by one of these covers, on
which a thin layer of earth and grass was laid. The two trenches were
likewise concealed, and the loose earth was carried inside the house and
packed solidly against the walls flanking the doors.

At sundown of the fourth day the work was ended. And so well was it done
that when the great chief, his subchiefs, and his foreign allies went on
a final tour of inspection they could find no sign that the houses were
honeycombed with exits or that the ground in front of the little
entrances was not solid at all points.

“Rod and I took the idea from those pit traps out on the trails,”
Knowlton explained for the dozenth time. “Holes are covered to look
exactly like the rest of the ground. Every man of us has to be inside
when the enemy arrives, but we have to get out quick when the right time
comes, so we go under the walls. And can’t you see those brave women
stealers go kerplunk down into the trenches? Oh boy!”

Whereat Lourenço and José smiled as if enjoying a secret joke. They
were. For they knew something of which the Americans were not
aware–that Monitaya had improved on the trench-trap idea of the whites
by studding the bottom of those trenches with barbed araya bones smeared
with wurali.

“Yeah, and I figger them guys ‘ll git some jolt when these houses, which
‘ain’t got nobody in ’em but women and kids, begin to spit lead out o’
loopholes and spew screechin’ cannibals up out o’ the ground. Gosh! I
wouldn’t miss seein’ Sworn-off’s face for a keg o’ beer–and that’s
sayin’ somethin’.”

Wherein Tim expressed the general sentiment.

So ended the fourth day. When the fifth broke no man showed himself
outside the walls. Except the few outposts, every male of the Monitaya
_malocas_ bided within, awaiting with growing tension the arrival of the
enemy. It was more than likely, McKay had pointed out, that the main
body of the barbarous force led by Schwandorf would be preceded by a
handful of scouts, and quite possible that one or more of these would
slip past the outguards and spy on the tribal houses. The sight of even
one warrior would instantly apprise any such spy that the others must be
near, and the word would go back at all speed to the Red Bones.
Wherefore the only Monitayans to pass through the tiny doorways that
morning were a few young women sent out as bait. These, naturally, took
good care to stay near the entrances.

Within, the men waited at their appointed places. Each tunnel had its
quota of warriors, the number being divided evenly to assure a speedy
and simultaneous exit. The Americans had elected to fight from the
_maloca_ of the great chief, while the Brazilians and José were to
garrison the doorway of the other house as soon as the warning came.
Rand, wordless and imperturbable as ever, now was armed with a strong
bow and plenty of new arrows with unpoisoned heads; and he, of course,
would remain with his own countrymen. Thus, preparations completed, all
settled themselves to the interminable hours of waiting.

Up on the heaped earth near the doorway, which made the walls
practically bullet-proof to a height of six feet and thus would protect
the women and children, one or more of the Americans was constantly on
the lookout through some inconspicuous loophole. Hour after hour dragged
past, and no unusual movement or sound came to reward their vigilance.
Under the glare of the sun the roof and walls grew hot; under the silent
strain of endless anticipation the impatience of the fighting men became
a ferment. At length Pedro, unable to keep still, mounted to a peephole
near Knowlton. Scarcely had he put his eye to the opening when both men
sucked in their breath.

At the edge of the bush a man’s head peered from behind a tree. And at
the same moment a single canoe came creeping out of the bush and up to
the landing place. The head behind the tree was that of a Red Bone spy.
The two in the small canoe were Yuara and a companion from the Suba
tribe.

“Lourenço!” hoarsely whispered Pedro. “Yuara comes. Tell girls to run to
welcome him and guide him between the pits. A spy is watching. If Yuara
walks on the pits he dies and our trap is revealed. _Por amor de Deus_,
send girls quickly!”

Lourenço acted instantly. Seizing two young women, he propelled them
doorward, talking swiftly the while. Yuara and his mate were already
advancing innocently toward the few girls outside, none of whom had wit
enough to warn him. But the two whom the Brazilian had grasped happened
to be of quick intelligence, and now they darted out. Before the
visiting pair could reach the death trap the girls were upon them,
laughing as if delighted to see a man once more, and deftly turning them
aside to the point where two unobtrusive stubs marked the bridge of
safety.

Vastly astonished by such effusive welcome from two girls whom they did
not know, but by no means displeased thereby, the young warriors of the
Suba clan were piloted to the door and inside. As they disappeared, the
head of the spy also vanished.

“Woof!” muttered Knowlton, wiping sweat from his brow. “That was close!
Here’s hoping we have no more visitors.”

Yuara and his companion meanwhile were being interrogated by both
Lourenço and Monitaya, who in turn enlightened them as to the present
state of affairs. At the promise of war the faces of the Suba men lit
up.

“Yuara comes only on a visit to learn news,” Lourenço told the rest.
“You remember that the day after our return a canoe was sent downstream
to a point where the wooden bars could be beaten and heard by Suba’s
men, and that a warning against the Red Bones and Schwandorf was given
in that way. Yuara has become anxious to know more, so he is here.”

“If he sticks around he’ll learn a lot,” predicted Tim.

