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´╗┐Title: In Search of El Dorado
Author: Collingwood, Harry, 1851-1922
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In Search of El Dorado" ***

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In Search of El Dorado, by Harry Collingwood.

________________________________________________________________________
Rather strangely the book starts off with an incident very closely
resembling the loss of the "Titanic", which had occurred a few years
before the publication of this book.  This episode, the sinking due to
collision with ice of the "Everest", is well told, and must indeed give
a good picture of what had happened with the "Titanic".

As a result of this our two heroes find themselves on an ice floe, from
which they are rescued, and become great friends.  They decide to go
together to South America, to see what adventures befall them.  Several
interesting episodes are described, but eventually they find themselves
outside what appears to be a city of gold, but down in a former crater
with no apparent means of access.  Eventually they do find the way down,
and to their surprise, Earle, the American, who was wearing an amulet he
had found earlier in the trip, was treated with great reverence as a
God.  All this is exceptionally well-told, and you will certainly enjoy
the book.

________________________________________________________________________
IN SEARCH OF EL DORADO, BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD.



CHAPTER ONE.

ICE!

The _Everest_, newly launched, the biggest and fastest boat in the
Trans-Atlantic services, was on her maiden voyage to New York.  The
fortunes of that voyage concern our story simply from the fact that it
brought our two adventurers together and helped to show the manly stuff
of which they were made.  Thereafter the sea was not for them, but the
far-off swamps and forests of the mighty Amazon Valley, where most
amazing adventures befel them.  On the _Everest_ Dick Cavendish was
fifth officer.

The run from Liverpool to Queenstown was made under easy steam in order
that the ship might arrive off the Irish port at a reasonable hour in
the morning; but no sooner were the Irish passengers and the
supplementary mails shipped than the word went quietly round among the
officers that the "Old Man" was bent upon breaking the best previous
record for the run across the herring pond and setting up a new one
unassailable by any other craft than the _Everest_ herself.  And
certainly when, as the liner passed Daunt Rock lightship shortly after
nine o'clock on the Sunday morning following her departure from
Liverpool, and the moment was carefully noted by chronometer, the omens
were all most favourable for the weather was fine, though cold, with a
light northerly wind and smooth water, and with her turbines running at
top speed the chief engineer reported that the hands in the stokeholds
were keeping a full head of steam without difficulty.  At noon the
patent log showed that the _Everest_ was within a fraction of eighty
miles from the lightship; and Captain Prowse already began to picture
himself as holding the blue ribbon of the Atlantic.

And so things continued without a hitch or break of any description
until half the journey across the Atlantic had been accomplished; the
weather remained fine, with light winds, no sea, and very little swell
to speak of, while the ship ran as smoothly and steadily as though she
were travelling on land-locked waters instead of in mid-Atlantic.

Meanwhile she kept in almost hourly touch with other ships going east or
west, reporting her position and progress and asking from time to time
for the latest news; but it was not until Tuesday afternoon, about three
o'clock, local time, that she got any intelligence of the slightest
moment, this being a message from the homeward bound liner _Bolivia_, to
the following effect--

"Warning!  S.S. _Bolivia_, New York--Liverpool, Latitude 45 degrees, 7
minutes North, Longitude 37 degrees, 57 minutes West.  Just cleared
large area consisting of detached masses of field ice with several
bergs, through which we have been working for the last three hours.
Very dangerous.  Advise ships approaching it to observe utmost caution,
particularly at night time."

This message was duly handed to Captain Prowse in his own cabin by the
wireless operator, who waited while the skipper read it, to see whether
the latter desired to address any inquiry to the _Bolivia_.  But after
cogitating over it for two or three minutes, the skipper crumpled up the
paper and thrust it into his pocket, saying--

"All right, `Sparks', that'll do.  And--look here, youngster--just keep
this message strictly to yourself, d'ye see?  Don't say a word to
anybody about it.  I'll see that all necessary precautions are taken;
but I don't want the news of there being ice ahead to be talked about;
it'll only make the passengers unnecessarily nervous and uneasy; and I
don't want that.  Besides, it will be easy enough to alter the course a
few degrees south if it should be found desirable.  You understand me?"

"Perfectly, sir," answered `Sparks,' lingering for a moment at the cabin
door.  "Anything else, sir?"

"No," answered the skipper, "nothing more at present, thank you.  But
keep your ears open for any further messages."

The operator saluted and vanished; whereupon the skipper produced the
chart of the North Atlantic, by the aid of which he was navigating the
ship, spread it open upon the table, and studied it intently.  A pencil
mark consisting of a number of straight lines--the junction of each of
which with the next was indicated by a dot surrounded by a small circle,
against which was a note indicating the date, hour and moment of the
ship's arrival at each particular spot--showed the track of the ship
across the ocean from her point of departure abreast of Daunt Rock, and
a thinner, lighter pencil line extending on to New York marked the still
untravelled portion of the route.  Taking a pencil, parallel ruler and
pair of dividers in his hand, Captain Prowse proceeded carefully to jot
down the position of the _Bolivia_, as indicated by her message; having
done which he gave vent to a sigh of relief; for he saw that the course
which he was pursuing would take the _Everest_ some sixty miles to the
north of that point.

"Thank God! that's all right," he murmured.  "There's nothing to fear.
That patch of drift ice is not in the least likely to extend as far
north as our track.  Besides, with the precautions that we are
observing--taking the sea temperature every half-hour, and so on--and
the maintenance of a good look-out, we are perfectly safe.  I suppose I
ought to tell Brown" (the chief officer) "about this message; but I
won't--no; I'll keep it to myself, for the chap's as nervous as a cat,
and would want to slow down as soon as the dusk comes.  And I don't want
that; I mean to make this a record passage, and don't intend to be
frightened into losing several precious hours merely because a ship
sixty miles to the south'ard of my track reports a little floating ice.
No; I'll just issue instructions that everybody is to be on the alert
and keep a specially sharp look-out, and let it go at that."

Having come to which conclusion, Captain Prowse left his cabin and
joined the officer of the watch on the bridge.

"By Jove!  What glorious weather we are having," he remarked genially,
as the officer came to his side.  "I cannot remember such a spell of it
as we have had ever since leaving Queenstown.  What's she doing, Mr
Dacre?"

"Twenty-six point six, sir, at the last reading of the log, about half
an hour ago," answered the second officer; "and she hasn't slackened
down any.  At this rate we ought to be berthed in New York by noon the
day after to-morrow, with a record passage to our credit."

"Ay," agreed the skipper, "that's what I am hoping for in a quiet way.
It will be a feather in our caps if we can pull the thing off--and
please the owners, too.  Have you seen any sign of ice yet?"

"Not yet, sir," answered Dacre, "though I suppose we may expect to see
some at almost any moment, now.  But the temperature of the water
remains quite steady.  It is only half a degree colder than it was this
time yesterday, and that is no more than one would reasonably expect
about here."

"Quite so," assented the skipper.  "Well, let the temperature continue
to be taken every half-hour regularly, and keep the look-outs on the
alert.  We don't want any accidents--or even any narrow escapes, on our
first trip.  The officers of the fleet have a reputation for
carefulness, and we must live up to it.  Let me know at once if any ice
is sighted."

"Certainly, sir," replied the second officer, as the skipper turned away
and retired to his cabin.

At half-past nine o'clock that night the ship's band was playing in the
grand lounge, and most of the first-class passengers who were not in the
smoke-room were promenading or sitting about in that spacious and
handsome apartment, listening to the music, or chatting together in
couples or little groups.  The smoke-room, too, was pretty well
occupied, a few of the men reading while the rest were either seated at
the tables, playing poker, or standing round watching the play.

At the same hour a little party of the ship's officers who were off
duty, of whom Dick Cavendish was one, were gathered in the ward-room,
engaged in the conduct of an informal smoking-concert, and Dick was
standing at the piano warbling "Dear Heart" to the doctor's
accompaniment--it is no longer the fashion for sailors to sing
sea-songs--when the proceedings were abruptly interrupted by a jolt--it
was scarcely severe enough to merit the term "shock"--instantly followed
by a perceptible lifting of the ship's bows and a slight list of her to
starboard, while to her smooth, steady, gliding progress succeeded a
rapid succession of jerks, accompanied by a sound of rending, distinctly
audible in the ward-room in the dead silence that suddenly fell upon the
party.  Then the bows of the ship were felt to dip and her stern to
rise, while her speed slackened so abruptly that those who were standing
only retained their footing with difficulty; a final jar, succeeded by a
crash, came, and the ship once more settled to her bearings, floating
smoothly and tranquilly as before.

By this time the occupants of the ward-room were all upon their feet,
staring at one another, speechless, with horrified eyes.  But as the
stern of the ship settled and she again came to her bearings, Mr Brown,
the chief officer, who was one of the party, exclaimed:

"Ice--by the Living Jingo!--and we've hit it!  More than that she's torn
the bottom off herself, unless I'm very greatly mistaken; and in another
minute there'll be the deuce and all to pay--a panic, as likely as not.
To your stations, gentlemen, and remember--the first thing to be done is
to keep the boat deck clear.  Come on!"  And he led the way up the
companion-ladder to the deck.

As Dick emerged into the open air, the first thing of which he became
conscious was a distinctly keener edge of chill in the atmosphere; next,
that the ship's engines had stopped; and third, that the second-class
passengers were swarming out of their quarters like angry bees, each
demanding of the other to be told what had happened.  They were
evidently heading with one accord for the promenade deck, doubtless _en
route_ for the boat deck; and Dick only reached the foot of the ladder
in the nick of time to meet the rush of the foremost.

"Hillo!" he cried, good-humouredly, planting himself square in front of
the ladder.  "Whither away, good people?  No, no; that is the
first-class quarters; you know that you have no right on the promenade
deck.  Keep to your own part of the ship, please."

The crowd checked at the cool authoritativeness of Dick's tones; but a
big, burly man elbowed his way through the crush until he came face to
face with the young officer.

"Out of the way, youngster," he shouted.  "Who are you, to talk of
`right' at a time like this?  The ship is on the rocks and sinking,
and--"

"Oh, my dear good man," interrupted Dick, wearily.  "You make me tired.
Why do you start talking about things of which you know nothing, and try
to frighten your fellow passengers?  You are the sort of chap who yells
blue murder if the lights in a picture theatre go out before you think
they ought, and starts a panic in which a lot of women and children get
badly hurt.  Rocks!  Why, we're hundreds of miles from the nearest land.
And as to the ship sinking, don't you know that she's unsinkable--that
she _can't_ sink?  The fact is that we've hit a bit of ice in the
darkness, and all the bumping that you felt was just the ice being
broken up by the ship as she ran past it.  Now, take my advice, all of
you; go back to your cabins and turn in, or some of you will be catching
bad colds.  Where are the parents of those children in night-dresses?
Whoever they are, they ought to be ashamed of themselves for bringing
the poor little kiddies into the cold in that rig!  Take 'em below and
put 'em to bed again, there's good people.  And go to bed yourselves;
it's the most comfortable place in the ship on a night like this.  I
wish I had the chance to go there."

Dick's one idea in talking had been to subdue the tendency towards panic
which he had observed in the crowd before him, and to a certain extent
he had succeeded.  That is to say, the parents of the children in
nightgowns had sheepishly herded their flock back into the deck-house,
while a few of the other passengers had followed them.  But the majority
still lingered, waiting perhaps to hear further particulars.  And these
the big, burly man--who, from his somewhat "loud" costume, might be
taken for a pugilist or a doubtful frequenter of race courses--seemed
determined to have.  Dick's sarcasm had produced no more effect upon him
than rain does upon a duck, and he still stood staring aggressively at
the young officer.

"That's all very well," he declared truculently; "but if there's no
danger, what are all them sailors so busy about the boats up there for?"

The boat deck was by this time a scene of feverish but orderly activity,
every available seaman being mustered there, busily engaged, under the
supervision of the chief and second officers, on the task of stripping
the boats of their canvas, casting them loose, hoisting them out of
their chocks, and swinging them outboard ready for lowering.

"Why, you chump," answered Dick, "they are doing that for the express
purpose of reassuring people like yourself, who always go badly scared
if they get half a chance.  Besides, it is one of the standing orders of
the ship, and gives the men a bit of exercise in handling the boats.
They will hang there for a bit, and then they will be swung inboard and
stowed again.  Now,--_please_ go back to your cabins, all of you, and
make yourselves comfortable.  Or, if you don't care to do that--if you
are determined to hang about out here on deck in the cold, at least go
and put some warm clothes on.  For I tell you candidly that it may be an
hour or more before those boats are swung in and stowed."

"All right!" returned Dick's opponent, "I'll stay where I am until
that's done, and chance it.  I'd rather have a cold than be drowned in
my cabin, like a rat in a trap."

"Very well," retorted Dick.  "Do as you please, by all means.  It's your
look-out, not mine.  Only you are setting a very bad example to the
others.  And by this time to-morrow you will all be sorry that you did
not take my advice."

Meanwhile, from where Dick stood, at the foot of the ladder leading to
the promenade deck, he could hear the purser up there suavely assuring a
crowd of first-class passengers that there was not the slightest
occasion for alarm, that the boats were merely being swung out as a
precautionary measure always adopted in such cases, and that if they
would kindly retire to the dining-saloon they would find a hot supper
awaiting them which he had taken it upon himself to order, just to
fortify his charges against any possible ill effects from the cold to
which they were so foolishly exposing themselves.  And while he spoke,
the purser was busily but very politely shepherding the promenade deck
crowd toward the doorway giving access to the dining-saloon.

But above the suavely jocular accents of the purser's voice Dick's quick
ears caught other and more sinister sounds, to wit, the persistent
crackling of the ship's wireless installation, and he very shrewdly
suspected that that meant something much more serious and important than
"Sparks" swapping good-nights with some other operator--that, in short,
it meant nothing less than that most urgent of all wireless calls, the
S.O.S. of a ship in dire distress summoning other ships to her aid.
Further than that, although the work of preparing the boats for lowering
was proceeding in a perfectly quiet and orderly manner, Dick was
conscious, even above the roar of escaping steam, of a strenuous haste
in the movements of the men engaged upon the task, as well as of a
certain note of sharpness and urgency in the tones of the officers who
were supervising the work, all of which combined to impress upon the
young officer the conviction that matters were taking a distinctly
serious turn for the _Everest_.

In the brief interval during which the above impressions were printing
themselves upon Dick's consciousness, a few of the people confronting
him had turned, and, in a half-hearted, hesitant way, were drifting back
toward the entrance of the deck-house, although the greater part of them
seemed disposed to follow the burly man's example and remain where they
were until authoritatively assured that all was well with the ship.  It
was during this momentary lull that a brass-buttoned steward came nimbly
down the ladder before which Cavendish was standing, and said to him:

"Purser's compliments, sir, and would you be so good as to tell the
second-class passengers that, on account of their bein' disturbed by the
ship hittin' a lump of ice, and turnin' out in the cold, tea, coffee,
and hot soup is bein' served in the dinin'-room to warm 'em up a bit
before they goes to their beds."

"Right-o!" answered Dick.  "I will inform them at once.  Ladies and
gentlemen," he continued, "lest you should not all have heard the
message which the steward has just delivered, let me repeat it.  It is a
message from the purser to the effect that since so many of you have
unfortunately been scared out of your warm cabins by the collision of
the ship with a small piece of ice, tea, coffee, and hot soup are now
being served in the dining-room to those who care to have something to
warm them before turning in.  If you take my advice, you will lose no
time in going below to get it, because only a limited quantity will be
served, and those who get below first will have the best chance.
Good-night, all of you.  Turn in as soon as you have had your hot drink,
and get a good night's rest."

And therewith the young man turned and with much deliberation ascended
the ladder, his intention in so doing being to convey the impression
that the scare was over and the entire incident ended.

The ruse was brilliantly successful, for the moment at least, for when,
upon reaching the head of the ladder, he turned to see what was
happening on the deck which he had just left, he saw that the whole
crowd of second-class passengers was in full retreat, with the burly man
elbowing his way through it, that he might secure his full share of
whatever might happen to be going in the dining-room.

Pausing for a moment to watch the gradual disappearance of the people
through the deck-house door, Dick waited until the last of them had
vanished, and then darted along the now deserted promenade deck and up
the ladder to the boat deck, where he found himself in the midst of a
scene of the most strenuous activity; the men still feverishly working
at the task of clearing and swinging out the boats, the officers
supervising and assisting in the work, as though every second of time
were more precious than gold, stewards hurrying up from below with
provisions with which to stock the boats, and the captain on the bridge
overlooking all, the whole deck brilliantly illuminated by every
available electric lamp, while overhead the steam still roared out of
the pipes, and the crackle of the wireless obtruded itself insistently
through all other sounds.

Cavendish knew that Mr Brown, the chief officer, was up here somewhere,
and he presently found him and briefly reported what had happened down
on the main deck.

"Good!" returned Brown.  "But go back and guard the head of the ladder
leading from the main to the promenade deck.  We're holed in nearly
every compartment, and the leaks are gaining upon us in spite of the
steam pumps.  The ship's doomed--that's the long and the short of it;
nothing can save her; and as soon as all the boats are ready there will
be a call for the women and children.  Your duty then will be to see
that no men from the second-class are allowed to slip past you until all
women and children have been safely got off.  Likely enough some of the
men may try to rush you.  Got a revolver?"

"I have a pair down in my cabin, but--"

"Good!" interrupted Brown.  "Don't waste time going down to fetch them.
Collar a steward and tell him to get them for you.  Now, off you go.
Those people down below may take the alarm again at any moment.  One
word more.  When all the women and children are up, don't let any men
pass you until you get word from me.  Now--scoot!"

Dick "scooted," dispatching a steward for his revolvers on the way, not
that he had the slightest intention of using them; but he knew how
efficacious a revolver--even though empty--is in stopping a rush, and he
decided that it would be a good thing to have them.  A minute later--his
visit to the boat deck having occupied some ten minutes--he reached his
post at the head of the ladder which he was to guard--just in time.  For
as he posted himself, the head of the burly man swung into view, wagging
from side to side as its owner climbed the ladder, with quite a little
crowd behind him, while others were streaming out on deck.

"What! my friend, you here again?" exclaimed Dick as he planted himself
at the head of the ladder, with a hand grasping the rail on either side
of him, thus converting himself into a human closed gate.  "Have you
come to tell me that there were not enough hot drinks to go round and
that you didn't get your fair share?  No you don't"--as the man strove
to dislodge Cavendish from his position--"your place is down there on
the main deck, as I've told you before--ah! would you?  Then take that,
as a little lesson that when you're aboard ship you must behave yourself
and obey orders!"

"That" was a blow straight between the eyes, administered to the burly
man, who now seemed determined to fight his way up to the boat deck at
all costs.  The fellow went reeling back under the impact of the blow,
and would undoubtedly have fallen some ten feet to the deck below had he
not been caught and supported by the people beneath him on the ladder.
These instantly raised a loud clamour, in which the words "Shame!
shame!" were distinctly audible, while some of the women began to cry
and manifest a disposition to become hysterical.  Then another big man
suddenly started to elbow his way through the crowd now thickly grouped
about the foot of the ladder which Dick was guarding, shouting, as he
came--

"Here, let me get at him.  Officer or no officer, I'll soon shift him!"

"Yes, yes; that's right, governor," shouted others, also pressing
forward.  "Let's get him out of the way.  What right has he got to keep
us down here while the ship's sinking?  Our lives are just as good as
other people's, and we've a right to save 'em if we can."

Dick saw that a crisis was imminent and that unless he acted with
decision the people on the deck below would very quickly get out of
hand.  Luckily for him, the steward whom he had dispatched for his
revolvers at this moment appeared, thrust the weapons into his hand, and
dashed off again without saying a word.  The youngster was reluctant to
display the weapons, for he was by no means sure that the sight of them
would produce the desired effect.  Yet there seemed to be no
alternative, for the little band of men below--some eight or ten in
number--were evidently determined to force the passage of the ladder.
He therefore pointed both weapons straight at the group as he shouted:

"Halt there, you men!  If you dare to move another step, I'll shoot.
What do you mean by your outrageous conduct, pushing and hustling your
way violently through a crowd of helpless women and children in that
brutal fashion?  You wouldn't do it if any of them belonged to you, and
I am surprised that the husbands and fathers put up with it.  Call
yourselves Englishmen?  Pah!  I'm ashamed of you.  You make me sick!"

Dick's appeal to the husbands and fathers of those whom the gang had
been hustling so roughly was a happy inspiration, and produced an
immediate effect, the said husbands and fathers at once raising their
voices in remonstrance, while the women also joined in, with the result
that a heated altercation quickly ensued which threatened to speedily
develop into a free fight.  But that was only a shade less desirable
than the other, wherefore, slipping his revolvers into his pockets, Dick
intervened.

"Now then, below there, none of that!" he shouted.  "I'll allow no
fighting.  The first man who strikes a blow shall be clapped in irons.
And just listen to me a moment, if you please," he continued, as the
faces below turned again toward him.  "Will one of you men who seem so
extraordinarily anxious to come up here kindly explain _why_ you want to
come?"

For a moment there was dead silence among the crowd, then the burly man
whom Dick had struck, and who had retired crestfallen to the foot of the
ladder, looked up and replied:

"The ship's sinking--you can't deny it--and our lives are worth just as
much as other people's.  We want to have a fair chance of saving 'em,
and--"

"Stop a moment," interrupted Dick, thinking he saw a chance to create a
diversion and avert the inevitable rush for a few minutes.  "You say
that the ship is sinking and that you want to save your lives by taking
to the boats.  Have you all taken the precaution to put your money and
other valuables in your pockets?  And have you all seen to it that you
are dressed in your warmest clothes?  You know," he continued,
banteringly, "if you were at this moment called to get into the boats,
you would be very sorry when you afterwards remembered that in your
hurry you had left all your valuables behind you.  And boating in this
weather is a most unpleasantly cold business, I assure you."

A rather lengthy silence followed this speech of Dick's.  Those whom he
had addressed were thinking very seriously about what he had said
touching money and valuables.  Probably not one of them had dreamed of
adopting the precautionary measures suggested, and many of them were
painfully conscious at that moment that every penny they possessed was
locked up in the trunks in their cabins.  Several of them began to move
hesitatingly towards the deck-house entrance.  Then a man who was
leading the way, suddenly halted and shouted--

"Look here, mister.  Tell us the plain truth, as man to man.  Is this
ship going to sink, or isn't she?  That's all that we want to know."

The question set Dick's mind working at lightning speed.  Should he or
should he not deny the dreadful truth?  He felt that he could not
unreservedly deny it, yet, on the other hand, unreservedly to admit it
might precipitate a panic.  He quickly decided that the proper thing to
do would be to prepare those people for the inevitable, but to do so in
such a fashion as to reassure them to the utmost possible extent.
Therefore he answered:

"As man to man I tell you that we hope to take this ship safely into New
York harbour.  But I will not attempt to conceal from you the fact that
she has sustained a certain amount of damage from her collision with a
mass of ice and she is leaking a bit--stop!  Don't run away until I have
told you everything," he continued, as he saw the listening crowd below
bracing itself for a rush.  "As I have said, the ship is leaking a bit,
but the steam pumps are at work--listen! you can hear the beat of them--
and the water is pouring out of her almost, if not quite, as fast as it
is pouring in."  (This was very far from being the truth, and Dick knew
it, but he considered that the circumstances justified the
prevarication).  "But it is a rule with this company, as it is with many
others, that the moment a ship sustains any damage, however slight, the
first step taken is to provide for the safety of passengers, and that is
why you see the boats being got ready.  If the leak should be found to
be gaining on the pumps, ample notice will be given you, and plenty of
time will be allowed for transferring everybody to the boats without
rush or confusion of any kind.  So now you know all that there is to
know.  If you take my advice you will all go to your cabins, dress
yourselves in your warmest clothes, secure money and valuables about
your persons, and then lie down and get a comfortable sleep.  If it is
considered desirable that you should be transferred to the boats you
will be told so in good time.  And don't hurry.  It may be hours yet
before you will be summoned to the boats--if indeed you are summoned at
all."

Again Dick's eloquence had triumphed, and this time the triumph was
distinctly of a more decisive character than on the previous occasion;
his candour--so far as it went--had convinced the people whom he
addressed that if there was any danger at all it was certainly not
imminent; and in a body they turned away, intent upon acting on his
advice.

Within a minute of the disappearance of the last of the second-class
passengers, a loud hissing, shearing sound rent the air, heard
distinctly above the now somewhat moderated roar of the escaping steam,
and, leaning far out over the rail of the promenade deck, Dick was just
in time to mark the heavenward flight of a rocket--the first visible
signal of distress which the _Everest_ had thus far made--and to see it
burst, high up, into a shower of brilliant red stars.  It was the light
shed by these stars as they floated downward that first revealed to the
young officer the fact that a thin veil of haze enveloped the ship,
through which, scattered here and there, were several small blocks of
field ice; while away on the starboard quarter, distant about half a
mile, was a much larger mass, standing perhaps two or three feet above
the water's surface, which might well be the berg that had done all the
mischief.  But Dick was horrified, as he stared down into the water, to
note how much nearer was the surface than usual, as seen from the level
of the promenade deck--quite three feet nearer, he estimated.  And the
ship had sunk to that extent within little more than half an hour!

The lad glanced eagerly about him.  The deck below, set apart for the
exclusive use of the second-class passengers, was now tenantless, but
the port of every cabin was aglow with light, showing pretty
conclusively that the people there were following Dick's advice.  The
same held good with regard to the cabins on the promenade deck; every
window--and many doors as well--revealed the fact that the occupants
were busy within; but even while Cavendish looked, a few people emerged
from adjacent cabins, all of them warmly clad and evidently prepared as
well as they could be for the hardships of exposure in open boats.
Also, far away for'ard, Dick could just distinguish that the smoke-room
door was open and that men were passing in and out, their movements
suggesting uneasiness and expectancy.

Again Dick glanced over the rail.  The water was perfectly smooth,
unwrinkled by even the faintest zephyr of a breeze, and the great ship
lay almost as motionless and steady as though she were in dock.  Thank
God! when the moment came there ought to be no difficulty in getting the
laden boats safely lowered and afloat.  At the thought of the boats he
glanced upward and saw that the whole of them on the starboard side were
swung out and lowered sufficiently to permit of the people stepping
easily into them from the deck above.  Then he ran across the deck to
the port side, and saw that all boats but one on that side were also
ready, while the last one was even at that moment being lowered to the
same level as the rest.

As Dick walked back to his station at the head of the ladder another
rocket went screaming its way aloft into the black sky, and with the
bursting of it the lad became conscious of the fact that the wireless
was no longer insistently clamouring; there were moments now when it
remained silent for quite a minute or more, followed by a few sharp
cracklings, and again silence.  The _Everest_ had evidently at last got
into touch with another ship and was exchanging confidences with her.

