THE PATHLESS TRAIL
ARTHUR O. FRIEL
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers
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
I. SONS OF THE NORTH
II. AT SUNDOWN
III. THE VOICE OF THE WILDS
IV. THE GERMAN
V. INTO THE BUSH
VI. IN THE NIGHT WATCH
VII. COLD STEEL
VII. THE DOUBLE-CROSS
IX. FIDDLERS THREE
X. BY THE LIGHT OF STORM
XI. OUT OF THE AIR
XII. THE ARROW
XIII. THE WAY OF THE JUNGLE
XIV. A DUEL WITH DEATH
XV. THE CANNIBALS
XIX. FRUIT OF THE TRAP
XIX. THE RED BONES
XX. THE RAPOSA
XXI. SHADOWS OF THE NIGHT
XXII. THE SIREN OF WAR
XXIV. THE BATTLE OF THE TRIBES
XXV. THE PASSING OF SCHWANDORF
THE PATHLESS TRAIL
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.'"
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 blase 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 Maranon, 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."
"Mademoiselle of Armentieres. 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 ca! 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."
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?"
"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!"
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.
"Truly. Most of the Brazilian savages do not torture. The Red Bones do."
"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 kuemmel. 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."
Schwandorf got up.
"If you will pardon me, I will drink my kuemmel. Frankly, I do not like whisky."
"And frankly, we do not like kuemmel. 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?"
"Ask him about the wild man?"
"Get any information?"
"Nothing definite. He suggested that we see you."
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 kuemmel, 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!"
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."
"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?"
"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. "Jose, 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. Jose, you have been told by Senhor Schwandorf what we want?"
"You can start at once?"
"We leave that to you."
"Um! A dollar a day for each man?"
"Money or goods?"
"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?"
"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 Jose 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 Jose. And in his mind echoed the whispered warning of Joao, delivered during the effusive embrace at parting:
"Comrade, watch those bastardos Peruanos."
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, Jose, 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 Jose'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 Jose 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 Jose 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. Jose 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, Jose 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 Senor 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 Jose 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."