With no waste of words or motion Yuara coolly attached himself and his
fellow-tribesman to McKay. Monitaya and his subchiefs were informed of
the arrival and departure of the enemy scout. The word passed among the
warriors, who, despite their innate equanimity, began to grit their
pointed teeth and quiver like dogs held in leash. But another hour
passed, and yet another; and still no word from the outposts arrived.

Suddenly a chorus of screams shrilled from the women outside. In a
frenzy of fear they plunged through the doorways. Blending with their
outcries, a hoarse yell of ferocity rose raucously from the direction of
the creek. At once a louder ululation burst forth at the rear and sides
of the clearing. Monitaya’s outguards had failed and the _malocas_ were
surrounded.

Loping from the bush fringing the stream came a score of yellow-faced,
shirtless, barefooted brutes crisscrossed with cartridge belts and
gripping rifles. At their head loomed a burly black-whiskered creature
with a revolver in each hand–the malignant Schwandorf himself.

Grinning like a pack of yellow-fanged wolves, they doubled toward the
low entrances, their guns spouting wantonly at the upper walls–a ragged
volley meant to terrorize the defenseless women within, none of whom
were to be killed until the handsomest had been cut out and set aside
for slavery. Some of the heavy bullets bored through between logs and
thudded wickedly into rafters and roof poles within. But from the
loopholes where the defending rifles lurked no shot cracked in reply.

The fiendish howling of the Red Bones, sweeping in from all sides to the
butchery, swelled into a feline screech that almost drowned the roar of
the rifles. Into the view of the watchers at the loopholes streamed
hideous faces and naked brown bodies swerving inward from left and right
to follow at the heels of the Blackbeard and his gunmen. In a few
seconds more the trotting line of Peruvians was backed and flanked by a
horde of demons hungering for the taste of women and babes. On they
came–

With the suddenness of a cataclysm the ground opened. Riflemen vanished
in midstride. Savages screaming triumphant hate were gone in the flick
of an eye. Others, instinctively digging their heels into the ground the
instant those ahead of them disappeared, were hurled forward and down by
the momentum of the following mass. Before the rush could be checked the
trenches were packed with men struggling in frenzy to get out, wounding
themselves and one another with the deadly points of their poisoned
weapons.

Of the twenty gunmen only four remained. They were the four immediately
behind Schwandorf. By blind chance the German had set foot on the narrow
isthmus separating the twin trenches, saving himself and the henchmen at
his heels from being engulfed. Now, as the Red Bones fought back from
the trap yawning before them, he and the surviving Peruvians stood
staring in momentary stupefaction at the welter of death on their
flanks. The malevolent yells of the savages had been cut short by the
catastrophe, and for the moment no sound was heard but the grunts and
snarls of struggling men.

Then into the semisilence burst a mighty voice–the battlefield voice of
McKay.

“Now! Fire at will!”

The walls spat flame and lead. A scythe of death swept above the ground
where stood Schwandorf and his riflemen. The Peruvian half-breeds
collapsed and lay still. But Schwandorf, shocked into activity by the
impact of that first word, dodged death by an infinitesimal fraction of
a second. Hurling himself backward, he struck the earth just as the
bullets sped through the air over him. With a lightning rebound he was
up while fresh cartridges were jumping into the rifle barrels menacing
him. Headlong he dived into the mass of Red Bones just behind. And the
next bullets darting after him killed the savages, leaving him unharmed.

The command of McKay and the crack of the rifles sent the quivering
Mayorunas into the fight. In a flash every masking tunnel cover was
thrown bodily into the air. Before the thunderstruck Red Bones had
recovered from the shock of finding their gun-armed leaders annihilated
and their mass being swept by swift-shooting rifles hidden in the walls,
they beheld a horde of vindictive foes erupting from under those walls
like warrior ants rushing from subterranean galleries. A blood-chilling
yell of concentrated fury smote their ears; a hastily loosed storm of
war arrows and short throwing-spears ripped into their flesh; a
swift-running arc of light-skinned men swerved around them, shooting and
stabbing as they went. They, who had so exultantly surrounded the homes
of women and children, now were surrounded in turn.

From the doorway of Monitaya’s _maloca_ the two Brazilians and José now
leaped forth and, firing as they ran, dashed to hold the entrance of the
other big house. A few arrows whirred around them during their transit,
but the shafts were shot hurriedly and missed. Meanwhile the three
bushmen were striking down enemies at every flash of their guns, firing
with the swift surety of veterans of many a running fight. They reached
their objective unwounded; and when they reached it a fringe of dead
foes marked their passage along the face of the hostile array. Once
within the door, they rapidly reloaded and sprayed lead along the
trenches, which, though now nearly full, had become a dead-line past
which no Red Bone sought to go.

Up on the earth embankments within the chief’s house the four Americans
fought steadily on; the soldiers shooting as coolly as if engaged merely
in rapid-fire target practice, the silent Rand methodically driving
arrows in swift succession from his wall-slit. Arrows thudded thickly
into the logs masking them. Bullets, too, slammed into their
rampart–bullets from the heavy revolvers of Schwandorf, who, ever
keeping himself protected by the bodies of his cannibal allies, shot
with both hands as the chance came. And the German could shoot. With
only the small gun muzzles as targets, he planted bullets so close as to
knock dirt more than once into the eyes of the riflemen and render them
momentarily useless. After a time he got a bullet fair into a loophole.