Dick began to feel cold up there on the promenade deck, and to promote
warmth, proceeded to walk briskly to and fro athwart the broad space of
deck abaft the long range of cabins.  And as he did so, he caught a
momentary view of one of the quartermasters entering the doorway which
led toward the main companion-way, and, incidentally, to the library,
ladies' boudoir, grand saloon, and dining-hall.  The man held a small
slip of paper in his hand, and Dick instantly surmised that the slip
might be a communication from either the captain or the chief officer to
the purser.

The lad paused in his walk, awaiting results.  And they were not long in
coming, for a few minutes later the quartermaster emerged, quickly
followed by the purser, who, taking up a position midway between the
smoke-room and the block of cabins abaft it--which space Dick now saw
was occupied by several groups of men and women--cleared his voice and
then proclaimed in ringing accents:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this paper which I hold in my hand is a message
which has just been brought to me from Captain Prowse, and it contains
news which I am sure will be very welcome to you all.  It is to the
effect that our wireless operator has succeeded in getting into touch
with the _Bolivia_ and acquainting the captain of that vessel with our
somewhat unfortunate plight.  The _Bolivia_, as some of you are
doubtless aware, is homeward bound, but upon learning the news of our
accident, her captain has unhesitatingly interrupted his voyage and is
at this moment heading for our position as rapidly as his powerful
engines will drive him.  He expects to arrive alongside in about three
hours from now; you have therefore the assurance of perfect safety, let
what will happen.  This is as gratifying news to Captain Prowse as I
expect it is to you; for I may now tell you that the _Everest_ is much
more seriously damaged than we at first anticipated, and--purely as a
measure of precaution, I assure you--the captain, in consultation with
his officers, has decided temporarily to transfer all passengers to the
boats, thus ensuring their safety, whatever may happen to the ship.  And
if the worst should come to the worst and the leak continue to gain upon
us, the _Bolivia_ will receive you upon her arrival and convey you to
New York.  It was in anticipation of some such contingency as this that
I advised you all, a little while ago, to change into warmer clothing,
and I am glad to see that you have taken my advice.  A call for you to
enter the boats--women and children first--will shortly be made;
therefore, if any of you have any valuables in your cabins, let me
advise you to secure them at once.  Several of you have deposited money
and jewels in my charge.  I am now about to proceed to my office for the
purpose of delivering those deposits to their rightful owners; and I
shall be much obliged if you will all kindly bring your deposit notes
with you to facilitate the distribution."

And, so saying, the purser, cool and imperturbable as ever, bowed and
withdrew, his departure being instantly followed by a hurried rush of
the passengers to their cabins.

An interval of some twenty minutes now elapsed, during which nothing
particular happened, except that the second-class passengers began again
to emerge from their quarters in little groups and congregate about the
foot of the ladder, as though holding themselves in readiness to obey an
expected call.  At regular intervals distress rockets continued to be
fired from the upper deck, each discharge being followed by a little
movement of restlessness on the part of the rapidly increasing crowd,
while Dick noticed that the ship's wireless was again insistently
calling.  He also noticed that the burly man and a small group of
kindred spirits were quietly but unobtrusively edging their way through
the gathering crowd towards the foot of the ladder, and he decided to
check the movement forthwith.  Therefore, raising his arm to attract
attention, and then pointing downward at the culprits, he said:

"Now, look here, you men!  Stop that at once, if you please.  I see your
game; but it won't do.  You are trying to get in front of all the
others, so as to be first in the boats if you are called to take to
them.  But it won't do, my fine fellows.  If it is decided to send away
the boats, the women and children will be the first to go; therefore the
men will be pleased to fall in in the rear.  Let all the children come
forward, and their mothers with them--no, no; don't rush and crowd, for
there is not the least occasion for hurry; make a lane, there--a good
wide lane to the foot of the ladder--do you hear what I say?  That's
better--open out wider yet.  So!  Good!  Now, you mothers, come to the
front with your kiddies, and sit down on deck until further orders.  Let
the youngsters come up the ladder and sit down on the steps.  They may
come up as far as the top step, but no farther.  That's right.  Now,
little folks, sit close together and keep each other warm.  That's
capital.  Now you will do very well."

As Dick finished, a quartermaster, accompanied by half-a-dozen seamen,
came along the deck, and while the latter ranged themselves immediately
behind Cavendish, the quartermaster murmured in the young man's ear:

"They're goin' to begin launchin' the boats, sir, and the chief officer
wants you up on the boat deck to help.  I'm to stay here with these men,
to see that there's no rush.  You're to go at once, please, sir."

"Right!" responded Dick, and turned to go.  Then a thought suddenly
occurred to him, and he faced round to the people on the deck below, now
evidently all agog to learn what fresh development was impending.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said.  "A message has just been brought to me
that the captain has decided to put you all into the boats, as a measure
of safety.  But I see that none of you have as yet put on life belts.
You will find them in your cabins.  Please go there and fetch them, and
two of these men will come to you and help you to put them on.  There is
no hurry, so, when the call comes, please take your time, and let there
be no crowding.  You will get away much quicker by behaving in a quiet
and orderly manner."

Then, with a few words of warning to the quartermaster and the seamen,
Dick turned and made a dash for the boat deck.



CHAPTER TWO.

THE FOUNDERING OF THE "EVEREST."

Upon reaching the ladder leading to the boat deck, which was the
uppermost deck of all, he found it packed with first-class passengers,
among whom the word had already been passed round, so, rather than
incommode them, he sprang up on the rail and swarmed up a stanchion.

Arrived on the boat deck, he found the preparations for lowering the
boats complete, and he also found the captain and chief officer
preparing to supervise the embarkation.  These he at once joined, and
upon reporting himself, was immediately stationed at the after end of
the deck on the starboard side, to supervise the dispatch of four boats.
The deck was now rapidly filling with passengers, who were coming up
from below, both fore and aft, men, women and children indiscriminately,
despite the efforts of those below to keep them apart.  But they were
received upon their arrival by a number of quartermasters and seamen,
who firmly, but with rough courtsey, herded the men along the middle
part of the deck while the women and children were allowed to go to the
port and starboard sides of the deck, where the officers received them.

Dick stationed himself abreast the aftermost of his quartette of boats,
and as the anxious mothers with their children came crowding up, he
quickly passed them through the opening in the rail and into the boat,
where the three men in charge of it received them and directed them
where to place themselves.  So far, there was very little confusion,
except that a few women clamoured for their husbands to be allowed to go
with them, so causing a certain amount of delay; but on the whole
matters were going very well, and within forty minutes the whole of the
boats that had been swung out were safely lowered and dispatched, with
orders to lie off at least half a mile, and there wait for further
orders.  These boats took not only all the women and children, but also
as many men as room could be found for.

But all told there still remained nearly two thousand men aboard the
doomed ship, whose safety depended upon the possibility of launching the
collapsible boats and life rafts before the now rapidly sinking liner
foundered.  And this possibility had become very questionable, for the
water had gained so much that the furnace fires had been extinguished
and steam was rapidly failing, with the result that the pumps were no
longer working at anything like full power.  Moreover, although every
possible arrangement had been made to facilitate the launching of the
collapsible and other craft, much still remained to be done before they
would be ready to receive their complement of passengers and be
dispatched.  Meanwhile the _Everest_ had settled so low in the water
that many of those still waiting were beginning to betray much
uneasiness, not to say restiveness, at the inevitable delay, this
restiveness being most apparent among the steerage passengers and, in a
lesser degree, among the second-class, while the first-class passengers,
almost to a man, not only displayed the most perfect coolness, but even
united with the officers of the ship in their efforts to allay the
rapidly growing impatience of the others.

Dick saw that trouble was brewing, and stimulated his gang of workers
both by voice and example, with the result that very soon he had a big
collapsible boat hooked on to the davit tackles and swung outboard.  But
she still needed a certain amount of preparation before she would be
ready to receive her living cargo, and to complete that preparation
Cavendish ordered four of his gang of six men into her.  Instantly a
crowd of excited foreigners from the steerage, probably mistaking the
action for an indication that the boat was ready, made a rush for her
and, thrusting Dick and his remaining two assistants aside, hurled
themselves frantically into her, shrieking and jabbering like maniacs.
The result, of course, was that the boat promptly collapsed, and taking
the intruders entirely by surprise, precipitated the greater number of
them into the water beneath, while the four seamen in her only escaped a
like fate by making a spring for and seizing the tackles and guys.

Dick, who with his two assistants had been knocked down and nearly
overboard by the rush, quickly scrambled to his feet and dropped
overboard every rope's end he could lay his hands upon, and by this
means contrived to rescue some twenty of the now thoroughly sobered and
frightened men; but, of course, this involved a most lamentable delay
and loss of time; and meanwhile it became apparent to all that the ship
was now fast settling in the water.  Even worse than that, however, was
the effect which the conviction produced upon the ignorant foreigners
among the passengers.  These were fast developing a tendency to panic,
which manifested itself in a determination to assist the seamen; and
since their efforts to assist were unaided for the most part by the
smallest glimmering of knowledge as to the proper thing to do, they
naturally hindered instead of helping, and not only Dick but the other
officers as well soon had all their work cut out to keep the zealous but
ignorant foreigners in anything like order.

The worst characteristic of panic is that it is so horribly contagious.
Let a crowd of people once get the idea into their heads that they are
in peril, and they will fight together like wild beasts in their anxiety
to escape.  And the officers of the _Everest_ knew this; therefore they
devoted the whole of their energies to the task of reassuring that great
crowd of men who now filled the boat deck of the sinking ship, arguing,
pleading, and even threatening, while the Dagos crowded around them ever
more menacingly, with eyes ablaze with mingled terror and ferocity, lips
contracted into savage snarls, and hands in many cases gripping long,
ugly-looking, dagger-like knives.

Then suddenly there came, unceremoniously elbowing his way through the
excited crowd, the well-known form of the purser, his face wreathed with
smiles, and a paper in his hand.

"Make way, there, make way, good people," he shouted.  "I have good news
for you.  The wireless operators have succeeded in getting into touch
with three more ships, and now not only the _Bolivia_, but also the
_Cotopaxi_, the _Platonic_, and the _Nigerian_ are hastening to our
rescue and will all be alongside us in the course of a few hours.
Therefore, cheer up, there is help and room for everybody on the way."

"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!  Three cheers for the purser and his good
news," shouted a man with a strong American accent; and all who
understood him heartily took up the cheering; while the foreigners, who
had failed to catch the meaning of the purser's remarks, at least
understood from the cheering that good news of some sort had come to
hand, and their attitude at once became less menacing.

"Good for you, sir," exclaimed Dick to the men who had started the
cheering.  "Those hurrahs of yours are worth more than diamonds to us
just now.  Hurry up lads with that boat and let's get her afloat.  Are
you ready, Simpson?  Good!  Now then, come along, good people, but don't
crowd, there's plenty of time.  Jump in, sir--" to the man with the
American accent; "you deserve a place, if only in return for those
cheers."

"Not I, my son," answered the man addressed--he was only about
twenty-eight to thirty years of age.  "I have neither wife, child, nor
relative of any kind, as far as I know.  Let the married folk go first.
Now then, you husbands and fathers, step out.  Any more for the shore?"

He spoke with a smile on his good-locking face, and that and the little
jest of "Any more for the shore?" were as comforting to many a man there
as all the assurances of the ship's officers had been; nay, more, for
they had been accompanied by a wave of the hand toward the boat and a
voluntary stepping aside that seemed to say as plain as words--"Pass
along, you who are afraid.  I am not, and am entirely willing to wait my
turn."

But although the peril of panic was less imminent than it had been, it
was by no means banished, and probably none recognised this more clearly
than the American, for while the boat just filled was being lowered, he
edged up to Dick and murmured:

"Say, young man, unless you are looking for trouble I would advise you
to get all those Dagos out of the ship quick.  I know their sort, sir,
and I can tell by the look in their eyes, that the smallest thing in the
way of an extra scare will just send the whole crowd jumping mad.  So
get rid of them in a hurry.  That's my advice."

"And I believe you are right, too," answered Dick.  "But I can't act on
your advice, all the same.  There are others who are entitled to as good
a chance as the Dagos, and they must have it.  There is yourself, for
instance--"

"Nix!  I guess not!" interrupted the American.  "Of course, I know what
you mean," he continued, in a low tone; "the ship can't last much
longer, and a good few of us are in for a cold swim; but I guess I'll
take my chance with the rest of the bathers."

The launching and the dispatch of the collapsibles was now proceeding
with frantic haste, for it was no longer possible to conceal the fact
that the ship's minutes were numbered, while there were still over a
thousand people aboard.  But the discipline was perfect, the work was
going forward smoothly and with no more bustle than if the passengers
were being landed upon a wharf; and if it had not been for the horribly
nervous condition of the foreigners all might have been well.  But they
were in just that state of "nerves" when, as the American had suggested,
the smallest scare would act upon them as a spark upon gunpowder; and
the scare presently came, in the form of a small explosion--which might
have been nothing more than the accidental discharge of a revolver
somewhere down in the depths of the ship.  Whatever it may have been, it
was enough to turn the scale--to upset the state of delicate, unstable
equilibrium prevailing, and after a momentary glance around them, the
foreigners, nearly three-hundred in number, set up a yell of terror and
hurled themselves in a body upon those who were at work upon the boats.

In a flash, Dick, the American, and half a dozen more were swept out
through the temporary gangway by the maddened crowd, and, before they
fully realised what was happening, found themselves floundering in the
water alongside, while others came hurtling down on all sides.  Luckily
for himself, Dick went down straight--and consequently somewhat deep,
and before his descent was checked his presence of mind returned.  He
pictured to himself exactly what was happening above him, and struck out
powerfully under water, so as to escape the shower of falling bodies
when he should reach the surface.

The water was bitterly cold, but Dick kept under as long as he could,
swimming straight away from the ship; and when at length he rose he saw
with satisfaction that he was some ten yards distant from her, and well
clear of the struggling mass of men alongside, who were being added to
by dozens, even as he watched.

The next moment another head broke water alongside him, and as it did so
a voice which Dick instantly recognised ejaculated, amidst a fusillade
of coughs and splutterings--

"B-r-r-ur!  It's colder'n charity!  Darn those Dagos, anyway!  It was
cold enough up there on the hurricane deck, but here--ugh!"

"You are right," returned Dick.  "It _is_ cold, and no mistake.  I hope
those fellows didn't hurt you in their mad rush."

"Nary a hurt," replied Dick's companion.  "So it's you, young man, is
it?  Good!  Say! although it is so tarnation cold down here, I guess
we're better off than the people up there on deck.  For now we'll have a
chance to get clear of the ship before she sinks, if we hustle a bit.
See that star over there?  I guess we'd better make a bee line for it
and swim for all we're worth; then, if we're lucky we may escape being
dragged down in the vortex; and perhaps we may find a boat to hang on to
until something comes along and picks us up."

Dick agreeing, the pair struck out strongly in the direction of the
star.  But, as they swam, their ears were assailed by a veritable
pandemonium of sound aboard the sinking steamer--shouts, yells, screams,
and a regular fusillade of pistol shots, bearing eloquent evidence of
the terrible scenes that were enacting aboard her.

As the two swimmers proceeded the mingled sounds aboard the _Everest_
seemed to swell rather than diminish, to such an extent indeed that
presently the American turned to Dick and gasped, through chattering
teeth--

"S-s-say! s-s-seems to m-me that there's a r-reg-ular pitched b-a-attle
going on aboard there--ugh!  G-g-guess w-we're b-b-better off here
th-th-than there--eh?"

"R-r-rather!" stammered Dick back, but he was suffering so intensely
from the icy nip of the water that he felt no disposition to talk, and
simply pushed ahead for all he was worth, hoping that by dint of violent
exertion he might be able to conquer the numbing sensation that was
gradually clogging his movements.

For another ten minutes the pair pressed forward side by side.  Then
suddenly Dick's companion ceased his exertions, and, with a groan,
turned over on his back.  He managed to stammer a question whether there
were any boats at hand; and upon Dick replying in the negative the
American gasped:

"Then I'm d-d-done.  C-cramp all over.  C-can't s-swim 'nother s-stroke.
G-good-bye!"

"Good-bye be hanged!" shouted Dick, stirred to new life by his
companion's extremity.  "Just y-you lie as y-you are--I'll l-l-look
after you."

And flinging himself on his back, Cavendish gripped the other man firmly
by the collar, and, kicking out vigorously, towed him along.  Some five
minutes later the youngster became conscious of a sudden and very
decided fall in the temperature of the water, and looking about in
search of the cause, found himself within a few yards of a large cake of
field ice.  There, at all events, was a refuge of a sort--something that
would serve the purpose of a raft, and with a few vigorous strokes he
was alongside it.  It was a great slab of field ice, its flat upper
surface not more than six inches above water; and after a tremendous
struggle Dick not only got upon the slab himself but also contrived to
drag his companion up also.  Their combined weight seemed to have very
little effect upon the stability of the mass, merely depressing the
adjacent edge perhaps a couple of inches; and, this fact ascertained,
Dick lost no time, but set to work upon the body of the insensible
American, pounding, rubbing, and rolling it with such vigour that not
only did he at length feel the chill departing from his own limbs but
also felt his companion stir and heard him groan.

"Feel better?" demanded Dick.  Then, without waiting for a reply, he
added: "If you can only manage to get to your feet and walk about a bit,
we'll soon restore our circulation.  Let me give you a lift."

"Wait," gasped the American.  "Breast pocket--br-r-randy flask.  Take
nip and give me one."

The brandy flask was found, and after applying it to the lips of its
owner, Dick took a mouthful himself before replacing the top.  The
effect of the spirit upon their chilled bodies was almost miraculous, a
wave of warmth surged through them, and presently the American was on
his feet, and, with Dick's arm linked in his, was staggering to and fro
upon the surface of the ice.  As the stiffness and cramp worked out of
their limbs they were able to increase their pace, until within a few
minutes they were trotting to and fro across the mass and feeling almost
warm once more.

Meanwhile, although the sounds of conflict and confusion aboard the
_Everest_ still floated to the pair, horribly suggesting the awful
scenes that were being enacted on her deck, the ship herself had settled
so deeply in the water that only the lights in the cabins of the
promenade deck and the clusters illuminating the boat deck now marked
her whereabouts, and it soon became apparent that the end was very near.
As a matter of fact it was even nearer than the occupants of the floe
imagined, for as with one accord they paused to glance at the ship in
response to an exceptionally strident outburst of sound, they beheld the
line of lights suddenly incline from the horizontal, saw the slope grow
steadily steeper, and then, as the great mass of the vessel's stern hove
up, an indistinct blur of deeper blackness on the darkness of the night,
the line of lights slid forward and vanished one after another until all
had disappeared, while at the same moment a heartrending wail from
hundreds of throats pealed out across the water, punctuated by a
crackling volley of pistol shots.

"Gone!" ejaculated Dick's companion--and the ejaculation was almost a
groan.  "The unsinkable _Everest_, that triumph of human ingenuity which
was finally to insure travellers against every peril of the sea, is
gone, sent to the bottom by a chunk of ice so small that, we may assume,
the look-outs never saw it until it was too late.  And with her she has
taken, I suppose, the best part of a thousand people--of whom you and I,
my friend, might have been two, if those tarnation cowardly Dagos had
not knocked us overboard, for which I am obliged to them, although I
wasn't by a long chalk, a quarter of an hour ago.  Now I guess we're
just as well off here as those people are in the boats; better, maybe,
for we can at least move about and keep ourselves warm here, whereas--
say!  What's that?  See, over there!  Isn't it a rocket?"

As Dick looked in the direction toward which his companion pointed, he
caught a momentary glimpse of a sudden faint irradiation in the sky,
followed by the appearance of a minute cluster of tiny falling stars.

"Yes," he replied, "that's a rocket all right; and it means that the
_Bolivia_ or one of the other ships is coming up, and is firing rockets
to let us know that help is at hand.  But whatever she is, she is a long
way off yet, and probably will not arrive for the next half-hour at
least.  So let me recommend another sprint or two across the ice just to
keep the blood moving in our veins."

"Correct again," returned the American, as they started off at a brisk
walk.  "But--say!" he continued, turning to Dick and extending his hand,
"we've been so darned busy getting ourselves warm that I haven't yet
found time to thank you for saving my life.  But I'll do it now--"

"Saving your life?" ejaculated Dick.  "I don't think I understand."

"Oh yes, I guess you do," answered the American.  "Or, if you don't, I
calculate I can easily enlighten you.  You saved my life, young man,
when you took me in tow out there and navigated me to this desirable ice
floe, and don't you forget it.  You may bet your bottom dollar that I
shall not, and there's my hand upon it, stranger.  Now, let me introduce
myself.  I know who you are all right; you're Mr Cavendish, late fifth
officer of the unsinkable steamship _Everest_, very recently gone to the
bottom.  Isn't that right?"

Dick acknowledged the truth of his companion's statement, whereupon the
latter resumed.

"Very good," he said.  "Now, I suppose you've never heard of Wilfrid
Earle, of New York, the man who undertook to hunt his way from Cairo to
the Cape--"

"Oh! but of course I have," interrupted Dick.  "I've read about you in
the papers--and, come to think of it, I've seen your photograph also in
the papers.  Somehow your face seemed familiar when I noticed you a
while ago on the boat deck--"

"Sure!" cut in the other.  "That's me--Wilfrid Earle, the eccentric New
Yorker, all right, all right.  Only arrived home from Cape Town little
more than a fortnight ago, with a whole caravan load of skins, horns,
tusks, and so on; and now I guess they're about half a mile down, in the
hull of the _Everest_.  Gee!  Guess you're thinking me a heartless brute
for talking so lightly about the awful thing that's just happened; but,
man, I've got to do it--or else go clean crazy with thinking about it.
Or, better still, not think about it at all, since thinking about it
won't mend matters the least little bit.  Say! what are all those little
lights dotted about over there?"

"Oh!" answered Dick, "they are the lights of the _Everest's_ boats.
Each boat was provided with a lantern, in order that they might keep
together, and be the more easily found when the rescuing ships come up."

"Ah!" returned Earle.  "A very excellent arrangement.  But say! what
about us?  We have no lantern.  How are we going to make our whereabouts
known?  Those boats are a good mile away, and--"

"I don't think we need worry very greatly about that," answered Dick.
"Naturally, the _Bolivia_--or whatever the coming craft may be--will
pick up the people in the boats directly she arrives; but she'll lower
her own boats, too, and send them away to search the sea in the
immediate neighbourhood for people who may be floating about in
lifebuoys or cork jackets.  There must be quite a number of them at no
great distance from us--though how long they are likely to survive,
drifting about in the ice-cold water, I should not like to say.  But I
think we may take it for granted that, once they have arrived, the
rescuing ships will not quit the scene of the disaster until they have
made quite sure that they have got all the survivors.  They will wait
about until daylight comes, without a shadow of doubt."

"Good! it is comforting to hear you say that," returned Earle.  "You
see, I don't know much about the sea and sailor ways, and it occurred to
me that those rescuing ships might take it for granted that when they
had recovered the people from the boats, they would have done all that
was possible--and quit.  Gee! but it's cold here on this ice.  Lucky
that there's no wind, or we should be frozen stiff in half an hour.
We'll have another nip of brandy each; it'll do us both good.  Lucky
thing, too, that I had the sense to fill the flask and slip it into my
pocket when I knew what had happened to the ship.  I sort of foresaw
some such experience as this, and concluded that a drop of brandy might
be a good thing to have about one's person."

They had their nip and felt all the better for it; but it was necessary
for them to keep moving briskly in order to combat the numbing chill of
their wet clothes, and they resumed their pacing to and fro across their
narrow block of ice.

For a time their conversation was of a desultory and fragmentary
character, for they were both intently watching the progress of the
approaching steamer, which continued to send up rockets until the glow
of the flames from her funnels became clearly visible.  Then the display
of rockets suddenly ceased, no doubt because--as Dick surmised--the
lights of the boats had been sighted by the eager look-outs aboard her.
Then her mast-head light came into view, followed, a little later, by
her port and starboard side lights; and at length the dark, scarcely
discernible blotch that represented her hull lengthened out suddenly,
revealing a long triple tier of brightly gleaming ports; and a few
seconds later the roar of steam escaping as her engines stopped, reached
the two watchers on the ice.

"Hurrah!" shouted Dick, "she is among the boats at last and doubtless
picking them up.  Now we must keep our ears open listening for the sound
of oars, or hailing, for I'll bet that the skipper will have had his
boats swung out ready for lowering, and their crews standing by, long
ago."

But nearly half an hour elapsed before the welcome sound of oars working
in rowlocks faintly reached their ears, followed quickly by the shrill
note of an officer's whistle.

"At last!" breathed Dick, in tones of profound relief.  "Now is our
chance, Mr Earle.  We will shout together: `Boat ahoy!'  Take the time
from me.  Now--one, two, three, Boat ahoy-y-oy!"

The long drawn out "ahoy" had scarcely died on their lips before it was
answered by an equally long blast from the whistle, to which they
responded by repeating the hail at brief intervals, each answering blast
of the whistle telling them that the boat was drawing nearer, until at
length the faint loom of the boat showed in the darkness, and a lantern
was suddenly held high above a man's head.  Then they heard a voice
exclaim:

"There they are, sir--two of 'em--on that block of ice!"  And a minute
later they were being carefully helped into the stern sheets of the
boat, which was already floating deep with a load of motionless forms
enwrapped in cork jackets.  Whether they were living or dead it was
impossible just then to say.

"Any more on the ice?" demanded the officer in charge of the boat.
Then, following Dick's reply in the negative, he continued: "Right!
shove off, bow! pull port!  Give way all!  Now it's us for the ship.
Put your backs into it, lads.  A minute or two may make all the
difference between life and death for some of these poor chaps that
we've fished up.  Here, have a sip of brandy, you two.  You must be
frozen pretty nearly stiff."

"No brandy, thanks--unless my friend here--Mr Cavendish, fifth officer
of the _Everest_--would care to have another nip.  But we've already had
some--filled a flask and slipped it into my pocket when I realised that
the ship was going to sink--and I guess it saved our lives."

Upon Dick also declining "another nip" the officer in charge held out
his hand.

"Glad to make your acquaintance, Mr Cavendish, and to have picked you
up.  My name is Urquhart--`chief' of the _Bolivia_.  By the way, since
we got your S.O.S. and learned particulars of the smash-up, we've all
been wondering how the mischief you managed to pile up your ship on a
berg, after our warning of this afternoon.  Was it thick at the time,
or--how was it?"

"Your warning!" exclaimed Dick.  "Did you warn us, then?  If so, it is
the first that I've heard of it."

"Oh! we warned you all right," answered Urquhart, "and got your
acceptance of the message."

"The dickens!" ejaculated Dick.  "That's very queer.  Nobody said a word
to me of any warning having been received.  Yet--no, I cannot understand
it.  Mr Brown, our `chief,' you know, and some seven or eight more were
down in the ward-room when we hit the berg, and he seemed as much
astonished as any of us.  If he had heard anything about it, I think he
would certainly have passed the word round, but--he didn't."

