When Professor Ernest Grimcke realized that his desperate flight from the besieged building had been attended with complete success, and that he was standing among the dense shadows of the forest, with no enemy near, he devoutly uncovered his head, and, looking upward, uttered his fervent thanks to heaven for its amazing mercy.
"If ever a man was snatched from the jaws of death," he said, "I am that man."
"And I am another," added Jared Long, who approached in the gloom. "It seems to me like a veritable miracle."
The New Englander explained that, after his furious dash for shelter from the building, he did not believe his chances were any better than those of the man he left behind him. He started, with the intention of making his way by a circuitous course to the river, but had not gone far when he was struck by the baseness of his desertion of his friend. He, therefore, turned about with the resolve to try to do something for him, but had no more than caught sight of the structure again when he descried the Professor coming like a whirlwind for the trees.
Long moved to the point at which he saw he was aiming, and held his Winchester ready to open on any pursuers that might try to follow him. He would have picked off a dozen or so, for he was cool and collected, and fully determined to stand by his friend to the death.
Fortunately, however, for all parties concerned, none of the Murhapas pursued the Professor, though, as has been told, a number under the leadership of Ziffak dashed off in another direction, without endangering the fugitives in the least.
It was a marvellous deliverance, indeed, for our friends, and they understood the part the giant head chieftain had taken in extricating them from the peril. Their hearts glowed with gratitude to the savage, whose friendship for them they could not understand, but who had proven it in such a striking manner.
But it could not be said that they were yet free from danger; and there was much to do before they could breathe freely.
It needed but a brief consultation to agree that after what had taken place, it was the height of madness to attempt to push on to the enchanted lake and burning mountain. King Haffgo was so roused that there was not the slightest chance of escape. The only earthly probability of accomplishing anything in that direction, was by bringing a force strong enough to sweep the warlike Murhapas from their path.
Thankful would the little party of explorers be if they were permitted to get out of the Matto Grosso with their lives.
They waited in the margin of the wood until the return of Ziffak and his baffled company. It was easy to understand the clever trick played by the chieftain upon his followers, and Grimcke and Long were convinced that no further attempt, at least for a time, would be made to capture them.
But being free to attend to their own safety, their thoughts naturally turned to the missing members of the company, especially to Ashman, who unquestionably was involved in the most imminent peril.
It was clear that his two friends could do nothing in his behalf. They did not know where to look for him, and such an attempt was sure to be followed by disastrous consequences to themselves.
It was a singular conclusion to which Grimcke and Long arrived and yet perhaps it was natural. They believed that Ashman had escaped before they did themselves, and that he was probably waiting at some point down the Xingu for them. They decided to pass in the same direction and strive to open communication with him.
How little did they suspect that though he was for the time out of the power of his enemies, yet the Princess Ariel was his companion, and that instead of seeking to flee from the dangerous country, he had actually penetrated farther into it.
After carefully reconnoitering their surroundings, therefore, the Professor and Long approached the Xingu at a point a third of a mile below the Murhapa village. Everything seemed to be quiet and motionless around them, with the exception of the river, yet they were given precious little time for wonderment or speculation.
The first amazing sight on which their eyes rested was their own large canoe drifting down stream. They stood a moment, not knowing what to make of it, but speedily reached the right conclusion: Ziffak had set it free for their special benefit.
It was floating sideways near the middle of the Xingu, and showed there was no one on board.
It was too invaluable to be allowed to get away from them, or to run the risk of a passage through the rapids below. Long decided to swim out to it, but, before he could enter the water, the Professor showed him that some one had anticipated them. A short distance up the bank, a native was in the act of entering the Xingu, while his companion stood on the bank, evidently about to follow him.
The clear moonlight enabled the explorers to identify them as Bippo and Pedros, the former being the one already in the water.
"Let them go," whispered the Professor, "they may as well do it for us."
Pedros was but a few strokes behind his friend, and the two were seen to clamber over the side of the craft at the moment it came opposite where the delighted white men were standing.