Knowlton grunted suddenly, swayed back, toppled, fell down the parapet.
For a few seconds he lay still.

“Looey!” howled Tim. “How ye fixed? Hurt bad?”

The lieutenant heaved himself into a sitting position, stared around,
clapped a hand to his right shoulder, looked at the red smear his palm
brought away, reeled up, and scrambled back to his rifle. Schwandorf’s
bullet had drilled clear through the shoulder, and in falling his head
had struck one of the upright poles. Without a word he got his gun into
action once more, shooting now from the left shoulder. Tim, with a tight
grin of relief, devoted himself once more to trying to shoot down the
dodging German.

The encircling Mayorunas, their first paroxysm of fury vented, now
settled in cold hate to their work. On all sides their clubmen and
spearmen were bludgeoning and stabbing at the close-packed Red Bones,
leaping in, killing, springing back and onward with terrible efficiency.
Beyond these a thin but deadly line of bowmen poured arrows in
high-looping curves over the heads of the hand-to-hand combatants, the
shafts whizzing far up, turning, and plunging down unerringly into the
center of the enemy force. Each of those arrows could, and many did, end
the lives of two or three adversaries by gouging their skins and letting
the fearful wurali into their blood. The blowgun men too were darting
into every opening, handling their clumsy weapons like feathers and
constantly moving to spy out fresh targets.

But the men of Monitaya were by no means escaping unscathed. The Red
Bones, assailed from every quarter and milling about in hopeless
disorder, were fighting now with desperate frenzy. Their own clubbers
and stabbers were charging out and smashing skulls or piercing abdomens,
their arrows rose in all directions at once, and some into whose veins
the wurali had struck sprang in the last moments of life on nearby foes
and bit like mad dogs. With a leader and a chance to form into any sort
of flying wedge they might have broken through with comparative ease and
taken a far heavier toll. But they had no leader: for Umanuh, whose name
meant “corpse,” now was a corpse in truth, his merciless brain oozing
from a skull shattered by a Mayoruna clubman; and Schwandorf was very
busy looking out for Schwandorf. So it was every man for himself, with
the devil rapidly taking not only the hindmost, but the foremost as
well.

Thicker and thicker fell the dead. The trenches now not only were filled
to the level of the ground, but piled with a windrow of bullet-torn
bodies knocked down by the ever-spitting rifles. José, Pedro, and
Lourenço abandoned all shelter and knelt in plain sight before the door
which they had kept clear of all close attack. Monitaya, until now a
field general who strode up and down roaring commands and encouragement,
suddenly cast away his regal role and, seizing a club from one of his
bodyguard, hurled himself on the nearest Red Bones–a raving, ravening
demon of destructiveness whose glaring eyes smote terror into those
fronting him and whose weapon swung like the club of Hercules. His
bowmen and blowgun men, at last out of missiles, came charging in with
bare hands or weapons seized from fallen warriors. Maneuvering had
ended. Henceforth the fight was a grappling mêlée.

Then the gunfire dwindled and died. The rifle cartridges were spent.

CHAPTER XXV.

THE PASSING OF SCHWANDORF

The three soldiers flung down their hot, empty guns.

“Nothin’ left but the gats and the steel,” rumbled Tim. “Me, I’m goin’
out and git some fresh air.”

With which he drew pistol and machete, leaped down, and lunged through
the door. McKay bounded at his heels.

“Merry! Rand! Stay here!” he commanded. Then he was outside, his pistol
roaring in unison with Tim’s.

Knowlton and Rand looked at each other. The lieutenant fumbled his
pistol from its holster, got it firmly in his left hand, slid down the
embankment, and staggered out. Rand coolly walked over to Tim’s
discarded gun, picked it up, and followed.

Over at the other doorway the bushmen threw aside their useless guns and
drew their machetes. José, grinning like a death’s-head, whirled the
bush knife aloft and mockingly dared the Red Bones still fronting him to
come and take it from him. Pedro and Lourenço indulged in no such
bravado, but leaped like jaguars at their foes. Whereupon José,
muttering a curse on them for getting the jump on him, dashed forward
with furious abandon.

Their pistols emptied, the Americans also drew machetes–all except
Rand, who had no weapon but the bulletless rifle–and waited. Few
unwounded Red Bones now were left; but among those few Schwandorf still
lived.

“Schwandorf!” bellowed McKay. “You yellow cur–you _Schweinhund_! Come
and fight!”

“Yeah!” taunted Tim. “The women and kids are inside. Come and git ’em!”

Schwandorf came. He came not because he wanted to, however, for his
guns, too, were empty. He came because the Red Bones, sensing the
challenge and loathing the Blackbeard who had shielded himself so long
among them, threw him out bodily. They had no time to stand and watch
what might happen to him, but they took time to cast him out where he
must stand on his own legs. Then, snarling, they resumed their now
hopeless battle against their encompassing executioners.