"Ah!" remarked the _Bolivia's_ chief, with deep meaning.  "Were you by
any chance trying to break the record?"

"Well," answered Dick, "I believe the skipper had some such idea in his
mind.  You see we've had the most perfect weather all the way; little or
no wind, and water like glass; the ship reeling off her
twenty-six-and-a-half knots as steadily as clockwork, and everything
going beautifully.  I certainly did get a hint that Captain Prowse would
like to set up a new record--"

"Exactly!" concurred Urquhart, dryly.  "That, to my mind, explains
everything.  Your skipper got our warning--and simply suppressed it.  He
was out after a new record, and was willing to `take a chance,' as the
Americans say.  And here is the result--a brand-new ship gone to the
bottom, and, I suppose, hundreds of lives lost.  How many did you
muster, all told?"

"I couldn't say, exactly," answered Dick, "but probably not far short of
three thousand."

"Yes; there you are!" commented Urquhart.  "Three thousand; and boats
for only about half of 'em.  What became of your skipper?  Went down
with his ship, I expect."

"I'm afraid so," answered Dick.  "In fact, I should not be very greatly
surprised if it should prove that I am the only surviving officer."

"That so?  And how did you manage to escape?" demanded Urquhart.

Whereupon Dick launched forth into the full story of the disaster.  But
before he had nearly finished, the boat arrived alongside the _Bolivia_,
and her freight, whether living or dead, was quickly passed up on deck
to the waiting doctor, who quickly distributed the units here and there
about the ship, while the boat departed upon a further quest.

Dick and Earle, being both very little the worse for their adventure,
were first taken below and given a hot bath; then they were led to a
vacant passenger cabin, packed in hot blankets, and given a certain
nauseous draught which quickly threw them into a profuse perspiration
and a deep sleep, from which they emerged, some hours later, not a penny
the worse for their adventure.



CHAPTER THREE.

EARLE'S PROPOSITION TO DICK CAVENDISH.

It was the rays of the newly risen sun shining in through the open port
that awakened Dick Cavendish on the morning following his great
adventure.  He was occupying the upper bunk in the cabin, and the first
sound to greet his ears was the deep, regular breathing of the still
sleeping Earle in the bunk beneath.  Dick, being a sailor, awoke with
all his senses completely about him; the occurrences of the previous
night came back to his memory in a flash, and even before he opened his
eyes he was fully aware that he was in the top berth of one of the
_Bolivia's_ cabins, and that it was the companion of his adventure who
was in the bunk beneath him.

The next thing of which he was aware was the perfect stillness of the
ship, the complete absence of that peculiar tremor due to the throb of
the engines and the beat of the propellers when a ship is under way; and
the thought that the _Bolivia_ was still "standing by" caused him to
open his eyes, rise up in his bunk, and peer through the open port at
his elbow.  The picture which then presented itself to his gaze was that
of a brilliant morning, with a sky of turquoise blue faintly streaked
here and there with the merest suggestion of a few mares' tails, a sea
of sapphire blue wrinkling and sparkling under the softest imaginable
breathing of a westerly air of wind, the horizon obscured by a thin veil
of haze that seemed to be already melting in the warmth of the sun, a
great two-funnelled steamer lying motionless about a mile away, with a
film of smoke issuing from her funnels and "feathers" of steam trembling
at the top of her waste pipes, a whole flotilla of boats pulling slowly
and apparently aimlessly hither and thither, and a few masses of ice of
varying dimensions, from small fragments of a square foot in area to a
great berg fully sixty feet high, thinly dotting the surface of the sea.

Presently there came to Dick's ear the sound of a quietly spoken order
out on deck, followed by a subdued stir, accompanied by certain sounds
which the youngster's experience told him was the prelude to the
matutinal rite of scrubbing the decks, succeeded a few minutes later by
the gush and splash of water and the sound of scrubbing brushes
vigorously applied.  Then the cabin door opened, and a steward entered
bearing on a tray two cups of steaming coffee and a plate of buttered
biscuits.

"Mornin', sir--mornin', gen'lemen both," remarked this functionary as a
stir in the bottom berth announced that his entry had awakened its
occupant.  "Hope you've both slep' well and ain't feelin' none the worse
for last night's happenin's."

"Good morning, steward," answered Dick.  "Thank you.  Answering for
myself, I slept like a top, and am feeling A1 this morning.  I see that
we have not moved during the night, and that the boats are still out.
What ship is that out there on our port beam?"

"That's the _Platonic_, sir.  Arrived 'bout three hours ago.  And the
_Cotopaxi_--belongin' to your own company--and the _Nigerian_, they're
lyin' about half a mile off to starboard of us.  They comed up pretty
near together, 'bout two hours ago, and all of 'em lowered their boats
straight away.  Don't know exactly what luck they've had.  They've
picked up a good many, I b'lieve, but I'm afraid very few of em'll be
alive after floatin' about so many hours in the cold.  Clothes
genle'men?  Yes, certainly.  They're in the dryin' room.  I dessay
they're quite dry by this time.  I'll fetch 'em for ye in a brace of
shakes."

"How are the others getting on, steward?" demanded Earle.  "You picked
up everybody from the boats, I suppose?  What with them and your regular
passengers, the ship must be like a rabbit warren!"

"So she is, sir," grinned the steward.  "They're scattered about all
over her.  We make up shake-downs for 'em wherever we could find a
blessed inch of space.  They're in the smoke-room, the ladies' boodwor,
the lib'ry, the drorin'-room, dinin' saloon, the officers' quarters,
and--why, some of the men is even down in the stokeholds.  Oh yes, we
took 'em all aboard, of course.  But I expect we shall thin 'em out a
good bit presently.  Ye see they was all bound for Noo York, and the
_Platonic_ and _Nigerian_ are both goin' there, so I expect they'll take
the bulk of 'em between 'em.  And if there's any as wants to go back
home, the _Cotopaxi_ and us'll take 'em.  I haven't heard how they're
feelin' after their spell in the boats, but I reckon they're all right.
That wasn't no very great hardship for 'em, exceptin' for the kiddies.
They was a bit frightened, naterally.  And now, if you'll excuse me,
gen'lemen, I'll go and get your clothes, for there'll be a lot to do
presen'ly."

There was.  For after the entire area of the surrounding sea had been
carefully swept by the boats until it was ascertained that no more
living or dead were to be found, there came the task of providing
breakfast for everybody, in itself a task of no small magnitude under
the circumstances.  And while the meal was in progress, the officers of
the _Bolivia_ were going round among the rescued people, carefully
noting the names of the survivors for transmission to England and
America by wireless.  Then followed the gruesome task of identifying
such of the dead as had been found; after which came the separation of
those who wished to go on to New York from those who wished to return to
England, this in turn being followed by the trans-shipment of the
rescued in accordance with the arrangement come to by a council composed
of the captains of the rescuing ships.

As for Dick, it scarcely needed the interview which he had with Captain
Wilson, of the _Cotopaxi_, to decide him to return to England in that
ship.  It was, indeed, the only thing for him to do; he had no business
in New York; while, on the other hand, there would, of course, be a
judicial inquiry into the circumstances connected with the loss of the
_Everest_, at which his presence, as the sole surviving officer of the
ship, would be imperatively required.  He communicated his decision to
Earle immediately that the question was raised, and was surprised, and
not a little pleased, when the American announced his intention to also
return to England.

"You see," the latter explained, "my only, or at least my principal,
reason for going to New York fizzled out when the _Everest_ took my
collection of hunting trophies with her to the bottom of the Atlantic.
If I went on to New York there would be nothing for me to do, while I
have a scheme in my head that can be worked out in Europe as well as, or
better than, in New York.  Besides, to be quite frank with you,
Cavendish, I've taken a very strong liking for you altogether, apart
from the fact that you saved my life, and I guess I don't want to lose
sight of you.  And I'll tell you why.  If this scheme of mine--which I
have had in my mind for a long time--should eventuate, as I guess it
will, I shall want you to take a hand in it.  You are exactly the sort
of young fellow that I have been looking for, and I guess I can make it
quite worth your while to chip in with me.  But I won't say any more
about it just now--there will be plenty of time to talk matters over
later on.  Now let us go ahead and get aboard the _Cotopaxi_."

It was well on toward noon of that day before all the arrangements made
were completed, and the several ships proceeded towards their respective
destinations.  But long before that the wireless operators had been
busily engaged in transmitting the intelligence of the disaster to the
two hemispheres; and by the time that the ships were dipping their
ensigns to each other in farewell the newsboys of Europe and America
were charging through the streets of hundreds of cities and towns,
yelling in a dozen different languages, "Spechul edition!  Wreck of the
_Everest_!  Fearful loss of life!  Full partic'lars and list of the
saved!  Spechul!"

It was not until the Fastnet lighthouse showed above the horizon on the
_Cotopaxi's_ port bow that Earle reverted to the topic of his "scheme,"
although there had been ample opportunity for him to do so during the
eastward run, he having privately so arranged matters with the purser
that he and Cavendish were berthed in the same cabin during the voyage.
But for reasons best known to himself he had devoted the opportunity
thus afforded him to elicit as much as he possibly could of Dick's
previous history; and Dick, open and candid as the day, and with nothing
to conceal, had told a great deal more than perhaps some people would
have considered quite prudent; so that when the Fastnet hove in sight,
Earle knew practically all that there was to know about Dick, including
even the fact that the latter had a sister, who, Earle gathered, from a
number of cursory and incidental remarks, must be a girl very well worth
knowing.

On this particular morning, however, when, after breakfast, the pair
snugly ensconced themselves in a couple of deck chairs on the boat deck,
which just then happened to be clear of other occupants than themselves,
Earle suddenly broke ground with:

"Say!  Cavendish, have you ever heard of the city of Manoa?"

"The _City of Manoa_!" repeated Dick.  "Is she a steamer, or a sailing
ship?  I know the _City of Paris_, of course, and the--"

"No, no," interrupted Earle with a laugh.  "Can't you get ships out of
your head anyway?  I'm not talking now about a ship, but about a genuine
sure-'nough city, the Golden City of Manoa, to be precise.  Ever heard
of it?"

"Can't say I have," returned Dick, "excepting, of course, the fabled
city of that name, supposed to be ruled over by a certain El Dorado, who
was so enormously rich that he used to gild himself--"

"Exactly," agreed Earle.  "That's the guy.  And it is his city that I am
trying to talk to you about.  You--in common with almost everybody
else--speak of it as the `fabled' city, because, although it has been
much talked about and eagerly sought, the fact that it was actually
found has never been conclusively demonstrated.  The story of its
existence originated of course with those old Spanish conquistadors who,
under that king of freebooters, Pizarro, conquered the Incas, and
thereby amassed incalculable wealth.  You have, of course, heard the
story of his treacherous capture of the Inca Atahualpa, and of how the
latter, having noticed the Spaniard's greed of gold, offered to ransom
himself by filling with gold to as high as a man could reach, the room
in which he was confined.  That offer it was that seems to have fully
opened the eyes of Pizarro and his followers to the enormous potential
wealth of the country; and when, through their treacherous murder of
Atahualpa, they had to a considerable extent cut off from themselves the
supply of further enormous contributions, they naturally began to hunt
about for the source of the wealth that had already fallen into their
hands.

"It was through the inquiries thus instituted that the story of El
Dorado and his golden city first came to their ears.  They were told
that far away in the north there lived a people called the Chibchas, a
people as civilised as, and far more wealthy than, the Incas.  They were
given to understand that the Chibcha country abounded not only in gold
but also in gems, especially emeralds, and in illustration of the
bounteousness of this wealth certain customs of the Chibchas were
described.  The particular custom which gave rise to the legend of El
Dorado was that which was observed on the occasion of the accession of a
new monarch to the throne; and it was carried out somewhat after this
fashion:--

"The proceedings began with elaborate religious ceremonies, including a
long and rigorous fast, which was observed by the entire nation.  This
period of penance over, the inhabitants proceeded to the shores of Lake
Guatabita, where, upon the day arranged for his coronation, the new
ruler was brought forth from his place of penance, and, escorted by the
priests, was led down through the assembled multitude to the margin of
the lake, where the priests first smeared his body from head to foot
with a certain sticky kind of earth, powdered him all over with gold
dust, and then dressed him in his coronation robes, which were stiff
with golden decorations and gems.  This done, the new monarch entered a
vessel loaded with costly ornaments of gold, emeralds, and other
precious stones, where he was received by the four most important
caciques, who were also clad in their most gorgeous dress, and the craft
was forthwith rowed out toward the middle of the lake.  Arrived here,
the freight of gold and precious stones was solemnly thrown overboard as
an offering to the gods who were supposed to inhabit the depths of the
lake, the people ashore meanwhile celebrating the sacrifice by dancing
to the accompaniment of musical instruments until the monarch returned
to the shore.

"Guatabita was a sacred lake, and was the recognised receptacle for
votive offerings of enormous value upon every possible occasion, and it
must therefore at this day contain wealth beyond the dreams of avarice,
several attempts to secure which have already been made; and it was on
the shore of this lake that the golden city of Manoa was at first
supposed to be situated.

"Of course, we know now that such was not the case, for the lake has
been often visited, and no traces of the city have been found; but
Guatabita was the original objective of the seekers of El Dorado.

"When at length it was conclusively demonstrated that Manoa was not
situated upon the shore of Lake Guatabita, its existence began to be
doubted for a while; but the belief, and the desire to discover it, were
revived somewhere about the middle of the 16th century by a
circumstantial story related by one Martinez, a lieutenant of Diego de
Ordaz, who declared that, having been shipwrecked, he was taken inland
to the city--which he called Omoa--and there entertained in regal
fashion by El Dorado himself.  So circumstantial and full of gorgeous
detail was his story, that his chief Ordaz himself undertook the quest;
but the search resulted only in disappointment, as did that of many
others, including your own Sir Walter Raleigh.

"Now, the mistake made by all those people was, to my mind, that they
did not look for Manoa in the right place.  Their very eagerness misled
them.  So hungry were they for wealth that any old story was good enough
to start them off upon a wild goose chase.  I am not hungry for wealth;
I have more of it than, with my moderate desires, I know what to do
with.  I am not a multi-millionaire, but I have quite enough to enable
me to gratify all my cravings, of which the predominant ones are
exploration and hunting.  I also have a hankering to ferret out secrets;
and the secret, which has haunted me for years is that connected with
the city of Manoa.  Did or did it not exist?  That is what I want to
find out.  For years I have been digging and delving after every scrap
of information that I could possibly get track of upon the subject; and
you would be surprised if you could see what a mass I have accumulated.
But it was not until about a fortnight ago that, in your British Museum,
I unearthed a certain manuscript which furnished me with the one
definite and decisive clue I wanted.  I won't bore you with details, but
will just mention that with the help of this clue I have been able to
worry out the situation of the much sought city within a hundred miles
or so; and I have come to the definite conclusion that it lies within
the territory of Peru, on the eastern slope of the Andes.  And, having
told you that much, I suppose you will not be greatly surprised to learn
that I have determined to seek for it; for by so doing I shall be able
at one and the same time to gratify my state for exploration and my love
of hunting.

"You will remember, perhaps, that on the morning when we were picked up
by the _Bolivia_, I told you that I had a certain scheme in my head.
Well, that's the scheme.  You will also probably remember that I said,
if the scheme should eventuate I should want you to take a hand in it.
The scheme is going to eventuate--I've taken time to think it over and
make up my mind--and the question now is: Will you take a hand in it?
Stop a bit, I don't want you to answer off-hand.  Let me just tell you
the nature of my proposition first.

"There will be plenty of danger attaching to the expedition, and that is
one reason why I want you to become a member of it, because I noted your
behaviour aboard the _Everest_ while she was sinking.  I had my eye upon
you for some time before you became aware of my existence, and I could
not avoid being impressed by the coolness and firmness which you
displayed at a moment when those two qualities were essential to prevent
the breaking out of a desperate and disastrous panic.  Then you saved my
life; and I confess to being a bit superstitious on that point.  I have
the conviction that the individual who has saved one's life is a good
friend to have, and likely to bring one luck.  Finally, what I have seen
of you since has caused me to conceive a strong admiration of and liking
for you--three good reasons, I think, for my desire that you should
become a member of my party.

"Now, as to the terms which I am prepared to offer you.  I shall, of
course, defray all the costs of the expedition, including outfit, so
that you will not be put to a cent of expense.  And I will enter into a
contract with you, engaging you for a definite period of three years,
even though the expedition should, not last for so long as that; while,
should it last longer, you will be paid full salary for the whole of the
time.  And I will pay you at the rate of one hundred and fifty dollars--
or thirty British pounds, if you prefer it--per month, arranging with my
bankers to pay in that sum every month for three years, to any bank in
the United States or England that you choose to name.  Now, my friend,
what do you say?  Will you come?"

"Do you require an answer at once?" demanded Dick.

"No, I don't," answered Earle.  "Take time to think it over, if you
like, between now and our arrival at Liverpool."

"Yes," said Dick.  "I should like a few hours to consider the matter.
For, you see, your proposal has come upon me quite unexpectedly; and it
involves a break of something like three years in my career as a sailor,
which may make it a bit difficult for me to take up the life again just
where I lay it down.  And, quite apart from that, there is the matter of
the inquiry into the loss of the _Everest_.  That may not come on for
some time, and when it does it may be a lengthy affair.  That would
probably mean some months of delay; while, of course, you will be
anxious to start at once, now that you have made up your mind to go."

"No," answered Earle.  "I am in no hurry at all; on the contrary, two or
three months of delay would be welcome rather than otherwise to me,
because it would afford me time to extend my investigations a bit, with
the possibility of securing further and still more definite clues."

"Then, in that case," said Dick, "I will give your proposal my most
careful consideration, and let you have a definite reply before we
land."

And so the matter was left, for the moment.  But the proposal appealed
very strongly to Dick for a variety of reasons, the chief of which was
that his acceptance of it would enable him to provide for his sister
Grace for at least three years.  The flavour of adventure attached to
the enterprise also powerfully appealed to him, for adventure was the
very breath of life to him; and as for the rest--well, like all
adventurous spirits, he was disposed to let the future take care of
itself.  Therefore, he did not wait for the arrival of the _Cotopaxi_ at
Liverpool, but, having thought the matter carefully over, informed
Earle, on the evening of the same day, that he gratefully and gladly
accepted his proposal.

The following day saw the arrival of the _Cotopaxi_ at Liverpool, and
as, of course, it had been known for several days beforehand that
certain survivors from the _Everest_ were on board her, and as, thanks
to frequent wireless communications with her, the time of her arrival
was known almost to a minute, and had been made public, the landing
stage was packed with people when the ship drew alongside, most of them,
it is true, animated by nothing more than mere morbid curiosity to gaze
upon those who had recently passed through a very terrible experience,
but among them were a few who had come down to welcome back to life the
relatives or friends who had escaped.  And among these were Mr James
McGregor, the manager of the Mount S.S. Company; and with him, Grace
Cavendish, the purpose of the latter being, of course, to welcome her
brother, while Mr Mcgregor's business was to see that Dick did not
prematurely fall into the hands of the reporters.  Dick and Earle, being
both destitute of baggage, were among the first to cross the gang plank,
landing together; and thus it came about that Earle naturally saw Grace
Cavendish, and was introduced to her, with results that may hereafter be
disclosed.  And it is significant that whereas Earle's original
intention had been to proceed direct to London he now somewhat surprised
Dick by informing him that he intended to take up his abode in the
Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool, for the present.

The events of the ensuing two months, during which period the judicial
inquiry into the loss of the _Everest_ was prepared for and carried out,
have very little to do with this story, and they may, therefore, be
dismissed in a few words.  It was, of course, only natural that Mr
McGregor, in his capacity of manager to the company owning the lost
liner, should have frequent and long interviews with Dick and Earle, for
the purpose of eliciting information upon various points connected with
the disaster, as they were raised by the company's counsel, and those
interviews soon resulted in the development of a strong mutual
friendship between the trio, in consequence of which Dick and Earle
became frequent visitors at the manager's house overlooking Prince's
Park.  And, quite as naturally, it soon came about that Dick informed
Mr McGregor of Earle's proposal, and invited the manager's opinion as
to the effect which his acceptance of it would have upon his future
prospects.  The result was that, after the three had fully talked the
matter over together, the manager came to the conclusion that not only
was the proposal much too advantageous for Dick to refuse, but that his
acceptance of it would not very materially affect his maritime career,
should he determine to resume it upon the termination of the adventure,
ending up with the assurance that Dick might always count upon his (the
manager's) influence and help.

For the rest, Dick arranged with Earle that the former's salary should
be paid in monthly to Grace's credit, in a Liverpool bank, so that his
sister might be effectively protected against any unforeseen reverse of
fortune; while Grace made it clear that she was so happy in her present
position that she would continue in it so long as the Mcgregors had any
need of her; thus, when at length the inquiry was over and Dick was once
more free, he was able to bid his sister farewell with the pleasant
consciousness that her future was as secure as human foresight could
make it.

The first week of August witnessed the arrival of Dick and Earle in New
York, where the pair took up their abode in the latter's comfortable
home in Fifth Avenue during the progress of their preparations for the
great adventure.  The precise nature of these preparations need not be
revealed at this point of the story, since the details will appear as
the narrative proceeds; the only fact that need now be mentioned being
that, after long and anxious consideration of the question, Earle had
finally determined that the starting point of the expedition should be
the junction of the river Tecuachy with the Javari, a tributary of the
Amazon, to which point he and Dick would proceed in the former's steam
yacht _Mohawk_, a comfortable little craft of two hundred and fifty tons
register.  At this point, on the left, or northern, bank of the
tributary, stands, on Peruvian soil, a small town called Conceicao, and
abreast of this town the _Mohawk_ came to an anchor about mid-afternoon
of a certain day in the month of November, not so very many years ago.

At the moment when the yacht came to an anchor, her deck was encumbered
with two long canoe-shaped craft, each measuring six feet beam by thirty
feet in length.  They were practically flat-bottomed, to ensure light
draught, and were built in sections, to provide the maximum of
portability, which quality was further ensured by the fact that the
material of which they were constructed was an amalgam largely composed
of aluminium.  They were completely decked from stem to stern with a
light covering of the same material, rendering them absolutely
watertight; but by an ingenious arrangement of wing nuts these decks
could be removed in a few minutes; while, by a similar arrangement, the
hulls could almost as quickly be taken apart.

No sooner was the _Mohawk's_ anchor down and the craft riding stem-on to
the current than the crew proceeded to launch the two canoes overboard,
when proof of their extreme lightness became manifest in the fact that
it needed the strength of only ten men to lift each of them and heave
them bodily over the rail, after which they were passed astern and
secured by a painter.  A number of beams and planks, all carefully cut,
fitted and marked, were then brought on deck, after which half a dozen
men descended to the two canoes; the beams and planks were passed down
to them as required, and within an hour the whole was fitted together in
the form of a double canoe, twenty feet broad, with a space of eight
feet between the two hulls--with a plank deck of twenty feet width in
the middle and twenty feet long.  This curious looking craft was next
fitted with two masts and a bowsprit, arranged to carry two standing
lugs and a jib, and by the time that this was done the tropical night
was descending upon the workers, and their labours for the day came to
an end.

Meanwhile, an official visit had been paid to the yacht by the Inspector
of Customs of Conceicao, who inquired into the reasons for the visit of
the yacht, inspected her papers, and--upon learning that hunting and
exploration were the objects of the expedition--levied a substantial
amount in the shape of duty upon the guns, ammunition and general
equipment of the party, notwithstanding the fact that the Tecuachy
flowed through Brazilian territory; after which he dropped his official
attitude and offered his services--for a consideration--in furthering
the objects of the expedition.  All that Earle needed at the moment,
however, was to engage the services of a dozen natives possessing some
knowledge of the country to be traversed--and also a knowledge of the
Spanish language, of which the American was a fluent linguist--and these
the inspector faithfully promised to produce on the morrow.

It was past the hour of noon on the following day when the inspector
turned up aboard the _Mohawk_ with his dozen recruits.  Earle and Dick
were sitting down to luncheon on the after deck, beneath the awning when
they arrived; but subsequent inspection of the party seemed to justify
the delay, for, so far at least as physique was concerned, the men
appeared to be everything that could be desired.  They were all
full-blooded Indians--which Earle pronounced to be infinitely preferable
to half-breeds--and seemed, so far as might be judged from appearances,
to be civil, capable, and fairly intelligent fellows.  They all
understood Spanish, although they spoke the language but imperfectly;
but when it came to questioning them upon their knowledge of the country
which they would be called upon to pass through, they all frankly
confessed utter ignorance of it, beyond the fact that from hearsay they
understood it to be full of perils of every imaginable description.  But
this, they explained, had not deterred them from enlisting when they
learned that their leaders were to be two white men, for they had heard
that white men were possessed of strange powers, enabling them to
conquer every conceivable kind of peril, while, as for themselves, they
were quite willing to work hard, and fight hard, too, provided that the
pay was good.

By that time the fitting and equipment of the double canoe had been
completed and she was ready for an immediate start; as soon, therefore,
as the new hands had been paid three months' wages in advance, which
they entrusted to the inspector to transmit to their relatives, and as
soon also as the inspector had been paid a certain sum as head money for
his services in finding the men, the whole party quitted the yacht and
got under way, heading across the river for the mouth of the Tecuachy,
before entering which they saw the _Mohawk_ heave up her anchor and
start upon her return journey to New York.



CHAPTER FOUR.

THE QUEST BEGINS.

The expedition consisted of fifteen persons all told, namely, Wilfrid
Earle, the chief and leader; Dick Cavendish, his lieutenant; Peter,
Earle's negro cook and a _chef_ of surpassing skill, capable of
concocting appetising dishes out of the most meagre and unpromising
materials; and the twelve recruits from Conceicao, one of whom, named
Inaguy, at once the most masterful and intelligent of them, Earle
immediately appointed headman of the gang, with a small increase of pay,
at the same time making him responsible for the good behaviour of those
under him.

There was a fresh easterly breeze blowing when the double canoe--or
raft, as they agreed to term her--cast off from alongside the _Mohawk_,
and under its influence the craft, with one leeboard down, slid across
the Javari at a speed that was as surprising as it was gratifying.  And
when at length she slid in between the low, forest-clad banks of the
Tecuachy, the breeze was still fair for her, although the closer
proximity of the shores to each other caused it to come at times in
baffling flaws.  Dick, as the sailor of the party, was naturally in
command, and when at length the sunlight vanished from the tree-tops on
the eastern shore of the stream, giving warning of the near approach of
night, he ran the raft into a convenient bight on the lee shore--that
the mosquitoes might not come off to them against the wind during the
night--and came to an anchor in the midst of what seemed to be an
unpeopled wilderness.