At this juncture, the Professor called to them in a guarded voice. Their expressions of amazement were ludicrous, and it was only after they had stared for several minutes and the call was repeated that they comprehended that their friends were near.
Then the two showed their extravagant delight by leaping up and down like a couple of children, and uttering cries that, to say the least, were imprudent.
The Professor sternly ordered them to hold their peace and paddle the boat to shore. They set to work with a will and brought the craft to land, only a short distance below, where the white men had reached the river. Instantly, they stepped on board, and with the exception of the single absent member, our friends stood in the same situation as a short time before.
It was Jared Long that in his flight from the beleaguered building took the extra Winchester with him, so that the little party could not have been better armed. Luckily, too, there was an abundant supply of ammunition on board, so that the old feeling of confidence came back to the party when they once more felt they were masters of the boat and all it contained.
Their desire now was to increase the distance between themselves and the Murhapa village, from which all had had such a narrow escape. When Bippo timidly asked his masters whether they meant to return or attempt to go any farther up the Xingu, they were assured that no such thought was in the mind of either of the explorers. They would only be thankful if they could get back to the Amazon without ever meeting another Murhapa.
This was enough for the natives, who were willing to jump overboard and tow the boat faster than it was already going. That, however, was unnecessary, and they were told that they had only to obey orders as cheerfully as they had done from the beginning and that undoubtedly everything would come out well.
It was past midnight, when the roaring just below, which was increasing every minute, warned them they were approaching the dangerous rapids. Possibly the craft might have passed safely through but it would have been imprudent to make the attempt for which no necessity existed.
Accordingly, the boat was once more run ashore and drawn against the bank, with the view of raising it upon their shoulders to be transported to the calmer waters below.
The four men were in the very act of lifting the craft, when to their terror, fully a score of Aryks suddenly emerged from the wood and surrounded them. All were armed with the frightful javelins, a prick from one of which was enough to cause almost instant death.
The whites could not have been caught at greater disadvantage, and Bippo and Pedros were so overcome that they were unable to move. Long was on the point of opening a fusillade, when Professor Grimcke was struck by the fact that no one of the Aryks offered to harm them. They chattered like a lot of magpies, and gathering round them made a movement as if to take possession of their boat.
The New Englander would have showed fight, had not his companion said in a low tone:
"They are friendly! They mean to do us no harm!"
Such was the astounding truth, and it was easily explained. Ziffak on his way up the Xingu with his new friends had warned the Aryks that they must do the whites no harm: they were on their way at that time to the Murhapa village as friends, and the head chieftain told his allies that any further hostility would be visited with the punishment of death.
The Aryks were not likely to forget such a notice. They had seen the boat approaching; and, being totally unsuspicious of what had occurred during the earlier part of the evening, were anxious to manifest their good will by carrying the canoe around the rapids.
Jared Long could hardly credit the truth, and held himself ready for a desperate fight; but, when the boat was lifted upon the shoulders of a half dozen stalwart warriors who started down the shore with it, he smiled grimly and admitted that the Professor was right.
The load was quite burdensome, but the carriers stepped off, highly pleased with the privilege, while the rest of their party straggled after them, the whites and their servants bringing up the rear.
Bippo and Pedros were not quite able to comprehend the extraordinary condition of affairs, and kept close to the heels of their masters like a couple of frightened dogs.
At the base of the rapids, the Aryks set down the boat, with great care, saluted in their rude way, and turning about, disappeared in the forest from which they had emerged.
" If they only knew," said Long when they were drifting down stream once more.
"But they don't," replied the Professor, "and yet they will learn the truth before long."
The boat was allowed to drift a half mile
further, when, convinced they had gone far enough, they ran into
land, disembarked and carried it in among the trees, where it
was out of the sight of any one passing up or down the Xingu.
Then they prepared to await the coming of Fred Ashman, doubtful,
however, whether he ever would come.
Back to The Land Of Mystery [ Previous ] [ Next ]