For a moment the German stood glowering at McKay. Then, with a dramatic
gesture, he threw aside his useless revolvers and advanced empty handed.

“Man to man?” he growled.

“Man to man!” echoed McKay, passing his pistol to Tim and sheathing his
machete. Fists clenched, he sprang forward.

Schwandorf halted. His hands remained empty–until the captain was
within eight feet of him. Then he leaped back, his machete jumped into
his fist, and its point stabbed for his antagonist’s abdomen.

An instantaneous side-step and twist of the body saved the captain from
evisceration. The blade ripped through breeches and shirt and scraped
the skin. As Schwandorf yanked it back for another thrust McKay struck
it away with one hand and, without drawing his own steel, jumped again
at his assailant. An instant later the two blackbeards were clenched in
a death grapple.

Schwandorf found his long knife useless and dropped it. He strove for a
back-breaking hold, but found it blocked. McKay, though an indifferent
swordsman, was a formidable wrestler and fist fighter, and the German’s
advantage in weight was more than offset by the American’s quickness and
wiry strength. Science was thrown to the winds. A heaving, choking,
wrenching man-fight it was, stumbling over bodies, each straining every
muscle, trying every hold to twist and break the other and batter him
down to death.

Smashing fist blows brought blood dripping from their faces.
Bone-wringing grips forced gasps from their lungs and superhuman spasms
of resistance from their outraged nerve centers. They fell across a
corpse, rolled on the ground, throttled, kicked, struck, and tore.
Finally, in a furious outburst of energy, the American fought his enemy
down under him, clamped his body with iron knees, and crashed a terrific
punch squarely between the German’s glaring eyes. Schwandorf went limp.

At that instant a backward eddy of the battle surged over the pair. The
maniacal Red Bones, fighting to the last bitter drop of doom, found two
white men under their feet. Screeching, snarling, they fell on them like
wild beasts, tearing with tooth and nail. Their arrows were gone, their
darts exhausted, and no spearman was among them; they fought with
nature’s weapons, while above them one lone clubman struggled to swing
down his lethal bludgeon without killing his fellows.

McKay, wrenching his machete loose and gripping it with both hands, got
its point upward and jabbed blindly at the weight of flesh bearing him
down. Faintly to his ears came yells of rage and the impact of
blows–the battle roars of Tim and Knowlton, who with their machetes
were cleaving a way to their captain. But the beastly demons over him
still crushed him down on Schwandorf, smothering him under the burden of
bodies dead and alive. His stabs grew weak. Exhaustion and lack of air
were killing him more surely than the savages.

Pedro, Lourenço, José and the inexplicable Rand came slashing and
clubbing a path of their own to the beleaguered Scot–the Brazilians
cutting straight ahead with deadly surety, the painted Peruvian chopping
and thrusting with a fixed grin, Rand swinging the gun butt down on head
after head. From still another direction Yuara and his satellite came
boring in with spears snatched from dead hands. The three rescue parties
reached the squirming heap at almost the same moment. But Yuara was the
one whose arrival counted most.

In one last convulsive struggle McKay heaved himself up until he was
once more on his knees. His head came out of the welter, his mouth wide
and gulping for breath. The lone clubman grunted, swung his weapon high,
and with all the power of his muscular body drove it down at that
upturned, unprotected face.

With a mighty plunge Yuara threw himself over the captain. His spear
sank into the stomach of the clubman. But the heavy wooden war hammer
fell with crushing force. As the Red Bone collapsed with the spear head
buried in his middle, his slayer also dropped under that terrible stroke
with head mangled beyond recognition.

Yuara, son of Rana, warrior of Suba, who owed his life to McKay’s rough
surgery, had paid his debt.

Under the impact of his body McKay also slumped forward, senseless.

Over them now burst the bloodiest berserk battle of that bloody day. The
soldiers, the bushmen, and the reclaimed Raposa, already smeared from
head to foot with red stains from their own veins and those of foemen,
went stark mad. Before their united ferocity the men of Umanuh dropped
as if rolled under by an inexorable machine of war. Backward they
reeled, striving now to escape the red wall of cold steel surging at
them–only to fall under a fresh attack of ravening Mayorunas who came
pouring in upon them from the sides. The last of the group lurched
headless to the ground under a decapitating side-swing from the awful
club of Monitaya himself.

Then Knowlton, his lifeblood still draining slowly but surely away
through his wounded shoulder, pitched on his face and was still.

“Back!” gasped Tim. “Git looey and cap out o’ this! Here, you Raposy!
Lend a hand!”

The Raposa, his green eyes ablaze and his obdurate calmness totally
gone, glared around as if seeking one more Red Bone to kill. Then, as
Tim heaved the lieutenant across his shoulders and went lunging across
contorted bodies toward the _malocas_, he ran back to the heap where
McKay lay and dug him clear. Lourenço aided him in lifting the captain,
and they bore him off after Knowlton.