But if the country round about them was empty of human inhabitants--and
even of this they could not be certain--it seemed to be full to
overflowing of life of another sort, for no sooner had the swift tropic
night descended upon the adventurers, than the hot, humid air became
vibrant with sound, the dominant note of which was the _chur_ and hum of
myriads of insects haunting the dense forest on either hand, and the
still more dense undergrowth which cumbered the soil between the trunks
of the trees.  This great volume of indescribable sound--amazing because
of its intensity, coupled with the knowledge that it was created, for
the most part, by creatures of almost microscopic dimensions--was
continuous, merely rising and falling at irregular intervals, like the
sough of the wind through the tree-tops; but it was constantly broken in
upon by other sounds, the most prominent of which was perhaps the
croaking of innumerable frogs, sounding like the rapid whirr of wooden
rattles and lasting continuously for a period of several minutes, and
then ceasing abruptly, as though at a signal, to recommence as abruptly
a few minutes later.  These sounds were commonplace enough, and after an
hour or two to allow the ear to become accustomed to them, would of
themselves have been soothing and conducive to somnolence rather than
the reverse, but they were constantly being broken into by others so
strange, and in some cases so weird, that the night threatened to be a
sleepless one for at least the two white men of the party.  For
instance, at pretty frequent intervals there came from the depths of the
forest, now here, now there, what sounded like the notes of a bell,
followed perhaps by a weird unearthly scream, which would be taken up
and repeated on all hands until it needed but a small effort of the
imagination to convince the listener that some ghastly tragedy was being
enacted in his immediate vicinity.  And the effect was further
heightened by strange moanings and groanings, as of people in mortal
agony, queer sobbing sounds, cries as of children in distress, and,
intermingled with these, savage grunts and snarlings, barking, as of
angry dogs, loud whistling, coughing, roaring, sudden and violent
rustlings among the underbush, an occasional loud crash proclaiming the
fall of some forest giant, and, nearer at hand, sudden rushes and
swirling sounds in the water about the raft.

Immediately after coming to an anchor for the night Earle had drawn
forth from among the many bales and packages that were stowed on the
deck of the raft a long bundle, which, upon being cast loose, resolved
itself into the constituents of a double-skinned tent, the inner skin
being made of loosely woven cotton canvas, while the outer skin--with
six inches of air space between it and the inner--was made of light but
thoroughly waterproof material, warranted by its maker to withstand even
the assault of a tropical deluge.  This tent the two white men quickly
set up on the deck of the raft, between the two masts, when it was seen
to be roomy enough to accommodate two camp beds with a table of
convenient size between them, high enough for even Dick to stand upright
in it, and with sufficient space between the table and the entrance to
accommodate two deck chairs.  When the beds were made up on the folding
pallets, a lighted hurricane lamp suspended from the ridge pole of the
tent, and the table laid for dinner, the interior presented an eminently
cosy and comfortable appearance, and its two occupants sat down to the
meal provided for them by the inestimable Peter with excellent
appetites.

But they did not linger long over the pleasures of the table, for there
was still work to be done before they could conscientiously seek the
beds that wooed them, that work consisting in the unpacking of their
weapons and ammunition, and making the former ready for instant service.
This task they undertook immediately after dinner, sitting side by side
just within the entrance of the tent.

Earle had been, according to Dick's notion, lavishly extravagant in the
provision of firearms for the expedition, the total armoury amounting to
no less than twenty-one weapons; namely, three Westley-Richards
five-shot .318 repeating rifles; three Remington U.M.C. five-shot 35
repeating rifles, firing soft-nosed bullets; two 12A Standard U.M.C.
fifteen-shot .22 repeating rifles--the last five being especially
intended for big game and fighting; three Westley-Richards double-barrel
12-gauge smooth-bores; two Smith hammerless 10-gauged ditto; two
Remington U.M.C. 12-gauge six-shot repeating smooth-bores; and six Colt
Government model seven-shot .45 calibre automatic pistols.  But, as
Earle explained, "when you go exploring and hunting, you need a variety
of weapons for different purposes; and there is also the contingency of
possible loss to be considered; moreover, in a fight, with tremendously
heavy odds against you, a strong battery of weapons rapidly used, will
often put the enemy to flight before he has time to get to close
quarters."

The two friends were busily engaged in unpacking, setting up and loading
their weapons, chatting animatedly together meanwhile, and pausing from
time to time to gaze contemplatively into the velvet darkness which
represented the forest-clad nearer bank of the river before them, when
suddenly Dick caught sight of what looked like two small greenish-yellow
lamps close together that had suddenly revealed themselves in the
blackness.  They were quite motionless, and the lad scarcely knew what
to make of them.

"Look, Earle," he murmured.  "Do you see those two small lights over
there?  What can they be, I wonder?"

Earle, who was intent upon his work, looked up.

"Lights!" he exclaimed.  "Where?  Oh, yes, I see.  They are not lights,
my unsophisticated youth, they are the eyes of an animal--a carnivorous
animal, I judge, by the look of them--which has come down to the river
to drink, and is doubtless wondering who and what the dickens we are."

He glanced eagerly about him for a moment, then pointed to one of the
weapons which Dick had already put together and loaded.

"Just hand me that Remington U.M.C. rifle, old chap--it is loaded, isn't
it?  Good!  This will be a capital chance to try it."

The eyes were still plainly visible, apparently staring steadily at the
lamp-lit entrance of the tent and the two figures seated therein.
Without rising from his seat, Earle slowly lifted the rifle to his
shoulder, and the next instant the whip-like report of it rang out, to
be instantly succeeded by a tremendous outburst of every imaginable
sound from the forest, amid which the cries of countless startled birds
and the sudden rush of their wings predominated.  But Dick had kept his
gaze steadily riveted upon those two faintly shining orbs across there
in the blackness, and when the flash of the rifle lit up that blackness
for the fraction of a second he caught an instantaneous glimpse of a
foreshortened tawny-hided black-spotted form, with a rounded head and
short ears, standing at the very edge of the water, staring steadfastly
toward the raft.  Then, as the vision vanished, a snarling sound, half
roar, half shriek, met his ears, followed by a few convulsive splashes--
then stillness.

"By Jove!  I believe you've hit him," he exclaimed, excitedly starting
to his feet.  "It was a leopard; I saw him by the flash of the rifle."

"No; not a leopard, my son," answered Earle.  "So far as I know, there
are no leopards in America--except in menageries.  But it may have been
a panther or jaguar.  Let's get into the canoe and investigate.  We'll
take the lantern with us, and the rifle, to guard against possible
accidents."

Part of the equipment of the expedition consisted of a very handsome
little fifteen-foot cedar-built canoe, intended to be towed astern of
the raft, and there it now floated, attached to the raft by a slender
painter.  Unhooking the hurricane lamp, Dick led the way aft, followed
by Earle with the rifle in his hands, and presently they had both taken
their seats in the cockleshell of a craft.  She was fitted with rowlocks
for use, with a short pair of sculls for the especial benefit of Dick,
who knew nothing as yet of how to handle a paddle.  They were half way
to the shore when Earle, holding up the lantern on the end of a
boathook, caught sight of the motionless body of his victim lying half
in and half out of the water.

"There he is, and stone dead, if I'm any judge!" he exclaimed.  And even
as he spoke a great black head appeared close to the body, the sound of
snapping jaws was heard, and with a sudden swirl of water both head and
body disappeared in the black depths, to be seen no more.

"Con-found it!" exclaimed Earle, savagely.  "Now, if that isn't too bad!
My first jaguar, too, and a fine one at that; and a beastly 'gator has
stolen him from almost under my nose.  Let up, Dick--or, rather, turn
back.  It's no good.  That darned 'gator has got my jaguar safe down
there in the mud, and we shall never see him again.  Well, never mind, I
daresay we shall get plenty of other chances.  But I'll watch out and
not be caught napping next time."

What Earle said was true; the jaguar was gone beyond hope of recovery,
and the only thing to be done was to turn back.  Back they accordingly
went, to resume their work of putting their battery in order; nor did
they cease their labours until every weapon had been unpacked, put
together, thoroughly cleaned, and loaded in readiness for any emergency.
Then they retired to their respective couches, and after Peter had
carefully closed the mosquito curtains round them and extinguished the
hurricane lamp, proceeded to "woo the drowsy god."

But the novelty of their surroundings, the enervating heat, and the
multitudinous sounds that filled the night kept sleep at bay for several
hours, and it was not until the cool air that usually heralds morning in
the tropics blew in upon them through the open flap of the tent that
they actually sank into a sound slumber, from which they were awakened
only too soon by Peter with their matutinal cup of chocolate.

"I suppose," mused Dick, as he stepped out of the tent, pyjama-clad, and
gazed down into the turbid waters of the river, "it would be hardly wise
to indulge in a swim, though I feel that it is just the one thing I need
above all others to freshen me up."

"Swim!" retorted Earle, who stood beside him.  "My dear chap, I don't
know the precise depth of water just here, but I would be prepared to
bet a substantial sum that if a man were foolish enough to take a header
off here, he would never come up again; for if he didn't stick in the
mud of the bottom, that alligator who stole my jaguar last night, or
some of his relations, would have him before he could come to the
surface again.  No, no; no swimming for us at present, my boy; we shall
have to make out as best we can with our collapsible `tubs,' which I see
Peter has already filled for us, aft there.  There! what did I tell you?
See that?  What sort of a chance do you think you would have with a
chap like that?"  And as he spoke he pointed to a spot not half a dozen
yards away, where the head of an alligator had suddenly broken water,
lazily swimming up against the current.  The ripples which marked the
slight movements of the brute's tail showed that he must have measured
quite fifteen feet from end to end.

They bathed and breakfasted at leisure; and then, as there was no wind,
and Earle did not wish to impose upon his crew the labour of sweeping
the raft up-stream against the current if it could be avoided, the two
white men took the canoe, a repeating rifle and a smooth-bore, and went
ashore, effecting a landing at the spot where the jaguar had been shot
on the previous night, and which they now saw had been formed into a
tiny bit of beach through the breaking down of the bank by the animals
which evidently came to that particular spot to drink.  They had no
difficulty in finding the spoor of the lost jaguar, indeed it was the
first thing to attract their attention upon stepping ashore, and as
Earle gazed down upon the deep indentations in the plastic mud he
execrated the thieving alligator afresh, for the prints were as big as
the palm of his hand, indicating that the beast must have been a
particularly fine specimen.

At first they experienced very little difficulty in making their way
through the dense undergrowth, their plan being simply to follow the
path beaten down by the animals; but after travelling about a hundred
yards this path became merged into a number of others, evidently not
quite so much used, and in these the going was much more difficult, the
scrub not being so completely beaten down.  So difficult of passage did
they at length find it that they were seriously discussing the
advisability of giving up the attempt and turning back, when Earle, who
was leading the way, suddenly declared that he saw light ahead, and
pushing resolutely on, the explorers presently burst their way into a
wide open space of some ten or twelve acres extent, in which, for some
unknown reason, no trees were growing, save a few scattered saplings,
the tallest of which was not more than nine or ten feet high.

As they emerged into the open the pair involuntarily came to a halt,
entranced by the extraordinary beauty of the scene that met their gaze.
The open space, roughly circular in shape, was completely hemmed in on
every side by trees, some of which were of enormous size, while the
tints of their foliage varied through every shade of green, from that of
the young bud to a depth of tone that was nearly black.  Nor was green
by any means the only tint displayed; for some of the trees appeared to
be clothed with flowers of vivid flaming scarlet, instead of leaves,
while the leaves of others, instead of being green, were of a deep, rich
crimson hue, or a fine ruddy bronze, like that of the copper beech.
And, as though this were not in itself enough of beauty, many of the
more sombre foliaged trees were draped and festooned in riotous
profusion with parasitic creepers, the blooms upon which would have
driven a painter to distraction, so rich and varied were their tints,
while the shapes of some of them were fantastic enough to suggest that
Dame Nature must have been under the influence of a nightmare when she
formed them.  A few of them were merely giant creepers, but Earle, who
possessed more than a smattering knowledge of botany, declared that most
of them were orchids, several of which were new to him.  The air of the
place was heavy with mingled odours--one might almost have called them
perfumes, were it not for a certain smack of rankness and pungency in
them--and alive with birds, varying in size from that of a bumble bee up
to that of a carrion crow, a few specimens of which could be seen
perched here and there on the topmost branches of the tallest trees.
Several of the birds were of the humming bird or sunbird species, and
these, of course, gleamed and flashed in the sunlight like winged
jewels, while nearly all boasted plumage of pronouncedly vivid
colouring.

The two friends were still standing together on the spot where they had
come to a halt when first entering the clearing, and Earle was
expatiating upon the beauty and rarity of some of the orchids in their
immediate neighbourhood, when they suddenly became aware of the presence
of a large deer on the opposite side of the clearing.  So silently had
the creature come that neither of those who now stood watching him had
been aware of the moment of his coming, nor could they discern the spot
from which he had emerged.  The animal was standing as motionless as a
statue, with head erect, and he seemed to be sniffing the air, searching
it for hostile odours, so to speak.  He appeared to be quite unaware of
their presence, a fact not very difficult to account for, since the sun
was shining strongly in his eyes, while the two friends were not only
standing in deep shadow, but also chanced to have come to a halt
immediately behind a thick bush, which effectually hid all but their
heads from the deer.

Instinctively, Earle began slowly to lift his rifle, but only to lower
it again, as he murmured to Dick:

"Too far off--a good three-hundred yards if an inch.  We'll wait a bit.
I believe he has not yet seen us, and if so, he may come a bit nearer.
I guess this is where he comes every day to graze.  Ah!  I thought so"--
as the animal lowered his head and began to crop the rich grass.
"Crouch down and keep silent; with luck and patience we'll get him
before long."

It was weary work, to Dick at least, crouching behind that bush, for the
grass was long, and full of ticks, ants and other minute pests, which
lost no time in insinuating themselves between his clothes and his skin,
until the torment of his itching became almost unendurable.  But Earle
was, or seemed to be, inured to such trifling discomforts, and
continued, motionless as a graven image, to kneel on one knee behind the
bush, intently watching through its interstices the movements of the
unsuspecting deer.  And those movements were exasperatingly deliberate,
for the grass was rich, luscious and abundant, enabling the animal to
secure several mouthfuls before it became necessary for it to move by so
much as a step, while, further to tax the patience of the watchers, the
movements were vexatiously erratic, now here, now there, and as often as
not away from rather than toward the spot where the two men crouched
behind the screen of shrub.

At length Earle's patience began to show signs of giving out.  He very
cautiously altered his position, changing from one knee to the other; a
little later he knelt upon both knees, and a little later he sat down.
Finally, finding this attitude unfavourable for shooting, he again got
upon one knee.  By this time, however, the insect invaders of his person
were making their presence so distinctly felt that even his iron
self-control was beginning to succumb to their persistence, and at
length he murmured to Dick:

"Guess I'll have to risk a long shot, after all.  At this rate it may be
hours before the beast will draw appreciably nearer, and meanwhile, at
any moment something may happen to scare him away."  And very slowly and
carefully he proceeded to raise the rifle to his shoulder.

It was while he was doing this that the deer suddenly stopped feeding,
and, with his head still close to the ground, seemed gradually to
stiffen until his whole body became rigid.

"What's the matter now?" grumbled Earle, becoming rigid in his turn.
"Wonder whether he has scented us.  But I guess not--at this distance.
There is no wind, and--Gee! that explains it."  And he excitedly sprang
to his feet, his example being instantly followed by Dick.

What had happened was this.  The deer had stood perfectly rigid for
perhaps half a minute, during which Earle had also suspended all
movement, under the impression that the quarry had caught a momentary
glimpse of something suspicious behind the screening bush.  Then, while
the watchers waited tensely for the next development to occur,
something--for the moment it was impossible to say precisely what it
was--had flashed into view from out of the long grass, within a yard or
so of where the deer stood, and the next second the unfortunate creature
was enveloped in the coils of a huge python.  As the watchers of the
unexpected tragedy sprang to their feet they distinctly heard the bones
of the deer crack as the serpent constricted its coils about its victim;
and then Earle, with an ejaculation of anger, sprang out from behind the
bush, and, with Dick at his elbow, started at a run towards the spot as
the deer sank with a groan into the long grass.

A few seconds sufficed the pair to reach their goal, or at least near
enough to it for them to see that the unfortunate deer was not yet quite
dead, for its hind legs, which were not involved in the coils of the
python, were kicking out feebly, while its eyes gazed up at them
pitifully with an expression that might easily have been interpreted
into a prayer for deliverance from its sufferings.  As for the python,
it was already relaxing its awful grip upon the body of its victim, and
had thrown off one coil as the two friends came into view.  Earle, who
seemed to know something of the nature of the creature, warned Dick to
stand back, as the reptile was loosening itself in readiness to make a
spring.  But he himself evidently had no fear of the snake, for as it
reared its great head and gave vent to an angry hiss, he threw up his
rifle, and, standing his ground, fired a shot that went crashing through
its right eye and out at the back of the skull.

The next instant Dick received a blow across the chest that not only
knocked the breath out of him, but sent him to the ground with a crash,
while the threshing of the creature's body upon the earth, as it writhed
and twisted convulsively in its death agony, might have been heard from
one end of the glade to the other.  Earle dashed forward and quickly
dragged Dick out of the way before assisting the lad to regain his feet,
and it was well that he did so, for the next moment the monster was
writhing and pounding upon the very spot from which Dick had been
dragged.  And it was quite upon the cards that, but for Earle's prompt
action, the young Englishman might have been enveloped by those writhing
coils, and every bone in his body broken.  As it was, no great harm was
done; and as soon as Earle saw that his friend was safe, and that in its
struggles the python was moving steadily away from the spot, he sprang
in, and whipping out his big hunting knife, quickly drew it across the
dying deer's throat, thus terminating its sufferings.

"Poor brute!" he murmured, regarding the mangled body of the dead deer;
"if I had but made up my mind and pressed the trigger a few seconds
earlier, you would have been spared a good deal of terror and suffering.
As it is--well, let us get back to the raft, Dick, and send a couple of
men to bring in the deer.  Its tongue and hind-quarters are untouched,
and will afford all hands a meal of fresh meat, if we can secure it
before the vultures come along.  But we shall have to hurry, for unless
I am mistaken, there is the vanguard of their army already."  And he
pointed upwards towards a few small dark dots in the sky that had
suddenly and mysteriously appeared.

They hastened back to the raft and hurriedly explained to Inaguy, the
Indian headman, what had happened, and what Earle wanted done; and a few
minutes later two of the blacks sprang into the canoe and paddled away
to the shore, to return an hour later, with the head, hind-quarters, and
skin of the deer, but with the declaration that they had been wholly
unable to find the body of the python.

By this time a little breeze had sprung up from a quarter which would
just enable the raft to lay her course up the reach of the river in
which it then was, and the sails were accordingly set and the craft got
under way.  But the wind was so scant that the raft was able to do
little more than hold her own against the current; and when they
anchored that night, they estimated that they had covered little more
than eight miles of ground.

For an entire week the journey up the stream progressed in pretty much
the same deliberate fashion, at the end of which time they were detained
for a whole day by a furious outburst of wind, rain, thunder and
lightning, in the course of which the raft broke adrift, and, but for
Dick's skilful handling of the situation, would probably have been lost,
with all the party's belongings, and, quite possibly, a few lives as
well.  As it was, they were driven back some ten miles down stream
before a suitable refuge could be found and the raft again safely
anchored.  It was the worst storm that Dick had experienced, and even
Earle admitted that it far surpassed the worst that he had ever
encountered, even in the interior of Africa.  The wind blew with
hurricane force, stripping the trees of their leaves and even of some of
their branches, so that the air was full of flying debris, while the
lightning flashed and the thunder roared and boomed and crashed in a
continuous deafening medley of sound that might almost have excused the
belief that the foundations of the earth were being torn asunder.  And
all the time the rain came pounding down out of the storm-riven clouds
in such a deluge that it was difficult to draw one's breath while
exposed to it.  But even this does not convey any very clear idea of the
copiousness of the downpour, which will perhaps be more easily realised
from the statement that within the short space of twenty minutes it
completely filled and swamped the canoe.  This storm burst upon the
travellers about eleven o'clock at night, and it continued with unabated
fury all through the next day until within about half an hour of sunset.

For the following three days the weather continued unsettled; then it
cleared, and the raft resumed her journey.  But her progress was slow,
owing to the scantness of the wind, and for the next ten days they were
able to accomplish only a few miles a day, the current running strong
against them.  Then, late on a certain afternoon, they reached a point
where the bed of the river was obstructed by rapids, and the raft was
moored for the night so that the banks might be explored on the morrow
for portage facilities.  And now it was that the real difficulties of
the journey began to reveal themselves; for upon attempting to find a
path through the forest, which grew right down to the water's edge on
both banks of the river, the explorers found the undergrowth to be so
absolutely impenetrable that, even to make their own way through it, it
was necessary to employ a gang of men to cut a path.  And this was a
slow process, for not only had the tough tangle of creepers, of which
the underbush was chiefly composed, to be cut away, but it had to be
afterwards removed from the path, so that the better part of three days
was consumed in this way before a road was cleared to the upper end of
the rapids.

Then followed the laborious task of carrying the various items of their
equipment up through the quarter of a mile of roughly cut pathway, which
consumed the whole of another day.  And finally came the dismembering of
the raft itself, and the porterage of its component parts and the canoe
to the upper end of the rapids, where it was put together again.  Thus,
altogether, the intervention of those rapids involved the travellers in
a loss of no less than five days.

The four which followed were much more favourable, the raft covering a
distance of nearly sixty miles during that period.  Then a stretch of
some four miles of river bed was encountered so cumbered and choked with
rocks that its navigation was impossible, and the raft had again to be
taken to pieces and transported overland.  And when this obstacle was at
length surmounted, it was found that the channel of the stream had
become so contracted that the further use of the raft as a concrete
structure was out of the question; the wooden platform, with the masts
and sails, as also the metal decks of the two canoe-like pontoons, were
therefore abandoned, after carefully enveloping them in tarpaulins
brought along for the purpose; and after their place of concealment had
been marked, so that it might easily be found again in the event of the
expedition returning by that route, the journey was continued in the
open pontoons and the canoe.  Finally, when at length the party had been
travelling for nearly five weeks upon the river, they reached a point
where navigation was no longer possible, even for the small canoe, and
it became necessary to take to the forest, still, however, keeping in
touch with the stream as nearly as possible, for the sake of the water.

It is not necessary for the purposes of this story to enlarge upon the
difficulties with which the travellers now had to contend; they may be
left to the imagination of the reader, merely remarking that in many
places the trees grew so thickly together, and the undergrowth between
them was so dense, that to accomplish a march through it of three miles
between sunrise and sunset of a single day was regarded as a feat worthy
of especial note.  Not, however, it must be understood, that these
conditions uniformly prevailed; very far from it indeed; for there were
days when, from circumstances difficult to account for, the going was so
comparatively easy that a distance of ten, or even twelve miles was
accomplished.  But this did not occur until some time after they had
finally lost touch with the river and had got away from the vast plains
on to higher ground, where the forest was less dense, the undergrowth
much thinner--becoming in some places altogether non-existent--and where
open glades became increasingly frequent and of ever extending area.

Thus far the travellers had met with no very remarkable experiences.
There is nothing exciting in the work of hewing a path for oneself
through miles of tough, tangled undergrowth, or in toiling thirstily
hour after hour in sweltering heat, wondering meanwhile how much longer
it will be before the welcome sound of trickling water will reach one's
ears; even crouching in concealment for hours at a stretch, rifle in
hand, in the hope that something eatable will come within shot, soon
grows monotonous; while, as for the multitudinous nocturnal sounds of
the forest, so weird and thrilling when first heard, the party soon
became accustomed to them, and slept soundly through them all.

But, naturally, in the course of a long journey through the unexplored
wilds of South America, interesting incidents are by no means uncommon,
while others of a more weird and thrilling character occur occasionally,
as our friends were to learn in due time.  It was, however, one of the
merely interesting kind that awaited them in an open glade which they
entered on a certain evening, after a long and toilsome journey, just as
the sun's last rays were gilding the tree-tops on the eastern side of
the clearing.

The weary, sweat-drenched travellers celebrated their arrival in this
wide open space with shouts of joy, for a tiny streamlet meandered
through the middle of it, while in other respects it was ideal, not only
as a camping place for the coming night, but also as a spot upon which
to halt and recuperate for a few days--a relaxation which they had been
promising themselves during the past fortnight.  It was the bone-weary
Indian carriers who were loudest in the expression of their rejoicing as
they stumbled through the tangled grass toward the margin of the tiny
stream, upon the bank of which their camp would be pitched; and as they
gladly flung down their burdens on the chosen spot, they emitted a final
yell of satisfaction which, to the astonishment of all, was answered,
from some distance on the opposite side of the stream, by a wailing cry,
as of some person--or, more probably, some creature--in extreme anguish.
The cry was so peculiar, so expressive of suffering, so piercing, yet
at the same time so feeble, that it instantly arrested the attention of
everybody, and all stood staring tensely in the direction from which it
had come.

"Hillo!" exclaimed Dick, who was the first to find his voice after the
first moment of surprise had passed.  "What on earth does that mean?"

"Don't know," answered Earle, who was glancing about him in search of a
favourable spot upon which to pitch the tent; "but we'll soon find out.
Pitch the tent anywhere you like, Peter, so long as it is not too close
to the water.  Where you are standing now will do quite well.  Come on,
Dick, and bring your rifle with you.  It was somewhere over in that
direction."

The pair took the brook at a bound, and, despite their fatigue, set off
at a run in the direction from which the sound had proceeded.  As they
went, the peculiar sound--half whine, half scream--pealed out again upon
the still air, thus guiding them afresh, so that in the course of a
couple of minutes they reached its source.

And this was what they saw.

A young black panther--a somewhat rare animal--about three-parts grown,
lying stretched out upon its left side in the long grass, apparently in
a dying condition.  There was a broad trail in the grass leading from
the spot where it lay toward the far edge of the timber; but the trail
was short, not more than a few yards long, growing less and less
distinct as it receded, showing that the miserable creature had been in
the clearing for several days, dragging itself slowly, and doubtless
with infinite suffering, toward the water, which it had thus far failed
to reach.  Its coal-black coat, "watered" with the characteristic
markings of the panther, also in black, was dull and staring, the result
of neglect, and probably also of suffering; its tongue, dry and parched,
lolled out of its open jaws, which were lightly fringed with froth; and
its half-closed eyes were glassy yet burning with fever.  It was in the
last stage of emaciation, its ribs and backbone showing clearly beneath
its skin.

"Poor brute!" ejaculated Dick, whose sympathies were easily aroused.
"It's evidently dying, and in great pain, too.  Better put it out of its
misery, hadn't we?"  And he raised his rifle suggestively.