Pedro and José shoved the other bodies aside until they uncovered the
prone figure of Schwandorf–a ghastly form dyed from hair to heels with
the blood of the cannibals whom he had led there. To all appearances he
was dead. Yet the Brazilian and the Peruvian looked keenly at him, then
at each other.

“There is a saying, is there not, that the devil takes care of his own?”
grinned José. “It would be sad if this man should yet live and escape.
See! What is that tall Red Bone doing over yonder?”

Pedro followed his pointing finger. He saw no such Red Bone as José had
mentioned. But when he looked back at Schwandorf he noticed something
that made him glance quickly at José once more.

“Ah yes, Señor Schwandorf is truly dead,” the Peruvian added, wiping his
machete carelessly on one bare leg. “Whether or not the devil takes care
of his own, as I was saying, there is no doubt that _el Aleman_ now is
with the devil. So, since we can do nothing for him, let us look after
the two North American señores.”

Pedro, with a grim smile, turned with him toward the tribal houses.
There was nothing else for them to do, for the Mayorunas now were
dispatching the last survivors of the attacking force. Before the pair
entered the low doorway a long, triumphant yell burst from the hoarse
throats of the men of Monitaya. Of all the Red Bones who had swept in
such ghoulish glee into that clearing not one now remained alive.

At that shout of victory and the entrance of the men to whose
precautions and prowess they owed so much, the women flocked again into
the center of the _maloca_ and the children dived out through the
tunnels to behold the battlefield. Though bullets and arrows had come
through the doorway, those inside had escaped all injury by hugging the
protective earth embankment or taking refuge in the vacant shafts under
the walls. Now the older women, experienced in treatment of wounds,
busied themselves with the white warriors, while the younger ones
fetched water and pieces of isca–a natural styptic made by ants–or
made up pads of poultices of healing herbs.

Tim, who had expected to play surgeon with his crude knowledge of first
aid, found himself not only relieved of his job, but being bathed and
plastered with the others. He, José, Pedro, Lourenço, and even Rand were
gashed by thrusts from broken spear hafts, bleeding from open bites,
ripped by glancing sweeps of tooth-set clubs, bruised by fierce
blows–minor injuries all, but such as might easily have resulted in
blood poisoning unless given prompt attention. Later on they were to be
thankful for those ministrations, but now they tolerated them only
because they could do nothing for the captain and the lieutenant.

McKay and Knowlton were under the direct and capable treatment of the
wives of the great chief. Of the two McKay looked by far the worse, but
actually was in much better condition. From the waist up he was clawed,
bitten, and bruised so badly that he was a fearsome spectacle; his left
arm was dislocated, three fingers of his right hand were broken, and his
muscles were so wrenched that for a week afterward he moved like a
cripple; but his present unconsciousness was largely due to exhaustion
and partial asphyxiation. Knowlton, whose skin was comparatively
unmarked, but whose veins had continued to pour vital fluid from his
gaping bullet wound during his stubborn fight, now was badly weakened.
But whatever could be done for him was being done, and the others could
only stand by.

The women not engaged in caring for the fighting visitors soon found
themselves busy with their own male relatives, who came stumbling in by
themselves or were carried by others. The Red Bones, though finally
annihilated, had made their mark in the Mayoruna tribe. At that moment
thirty-six of Monitaya’s warriors lay dead among the bodies of their
enemies, and before the next sunrise several more passed on to join the
spirits of their comrades in arms. Yet all who survived, though some
were crippled for life, thought only of the victory and gloated on their
scars of combat. As for those who had fallen, they were dead, had died
as Mayorunas should, and so needed no sympathy or regret. Even now their
bodies were being collected for immediate transportation into the
forest, where, in accordance with the tribal custom, they would be
burned.

Some of the men who brought in the wounded men continued on to the
bushmen and, in significant sign manual, requested a loan of their
machetes. Having received them, they hastened out to join those who,
equipped with hardwood knives, were gathering the sinister trophies of
triumph before heaving the dead Red Bones out to the waiting vultures.

“Urrrgh!” growled Tim. “‘Twas a lovely scrap, but I wisht I was
somewheres else, now it’s over. While ye was away they brought in the
fists and feet o’ some guy they caught in a trap–”

“We know,” nodded Pedro.

“Yeah. Wal, I s’pose we got to look pleasant. Dog eat dog, as the feller
says. Long as somebody has to git et, I’m glad it ain’t us.” Wherewith
he turned to the Raposa and changed the subject. “Raposy, old sport, ye
sure done some good work, for a crazy guy. I’ll tell the world ye
cracked heads like a Bowery cop full o’ bootleg booze.”

The Raposa’s green eyes glimmered. In fact, they almost twinkled. And
for the second time the wild man spoke.

“I am not crazy.”

“Huh? My gosh! Ye spoke four whole words! That makes six in a week. Be
careful, feller, or ye’ll strain yerself. And as far’s bein’ crazy’s
concerned, don’t let it worry ye none. We’re all crazy, too, or we
wouldn’t be here.”

Under cover of his banter the veteran eyed the other sharply. As he
turned his gaze aside to the moving figures about him he thought:
“Begorry! he don’t look like a nut, at that. Mebbe somethin’s
unscrambled his brains again. Here’s hopin’, anyways.”

The big tribe house now was full of life. Small groups of warriors,
their hurts dressed with primitive poultices, gathered around the
hammocks of those more seriously injured and discussed the battle.
Others came in bearing armfuls of severed Red Bone hands and feet, which
were distributed among the family triangles. The women, their remedial
work done, now turned to the clay cooking vessels, freshened the fires,
stripped the flesh of their enemies from the bones, and set it to boil.
Among the hammocks moved the subchiefs, their eyes still shining with
the light of battle, examining the wounded men and glancing at the
preparations for the dire feast to come.

Over all drifted a steadily thickening smoke which rolled up and out
through the vent in the peak of the roof, where the setting sun smote it
with rays of gleaming red. Around the _maloca_ gleamed the red light of
the cooking fires among whose burning fagots bubbled the red pots and
pans. Red men and women passing about in a crimson setting–the scene
formed a fitting end to the reddest day in the unwritten records of the
tribe, who since noon had proved themselves worthy champions of the
ancient god whose name they never had heard, but who nevertheless ruled
their lives–the red god Mars.

Monitaya himself, head high and chest swelling with pride, now came
striding lithely in, followed by a young warrior carrying something. He
stopped between the hammocks of McKay and Knowlton, studied their faces
gravely, listened as his wives told of what had been done. At almost the
same moment the eyes of the pair slowly opened and stared up at him.

The face of the great chief melted in one of its transforming smiles.
The captain and the lieutenant grinned pluckily back. With a nod of
silent comradeship the big savage turned to his own hammock and sat
down. Two of his women built up the royal fire and fell to work on the
things handed over by the young warrior. Tim and his mates took one
squint at what they were doing. Then they moved between the fire and the
two officers, blocking the view.

“‘Bout time ye woke up and listened to the birdies,” Tim chaffed.
“Fight’s over, and we been hangin’ round waitin’ for ye to quit snorin’
so’s we could hear ourselves think. Lay still, now! Ye’re all plastered
up nice and comfy–and don’t preach to me no more about the girls. Ye
had every dang one o’ the big chief’s wives hangin’ over ye and kissin’
ye so hard it sounded like a machine gun. Ain’t that right, fellers? Me,
I’m so jealous I could bite the both of ye.”

“Schwandorf dead?” hoarsely queried McKay.

“Huh? Oh, him? Sure. Ye fixed him right, Cap. The pretty li’l’
blackbirds has flew away with him by now. Say, ye mind that feller
Yuarry? Know what he done? Wal–”

And while he talked, behind his back the wives of Monitaya completed
their task and dropped into the great chief’s stewpot the flesh of the
black-bearded slaver and slayer who would menace them no more.

CHAPTER XXVI.

PARTNERS

Seven men squatted around a camp fire on the river bank. Beyond them,
half revealed by the flickering light of the flames, rose the poles of a
_tambo_ wherein empty hammocks hung waiting. At the edge of the water
lay two canoes.

Five of the men wore the habiliments of civilized beings, though their
shirts and breeches were so tattered and stained that a civilized
community would have looked askance at them. The other two were nude as
savages, but their beards and tanned skins were those of white men.
Beards of varying length seemed, in fact, to be the fashion, for
everyone present wore one, and all but two were very dark. Of the odd
pair, one’s thin face was partly covered by stubby, blond hair, while
the other’s jaw was masked by a growth of unmistakable red.

Lifting their cigarettes, the blond man and a tall, eagle-faced comrade
moved their arms stiffly, as if still hampered by injuries. Newly healed
scars showed on the skins of the rest.

“Injuns are a funny lot,” declared the red-haired one. “There’s
Monitaya, now. Keeps us a couple weeks, doctors us half to death, feeds
us till we gag, gives us new canoes, sends a platoon o’ hard guys with
us to see that we git to the river safe–and don’t even say good-by. No
handshake, no ‘Good luck, fellers’–jest a grin like we was goin’ to
walk round the house and come right back. And the lads that come out
with us done the same–turned round and quit us without a word. I bet if
we lived amongst ’em long we’d git to be dummies, too.”

For a moment there was silence. For no apparent reason all glanced at
one of the naked men, on whose skin faintly showed reddish streaks.

“You would,” he said.

“Huh! Gee! Rand’s talkin’ again! First time since we licked them Red
Boneheads. Two whole words. Go easy, feller, easy!”

“I will be easy. But it’s time I talked. I am not dumb. I am not crazy.”

The green-eyed man spoke slowly, as if forming each word in his mind
before pronouncing it. The rest squatted with eyes riveted on his face.

“I have not talked before because I had to find myself. I had to hear
English spoken and become used to it. I had to put things together in my
mind. Even now some things are not clear. But I can talk and make sense
of my talk. I will tell what I can remember. First tell me one thing.
McKay, am I a murderer?”

“A murderer? You? If you are we never heard of it.”

“A man named Schmidt. Gustav Schmidt. German merchant at Manaos.”

“Gustav Schmidt? Piggy little runt, bald and fat, with a scar across his
chin?”