"Not on your life," interposed Earle, hastily.  "Yes, the poor beast is
pretty well pegged out; but I guess we can save him, with care and a
little trouble.  He's dying of hunger and thirst, that's what is the
matter with him, and that"--pointing to the creature's enormously
swollen right forepaw--"is what has brought on all the trouble.  An
exaggerated case of abscess, rendering it impossible for the beast to
hunt, or, finally, even to walk.  But I guess I can fix him all right,
so far as the abscess is concerned, after which we will see if we can't
pull him round and tame him.  I'm very fond of animals, and I guess he
would make a fine pet, and look mighty picturesque basking on one's
hearthrug winter nights.  You stay here, and I'll bring along a hammock
and a couple of `boys' to tote him over to the camp.  I shall be better
able to see what I am doing there than here.  You stay and keep the poor
chap company.  I believe he knows that we sympathise with him."  With
which whimsical remark Earle started back hot foot for the camp, now in
process of being pitched, leaving Dick to keep the dying beast company.

Now, whimsical as that idea of Earle's might at first seem, Dick came to
the conclusion that there really might be something in it; for not only
did the unhappy panther show no fear of his visitors or anger at their
close proximity, but there was a certain pitiful expression in his
fevered eyes that, to Cavendish's imagination at least, seemed to appeal
for compassion and help.  Of course, it may have been that the creature
was too near dissolution to feel either anger or fear; but Dick decided
that that remained to be seen.  He eagerly awaited the return of Earle,
and was unfeignedly relieved when, after a somewhat lengthy interval, he
saw his friend returning, accompanied by two Indians bearing a lighted
lantern and a hammock arranged as a stretcher.

Rejoining Dick, Earle at once got to work, displaying a quiet activity
and sureness of himself that at once excited the young Englishman's
amazement and admiration.  Bidding the Indians to stand back a few
paces, and taking the lighted lantern from them, the American deposited
a mahogany case upon the ground, which, upon being opened, proved to
contain a complete surgical outfit.  Withdrawing from this a sponge and
a bottle, he rapidly saturated the former with the contents of the
latter, and then, stepping fearlessly up to the suffering beast, he
applied the sponge to its nostrils, holding it there for a short time
until the creature's eyes closed and it seemed to lapse into
unconsciousness.  Then, beckoning the natives to approach with the
stretcher, he and Dick, with the help of the Indians, lifted the now
inanimate body of the panther and deposited it upon the stretcher, which
he then ordered the Indians carefully to convey to the camp, Dick
leading the way with the lantern while the American paused a moment to
replace the bottle and sponge and close the case.  But he overtook the
little procession before it was half way to the camp, and hurried on to
complete his preparations for the operation which he contemplated.
These preparations were complete by the time that the stretcher-bearers
reached the camp, and the moment that the Indians laid down their
burden, Earle handed Dick the sponge, with instructions to hold it with
a gentle pressure against the panther's mouth and nostrils.  This done,
the American seized a lancet, and, lifting the swollen paw, made a
quick, long incision in it, upon which an amazing quantity of
exceedingly offensive matter spurted out.  With deft manipulations of
the member, the American quickly pressed all the matter out of it, after
which he carefully washed out the cavity with warm water, treated it
with an antiseptic, stitched up the wound, dressed it, and finally bound
it up tightly with a bandage enclosing a thick pad of cotton wool.

"There!" he exclaimed, with a sigh of satisfaction, as he completed the
operation, "I guess that is fixed all right, and when the poor beast
comes round, he won't know himself, he will feel so easy and
comfortable.  That will do with the sponge, Dick.  Now, while I clean my
lancet and put matters generally straight, will you be good enough to
see that the beast has water and food placed handy, so that he can get
it without troubling to move?  Thanks.  Then we will get our supper.
Food and drink, and a good long sleep, ought to work wonders for our
patient, and we shall see how he shapes to-morrow.  If he feels very
chipper, he may decide to give us the slip during the night; but somehow
I don't think he will."



CHAPTER FIVE.

THE GOD OF THE CATU INDIANS SPEAKS.

That night, as the two friends sat together discussing supper, Dick
learned a few fresh facts concerning his companion.  He expressed his
surprise and admiration at the skill and dexterity which Earle had
displayed when performing the operation upon the panther's foot; to
which the American replied:

"Pooh! my dear chap, that was a mere nothing; one of the simplest
surgical operations it is possible to think of.  You should have seen
some of the operations I have assisted at, and some in which I have been
the sole operator.  Why, man--but I won't enter into details.  Say!  I
guess I've never told you that I am a full-fledged physician and
surgeon, have I?  No.  Well, I am.  Been through my studentship, walked
the hospitals, was chief assistant-surgeon at a big hospital in New York
for nearly a year, took all my degrees--and then chucked it up and took
to travelling and exploration, which was the idea that led me to
qualify.  Because, you see, when a man ventures beyond the pale of
civilisation and has to rely absolutely upon himself, a knowledge of
medicine and surgery is a big asset; indeed, had I not possessed such
knowledge I should have pegged out in Central Africa, for it was solely
by its means that I escaped death upon at least half-a-dozen different
occasions.  And the same knowledge has enabled me to save the lives of
quite a number of natives.  There are a few African tribes with whom I
am regarded as `some' medicine-man, and who would cheerfully have killed
their chief and elected me in his place if I would but have said the
word."

Later on in the evening they went out together to visit their patient,
and found the poor beast manifestly much easier and more comfortable.
He had consumed all the water and a small portion of the food supplied,
but was evidently still partially stupefied by the after effect of the
anaesthetic, and showed no resentment at their approach; he even
submitted to be touched and gently stroked, seeming to be in that numb
and semi-conscious condition in which one cares nothing for whatever may
happen.  But the fever of almost unendurable suffering had vanished from
his eyes, and Earle insisted that the poor brute recognised them, and
was in some vague fashion aware that he owed his relief to them.  They
brought him more water, which he lapped greedily out of the enamelled
dish, even while Earle held it; and when at length they left him, the
poor brute was tentatively trifling with the remains of the food with
which they had supplied him.

With the coming of dawn on the following morning, the two friends issued
from their tent, eager to enjoy the now rare luxury of a bath; and on
their way they paid another visit to their patient.  The brute proved to
be markedly better, although still terribly weak from the long period of
starvation which he had evidently undergone.  He revealed his knowledge
of their approach by partially baring his fangs in a sort of semi-snarl,
and even made some semblance of an effort to scramble to his feet, but
the attempt was clearly too much for his strength, and he subsided
again.  But he was now lying in a more natural and comfortable position,
with his handsome head resting upon his outstretched forepaws, like a
great cat, and when Earle unhesitatingly approached, and, placing his
hand upon the creature's head, proceeded gently to caress it, the animal
not only endured the touch, but after a minute or two actually began to
purr.

From that moment the process of taming the beast synchronised with the
progress of its recovery.  On the second day of the halt at the rest
camp the interesting invalid was able to use his feet and limp the few
paces of distance from the camp to the rivulet as often as thirst
demanded, but after drinking, the creature always returned to his lair
near the tent, where Earle took care to feed him; and when, after a
sojourn of five days on the spot, the camp was "broken" and the march
was resumed, "King Cole," as the American had named his new pet, fell in
and plodded along between the two white men as naturally as though he
had been brought up with them from cubhood.

Thus far, the party, greatly to their own surprise, had encountered no
Indians, though they had occasionally met with "signs," indicating that
the country was not absolutely a desert.  But on the fifth day of their
resumed march they unexpectedly came upon a small party in a clearing,
who incontinently fled upon their approach.  A halt was at once called,
and the party went temporarily into camp, while Earle, unpacking one of
his bales, produced therefrom certain small hand-mirrors, a string or
two of vari-coloured beads, two gaudy-looking bandanna handkerchiefs,
and three cheap pocket-knives.  These treasures he entrusted to the care
of Inaguy, the headman, and furnishing him with an escort of two men,
dispatched him in search of the elusive natives, bidding him find them
and by means of the gifts which he carried, open up peaceful
communication with them.  For up to this time the party had been
wandering more or less at random, and their leader was most anxious to
get into touch with the inhabitants, so that he might question them and
perchance extract some information from them which might aid him in his
quest.  Then, the ambassador dispatched, the party sat down to await his
return with such patience as they possessed.

It was not, however, until past noon on the following day that Inaguy
returned to camp alone, with a somewhat disquieting tale.  From this it
appeared that, having got upon the retreating Indians' trail, he and his
companions had followed it up until close upon sunset, when, while
passing through a narrow opening between two high rocks, they had been
suddenly set upon from both front and rear, overpowered, and conveyed as
captives to a certain spot, where they found the tribe of which they
were in search established as dwellers in numerous rock caves in the
side of a cliff.

Arrived here, they were at once taken into the presence of the chief and
closely questioned as to the why and the wherefore of their presence in
that region, how many in number their party were, and so on, the
questioning and answering being conducted with considerable difficulty
owing to Inaguy's very imperfect knowledge of the language in which he
was addressed.  It appeared that the chief listened to Inaguy's
explanation, such as it was, with a good deal of impatience and
suspicion, and finally terminated the interview by appropriating the
gifts which the man bore, and condemning him and his comrades to be
sacrificed, on the following morning, to a certain stone god, by way of
propitiation, in the hope that the act might effect the cure of certain
persons belonging to the community who were then lying apparently at the
point of death, suffering from some mysterious sickness.  And so
terrified had Inaguy been at the prospect of a sacrificial death, with
its accompanying tortures, that it had taken him the whole night to
think out an argument which might possibly save the lives of himself and
his companions.

This argument he had advanced when, at sunrise, he and his two
companions had been led forth to die upon the altar before the great
stone god; and it had consisted, first, in the narrative of how the
Great White Chief in command of his party had miraculously cured a black
panther which had been discovered in the last stage of dissolution, and
subsequently tamed it, and secondly, in the confident assertion that the
man who could do this thing could likewise cure the sick of the village,
if he were approached in a becomingly humble spirit.  The humble spirit,
Inaguy regretfully reported, had proved conspicuous by its absence; but
after much discussion a bargain had been eventually struck whereby the
two followers of Inaguy were to be retained as hostages while the
headman was to be released upon condition that he returned at once to
the Great White Chief, conveying a message that unless the latter and
his party turned up at the village before sunset, the hostages would be
put to death.

It took Earle not a moment to decide what his action should be, when
Inaguy brought his narrative to a conclusion.  The men's lives must be
saved at any cost; and since the village was situated at a considerable
distance from the camp, and it would mean quick marching for the party
to reach it within the stipulated time, the tent was immediately struck,
and the march was at once commenced.

They arrived at the village with only a few minutes to spare, so few
indeed, that they found the villagers already assembling in preparation
for the sacrifice, while the sun's disc was within less than half of its
own apparent diameter from the summits of a range of hills that bounded
the horizon.

The first object to attract the visitors' attention was an enormous
figure, some forty feet high, bearing a rude resemblance to that of a
seated man, which had evidently at some remote period, been sculptured
out of a solid block of black marble seemingly springing vertically out
of the ground.  There was nothing artistic in the conception or
execution of the image, which was a mere travesty of the human figure,
every member being absurdly out of proportion, while the only features
upon the modelling of which any pains had been taken were those of the
face, the expression of which hideously suggested the extremes of
mingled cunning and ferocity.  An altar of the same black marble, about
three feet high and ten feet long, stood at the feet of the figure, and
this was already piled with wood in preparation for the anticipated
sacrifice.

At the precise moment when the party came within sight of this
extraordinary figure they also became conscious of a peculiar taint in
the air suggestive of mud and rotting vegetation; and as Earle sniffed
it he remarked:

"Umph!  Big swamp not far off, I guess, which, apart from anything else,
is enough to account for sickness in the village.  Swamp fever, most
likely.  Say, Dick, that's an ugly-looking guy, that idol, eh.  Won't
these ginks get a startler when they hear him speak presently!"

"Speak?" repeated Dick.  "How do you mean?"

"You just wait and see, sonny," returned Earle.  "Oh, yes, he'll speak,
you bet.  And what he is going to say is--But here comes the chief and
his principal headmen to meet us.  Now, Inaguy, you be very careful in
your interpretation of everything that passes, for a good deal may
depend upon it.  And let's hurry; I want to get up as close as possible
to that idol before the palaver begins."

The chief of the tribe was easily distinguishable from all the rest,
from the fact that he walked some half a dozen paces in front of the
others, and also because of his garb, which consisted of a gaudy
head-dress of variously coloured feathers and an enormous jaguar's skin
thrown over his left shoulder, half of it covering the front of his
body--and the other half the rear, the two halves united at his right
hip by knotting the skin of the left foreleg to the left hinder one.  He
was, like all the rest of his tribe, coal-black in colour, and, like his
followers, was armed with a sheaf of formidable-looking barbed spears,
the heads of which appeared to be made of bone or horn.  They seemed to
be a fine race of men, standing nearly six feet high, and their carriage
was suggestive of great strength and agility, but they were undeniably
ugly and repulsive of feature, the expression being that of mingled
cunning and cruelty.  As they drew nearer, King Cole, the black panther,
began to snarl and show his fangs in an exceedingly hostile fashion,
whereupon Dick hurriedly seized one of the tent ropes and deftly looped
it about the animal's neck in a standing bowline knot, at the same time
soothing him by word and touch.

The two parties met and came to a halt at a point some thirty feet from
the altar; and as they did so Earle waved his hand in greeting toward
the figure, airily remarking as he did so:

"How do, old chap!  Glad to have the pleasure of seeing you at last."

To which, to the stupefaction of everybody, Dick included, the figure
replied in a high, thin voice:

"The pleasure is mine, oh wonderful medicine-man, who has come to heal
my people.  Tell them that ye are my particular friends, and that they
must treat you and yours well during your stay among them, upon pain of
incurring my lasting anger."

"Got that, Inaguy?" asked Earle, turning to his headman, who seemed so
paralysed with amazement that he could scarcely reply in the
affirmative.  "Good!  Then just translate to the chief and his followers
what I said, and what their god answered."

With chattering teeth and lips that quivered with terror to such an
extent that he could scarcely articulate, the thoroughly frightened
Inaguy obeyed his master's order, and his astonishment and terror were
so obviously genuine that they only added to the already profound effect
produced upon the Indians by the seeming miracle of speech from their
hitherto dumb god.  Had the chief been a little less astonished than he
was, it might have occurred to him to wonder why the idol had chosen to
express his will in a language that needed interpretation; but obviously
he was altogether too profoundly impressed by the marvellous happening
for the smallest shred of suspicion to enter his mind, and upon
receiving the message he immediately wheeled round, and prostrating
himself with his face to the ground--an example instantly followed by
those about him--mumbled a long statement which, upon being translated
by Inaguy, proved to be an emphatic assurance that nothing whatever
should be done that could provoke the god's displeasure.  This done, he
rose to his feet and shouted an order for the immediate release of the
hostages; after which he turned to Earle and Dick and reverentially bade
them welcome to the village, at the same time requesting them to pitch
their camp wherever they pleased.

Earle, having chosen a spot well out in the open, where anything in the
nature of a sudden surprise would be difficult--though he explained to
Dick that, after what had happened, he had little or no fear of anything
of the kind--intimated to the chief his desire to see the sick people at
once, and went off with that individual, leaving Dick to supervise the
arrangement of the camp.

Meanwhile Dick, who was by no means a fool, had been thinking matters
over, and had come to the conclusion that he understood the apparent
mystery of the idol's speech, and chuckled to himself over Earle's
cleverness, which had been so wonderful as to mystify even the young
Englishman for the moment.

By the time that Earle reached the camp, after paying his professional
visit to the sick, the camp was all in order, and supper was nearly
ready.  Earle was in fine feather, for not only had he discovered that
the invalids were all down with swamp fever, which, severe as it was, he
was confident of his ability to cure, but upon questioning the chief
with regard to the great object of his quest, he had been informed that
a tribe of Indians known as the Mangeromas, occupying territory many
days' march toward the south-west, were believed to possess some
knowledge of a wonderful people answering to the description which Earle
had given, but that the Catus--the tribe whose guests the party now
were--had as little as possible to do with the Mangeromas, since the
latter were an exceedingly fierce, warlike and barbarous race, more than
suspected of cannibalism.  This unsavoury reputation, however, affected
Earle not in the least, he was out for adventure, and was determined to
have it, moreover he wanted definite information concerning El Dorado
and the city of Manoa, and was prepared to take his chance, even among
cannibals in order to get it.

"Well," remarked Dick, "that's all right; where you go, I go with you,
even if it should be into a country where cannibals are as common as
blackberries in August.  And I have no doubt that, if need be, you can
scare them as effectually as you did those niggers this evening.  And
let me tell you, while I think of it, that you did it remarkably well.
Why, you puzzled even me for the moment."

"Did I, really?" demanded Earle, with every symptom of extreme
gratification.  "I am glad of that, for, to tell you the truth, I am a
bit out of practice, and the idea did not occur to me until Inaguy
mentioned the idol this afternoon.  Then I thought that if, by means of
ventriloquism, I could make the idol speak, it would cause our friends
here to sit up and take notice, as it did.  Ventriloquism, Dick, is a
very useful accomplishment for a man who goes much among savages, as I
have done, and it has got me out of an extremely tight corner more than
once.  It always appealed to me powerfully, from the time when, as a boy
of seven years old, I attended a ventriloquial entertainment and heard
the guy conversing with unseen people in mid-air, and heard remarks
addressed to him by obviously inanimate objects.  There seemed to me to
be useful possibilities in it, and I started trying to do it at once,
finally taking lessons from a wonderfully clever guy, who told me that
my throat was specially well adapted for it.  Ah! here comes Peter with
supper, for which I'm glad, for I happen to be possessed of a ten dollar
appetite to-night."

The meal over, Earle unpacked, his medicine chest and mixed a sufficient
quantity of medicine to serve his patients through the night, and took
it up to the village, where he remained nearly three hours ministering
to the sick, and talking, through Inaguy, to Yahiti, the chief of the
Catus.  When at length he returned to the camp he was in the highest
spirits, for the somewhat incomprehensible reason that Yahiti had
informed him that the country lying between the Catu and the Mangeroma
territories was extraordinarily difficult, and full of the most weird
and terrible perils.

On the following morning the two friends were astir with the dawn, Earle
having expressed a desire to inspect the great swamp in the
neighbourhood, to which he attributed the epidemic of fever from which
the inhabitants of the village were suffering.  This swamp was situated
at the distance of about a mile south-east from the village, and was of
such an extent that whenever the wind blew from either the east or the
south--these being the prevailing winds there--the pestiferous odours
arising from it were wafted directly toward the village; and Earle's
idea was to investigate, with the view of ascertaining whether anything
could be done to reclaim the swamp, failing which he proposed to
recommend the Catus to abandon the place and take up their abode
elsewhere.

Upon reaching the swamp, it was found to lie in a shallow depression,
roughly circular in shape and some three miles in diameter, its deepest
part--about eight feet--being nearest the village, while at its upper
extremity it was fed by a small stream of a capacity just about
sufficient to neutralise the constant process of evaporation without
being enough to produce an overflow.  Further than that, it occupied
such a position that a trench little more than a quarter of a mile in
length and averaging a depth of about nine feet was all that was needed
to drain the swamp by carrying off the water and discharging it into a
valley some three-hundred feet deep.

An alternative scheme which Earle also investigated was the diversion of
the stream which supplied the swamp with water; and this was also found
possible by cutting a trench about two hundred yards long; but it was
open to the objection that, in order to do it, the workers would be
obliged to walk a distance of nearly twelve miles daily to and from
their work, and he doubted whether the Catus were energetic enough to do
it.

The task of convincing the Catus that they must do away with the swamp
or abandon the village, unless they were prepared continually to suffer
from fever, was a long and troublesome one, the Indians having a strong
constitutional objection to anything in the nature of hard work; but
Earle succeeded at length, and actually got them started on the work of
cutting the drainage ditch, that scheme having been chosen as the one
promising the quickest results and involving the least labour.  By the
time that this was done the invalids were all recovered from their
sickness; and ten days after their arrival at the Catu village the
exploring party resumed their march, to the loudly expressed regret of
the inhabitants, who urgently pressed them to remain, and would quite
possibly have detained them by force, but for fear of exciting the anger
of the stone god.

The journey was resumed immediately after breakfast on a certain
morning, and before the hour for the first halt arrived the party began
to realise the truth of Yahiti's story that the route was full of
difficulties, if not of dangers; for it lay over rugged country so
thickly bestrewn with enormous boulders that Earle likened the journey
to the exploration of San Francisco immediately after the earthquake.
Of course, they went round the boulders when such a course was possible,
but it very frequently happened that long reefs of rock projected out of
the ground for miles on either hand, when, difficult though the task
might be, it became easier to climb up one side and down the other, than
to pass round.  Two miles was the extent of their journey over that kind
of country which they were able to accomplish before sunset; and when at
length they camped they were little more than eight miles from the Catu
village.

To travel over such country was wearisome in the extreme, but there was
nothing for it but to push on, or else make a detour of unknown extent;
and this idea Earle would not entertain for a moment.  On the following
day, therefore, they resumed their journey, although with every yard of
advance the difficulties appeared to grow more formidable.

It was about mid-morning when they reached the base of a cliff some
forty feet high that, being practically vertical, seemed to bar their
further progress, and after contemplating it for several minutes, Earle
decided to make the spot a halting place while he and Dick explored the
cliff in opposite directions in search of a practicable crossing.
Accordingly, while the natives were forming camp, the two white men,
taking their rifles and a few cartridges, set off along the foot of the
cliffs, Earle proceeding in a north-westerly direction, while Dick
proceeded toward the south-east.

The rock of which the cliff was formed was, for some considerable
distance in the direction followed by Dick, quartzite; but at a point
about a mile from the spot where he had parted from Earle it changed to
a black, bituminous limestone, studded here and there with ammonites.
Dick, who knew little or nothing about geology, merely noticed the
change in the character of the rock, and sauntered on, eagerly scanning
its face, in the hope of finding a spot where it might be scalable by
men carrying moderately heavy burdens.  And at length he reached, as he
believed, such a spot, where the black rock seemed to have been riven by
some mighty natural convulsion, the rift forming a steep and exceedingly
narrow gully leading to the summit.  Naturally, he at once started to
climb this gully, with the object of testing its practicability; and he
had traversed nearly two-thirds of its length when, as he scrambled up,
his attention was suddenly attracted to a sort of pocket in the rock,
which had been laid open by a fall.  What particularly attracted his
attention toward this pocket was the fact that it contained a
considerable number of bright green crystals, which struck him as being
peculiar not only from their rich colour, but also from the fact that
they were all of practically the same shape, namely hexagonal.  So
greatly did he admire them that he put a couple of the largest in one of
his pockets, intending to show them to Earle and ask him whether
perchance they were of any value.  Then he pushed on again and soon
reached the upper end of the gully, when he found himself, somewhat to
his amazement, on a vast tableland, stretching as far as could be seen,
with what looked like a big forest at a distance of some ten miles.

Having completed his survey, Dick descended the gully and returned to
the camp, to find that Earle was still absent; he therefore set out to
seek him and report his success.  Some two miles beyond the camp he met
the American returning, considerably disgusted, he having failed in his
search, and at once Dick reported his triumph, incidentally producing
the crystals and asking if Earle happened to know what they were.

"Know what they are?" echoed Earle, after most carefully and
interestedly examining the stones.  "Why, of course I do.  Don't you?"

"Haven't the least idea," answered Dick.  "But they struck me as being
rather pretty, and I thought I would take them back to my sister as
souvenirs of my travels.  There are dozens more where these came from."

"Are there?" caustically remarked Earle.  "Then, my dear Cavendish,
permit me to congratulate you; for these two crystals are remarkably
fine emeralds; and the probability is that you have accidentally
stumbled upon an emerald mine rich enough to make the fortunes of a
dozen men.  Let's get back to camp and move on to this gully of yours.
We'll overhaul it at once, and if it should prove--as I strongly
suspect--to be a true emerald mine, we'll work it for a few days and
ascertain something like its probable worth."

"But," protested Dick, "I didn't know that emeralds were found in South
America."

"What!" ejaculated Earle, in amazement.  "You ignorant sailorman!  Why,
some of the most famous emeralds in the world have been unearthed in
this country.  The Spaniards, under Pizarro, took enormous quantities of
them from the Peruvians, but were never able to learn exactly where they
were obtained; and the only mine now known in South America is, I
believe, situated near Bogota.  But I have long been convinced that this
is the country, _par excellence_, for emeralds--ay, and possibly rubies
and sapphires as well.  Come along, man; let's go and have a look at the
mine that's going to make a millionaire of you."



CHAPTER SIX.

EMERALDS--AND THE DEATH FLOWER.

The two friends reached their temporary camp in good time for the
mid-day meal; they therefore decided to have it before proceeding
farther.  As soon as the meal was over the camp was struck, and the
entire party proceeded in the direction of the gully, or cleft, upon
their arrival at which preparations were at once made for a possible
sojourn of a few days; and while those preparations were being made,
Earle and Dick, carrying a pickaxe and shovel, as well as their rifles,
started to climb the cleft, bent upon examining the spot where the
emeralds had been found, and, if possible, settling the question as to
whether or not a mine had actually been discovered.

Their open-air life, and the toil of their recent travels had put both
young men into the pink of condition; it was, therefore, not long before
they reached the spot where Dick had made his momentous find.  Arrived
there, Earle's first act was to subject each of the crystals lying in
the exposed "pocket" to a careful examination.  There were fifty-four in
all, of varying sizes; and when Earle had pronounced each of them to be
a genuine emerald--and most of them of the first water, they were all
deposited in a knapsack which they had taken with them for the purpose.
This done, the American seized a pickaxe and began to dig into the face
of the cliff, pausing at intervals to take a rest while Cavendish
shovelled away the debris.  The rock was not at all difficult to work,
yielding readily to the blows of the pickaxe and coming away in lumps
the size of one's fist, or even bigger, consequently it was not very
long before, between them, they had excavated a cavity of considerable
size.  But after nearly two hours of strenuous toil without result, they
retired from the hole for a time to rest, and were debating the question
whether or not it was worth while to pursue the investigation any
further, Earle being rather of opinion that Dick's find had been merely
an isolated pocket, and that they might seek for weeks or possibly
months, without finding any more emeralds, when, without the slightest
warning, the hole in which they had been working suddenly caved in,
laying bare a new face, some nine or ten square yards in area.  And when
at length the face had ceased to crumble and the dust had subsided, the
first thing to attract their attention was an emerald nearly as big as a
duck's egg projecting from the newly exposed rock.  This they carefully
dug out, afterwards proceeding to search among the fallen rock, in which
they eventually found two other very fine stones.

"There!" exclaimed Earle, with a sigh of satisfaction, when at length
they had thoroughly examined and cleared away the fallen rock.  "I guess
we've done enough; for we've demonstrated that this is a sure-'nough
mine.  See that stuff round the place where we picked out the emerald?
That is calcite, and this rock is a black limestone; all the indications
are, therefore, in favour of this being a genuine emerald mine, which we
can work, if we choose, on our return journey.  Now, we'll just dig out
that mass of calcite and carefully cover it up, so that in the
exceedingly unlikely event of any other prospector passing this way,
there will be little or nothing to attract his attention; and to-morrow,
before we resume our march, we will determine the exact position of this
spot by astronomical observations and make a note of it in our diaries,
so that we can find the place again.  Meanwhile, we have not done at all
badly this afternoon, for I guess the contents of this knapsack are
worth a good many thousand dollars."

It was nightfall by the time that the explorers got back to their camp,
and they were bone-weary from their extraordinary exertions; but they
had, as recompense, the knowledge that they had left their mine in such
a condition that no mere casual visitor would be in the least likely to
suspect its existence.

Immediately after breakfast on the following morning the party struck
camp and proceeded to climb the cleft.  It cost the Indian carriers half
an hour's severe toil to accomplish the ascent, and when at length they
reached the summit they were only too glad to lay down their burdens and
take a rest while the two leaders, with the assistance of their pocket
sextants and Earle's pocket chronometer, determined the position of the
head of the gully.  This done, and the calculations worked out and
checked, the march was resumed; the outer edge of the forest through
which their route lay being reached shortly after noon.  And when at
length they sat down to their mid-day meal, all hands enjoyed an unusual
luxury; for about an hour before pitching camp, Dick, who chanced to be
leading the way, saw and shot something as it attempted to make off
through the long grass, that something proving to be a strange creature
partaking, in about equal proportions, of the characteristics of a pig
and a deer.  Dick, of course, not being a naturalist, was unable to name
the creature, and even Earle declared himself puzzled; but whatever it
may have been, its flesh proved to be exceptionally tender, juicy, and
delicious, and the Indians fairly gorged themselves with it.

The forest into which the party plunged when the march was resumed
proved to be entirely different in character from that which they had
previously traversed.  To begin with, the trees were all of new and
strange species, mostly bearing foliage of dark and gloomy tints; they
stood much farther apart; the undergrowth was sparse, or absent
altogether; and there were no orchids, or long, trailing garlands of
lovely parasitic growth which had rendered the forests already traversed
so strangely beautiful.  Another peculiarity of the forest was that
scarcely a bird was to be seen, excepting an occasional vulture or
carrion crow perched upon some lightning-blasted stump.  Moreover, there
was a strange silence pervading the place, a silence that seemed almost
uncanny, as though insects as well as birds shunned the place.
Altogether, the effect of the silence, the sombre tints of the foliage,
the absence of brilliant-hued blooms, and a certain subtle something in
the atmosphere, was distinctly depressing.  There was one redeeming
feature about it, however, which was that the sparseness of the
underbush and the greater space between the trunks of the trees rendered
travelling comparatively easy, and the party made good progress.

As they plunged farther into the depths of the forest, however, they
began to realise that its gloomy aisles were by no means so devoid of
life as they had at first imagined.  The first intimation of this fact
came to them in the form of a sudden yell from one of the Indian
carriers, who declared that he had been bitten on the leg by something;
and upon investigation this proved to be the case, for the calf of his
bare leg showed two tiny punctures, not more than one-eighth of an inch
apart, the flesh around which, even as Earle and Dick examined the
wounds, began to swell and turn a curious blue tint, while the injured
man rapidly lost the power of speech and voluntary movements, though his
body began to be shaken by violent tremors.

Earle now showed himself to be a man of prompt action.  Whipping his
keen hunting knife out of its sheath, he slashed open the flesh athwart
the two punctures and then, kneeling down, applied his lips to the wound
and sucked it strongly until the blood began to come, at first
sluggishly and in coagulated clots, but eventually more freely.  It was
noticeable, too, that at first the blood was almost black in colour, but
by dint of vigorous sucking it at length came freely and changed to its
normal colour.  Meanwhile, Dick, recalling conversations which he had
had with Earle, in which the latter had described certain rough and
ready methods which he had successfully adopted in treating venomous
snake bites, opened a shot cartridge, extracted the powder therefrom,
and with it made a squib.  This he had ready long before Earle was
prepared to use it; but when at length the blood was flowing freely and
naturally from the wound, they laid the now comatose victim prone upon
the ground, and, while Dick held the wounded limb in position, Earl
applied the squib to the wound and fired it.  The result was that the
wound was quickly and very effectively cauterised, apparently without
inflicting the slightest suffering upon the victim, who never moved a
muscle while the squib spluttered and burned upon his raw flesh.  Earle
then quickly and deftly dressed the wound and bound it up, after which
he proceeded to revive his patient by moistening his lips with raw
whiskey, with which he finally drenched the man internally as soon as
the unfortunate fellow was able to swallow.

But, of course, there was no more marching for the party that day, and
preparations were at once made for pitching the camp.  The first task
was to beat the long, dry grass thoroughly, in order to drive away the
snake which had bitten the man, or any other snakes which might be
lurking therein.  But this procedure, while it may possibly have had the
desired effect, had also another, by no means desirable; for it was soon
discovered that the threshing had aroused the anger of a legion of
enormous black ants--fierce, venomous creatures nearly an inch long--
which came swarming by thousands up out of holes in the ground, and
attacked the intruders with indescribable ferocity.  The unfortunate
semi-naked Indians instantly scattered in ignominious flight, leaving
the two white men to deal with the situation as best they could.  And
although Earle and Dick were, of course, fully clothed, and their bodies
were therefore reasonably well protected, they were both severely bitten
before, by setting fire to the grass and allowing it to blaze for a few
seconds before beating it out, they were able to put the foe to flight.
The burning of the grass, however, revealed the fact that the soil was
everywhere honeycombed with holes, into which the creatures had
doubtless retreated, ready to sally forth again upon the smallest
provocation; therefore, in order to protect themselves from further
attack, they cut an immense quantity of grass, strewed it over the
central portion of the already burnt area, and burned it over again;
after which, the ashes being first swept away with branches, they
ventured to go into camp, the Indians slinking back by twos and threes
as soon as they perceived that the risk of renewed hostilities was over.
As for the two white men, although they bathed their hurts with dilute
ammonia as quickly as they could, they both suffered acutely, to such an
extent, indeed, that they were both in a high state of fever, bordering
on delirium, before midnight.  Earle, however, foreseeing what was
impending, mixed for himself and Dick a strong draught, which no doubt
helped to avert even worse consequences, and by dawn of the following
morning the fever was conquered and the sufferers sank into a somewhat
troubled sleep, from which the faithful Peter would not permit them to
be aroused upon any pretext whatsoever.  As for the bitten man, he
suffered severely for several hours, the wounded limb swelling to about
three times its normal size, while acute pains shot through the whole of
his tortured body; but at length these gradually grew less, until he
sank into a state of coma which eventually became natural sleep, during
which the swollen limb gradually resumed its normal dimensions.  When he
at length awoke, beyond being troubled with a dazed feeling and, of
course, a considerable amount of pain arising from the cauterisation of
the wound, he seemed to be little the worse for his adventure; and when
at length the party struck camp and resumed their march shortly after
mid-day, he was able to hobble along with the rest, although it was
found necessary to relieve him of all work during that day.

Such was the first adventure of the party in that terrible forest; but
there were others still worse to follow, as they soon found.  Nothing
very particular, however, befell them on that second day's march, for
after their experiences of the previous day they were careful to conduct
their march with all due precaution, Inaguy leading the way and
industriously beating the grass before him with a long, slender switch,
while Dick and Earle, following him on either flank, did likewise.  And
the wisdom of this method of procedure was manifested a dozen times or
more during the afternoon's march by sudden, quick scurrying sounds in
the grass immediately ahead, bearing witness to the fact that a lurking
snake had been startled and was effecting a hasty retreat.

When at length the time came to pitch camp for the night, the tactics of
the previous day were repeated, the grass being thoroughly burnt away
over an area spacious enough to accommodate the party.  And here again
the wisdom of their action was made manifest; for when the ashes were
swept up for removal the shrivelled remains of several centipedes and
scorpions--some of them of quite unusual size--were found, which would
doubtless have given trouble had not the flames rendered them harmless.

It was well on toward mid-afternoon of their third day's march through
the forest when the explorers met with their next adventure.  The total
absence of flowers in this forest has already been remarked upon, but
about the time named above it appeared as though this reproach was no
longer to apply.  For, after pressing through a part where both the
timber and the undergrowth had been found thicker than usual, the party
entered a wide open glade of considerable extent without a single tree
in it.  To make up for the absence of trees, however, there were, dotted
about here and there in the midst of the long grass, several clumps of
perfectly white flowers, ten or a dozen flowers in each clump.  And as
these clumps of flowers came into view, the whole party halted
involuntarily, struck with amazement; for the sight was, beyond all
question, the most wonderful that any of them had ever beheld.  The
blooms, shaped somewhat like the familiar Canterbury bell, were of
absolutely gigantic proportions, some certainly not less than six feet
in height, exclusive of the short, thick stem, while many were even
larger than this.  Each clump was surrounded by a kind of spray of still
more enormous leaves, each leaf being about twelve feet long by some
eight feet broad, lying almost flat upon the grass and forming a
complete barricade round the clump.  The air was charged with a peculiar
but exceedingly pleasant fragrance, which no doubt emanated from these
wonderful botanical curiosities; and after a short halt to take in the
details of the extraordinary picture, Earle announced his determination
to halt for the remainder of the day in the glade, in order that he
might examine the flowers at leisure.  Accordingly, a wide, clear space
in about the centre of the glade was chosen, and preparations for
pitching the camp were briskly proceeded with.

The discovery of these gigantic flowers threw Earle into a condition of
quite pleasant excitement.  He was a man of method, and, as such, had
naturally kept a diary of the proceedings of the party from the moment
of its departure from New York.  Hitherto, however, the diary had been
kept solely as a future aid to memory, and for his own individual
purposes alone; but now the discovery of what at the moment he believed
to be an entirely new species of plant, suddenly inspired him with the
ambition to become enrolled in the ranks of those scientific explorers
who have become famous by virtue of the remarkable character of their
discoveries, and it began to dawn upon him that there were possibilities
in this journey of his which might enable him to become one of the
immortals of scientific discovery.  So elated was he at the prospect
that he could not resist the temptation to communicate his hopes to
Dick, who, somewhat matter-of-fact individual though he was,
nevertheless heartily sympathised with his friend's ambition, and
cheerfully undertook to assist in every way possible, if Earle would but
indicate the direction in which assistance might be valuable.

"I guess you can help me very shortly then," said Earle.  "First of all,
I am going to take a photograph from somewhere over there, showing a
general view of this glade, with especial reference to the arrangement
and distribution of those clusters of gigantic flowers; and when I have
done that I propose to select the cluster containing the finest blooms,
station myself on one of the leaves--I guess they'll bear my weight
easily enough--and stand upright against a flower, so that my figure
will serve as a sort of scale by which a correct idea of its size may be
conveyed.  And that is where you will come in.  I shall want you to take
the photograph of me as I stand there.  I will select the spot from
which the photograph is to be taken, and will focus the camera, stop
down the lens to the extent required to get satisfactory definition, and
generally arrange the picture; and all that you will need to do will be
to remove the cap and give the proper exposure when I am ready.  The
light is not too good, and I intend to use the orange screen, so I guess
the exposure will be rather a lengthy one, but I will determine its
correct duration by means of the exposure metre; so all that you will
have to do will be to remove the cap and carefully note the time.  See?"

"Certainly," replied Dick, "and you may depend upon me to carry out your
instructions."

The camera--a compact quarter-plate instrument, adapted for use either
in the hand or mounted upon a tripod--was routed out, the fact that
there were four unexposed films still in it ascertained, and the pair
went off together, intent upon taking the proposed photographs.

The determination of the precise position from which to take the first
picture was a rather lengthy process, for Earle had the eye of an artist
and was anxious that the result should be not only a photograph, but
also a picture.  A suitable spot was, however, at length found, and the
photograph was taken, the correct exposure involving the uncapping of
the lens for no less than forty-five seconds.  Fortunately, there was no
wind, consequently there was no movement, and Earle was sanguine that he
had secured a thoroughly satisfactory picture.

Then came the choice of the particular clump of blooms to be
photographed at close quarters, with Earle standing in the midst of them
to show their enormous size.  This was an even more lengthy process than
the other; but at length everything was ready, and Earle, leaving Dick
standing by the camera, strode across the few yards of intervening
space, and proceeded to climb upon one of the monster leaves preparatory
to posing himself.  He did this by pressing the point of the leaf down
to the ground and then stepping on it and walking up its centre,
intending to pose himself at the junction of the leaf with its massive
stalk, in which position he would be able to stand quite close to the
enormous flower which was to be the principal object in the proposed
picture.

But when Earle had traversed a little more than half the length of the
huge leaf, it suddenly curled up and, to Dick's horror, completely
enveloped the adventurous American's form, round which it tightly
enfolded itself, while a half-smothered cry for help issued from its
folds.

Leaving the camera where it was, Dick rushed forward, drawing his heavy
hunting knife from its sheath as he did so, and dashing in, began to
hack desperately at the stem of the leaf, believing that if he could
sever it from its parent plant, he would be able to deliver his friend
from its stifling embrace.  But he soon found that, stout as was the
blade he was wielding, and strong as was the arm that wielded it, he
could do little or nothing against the marvellously tough stem which he
was attempting to sever.  It was as thick as his own leg and so hard and
slippery that the keen blade simply slithered along it instead of biting
into it; and realising his helplessness, he rushed out into the open,
where he could be seen and heard from the camp, and yelled to Inaguy and
Peter to bring axes, and for the rest of the men to bring along
machetes.

There was a note of urgency in Dick's stentorian tones which caused all
hands instantly to drop what they were doing and rush to his call; but
it was nearly ten minutes before the stubborn stalk yielded to the
desperate onslaught made upon it; and when at length it drooped to the
ground and the party threw themselves upon it, it cost them another
arduous five minutes to slit the tough, leather-like fibre of the leaf
apart and haul out the imprisoned and, by that time, insensible body of
their leader.

By Dick's direction they carried Earle's body to the camp, and,
stripping it, laid it upon one of the camp beds already arranged in the
tent.  This done, Dick carefully examined the inanimate form in search
of wounds or other injuries, but found nothing.  The heart was beating
strongly and steadily, the pulse was firm, though a trifle rapid, and
the breathing was somewhat irregular; otherwise Earle's aspect was that
of a man plunged in profound sleep.  So completely, indeed, was this the
case that after Dick had ineffectually striven by every means in his
power to arouse his friend, he was fain to leave him as he was,
contenting himself by remaining by the side of the bed, keeping his
fingers on Earle's pulse so that he might at once become aware of any
fluctuations in its beat, and awaiting the moment when a change of some
sort should occur.

Hour after hour dragged its slow length along and still the American lay
plunged deep in that strange slumber, the only changes in his condition
being that from time to time his pulse and his heart quickened their
beats and his breath came more heavily, as though the sleeper laboured
under some strong excitement; until at length, about eleven o'clock,
when the camp was wrapped in silence and all its members, except Dick,
fast asleep, Earle suddenly opened his eyes and stared first at the
lantern and then at Dick, with a puzzled and distinctly annoyed
expression.  At length he exclaimed:

"Hello, Dick!  What the mischief are you sitting there for, looking as
glum as an owl?  And why on earth did you wake me?  Man alive, I--"

"I didn't wake you," answered Dick, "but, all the same, I am profoundly
thankful to see you awake once more, and apparently in the possession of
all your senses.  Do you remember what happened to you?"

"You bet I do!" answered Earle emphatically.  "Shall I ever forget it?
Why, man, I've been in Elysium.  I've been--oh! dash it all, there are
no words to describe the delights of the last few--Say! how long have I
been asleep?"

Dick looked at his watch.  "Getting well on for eight hours," he
answered.

"Eight _hours_!" reiterated Earle, in tones of intense disgust.  "Only
eight _hours_, did you say?  Why, man alive, if what you say be true, in
those measly eight hours I have lived _years_ of joy and delight
unspeakable.  I have beheld scenes of unearthly indescribable beauty; I
have participated in pageants glorious and magnificent beyond
conception; I have--oh! what's the use?  If I were to talk from now
until doomsday I couldn't even begin to convey to your gross mind the
most feeble and shadowy notion of the joys and delights which have been
mine."

He spoke rapidly in tones of feverish excitement, and his eyes were
almost as luminous as those of King Cole, who sat up on his haunches,
alert and quivering, on the other side of the pallet.

"Look here, old chap," said Dick anxiously, "easy on.  Don't get
excited, whatever you do.  Your adventure of this afternoon has given
you a rather bad shaking up.  You've had a pretty severe shock, both
mental and physical, if I'm any judge, and it looks to me very much as
though you are going to be ill.  Better let me mix you a soothing
draught, hadn't you?  Just tell me what ingredients to take, and how
much of each, and I'll mix them in a brace of shakes--"

But by the time that Dick got thus far, Earle had begun to talk again,
loudly and excitedly, and was sitting up on the pallet, waving his arms
wildly.  And when Dick attempted to force him back into a reclining
position the American suddenly developed a kind of frenzy, seizing
Cavendish by the throat and doing his utmost to throttle him, while King
Cole, sorely puzzled at such extraordinary behaviour on the part of his
two especial friends, snarled angrily and bolted out of the tent into
the velvety star-lit darkness.

So violent did Earle become, and such extraordinary strength did he
develop under the influence of the delirium which had now seized him
that Dick was compelled in self-defence to shout for help; and presently
Peter, Inaguy, and some three or four others came rushing in, and, under
the impression that the two leaders were fighting, separated them.  But
a few hurried words of explanation from Cavendish "put them wise" to the
situation, and while by main force they restrained Earle from rising and
rushing naked into the night, Dick routed out the medicine chest and,
hurriedly consulting the pages of the accompanying book of instructions,
prepared a strong sleeping draught, which, among them, they compelled
the now violently crazy patient to swallow.

But it was nearly an hour before the potion became fully effective, and
even then Earle's sleep was fitful and disturbed, his semi-coherent
mutterings showing that his mind was still unhinged.  To be brief, the
outbreak of delirium was followed by a period of extreme weakness and
profound dejection, during which the patient lost all memory of his
splendid dream, and, at least temporarily, of several other things as
well, so that nearly a fortnight elapsed before Earle was again well
enough for the party to resume their journey.

It was while Earle was still an invalid, and before their march was
resumed, that on a certain occasion, while Dick was sitting at his
bedside, he besought the latter to tell him exactly what had happened on
the memorable afternoon which witnessed their arrival in the glade, he
apparently having forgotten everything about it.  With some reluctance,
after much earnest entreaty, Dick consented; and after he had related
all, Earle became very thoughtful for some time.  At length, however, he
looked up and said:

"Yes; I am beginning to remember; it is all coming back to me--the
occurrences of that afternoon, I mean.  I suppose you haven't attempted
to develop that negative giving the general view of the glade, have
you?"

"Not I," answered Dick, "I've had too many other things to think about.
But I'll do so to-night, if you like."

"I wish you would, old chap," said Earle.  "If my suspicion is correct,
that negative should be peculiarly interesting, and I should like it
developed before we leave here, in order that if it should be imperfect,
we may take another, as well as a near view of one of the clumps of
blooms.  By the way, did you ever happen to have heard of the Death
Flower?"

"N-o, I can't say that I have," answered Dick.  "Is there such a
flower?"

"So it is said," responded Earle.  "I remember having read somewhere of
such a flower, which, it is asserted, blooms in a certain island in the
Pacific.  The flower is said to be big enough to allow a man to stand
upright in it; but if anyone chances to be so ill-advised as to try the
experiment, the experimenter falls asleep, lulled to slumber by the
peculiar fragrance of the flower, and is at once favoured with the most
glorious dreams, in the midst of which the flower closes its petals and
suffocates him.  Now, that was very much my own experience, except that
I was enveloped by the leaf instead of the flower; you dug me out
instead of leaving me to die; and my gorgeous dream came afterwards--at
least, so I suppose--instead of while I was enveloped.  It will be
exceedingly interesting if it should prove that the flowers in this
glade are Death Flowers, for I believe it has hitherto been understood
that they flourish only in one spot in the world, namely, that small
island in the Pacific, the name of which I have for the moment
forgotten."

Accordingly, as soon as it was dark that night, Dick lighted the ruby
lamp and proceeded very carefully to develop the precious negative,
which proved to be absolutely flawless, to Earle's great delight.  And
on the following morning, at Earle's urgent request, Dick took out the
camera and photographed at close quarters the identical clump of flowers
that had so nearly proved fatal to his friend, taking care to include in
the picture the severed stem and the shredded leaf which had done the
mischief.  And this negative also proved eminently satisfactory.

As they sat together, on that particular afternoon, examining the two
negative films, Earle suddenly looked up and remarked:

"That is three times that you have saved my life, Dick; and if I have
not said anything about it up to the present, you mustn't think that I
am not profoundly grateful to you--"

"Oh, yes, of course, I know, old chap," interrupted Dick, who had an
intense dislike to being effusively thanked for any little service that
it might be in his power to render a friend.  "Please oblige me by
saying no more about it.  At the same time, let me remark that I have
not the slightest notion of what you are talking about.  How do you
reason it out that I've saved your life three times?  I only know of--"

"Three times, I said; and three times I mean," returned Earle.  "The
first time was when the _Everest_ sank; the second time was when you got
me out of the fatal embrace of that enveloping leaf; and the third time
was when you gave me that draught that sent me to sleep while I was
delirious.  For now that I am again in my right mind, and the danger is
all over, I may as well admit that, while the delirium held me, the
paramount idea in my mind was to get away from you, by hook or by crook,
slip away to the flowers, and throw myself upon another leaf, so that I
might enjoy a repetition of those glorious dreams and sensations that I
told you of.  In which case, of course, I should have died.  So there
you are."

"Thanks!" said Dick grimly.  "I'm glad you have told me, for I shall now
know exactly what to do, if anything similar should happen."

Earle's strength was slow to return to him, for there were two adverse
influences with which to contend, one being the depressing influence of
the forest itself in the midst of which they were encamped, while the
other was the total absence of game, which necessitated their falling
back upon the stock of canned and preserved food provided for such an
emergency, in order to sustain the invalid and restore him to perfect
health.  At length, however, Earle pronounced himself so far
convalescent as to be capable of resuming the march; and one morning the
party broke camp and continued their journey.  The length of the marches
was of course greatly curtailed, especially during the first two or
three days, to fit them to the diminished powers of the invalid, and at
the expiration of that time the party were fortunate enough to pass into
a belt of forest of a totally different character, where game was again
to be found, and from that moment Earle's progress toward complete
recovery was rapid.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

THE GREAT SWAMP AND ITS WEIRD DENIZENS.

It was on the eleventh day after the resumption of their march that,
quite early in the afternoon, they finally emerged from the forest and
found themselves upon the edge of a swamp, which stretched away ahead
and on either side of them as far as the eye could reach, except that,
in the extreme distance, and in the direction in which they wished to
travel, there was the suggestion of firm and somewhat hilly ground which
might be about thirty miles distant.

"Gee!" ejaculated Earle, as the party came to a halt by the margin of
the morass-like expanse, "this promises to be a corker, Dick.  Eh, what?
Guess we'll have to go into camp for a bit, and explore.  I don't at
all like the notion of attempting to force our way across that swamp, if
there is a method of working round it--as of course there is if we are
prepared to travel far enough.  This reminds me of Florida, where I once
spent a month shooting 'gators--and other things.  I guess there'll be
all the 'gators we want in there, to say nothing of snakes, mosquitos,
scorpions, centipedes, and other `varmint.'  No; I guess we'll go round,
if we can; and if we can't, we must make dugouts, and effect the
crossing in them.  We'll never be able to do it any other way."

It was indeed a formidable-looking barrier, this vast expanse of swamp,
that stretched itself, mile after mile, right athwart the party's
course, and its aspect was as dreary and depressing as one could well
imagine.  All along its margin the soil was soft, boggy and treacherous,
to such an extent, indeed, that while making a preliminary investigation
of the ground before definitely deciding upon a location for the camp,
Dick suddenly sank in to above his knees, and only succeeded in
extricating himself with the utmost difficulty, assisted though he was
by Earle and some half a dozen Indians, who formed themselves into a
human chain and dragged him out by main force.

The entire expanse of swamp appeared to be level, with the exception of
a few very trifling elevations here and there, and seemed to consist of
boggy soil covered with a rank growth of coarse grass, reeds, and
stunted bush, sparsely dotted here and there with a few gnarled and
unwholesome-looking trees, the whole intersected by a labyrinth of
canals filled with stagnant water, which wound hither and thither in a
most purposeless and bewildering fashion.  That insect life abounded
there was manifest at the most cursory glance, for great clouds of
midges or flies could be seen hovering in the air in every direction,
while Earle's surmise as to the presence of alligators was abundantly
confirmed by the frequent roaring of the creatures.  The forest seemed
to grow close up to the margin of the swamp everywhere, a mere narrow
strip of open ground some twenty to thirty yards wide, dividing the two.

A fairly satisfactory site for the camp having at length been found,
Earle and Dick, armed with rifle and automatic, and each accompanied by
an Indian carrying a machete, set off in opposite directions to explore
the margin of the swamp, in the hope of discovering a spot from which a
promising start to cross might be made; while King Cole, quite unable to
decide which of his masters he would accompany, finally laid down with
his head between his paws and whined pitifully, refusing to be comforted
by anybody.

Warned by his recent mishap, Dick was careful to give the treacherous
margin of the swamp a wide berth.  The route he was pursuing led about
due south; and for nearly an hour he pursued his way at a good brisk
pace, uneventfully and without finding anything like that of which he
was in search.  Eventually, however, he arrived at a point where the
edge of the forest abruptly receded toward the east, leaving a wide
expanse of bare soil, beyond which, at a distance of a short quarter of
a mile, the swamp again appeared, stretching away limitlessly toward the
south and east.  Apparently, the only thing to do was to follow the
northerly margin of solid ground, which seemed to trend away in a
westerly direction, the direction namely in which Earle wished to
travel, and this Dick accordingly did.  He followed this course for
about half an hour, finding the tongue of firm ground which he was
traversing vary in width, from time to time, from several yards to, in
places, merely enough for a man conveniently to walk upon, while it
twisted hither and thither in the most erratic fashion, although on the
whole it continued to push its way steadily westward toward the heart of
the swamp.  Then, glancing at the declining sun, he decided that he must
retrace his steps if he desired to get back to camp before dark.

Thus far, the afternoon's journey had been wholly uneventful, excepting
for the persistent attacks of the myriads of mosquitoes and flies which
swarmed in great clouds about the two adventurers to such an extent that
there were times when they were compelled to halt and beat the pests off
their bodies.  But now they had something else than flies and mosquitoes
to think about, for they had scarcely progressed a quarter of a mile on
their return when, as they approached a spot where the firm soil
narrowed to a mere causeway, scarcely two feet in width, Dick, who was
leading, suddenly became aware of a strange and formidable-looking
creature squatting at the far extremity of the causeway, apparently
awaiting their approach.