“Yes.”

“He’s dead, but you didn’t kill him. He was shot a little while ago by a
young Brazilian for getting too intimate with the young fellow’s wife.
We heard about it while we were in Manaos, and saw his picture. What
about him?”

“I thought I killed him. I struck him with a bottle. I was told he was
dead. How long have I been here?”

“You left the States in 1915. It is now 1920.”

“Five years? My God! What has happened in that time? Is my mother well?”

The others looked pityingly at him. Slowly Knowlton spoke.

“Your mother died two years ago from heart trouble. Your uncle, Philip
Dawson, also is dead.”

Rand’s jaw set. The others shifted their gaze and busied themselves with
making new cigarettes, spending much time over the simple task.

“Poor mother!” Rand said, huskily. “Uncle Phil–he was a good old scout.
And I was here–buried alive–only half alive! My head–Tell me, what
happened on the night before you dressed my lame foot? I remember
clearly everything from the time I woke in the canoe before daylight
that morning. Before that there is a blur.”

Knowlton sketched the events of that night, and told also of the glimpse
which he and Pedro had caught of the “wild man” while waiting outside
the house of the Red Bone chief. A flash lit up Rand’s face.

“So that is how I got my sore head. You struck me with your rifle butt.
That explains much. Before I became a wild beast I was shot in the head.
The bullet did not go through the skull. It struck me a terrible blow on
the crown. When I recovered consciousness I was not myself. I have never
been the same until–”

“Gee cripes!” exploded Tim. “That’s it. I seen that same thing up home.
Bug Sullivan, it was. When he was a li’l’ feller he tumbled downstairs
and hit his head, and for ‘most ten years he was foolish. Then a brick
fell off a buildin’ and landed on his bean. It knocked him for a gool,
but when he come out of it he was bright as a new dime. Looey, when ye
busted Rand with yer gun ye jarred somethin’ loose inside, and now he’s
good as any of us.”

“By George! You’re right!” cried the lieutenant. “Things like that do
happen. I’ve heard of them. Haven’t you, Rod?”

McKay nodded.

“That is it,” affirmed the Raposa. “I have not been insane. But much was
gone from me. My mind was a house full of closed doors which I could not
open. I knew who I was and why I was here, but I knew also that
something had happened to my brain; knew I was defective; believed I was
wanted for murder. So I could not go out. I could only stay here, prowl
the jungle, live the jungle life.

“Now that the closed doors have opened again, others have swung shut. I
cannot remember much of my wild-beast life here. Some things are clear.
Too clear. Torturings and horrible feasts. Perhaps I should be grateful
that some things are forgotten.

“But now my life up to the time I was shot is plain again. I talked with
a man who had traveled the Amazon and the Andes. I never had seen
either, and I was ripe for something new. A steamer was just sailing
south, and I got aboard in a hurry. No baggage but a suitcase and five
thousand dollars. I had traveled a good deal–Europe, Canada, Japan–and
always found that plenty of money was all a man needed. Thought it was
the same way here. I’ve learned better.

“I visited Rio–a few hours–and then came up along the coast and
inland. At Manaos I got into trouble. Went ashore and got to drinking
with two Germans. One of them–Schmidt–grew ugly and said a lot of
rotten things about the States. Tell me something, men–is the war over
and did our country get into it?”

“It is, and it did.” And Knowlton outlined the epochal occurrences of
the world conflict.

“And I missed that, too!” mourned Rand. “But I started a war of my own
down here, anyway. When I quit seeing red I had a bottle neck in my hand
and both the Germans were down. Somebody said Schmidt was dead. A couple
of men tried to grab me. I fought my way clear, hid awhile, got back on
the boat without being noticed, and paid one of the crew well to hide me
in the hold and feed me. Nearly died from heat and suffocation down
there, but lived to reach Iquitos, where my man smuggled me ashore. I
thought I was safe there. But before I could make a move to travel on I
fell into the hands of that cursed Schwandorf.”

“Schwandorf!”

“Schwandorf. He was in Iquitos. The sailor who hid me must have sold me
out to him. Schwandorf told me he was a police officer in Brazilian
employ. Said he would take me back to stand trial for murdering Schmidt.
The dirty blackmailer took all my money to keep his mouth shut and take
me to a ‘safe place.’ The safe place was up this river. I came up here
with him in a canoe paddled by some tough Peruvians. Then he began
trying to bully me into doing dirty work for him–running women into
Peru. I saw red again and jumped for him. He gave me that bullet on the
head.

“After that things are badly blurred. I found myself among savages. How
I got there, why I wasn’t killed, I don’t know. Schwandorf was there
awhile. Then he went away with his gang, leaving me very sure of only
one thing–I was a murderer and would be executed if caught. And–well,
that’s about all, except that the savages seemed rather afraid of me and
didn’t want me around.”

There was another silence. Then Lourenço remarked:

“Between Schmidt and Schwandorf you have suffered much. It is possible
that there was a connection of some sort between them. But neither can
ever trouble you again. I do not see why Schwandorf took the trouble
even to put you among the Red Bones. One more bullet would have ended
you.”