As his eyes fell upon it Cavendish came to a halt so suddenly that the
Indian in his rear cannoned into him, nearly knocking him into the black
water alongside.

"Steady, Moquit!" exclaimed Dick, addressing his follower in the Indian
tongue, in which he was rapidly acquiring a considerable degree of
proficiency.  "Look ahead, Moquit.  What is that thing?  Have you ever
seen anything like it before?"

"Never, master," answered Moquit, staring with bulging eyes at the
apparition, which in its turn was staring back at them.  "I like it not.
Toqui preserve us!"--(Toqui was the name of Moquit's most revered
god)--"it looks like a slayer of men.  Had not master better destroy it
with his fire tube, lest it cross over and devour us?"

"I do not think we need greatly fear that," answered Dick, holding his
rifle in readiness nevertheless.  "The causeway is too narrow for the
brute to cross.  What, in the name of Fortune, can the beast be?" he
concluded in his own tongue.

He might well wonder; for never in his life before had he seen such a
creature, either alive, dead, or even in a picture.  And yet--stay!  As
he looked at the thing more intently, there seemed to gradually float
into his memory a hazy sort of recollection that he _had_ seen a picture
or representation of the creature which squatted there stolidly some
thirty yards before him.

According to Cavendish's own subsequent description, which was confirmed
in every particular by Moquit, the general impression conveyed was that
of a gigantic frog, as big as an ox, but with several important
modifications, one of which was that its capacious mouth was furnished
with a most formidable set of sharp, curved, dagger-like teeth, of which
the observers gained an excellent view, since the creature opened its
mouth several times.  It was a quadruped; that is to say, it was
provided with four legs, but while its front legs were so short as to be
little more than rudimentary, its hind legs were as long and apparently
as powerful, proportionately, as those of a kangaroo.  And, like a
kangaroo, it was provided with a long tail, as thick at the root as its
own body, tapering away to a blunt point.  Indeed, as Dick remarked, he
could scarcely describe the creature better than by likening it to what
he conceived might be the appearance of a cross between a frog and a
kangaroo.  It had a pair of big, staring eyes, its toes were armed with
long, murderous-looking claws, and its brownish-yellow skin was mottled
all over with wart-like protuberances.

For fully five minutes, Dick supposes, he stood intently studying the
peculiarities of the extraordinary creature, animated much more by
curiosity than by any sense of fear, for he had somehow fully persuaded
himself that the beast would not hazard the passage of that narrow
causeway, while in any case a shot or two from the U.M.C. Remington,
which the young Englishman carried, would of a surety put an end to the
creature's career.  Then, as Dick still stood watching and perhaps
waiting for developments of some sort, the great brute suddenly rose
upon its hind legs and, uttering a curious squealing sound, launched
itself into the air with a terrific spring which Cavendish saw with
consternation would bring the beast right upon him.  Quick and
unexpected as was the action, however, it did not take Dick wholly by
surprise; on the contrary, as though by instinct, he threw up the muzzle
of his rifle, pressed the trigger, and heard the bullet thud as it
struck the leaping body.  A loud, horrible scream escaped the brute as
the bullet smote it.  It writhed in mid-air, and that writhe caused it
to fall into the water instead of landing upon Dick's body, as it must
otherwise have done.  It fell with a terrific splash which drenched Dick
and Moquit, and still writhing with pain, instantly turned, with the
evident intention of climbing out and attacking the two men.  But by
this time Dick had begun to realise the dangerous character of the
creature, and, rapidly levelling his rifle again, shot it through the
head as it laid its two front paws upon the bank preparatory to climbing
out.  With a moaning gasp, the great body relaxed and slowly settled
back into the water, where it presently turned over on its back and
floated, dead.  Less than a minute later, while Dick and Moquit still
stood staring in amazement at the weird creature, there came a sudden,
violent swirling in the black water, and the heads of some six or seven
enormous alligators appeared round the body.  The great jaws of the
reptiles opened, and the carcass was violently dragged hither and
thither as the huge saurians tugged fiercely at it.  Dick did not wait
to see the issue of the struggle, but skipped nimbly across the
causeway, with Moquit close upon his heels, and made the best of his way
back to camp, where he found Earle already anxiously awaiting him.

"Well," demanded the American, as Cavendish came within hail, "have you
met with any luck?  I was beginning to feel a bit uneasy about you, for
we seem to have struck a rather dangerous streak of country here."

"What!" exclaimed Dick.  "Have you, too, been meeting with adventures,
then?"

"Of a sort, yes; though nothing worth speaking about," answered Earle.
"Simply met the biggest python I've ever seen; and as the beggar seemed
in a quarrelsome humour and spoiling for a fight, I shot him.  And you?
I sort of gather from your last remark that you have met with an
adventure of some sort.  Is that so?"

"You bet!" answered Dick, who was almost unconsciously adopting many of
Earle's expressive idioms.  And he proceeded to relate in detail the
occurrences of the afternoon.

"Gee!" exclaimed Earle, when his companion had finished.  "That sounds
interesting.  I wonder what the brute can have been."  (He was referring
to the strange beast which Dick had shot).  "Do you think you could draw
a picture of him?"

"Oh yes, after a fashion," answered Dick, who was really rather clever
with his pencil and brush in an amateurish fashion.  "He was something
like this."  And, whipping out his pocket-book, he rapidly produced a
very spirited pencil sketch of the unknown creature.

"Gee!" repeated Earle, studying the sketch.  "Say, Dick, this is
intensely interesting.  The thing looks absolutely new to me.  And yet--
I don't quite know.  Seems to me that I've somewhere seen something a
bit like it before--"

"That's what I thought," said Dick; "though I'm quite prepared to swear
that I never before saw the actual thing itself.  I should have
remembered it if I had."

"Y-e-s, I guess you would," returned Earle, still thoughtfully
considering the sketch.  At length he returned the book to Dick,
remarking:

"Then you think there is just a possibility that we may be able to cross
the swamp by way of that tongue of firm ground that you explored this
afternoon?  In that case, I guess we'll try it.  We may succeed; and if
we do, it will save us a long journey round; for I was unable to find
the northern end of the swamp this afternoon, although, before turning
back I climbed the highest tree in the neighbourhood and carefully
searched the whole of the visible country through my Goertz prismatics.
We will try that tongue of land of yours to-morrow, Dick.  And as for
the flies and things, I guess we can beat them by enveloping our heads
in gauze veils and wearing gloves.  I brought some green gauze along
expressly to meet such a contingency.  Learned the wrinkle in Africa,
where the flies and mosquitoes used to drive me pretty nearly crazy."

An hour after sunrise on the following morning found the expedition en
route, and in due time it reached the tongue of firm ground which Dick
had discovered during the preceding afternoon.  Here the two leaders
enveloped their heads, helmets and all, in capacious veils of green
gauze which Earle had produced during the preceding evening.

Earle was in exceptionally high spirits that morning.  The story of
Dick's encounter with the strange beast had intensely interested him,
for he was by way of being a naturalist, as well as a good many other
things, and he was naturally eager to get a sight of another creature of
the same species.  Then a view at close quarters of the swamp added
further to his excitement, for even then, in the dazzling glare of the
morning sun, there was a certain suggestion of weirdness and uncanniness
about the place that appealed very strongly to his imagination.  To
young, prosaic Dick Cavendish, a sailor pure and simple, whose only
knowledge of science was that connected with navigation, the swamp was
just--well, a swamp, and nothing more; but, to Earle's higher scientific
intelligence it was an absorbingly interesting mystery.  For they had
scarcely penetrated it to the depth of a mile before the American began
to be aware that the character of his surroundings was undergoing a
subtle change, the herbage underfoot, the rushes that edged the lagoons
and water channels, the plants that here and there in wide patches hid
the surface of the water, the ferns that decked the banks of the
water-courses, were all new and strange to him; and this, in conjunction
with Dick's adventure here, less than twenty-four hours ago, generated
within him a thrilling conviction that he was on the brink of great and
important discoveries.

Presently Dick turned to him and said, pointing: "You see where the
ground narrows away to a mere ridge, ahead there?  It was just on this
side of it that the queer beast was squatting when I first caught sight
of him."

"That so?" responded Earle, coming to a sudden standstill.  "Halt there,
men; don't advance another step until I tell you," he ordered, wheeling
round and holding up his hand.

"Now then, Dick," he continued, "you and I will go forward, carefully
examining the soil for footprints.  Perhaps, if we are in luck, we may
succeed in finding an impression, though I am afraid the ground is
rather too dry--stay, what is this?"

Stretching out his hand to stay Dick's incautious advance, Earle went
down on one knee and carefully examined a faint impression on the
ground.  It consisted of a slight depression in the thin dust overlaying
the hard earth, practically circular in shape and about the size of the
palm of a man's hand, and beyond it, at a distance of about three feet
six inches, there were three somewhat deeper impressions, about a foot
apart, such as might be made by the sharp claws of an animal.

"I guess this looks very much as though it might be one of the
footprints of your friend," remarked Earle, after he had intently
studied the impression for a full minute or more; "but it is very
imperfect and indistinct; not nearly clear enough to be satisfactory.
Let's go on a bit; perhaps we may find others.  If not, we'll come back
and examine this again.  Go carefully, old chap, and if you see any
other marks, don't tread on them, for goodness' sake."

Crouching low and advancing a single step at a time, as they carefully
scanned the ground before them, the two friends had covered a distance
of some five yards when they came upon two more impressions, a little
more distinctly marked than the first.  They were about six feet apart,
but in line athwart the path, and suggested the idea of having been made
by the landing of the creature upon the ground after a forward jump.
These, too, Earle carefully examined before proceeding, and then the two
friends went on to the spot where Dick had seen the thing squatting.
And here, the soil being considerably more moist and clayey, they found,
to Earle's intense delight, some half a dozen deep and perfectly clear
imprints, only two of which had been partially obliterated by the feet
of Dick and Moquit on their return after killing the beast.  The
imprints somewhat resembled those of a thick-toed bird, but were
immensely larger than the spoor of any known bird, measuring exactly
three feet nine and a quarter inches from the back of the heel to the
front of the middle claw--which seemed to be some six inches longer than
the two others--and two feet two inches across from one outer claw to
the other; the indent showing that the middle claw was fourteen inches
long.

"Gosh!" exclaimed Earle excitedly, as he rose to his full height after
having made a careful figured drawing of the impression in his
pocket-book--"what would I not give for enough plaster of paris to make
a cast of that footprint!  Guess it will make some of the professors at
home sit up and take notice when they see this drawing in the book,
which I mean to publish when I get back.  Most of 'em won't believe it,
I expect.  They'll denounce it as a traveller's tale.  Hold on, though,
I'll take a photograph--two or three photographs--of the impressions;
perhaps that will convince them.  You shall stand just there, Dick, and
I'll include you in one of the pictures, to act as a sort of scale."

The photographs were duly taken; and then Earle expressed the utmost
anxiety to secure the carcass of the creature itself.  But, as Dick
reminded his companion, the creature had no sooner been killed than it
became a prey to several alligators of formidable size, therefore any
attempt to fish up the remains from the bottom of the canal would be
certain to result in failure.  And when Dick, pressing home his point,
inquired whether Earle proposed to dive to the bottom in search of the
body, the American reluctantly admitted that even his scientific ardour
was scarcely equal to the adoption of such a course.  The march was
therefore resumed, after about an hour's delay, Earle consoling himself
with the hope that one specimen of the unknown monster having been found
in the swamp, others might also exist there, and they might be fortunate
enough to encounter one or more of them.

Naturally, the party's rate of travelling was slow; for not only was
Earle now constantly engaged in searching the ground for further "sign"
of creatures possibly peculiar to the swamp, but halts were frequently
being called while suspicious indications were carefully investigated;
consequently when the mid-day halt was at length called, it was
estimated that the party had not penetrated the swamp to a distance of
more than some six or seven miles as the crow flies, though, of course,
they had actually traversed a distance nearly half as much again.  But,
even so, Earle was quite satisfied with what had been done so far; while
there was still no sign of a break in the continuity of the firm soil
upon which they had been travelling.

The camp was pitched at a point where it widened out until there was
fully a hundred yards of it between the two stretches of water to right
and left, while on the right hand, or northern side of this wide space,
the canal-like watercourse had given place to a sort of lagoon, nearly a
mile long by about half that width.  The water in this lagoon was much
cleaner and more wholesome-looking than that in the canals, yet Earle
considered that it would be unwise to use it for drinking purposes; he
therefore selected a spot and set a couple of Indians to work to dig a
pit in search of water, which he expected to find at a depth of two or
three feet, such water to be first filtered and then boiled before use.
And while the digging was proceeding, Earle and Dick took up a position
on the summit of a low knoll a few yards away, and examined their
surroundings through their prismatic glasses.

Suddenly Dick turned to his companion and pointed.

"I say, Earle," he exclaimed, "what sort of an anima is that?  Surely it
is not a wild boar, though it looks a bit like the pictures I have seen
of them."

"Where?" demanded Earle, who had been looking in another direction.
"Oh!  I see," he continued, catching sight of the creature at which Dick
was pointing, and which was standing at the edge of a little strip of
beach, about a quarter of a mile away, on the opposite side of the
water.

The two raised their glasses to their eyes and proceeded to watch the
animal, which seemed to have a desire to drink, but was debating within
itself the question of how far it would be prudent to enter the water
even as far as would be necessary to enable it to do so.  It was
standing quite still, staring down into the water, and thus afforded an
excellent opportunity for careful inspection.

"N-o," answered Earle slowly, after he had studied the appearance of the
creature for nearly a minute--"it certainly is not a boar, though it is
not altogether unlike one.  But it is too big for a boar.  Looks to me
more like a hyaena--though of course I know there are no such creatures
in this country.  Also it is far too big to be a hyaena--unless it is an
entirely new species.  And the thing has tusks, just like a wild boar.
Now, what the mischief can it be?  It is rather too far off for a dead
shot, or I would have a try at it; but it would be a pity to merely
wound it and scare it away.  Say! is there any way of getting across to
the other side, short of swimming?"

"I'm afraid not," answered Dick.  "And after what I saw yesterday I
wouldn't give a farthing for the chance of anybody who should attempt to
swim in these waters."

Dick still had his glasses to his eyes as he spoke; and even as the last
words left his lips he had an impression of something stealthily moving
in the long herbage some distance to the rear of the strange animal
which they were watching.  He was about to direct Earle's attention to
the circumstance when, from the spot where he had observed the stealthy
movement, a great body rose into the air with a tremendous leap and
hurtling through the intervening space, descended fair and square upon
the body of the creature standing by the water's edge.

"Gee-rusalem!" shouted Earle, as the harsh scream of the stricken animal
pealed out on the stagnant air.  "See that, Cavendish?"

"Sure!" responded Dick.  "Take particular notice of that last brute,
Earle; for as sure as my name is Cavendish, it is another of the same
kind that I killed yesterday."

"My revered ancestors!  You don't say so!" gasped Earle.  "Sure?"

"Absolutely certain," averred Dick.

"But--but--man alive--" stammered Earle in his excitement, "you told me
that the thing you shot yesterday was a sort of cross between a frog and
a kangaroo, and that beast doesn't suggest at all that sort of idea to
me.  What a ferocious beast it is!  He is literally tearing the other
poor brute to pieces."

"Yes," agreed Dick.  "And I am just now beginning to understand what a
narrow squeak I had yesterday.  For that fellow is exactly like the
thing I killed yesterday, though, now that I see him broadside-on, the
resemblance, whether to a frog or a kangaroo, is not so strong as it was
when I was facing him.  But there are the same long, powerful hind legs,
the same almost invisible front ones, the same gaping mouth filled with
strong, dagger-like teeth, the same long, thick, pointed tail--in short,
the same creature from stem to stern."

"But the head of that thing is more like an alligator's than a frog's,"
objected Earle.  "And then, look at that serrated arrangement of the
skin--I suppose it is--from the back of the head to the extremity of the
tail.  You never said anything about that."

"No," admitted Dick, "I believe I didn't; but the other thing had it,
all the same.  I remember noticing it, now that you call my attention to
it.  I tell you that the two creatures are identical in every respect,
except that this one looks to be a bit bigger than the other.  Do you
happen to know what the thing is called?"

"N-o, I am not sure that I do," answered Earle, "but I'll find out as
soon as ever I get back to New York.  I shall remember the appearance of
the beast all right, now that I've actually seen it, and I guess there
will be somebody who can tell me.  Say!  Dick, I wouldn't have missed
this sight for a thousand dollars; and I'd give ten thousand to get the
skin and skeleton of the brute.  If I could but secure them, I'd go
straight back to New York at once, and leave Manoa for another time.
Isn't there _any_ way by which we could get across that insignificant
strip of water?"

"Not without a boat or a raft of some sort, I'm afraid," answered Dick.
"And there is nothing hereabout from which we could construct even the
most elementary sort of raft.  Besides, before we could put anything
together, even if we had the material, the brute would be gone.  See, he
has almost gorged the whole of his prey already."

"I've a mind to try a shot at him--and I will, too," said Earle.  "Hi,
there, Peter, bring me my point-three-five Remington and some
cartridges.  Hurry, you black angel!  Perhaps if the brute is very
savage, and we can attract his attention, or hurt him a bit, he may take
it into his head to attack us.  He could jump across the stream a little
lower down, easily enough.  Or he may be a swimmer.  He looks a good
deal more like a reptile than a beast, anyhow."

Peter, the black cook, came running up at this juncture with the
Remington, and Earle, snatching it from him, quickly adjusted the back
sight and throwing himself prone upon the ground, took careful aim at
the formidable-looking brute, which had ceased to feed and was now
squatting on its haunches, facing toward the two men.  A few seconds of
suspense and the rifle flashed, the hum of the bullet was heard, and
then a thud as it struck.  Coincident with the thud of the bullet, the
great body sprang high into the air, a loud, blood-curdling scream
pealed out, and then, with a succession of prodigious leaps, it
disappeared among the rank herbage.

The result was a bitter disappointment for Earle, who declared that he
would not move from the spot until he had satisfied himself that it was
impossible to cross to the other side of the water.  But, short of
swimming, there was no means of crossing, for there was nothing
wherewith to make a raft of even the most flimsy description.  This fact
being at length conclusively established, the march was resumed
immediately after the conclusion of the mid-day meal.

About an hour before sunset that day, they were rather unexpectedly
brought to a halt by finding themselves on a small peninsula of some
five acres in extent, thrusting itself forward into a great lagoon, the
waters of which stretched away on either hand for many miles, while in
the direction toward which they wished to travel, the nearest point of
land was distant about a mile and a half.  After surveying their
surroundings for some time, the two leaders agreed that it was too late
in the day to retrace their steps across the narrow isthmus by which
they had arrived and seek some other route; the camp was therefore
pitched on the south-westerly slope of the peninsula, quite close to a
little strip of sandy beach, with a background consisting of a hummock
some fifteen feet high crowned by an extensive clump of strange-looking
shrubs, the nature of which Earle was anxious to investigate.

The day had been overpoweringly hot, the sun blazing down upon them
unintermittently out of a cloudless sky; but now, while the camp was
being pitched, a thin haze began insidiously to overspread the blue,
while away toward the south-west a great bank of slatey blue cloud
appeared above the ridge of the distant hills, working up against the
wind and seeming to portend a thunderstorm.

Now that they had come to a halt, the leaders mutually confessed to a
feeling of great fatigue, while the listless manner in which the Indians
were going about their duties showed that they, too, were longing for an
opportunity to rest their weary limbs.  Earle flung himself down upon
the short moss-like turf bordering the strip of beach and gazed
longingly at the rippling waters of the lagoon as they sparkled in the
slanting rays of the declining sun.  Unlike the turbid, black and almost
stagnant water in the canals which they had been passing during the
day's march, the tiny wavelets which rippled in upon the adjacent beach
were crystal clear, and gave off the fresh, wholesome smell of pure
water; and when, a little later, Earle rose languidly to his feet, and
advancing a few paces to the water's edge, scooped up a handful of the
liquid and tasted it, he expressed the opinion that it was quite
wholesome enough for drinking purposes.

"And it is deliciously cool, too," he remarked to Dick.  "For two pins I
would strip and have a swim."

"Not if I know it, my friend," retorted Dick.  "I grant you that the
water looks almost irresistibly tempting, and I have no doubt that a
swim would be amazingly refreshing--if we could only be sure of going in
and coming out again unharmed.  But who knows what dangers may be
lurking beneath that sparkling surface?  The place may be swarming with
alligators, for aught that we know, and--"

"Why, you surely don't mean to say that you are afraid, Dick?"

"No, I don't," returned Dick, "and if there were any real necessity to
do so, I would not hesitate a moment to plunge in and swim across to the
other side.  But when one knows that there is a possibility of being
seized and pulled down by an alligator, I contend that it would be folly
to risk one's life merely for the pleasure of a swim.  I once saw a man
seized by a shark.  We were becalmed in the Indian Ocean, and the fellow
determined to avail himself of the opportunity to go overboard and
indulge in the luxury of a salt-water bath; so he got a chum to go up
into the foretopmast crosstrees and have a look round.  The chum
signalled all clear, and the would-be bather slipped surreptitiously
over the bows, passed along the martingale stays, dropped quietly into
the water, and struck out.  And before he had swum three strokes a shark
darted from under the ship's bottom and--that was the end of him.  No,
sir--look there!  See that swirl?  That means something big--an
alligator, or a big fish of some sort, which is as likely as not to be
dangerous.  No; no swimming for me--or for you, either, thank you.  But
it wouldn't be at all a bad idea to have our portable bath-tubs set up
on the sand, and have a good dip in them."



CHAPTER EIGHT.

A NIGHT ADVENTURE IN THE GREAT SWAMP.

With the setting of the sun, the gentle zephyr of a breeze that had been
blowing all day dropped, and the night fell, close and suffocatingly
hot.  A young moon hung low over the western horizon, but the bank of
thunder cloud was rising fast, and by the time that the two friends had
finished their evening meal, the silver sickle of the moon had become
effaced, as had the stars, by the thickening of the veil of haze which
had been gradually over-spreading the heavens.

So close and breathless was the atmosphere that the two friends declared
the interior of the tent to be insupportable, they therefore walked down
to near the inner margin of the beach and flung themselves down upon the
curious moss-like turf, to indulge in their usual after-dinner chat and
watch the gathering of the storm that now seemed inevitable, while Earle
smoked.  For a wonder, there were neither flies, mosquitoes, nor midges
on this little peninsula; there was therefore nothing but the excessive
heat and the closeness of the atmosphere to interfere with their
comfort.  The Indians were camped on the summit of the mound, grouped as
usual round a small fire, the materials for which they had collected
during the day's march, and were conversing in low tones, while they,
too, smoked.  King Cole, who had dined luxuriously and to repletion upon
a big bustard-like bird which Earle had shot an hour or two earlier,
crouched at the feet of his two masters, purring contentedly.

The conversation between the two friends, which was of a desultory and
discursive character, ebbed and flowed in unison with the interest of
the speakers, and was punctuated with many spells of silence while the
two gazed dreamily out across the glass-like surface of the lagoon,
indistinguishable now in the velvet blackness, save when a faint flicker
of sheet lightning momentarily illuminated it.  At the beginning the
night was intensely still and silent; there was not even the customary
hum of insects or rolling clatter of frogs to accentuate the silence,
under the influence of which the white men first, and finally the
Indians, fell silent.  Then the fatigue consequent upon the day's toil
began to make itself felt, and after a somewhat longer spell of silence
than usual, Earle allowed his body to settle back luxuriously upon the
soft sward and soon gave audible evidence that he was fast asleep,
whereupon Dick promptly followed his companion's example.

Their sleep was, however, destined to be of brief duration.  They were
both by this time so thoroughly accustomed to the ordinary nocturnal
sounds of the wild that, although so fully aware of them as to be able
instantly to detect anything unusual in their character, and to start up
awake in a moment if the unusual note seemed to portend danger, they
could still sleep soundly and refreshingly through them all.  But the
nocturnal sounds of this particular night were of so startling a
character that sleep soon became an impossibility.

They began with a low, melancholy, distant howl which, while it
penetrated the consciousness of the sleepers, failed to disturb them,
because its remoteness was a guarantee against imminent danger, and
nothing less than imminent danger now had the power to chase sleep from
those seasoned wanderers.  Nor were the howls any more effective as
disturbers of the party's rest after several repetitions in varying
keys.  But when a weird, unearthly, blood-curdling scream rang out upon
the startled air it awoke the entire party upon the instant, though the
sound seemed to emanate from a considerable distance.

"What the dickens was that?" demanded Dick, sitting up and instinctively
groping for his rifle.

"Give it up," returned Earle.  "No, I don't though," he quickly added.
"I guess it's that thing I shot at and wounded during the mid-day halt,
or another of the same species."

"Y-e-s, very possibly," agreed Dick.  "Look at King Cole.  What is the
matter with him now, I wonder?"

By the declining light of the fire on the summit of the hillock the
panther could be seen, in a half-standing, half-crouching attitude, a
few paces away, staring intently out across the black water, his black
fur all a-bristle, and his body visibly quivering with either excitement
or fear.

"King--King Cole, come here, sir!  What's the matter with you, anyway?"
called Earle.  And the animal at once turned and crept cowering to the
feet of the pair, his eyes glowing like a pair of green lamps, and his
lips drawn into a silent snarl.

That the weird cry was not repeated in no wise detracted from its
startling character; but although profound silence followed, it did not
remain long unbroken, for a few minutes later there came the sound as of
great wings sweeping hither and thither.  And scarcely had this sound
died away when it was succeeded by others--low moans, sighs, whistlings,
grunts, bellowings, rustlings, splashings--some from a considerable
distance, others apparently close at hand; some obviously from the land
to the rear of the party, and others quite as obviously from the water
in their front.  And, most disturbing consideration of all, every one of
them was absolutely unfamiliar, therefore in some vague, undefinable
fashion, the more alarming.  This effect was quickly made manifest by
the agitated murmurings of the Indians, and the haste with which they
replenished the dying fire, heaping on fuel with such a lavish hand
that, for the space of a few yards all round the blaze, the light was
almost as brilliant as that of day.

"Gee!" exclaimed Earle, as the weird sounds multiplied on all sides,
"what would I not give for a full moon and a clear sky, just now.  Bet
your life, Dick, there are some very queer scenes being enacted all
round us at this moment, had we but light to reveal them.  I have come
to the conclusion that this swamp is unique in many respects.  By some
freak of nature, things here are entirely different from what they are
elsewhere.  Even the vegetation is new and strange to me; and I am
convinced that it is also the home of many forms of animal life unknown
elsewhere.  The exasperating part of the whole thing is that most of the
creatures inhabiting it seem to be of nocturnal habit, hiding themselves
during the day, and only emerging into the open at night.  Just listen
now to the hubbub of sound all about us.  Why, the place must be fairly
teeming with life!  And, by a perverse combination of circumstances, we
can see nothing of it--Ah! thank goodness, the lightning is becoming
more vivid.  I would give a good round sum for a real first-class
thunderstorm; and, by ginks!  I believe we are going to have it."