“Any ideas on that subject, José?” asked McKay.

“Only a guess, Capitan. I was not here five years ago, and I knew
nothing of Schwandorf then. But I know he always schemed for his own
good and overlooked no chances. So perhaps, finding this man not dead,
but darkened in mind by his bullet, he thought he might be able to use
him in some way at some future time. A dead man is not useful to anyone.
If this man should never become valuable he could live and die forgotten
among savages, where he could do Schwandorf no harm. If worth something
he could be found again.”

“Cold-blooded Prussian efficiency,” nodded McKay. Then he spoke directly
to Rand.

“Since you’re mentally sound,” he went on, “we may as well tell you how
you happen to be among us. We three–Merry, Tim, and I–came here to
find you. The settlement of the Dawson estate hinges on you.”

“On me? How? I’ve no claim to it. Paul Dawson, Uncle Phil’s son–”

“Is dead, too. Killed in action in the Argonne, You’re next in line.”

McKay watched him keenly. So did Knowlton. The half-expected jubilance
did not come.

“So Paul’s gone,” was Rand’s reply. “Hard luck. Suppose I hadn’t been
found–then what?”

“In due time the money would go to a school. Boys’ school.”

“Orphans? Blind? Cripples?”

“Hardly.” McKay’s mouth curved sardonically. He named a preparatory
school of the “exclusive” type. Rand’s mouth also twisted.

“That hotbed of snobbery? That twin sister to a society girls’ finishing
school? Might have known it, though. Uncle Phil was fond of the sort of
education that doesn’t educate. I’m glad you fellows found me. I’ll go
home and collect every red cent, just to keep it out of the hands of the
supercilious bunch of bishops that run that sissy-spawner.”

Knowlton chuckled appreciatively.

“It’s not the sort of school that breeds he-men, for a fact,” he agreed.
“But you don’t seem much enthused over having a couple of millions
dropped into your lap.”

Rand sat still. His face remained cheerless, impassive.

“What is money?” he said, presently. “I’ve always had plenty of it.
What’s it done for me? When you have it you can’t tell whether people
are friends to you or only friends to your money. It makes you cynical,
suspicious. What’s worse, you depend too much on it. You think it will
do everything. Then if you land in a place where it’s no good and you
haven’t got it, anyway, you’re up against it a good deal harder than the
fellow who never had it but knows how to handle himself without it.”

“True for ye,” Tim concurred, heartily. “All the same, I bet ye’ll
change yer tune after ye git home.”

“Will I?” The green eyes impaled him. “Maybe. But I don’t think so. I’ve
had my run at blowing in money on myself alone. Now I’m going to blow
some on other folks. I missed out on the war, but–There must be quite a
few of our fellows lamed and crippled by that war. And I’ll gamble that
the government isn’t treating them all like princes. I know something
about governments.”

“Princes? Say, feller, there’s many a dog that’s took better care of
than some of our boys back home!”

“So I thought. The income from a couple of millions, along with some of
the principal, will do a lot of good if used right. And–” His eyes
turned to the three bushmen.

“Do not look at us in that way,” said Lourenço, reading his thought. “We
can make all the money we need, and we came with the capitao and his
comrades only because we wanted excitement. Use your money for the
crippled men who need it.”

“And José Martinez also is well able to provide for his wants,” coolly
added the other naked man. “I am here only to settle old scores, and now
they are settled. Each man is goaded by his own spur–money, wine,
women, excitement, revenge. Money is not mine.”

He yawned, arose, stretched like a cat, and stepped toward his hammock.
The two Brasilians also moved toward the _tambo_. The others stood a
moment longer beside the fire.

“Well, since we three didn’t come here because of wine, women, or
revenge,” Knowlton said, whimsically, “it must have been for money and
excitement. Don’t know which was the stronger lure, but if we could have
only one of the two I think we’d let the money slide. How about it,
Rod?”

“Right! And, Rand, let me say this: Before we knew you we had an
impression that you were more or less of a worthless pup. We’ve changed
our ideas. If you ever go broke and want to hit a trail into some new
place to make a strike of your own, and you need partners, let us know.”

And he held out his hand.

The naked millionaire took it. For the first time a faint smile
lightened his face.

“I’ll do that, partners!” he promised.

“Yeah! That’s the word. Pardners! Only, li’l’ Timmy Ryan bucks at ever
travelin’ back into this here, now, Ja-va-ree jungle. I got enough of
it. Right now I’m homesick.”

“So say we all,” affirmed Knowlton. “Now let’s turn in.”

But Tim stood a little longer looking out at the moonlit river and the
two waiting canoes. His gaze roved along the stream, northward. He
lifted his head, opened his mouth, expanded his lungs, and then the
astounded denizens of forest and stream cut short their discordant
concert to listen to something they never had heard before and never
would hear again–a great voice thundering a censored version of a North
American army song.

“Home, boys, home! Home we want to be!
Home, boys, home, in God’s countree!
We’ll raise Ol’ Glory to the top o’ the pole
And we’ll all come back–not a dog-gone soul!”

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