It seemed quite probable, for as though in response to Earle's ardently
expressed desire, a brilliant flash of sheet lightning flickered out of
the now rapidly rising bank of cloud over the distant hills, illumining
the landscape for the fraction of a second, during which a momentary
glimpse was afforded of certain strange forms dotting the waters of the
lagoon; but the illumination was too brief to leave anything more than
the most vague impression of those forms upon the retina of the
observers.  The glimpse, however, transient as it was, revealed enough
to stimulate their interest and curiosity to the highest pitch, and the
two friends, with their rifles grasped ready for instant action, sprang
to their feet and stood eagerly awaiting further revelation with the
next flash of lightning, while the Indians, cowering round the roaring
fire on the summit of the knoll, were visibly suffering the extremity of
terror.

Then, while the two friends stood together awaiting the coming of
another lightning flash, with King Cole quivering and shivering at their
feet, a huge shape, elusively revealed in the flickering firelight,
slowly emerged from the intense darkness overshadowing the lagoon,
ponderously splashing through the shallows toward the beach--and toward
the two white men, a pair of enormous eyes, glistening in the uncertain
light of the flames, being all that could be distinctly seen.  The
thing--whatever it may have been--was not more than ten yards distant
when first seen, and there was a gleam of such deadly malignancy in
those two glistening eyes, and a suggestion of such implacable purpose
in the ponderous movement of the imperfectly seen bulk, that Earle and
Dick, taken completely unawares by its sudden appearance, incontinently
flung up their rifles and fired, at the precise moment that King Cole,
utterly demoralised by the weird apparition, sprang to his feet and
fled, snarling, to the rear.  The two rifles spoke as one, and instantly
following the whip-like reports, the double clap of the bullets was
heard--not a dull sound like that of a bullet striking yielding flesh,
but a sharp crack, suggesting the impingement of lead upon unyielding
bone; there was a frightful bellowing roar, a terrific splash, the spray
of which flew over and far beyond the two white men, and the thing was
gone.

"Well, `shiver my timbers!' as you sailors are supposed to remark,"
exclaimed Earle in tones of ineffable disgust.  "If that doesn't beat
the band!  Oh, Dick Cavendish--and Wilfrid Earle, you--you twenty-volume
unabridged fools, why on earth couldn't you have waited another two or
three seconds before shootin' and so have made sure of getting the
brute?  Kick me, Dick, and I'll kick you, for we both deserve it!  It
was the chance of a lifetime, and we flung it away by being over-eager.
I'm ashamed of you, Dick--and a blamed sight more ashamed of myself; for
I am an old hand at this sort of thing, while you are comparatively
fresh at it, and therefore there is some sort of excuse for you, while
there is none for me."

"But we hit him," remonstrated Dick.  "What more do you want?"

"Hit him!" retorted Earle, disgustedly.  "Of course we hit him; we
couldn't help hitting him.  He was as big as a house!  But, my gentle
boy, that wasn't enough.  We wanted to kill him, so that we might have a
chance to see what he looked like.  Hit him!  Yes; we hit him on his
skull, and the blows sounded as though his head was encased in five-inch
Harveyized armour plate!  If we had waited five seconds longer, we
should have had a good view of him and been able to shoot him through
the heart--if he happens to possess such an organ."

"That's all very fine," retorted Dick.  "But I'll bet that if we had
waited the extra five seconds, you would still have aimed to hit him
fair between the eyes--as I did."

"Well--yes, I guess I should," returned Earle, his vexation suddenly
evaporating.  "As a matter of fact, that is the precise spot I aimed at.
And as you say that you did also, we will hope that one at least of our
bullets got home, and that to-morrow morning, we shall find him floating
dead out there in the offing waiting to be inspected.  Anyway, there is
no sense in crying over spilt milk; and who knows what chances may still
be in store for us.  And now, Dick, while your memory is still fresh,
have the goodness to describe to me exactly the impression left upon
your mind by what you saw.  Gee! what a time the inhabitants of this
swamp seem to be having.  The row is growing worse than ever."

Dick dutifully responded to his friend's request, but alas! his
description amounted to very little more than the bald statement that
the thing struck him as possessing a body about as bulky as an elephant,
standing upon disproportionately short legs; that the eyes were as big
round as dinner-plates; that they glared with a most unholy malevolence;
and that they were spaced about thirty inches apart.  These details,
such as they were, corresponded with the impression produced upon Earle,
who forthwith proceeded to jot down the meagre facts in his notebook by
the light of the fire.

Meanwhile the "row," as Earle had observed, seemed to be growing worse
than ever, and it was presently added to by the low mutterings of
distant thunder, the precursor of what threatened to be a thunderstorm
of unusual violence.  The flickering of sheet lightning became more
frequent, while occasional flashes of forked lightning emanating from a
point low down upon the south-western horizon, began to light up the
surroundings for a fraction of a second with their transient glare.
Soon low moaning sounds became fitfully audible far aloft, and little
scurrying gusts of hot wind came sweeping across the lagoon, causing the
fire on the knoll to roar and blaze with sudden intensity, while the
sparks flew far inland.

"Stand by the topsail halliards!" remarked Dick, with a grin.  "We are
going to have it hot and heavy in a minute or two, or I'm a Dutchman!"
And the words were hardly out of his mouth when, with a shrieking roar,
the tempest swooped down upon them, and they abruptly sat down, to avoid
being swept off their feet, while the blazing embers of the fire,
snatched up by the wind, went whirling far and wide.  At the same
instant a flash of blindingly vivid lightning leapt from the zenith and
seemed to strike the waters of the lagoon only a few yards away, while
simultaneously there came a crash of thunder that caused their ears to
ring and tingle, and effectually deafened them for several minutes.
This was the outburst of the storm, which thereafter raged with
indescribable fury for a full hour, the lightning incessantly flashing
all round the little knoll with such dazzling brilliancy that the entire
landscape, almost to its uttermost confines, was nearly as fully
revealed as at noonday, while the thunder crashed and rattled and boomed
with a nerve-shattering violence that effectually drowned all other
sounds.  And, to add still further to the weird impressiveness of the
scene, the storm had scarcely been raging ten minutes when the swamp was
seen to be on fire in several places immediately to leeward of the
knoll, the dry herbage having been undoubtedly kindled by the flying
embers and sparks of the fire, which had been completely swept away by
the wind.  For the first half-hour of its duration the storm was a dry
one, that is to say, it was unaccompanied by rain; and while the tempest
raged about them Dick and Earle lay prone, side by side, watching the
marvellous scene revealed by the incessant lightning flashes.  And Earle
afterwards confided to Dick--and, still later, to many others--that what
he then beheld more than repaid him for all that the entire journey cost
him, not only in money, but also in toil and privation.  For although
the flickering of the lightning and its almost blinding vividness were
by no means conducive to accuracy of observation, he saw enough to fully
confirm his previous conviction that the swamp was the habitat of
several forms of life hitherto unknown and unsuspected by naturalists.
True, most of the creatures seen were apparently amphibious, their forms
only partially revealed as they sported or fought in the waters of the
lagoon; but transient glimpses were occasionally caught of others
roaming about the patches of dry ground; while all were too distant for
the watchers to obtain any very clear impression of their shapes and
proportions.  Then the wind and the lightning suddenly ceased, pitchy
darkness fell upon the scene, and the rain descended in such a deluge as
is known only to those who have dwelt in the tropics, lasting until
within half-an-hour of sunrise.

The appearance of the sun was hailed with feelings of unqualified
delight by the entire party, for not only did the remaining clouds
vanish with his uprising, but he brought what was, for once, welcome
warmth with him, to the relief of the drenched and thoroughly chilled
occupants of the camp, who had lain exposed for hours to the pitiless
pelting of the rain--Dick and Earle suffering equally with the rest, the
wind having temporarily wrecked their tent.  They felt that a hot
breakfast would have been indescribably welcome that morning; but such a
meal was impossible, for the rain had saturated everything and rendered
a fire out of the question; they were consequently obliged to content
themselves with cold viands, which they consumed in haste, for they had
the prospect of a busy day before them.

The problem which confronted them was, how were they to transport
themselves and their belongings across the lagoon?  For it was on the
opposite side of it that their road lay, and if they would proceed, only
two alternatives seemed open to them; one to find some means by which
they could ferry themselves across, while the other was to pass round
one or the other of the extremities of the lagoon.  And this last meant
the retracing of their steps for a considerable distance, with the
prospect of a long march to follow, the lagoon extending to right and
left as far as the eye could see.

It was at this crisis that Huanami, one of the bearers, a Peruvian
half-breed, came to the rescue with a suggestion.  During the march of
the previous day, this man, it appeared, had taken note of vast
quantities of a particular kind of reed growing some three or four miles
back, upon the opposite side of a canal-like watercourse, along the
margin of which the party had been travelling, and he was of opinion
that those reeds could be used in the construction of excellent
_balsas_, if they could only be got at.  And he believed that it would
be possible to get at them if the white lords would permit him and two
or three of his comrades to go still further back to a point where, on
the near side of the canal, he had noted a sufficient growth of reeds to
construct a single _balsa_ of a capacity which would enable him to float
himself across the canal to the opposite side, where the reeds were
growing in profusion.  The suggestion found immediate favour with the
"white lords," for it appeared to indicate the shortest way out of the
difficulty; and orders were at once given to carry it into effect.

But Earle made one important modification in Huanami's proposal.  After
the experiences of the previous day--and, still more, of the past
night--he was not at all disposed to permit two or three unarmed men to
retrace their steps, unaccompanied, with the possibility that they might
be set upon and destroyed by some unknown monster inhabitant of the
swamp; he therefore gave orders for the entire party to countermarch,
and five minutes later they were under way.

Somewhere about an hour later they reached the spot where the rushes
grew on the opposite side of the canal; and it was at once apparent that
there was a sufficiency to meet the requirements of the party; while at
a further distance of about a mile they came to a bed containing enough
rashes to construct a _balsa_ capable of supporting a single man, or
possibly two men.  Huanami cut one of the rushes for Earle's inspection,
and dividing it up into short lengths, showed that it was a bamboo-like
growth, hollow in structure and divided into a series of watertight
compartments by partitions occurring at every notch, rendering it
exceedingly light and buoyant.  The average length of the rushes was
about twelve feet, but by a kind of interlacing system a raft, or
_balsa_, of almost any required dimensions could be constructed.

No time was lost by the party in getting to work upon the first _balsa_,
Huanami cutting great quantities of long, tough bents and plaiting them
up into a kind of rope, while the rest of the Indians cut the reeds.  It
was necessary for them to get into the water to do this; but luckily,
the reeds first attacked grew in shallow water, only up to the men's
knees, and while they all worked together, shouting and splashing
vigorously the while, Dick and Earle, armed with repeating rifles,
mounted guard on the bank, holding themselves ready to open fire upon
any marauding alligator or other creature that might threaten to
interrupt the work.  No interruption occurred, however, and in less than
an hour the reeds were all cut and the construction of the first _balsa_
was begun.  Huanami proved himself an adept in the art of _balsa_
construction, and when noon arrived, and with it the hour for the
mid-day meal, the first _balsa_ was complete and ready for service,
including a pair of paddles, also ingeniously made of reeds.

When at the conclusion of the meal the _balsa_ came to be tried, it was
found to possess buoyancy enough to carry two men safely and
comfortably; the return march along the bank to the spot where the
remainder of the fleet was to be built was therefore immediately
commenced, the builder and his load of impedimenta proceeding by water
at the same time.  The _balsa_, it may here be explained, was a very
simple affair indeed, consisting merely of a flat bundle of reeds,
firmly bound together in such a way as to form a sort of raft.  The one
already built was about ten feet long and about five feet broad, by
about a foot in depth; but while strong enough for its purpose, it was,
after all, very light, and quite capable of being capsized should an
enterprising alligator take it into his head to attack it; during the
short march to the big reed bed, therefore, Dick and Earle decided that
the next _balsa_ should be constructed of a capacity to accommodate the
entire party, and therefore be heavy and bulky enough to resist anything
short of a concerted attack by a herd of alligators.  The construction
of such a craft was of course a somewhat formidable undertaking, though
the other Indians showed themselves apt pupils of Huanami, and the task
was only completed when the sun had already disappeared and darkness was
closing down upon the scene.

On the following morning the voyage across the lagoon was begun
immediately after breakfast, and accomplished not only without mishap
but without adventure of any kind; for, strangely enough, not one of the
creatures which had been observed disporting themselves in the water
during the preceding night was now visible; indeed, so far as
appearances went, there might not even have been so much as a fish in
the lagoon.  A sharp look-out was maintained for the beast that had been
shot at during the night, but neither alive or dead was anything seen of
him.  One fact, however, was established during the passage across, and
that was, that the depth of water in the lagoon was far greater than had
hitherto been suspected, a depth of no less than thirty fathoms being
found nearly all the way across except quite close to the margin.

The journey across consumed close upon two hours, for the _balsa_, while
buoyant enough to support the whole party and their belongings, was,
from the very character of her construction, unwieldy and difficult to
propel; but she arrived safely at last on the south-western shore of the
lagoon.  Then a number of canal-like channels being found penetrating
the firm ground, as on the side already traversed, the question arose
whether the journey should be resumed on foot, or an attempt should be
made to continue it on the _balsa_, through the medium of the water
channels.  Dick was of opinion that the latter would be the more
expeditious way, it being far easier for the Indians to tow the _balsa_
loaded with all the belongings of the party, than it would be for them
to carry their loads as heretofore; and this plan was accordingly
adopted.

Unfortunately, perhaps, they were obliged to abandon the _balsa_ about
mid-afternoon, the water channel abruptly coming to an end, and thus
necessitating a return to their original mode of travel.

Earle was profoundly disappointed that during practically the entire
day's journey none of the denizens of the swamp had chosen to reveal
themselves, for he had all the naturalist's enthusiasm for the discovery
of new and strange creatures, and was especially anxious to secure a
specimen of the "cross between a frog and a kangaroo" seen and shot by
Dick, and, later, shot at by himself; but, so far as appearances went,
the part of the swamp which they were now traversing might be
tenantless.  At length, however, just as the day's journey was drawing
to a close, a bit of luck came his way.  For while he and Dick were
glancing about them in search of a suitable spot upon which to camp for
the night, an animal suddenly made its appearance in the open, not more
than fifty yards away, and Earle instantly flung up his rifle and shot
it.  It was as big as a donkey and resembled a hare in every respect,
except that it had ears shaped like those of a mouse, while its coat was
of short hair instead of fur.  It was entirely new to Earle, and he was
much gratified at securing it, as were the others of the party, for its
flesh proved to be very juicy and palatable.

Their next adventure occurred during the afternoon of the following day.
They had just passed beyond the confines of the swamp, and were
travelling over somewhat rising ground toward a line of forest
stretching right athwart their path, when, during a temporary halt,
which Dick was utilising to scan the surrounding country through his
field-glasses, he caught a momentary glimpse of what he imagined to be
Indians, moving stealthily about among the boles of the trees,
apparently reconnoitring the party.  He directed Earle's attention to
them, and after an eager search with his glasses, the American also
caught sight of them, and agreed with Dick that their movements were
suspicious, and that it would be wise to be prepared for a sudden
attack.  They loaded their repeating rifles, each stuck a pair of
automatic pistols in his belt, and when the march was resumed, went on
ahead, accompanied by Inaguy, with the object of establishing a parley
with the strangers.

But when, some ten minutes later, they arrived at the outskirts of the
forest, there was no sign of them, and no response to Inaguy's repeated
calls in several different Indian dialects.  It was not only a puzzling
but also a disconcerting circumstance; for the failure of the strangers
to reply seemed to indicate a hostile disposition; and for the party to
plunge into the depths of the forest with a band of hostile Indians
dogging their footsteps, or perhaps preparing to ambush them, seemed to
Earle the opposite of good generalship; after considering the matter,
therefore, it was decided to camp for the remainder of the day, at a
sufficient distance from the forest to render a surprise attack
impossible, and there await developments.

This was done, and for about an hour after the camp was pitched,
sentinels being posted about halfway between it and the border of the
forest to give timely notice of a threatened attack, nothing happened.

Then one of the sentinels shouted that there were people moving among
the trees, upon which Dick and Earle, fully armed, moved out to
reconnoitre, with King Cole as usual at their heels.

The sentinel was right, as the pair ascertained immediately that they
brought their field-glasses to bear upon the part of the forest
indicated by the Indian.  The undergrowth, consisting mostly of bushes
and shrubs, was fairly dense, rendering it impossible to see beyond a
yard or two into the forest, but by diligent and patient search the two
leaders were able to discern certain dark objects, which they identified
as heads, moving hither and thither, and pausing from time to time to
peer out at them through parted boughs.  Then suddenly a frightful roar
was heard, immediately taken up and answered by many others, the bushes
swayed as heavy bodies irresistibly forced a way through them, and some
twenty monstrous figures bounded into the open and came charging down
upon the little group, emitting loud, savage roars as they came, with
the foam flying from their champing jaws.

"G-r-r-eat Caesar's ghost!" exclaimed Earle in amazement, as the
creatures broke cover; "what have we here, anyway?  Whatever they may
be, they are certainly not human.  And savage--they're as full of gall
as a wagon-load of catamounts!  This is where we have to shoot to kill,
Dick, and don't you forget it.  We can't begin too soon either, so get
busy, my lad.  Darn that Indian! he's scooted.  Well, I guess he's
better out of the way after all."

Earle might well be excused for the astonishment he betrayed at the
sight of the enemy.  As he had said, they were certainly not human; they
were, in fact, gigantic apes, somewhat resembling gorillas in their
general appearance, though considerably bigger, their stature being, on
Earle's first hasty estimate, quite six feet.  They were covered with
rather long, coarse, shaggy hair, of so dark a brown as to appear almost
black, the hair of the head and face being much longer than on the rest
of the body.  Their arms were immensely long in proportion to their
lower limbs; from their build they appeared to be endowed with amazing
strength, a suggestion which was fully confirmed by the consummate ease
with which they flourished boughs of trees of formidable size with which
they had armed themselves.

They came charging down upon the two white men and the now madly raging
King Cole in a series of long bounds, springing from the ground and
landing upon it with both feet together, each leap being accompanied by
a deep, bellowing roar, the volume of which testified to immense power
of lung, while their small, deeply set eyes blazed with fury.

"Shoot from the wings, inward," ordered Earle, "then we shall not waste
two bullets upon the same beast.  You begin with the one on your extreme
left."

As Earle spoke he threw up his rifle, and pressing the trigger, neatly
dropped the beast on the extreme right of the advancing line, while Dick
brought down his mark with a broken leg.  But these casualties had not
the slightest effect upon the others, who continued their charge without
the smallest sign of a check.

"Keep cool and shoot straight," admonished Earle, as his rifle spoke a
second time and another foe crashed to earth with a .35 soft-nosed
bullet through his brain.  Dick, on the other hand, very much less
hardened than Earle for such a nerve-trying experience as this, grew a
little flurried, and caught his next mark in the shoulder, shattering
the bone and goading the beast to a condition of absolutely maniacal
fury, but failing to stop him until he had sent a bullet through the
brute's lungs, when he halted, coughing up a torrent of blood.  And so
matters proceeded until the two men had emptied their Remingtons, the
ten shots accounting for seven dead and two put _hors de combat_.

There was no time to reload, for the monsters still continued the
charge, apparently quite unconscious of, or supremely indifferent to,
what had happened to their companions; the two men therefore dropped
their empty rifles, and each whipped a seven-shot Colt automatic from
his belt, and continued his fusillade.  Those Colt pistols were
formidable weapons, of .45 calibre, at close quarters quite as effective
as the rifles; and before the beasts succeeded in closing, all but four
were down.

Of those four, King Cole tackled one, launching himself like an arrow at
the creature's throat, with a low snarl of concentrated rage, and
sinking his fangs deeply in the muscular, hairy neck, the claws of his
two fore feet firmly gripping the huge shoulders of the beast while the
strong claws of his powerful hind feet tore open the abdomen and
practically disembowelled his adversary.  And as the pair went down,
roaring, snarling, and fighting desperately, Earle thrust the muzzle of
his Colt into the yawning jaws of another and sent the heavy bullet
crashing upward through the brute's skull at the precise instant that
the powerful jaws snapped like a trap upon the barrel of the weapon.

Meanwhile, the remaining two hurled themselves upon Dick.  One of them
he shot clean through the heart as the brute sprang upon him, and
although there can be no doubt that the creature instantly died, the
momentum of his spring was sufficient to dash the lad to the ground and
send his pistol flying.  And before he could regain his feet or draw his
remaining pistol, the last survivor was upon him, with a ponderous club
upraised to dash out the youngster's brains.  Like lightning the blow
fell; but instinctively and without premeditation Dick just managed to
dodge it; and such was the force of the blow that the club snapped short
off in the brute's great hairy hand.  And now the knowledge of boxing
that the young sailor had aforetime somewhat painfully acquired, came to
his aid, for as his ferocious antagonist crouched over him, his great
tusks bared and dripping foam, while the little eyes burnt red with
deadly hate, Dick threw his whole strength into a right-hander, which
caught the beast fair and square on the point of the chin with a crash
that sent the head violently back and caused the vertebrae of the neck
to crack, following up the blow with a punch in the wind that fairly
knocked the beast out of time for the moment.  That moment proved
sufficient to save Cavendish's life, for it afforded him time to whip
the remaining pistol from his belt and discharge it full in the brute's
face as it gathered itself together for what would in all probability
have proved a fatal leap, so far as Dick was concerned.



CHAPTER NINE.

THE SCULPTURED ROCKS.

"Bravo!  Dick, old chap," exclaimed Earle, turning to his friend, with
one hand outstretched in offered help while the other grasped a smoking
pistol--"well fought!  Are you hurt at all?"

"N-o, I think not," replied Dick, a little doubtfully, as with the help
of the other's proffered hand he scrambled to his feet.  "That fellow,
there"--pointing to the body of the ape that had hurled him to the
ground--"pretty nearly knocked the wind out of me, while the other did
his level best to dash my brains out, and I've barked my knuckles rather
badly against his chin; but otherwise I think I'm all right, thanks.
And you?"

"I?" returned Earle.  "Oh, I'm as right as rain.  Say, Dick, that was
something like a scrap at the last.  What?  Guess if it hadn't been for
old King Cole, we'd have been in rather a tight place.  Look at the
beggar.  Ugh! he is not pleasant to look at when he's real riled, is he?
He has brought off his kill all right, and I guess we'd better leave
him to it a bit.  I believe I don't particularly want to interfere with
him just now.  Let's draw off a bit and have a look at one of those dead
brutes out yonder.  I rather want to examine one; for I guess this is an
entirely new species of monkey."

"They look to me very much like gorillas," remarked Dick.

"They do," agreed Earle.  "But, all the same, they are not gorillas.
There are no gorillas on this continent, so far as is known.  The
gorilla is, I believe, peculiar to Africa.  And these creatures, though
they certainly somewhat resemble gorillas in a general way, have certain
points of difference, the most important of which is the shape of the
skull, while another is their much greater bulk.  I have shot several
gorillas; but I never saw one to come near any of these brutes in point
of size.  By the way, where is the one you stopped with a broken leg?
We may as well put him out of his misery."

The creature in question was nowhere to be seen; but they eventually got
upon his trail and followed him up to the border of the forest, into
which he had evidently retreated; and they came to the conclusion that,
as he had contrived to get thus far, they would leave him alone and give
him a chance to recover.  Then they found one of the dead apes, and
Earle subjected the carcass to a long and exhaustive examination, making
copious notes and discoursing learnedly meanwhile, though it is to be
feared that his remarks and explanations left Dick but little the wiser.
It was close upon sunset when at length they returned to the camp,
where they were shortly afterward joined by King Cole, once more calm
and in his right mind.

They took the precaution to surround the camp with a circle of fires
that night, to ward off a possible attack, posting a sentinel at each
fire for the double purpose of keeping it going and maintaining a watch.

The belt of forest which the explorers entered on the following day
proved to be of no very great extent, the passage through it occupying
but a day and a half.  Emerging from it, the party crossed a splendid
savannah, abounding in game, chiefly of the antelope variety, and large
birds somewhat resembling bustard, the tameness of which seemed to
indicate that man was practically unknown to them, while it enabled them
to replenish their larder with the utmost ease.  This savannah extended
for a distance of about ten miles, and terminated among the foothills of
a range of mountains of very moderate height stretching right athwart
the path of the explorers.  Among those foothills the party pitched
their camp at the end of the day's journey.

The next day's march conducted them into country the character of which
was different from any hitherto traversed by them.  It was exceedingly
rugged and broken, treeless, the soil covered with a short, rich grass,
which would have rendered it ideal as grazing country, dotted here and
there with small clumps of bush, some of which were fruit-bearing, while
at frequent intervals great outcrops of metamorphic rock were met with,
which time and weather had in many cases wrought into extraordinary
shapes.

It was near noon when the party entered a narrow ravine bordered on
either side by vertical sandstone cliffs of about a hundred feet high,
and here they came to a halt and pitched their camp; for no sooner had
they fairly entered the ravine than they found themselves confronted by
a splendid example of those extraordinary sculptured rocks which have
excited the wonder and admiration of the few travellers in South America
who have been fortunate enough to find them.

In the present case the sculptured rock consisted of a stretch of
sandstone cliff about two hundred and fifty feet in length by about a
hundred feet in height, practically vertical, the entire surface of
which was covered with panels presenting a series of pictures portraying
what appeared to be a genealogical record of certain customs and
ceremonies, mostly of a religious character, of some gone and forgotten
race of people.  The work was executed in fairly high relief, and the
drawing of the figures, of which there were thousands on the entire
sculptured surface, evidenced artistic ability of a truly remarkable
character, including a considerable knowledge of perspective.  The
panels portraying religious ceremonies indicated that the sun and fire
were, or symbolised, the principal deities worshipped; and there was
abundant evidence that human sacrifice was common.  All this was, of
course, absorbingly interesting to Earle, as was the light which the
sculptures threw upon the personal appearance and costumes of the people
portrayed.  If the artist--or artists, for there must have been
thousands of them to have produced such a magnificent and colossal piece
of work--could be believed, the departed race boasted some exceptionally
fine examples of male and female beauty, while the costumes bore more
than a casual resemblance to those pictured on the ancient monuments of
Egypt.  Earle announced with finality that he intended to remain in camp
on the spot, not only until he had minutely and exhaustively examined
the sculptures, but also until he had photographed them as a whole and
some separately.  That probably meant at least a week's sojourn where
they then were.

The proposed arrangement suited Dick Cavendish admirably, for the
prolonged halt appealed to him as something very much in the nature of a
holiday, especially when Earle declared that he would need no assistance
in his photographic operations, so that Dick would be free to amuse
himself in any way he pleased.  Dick was rapidly becoming as keen a
naturalist, in a way, as Earle; once or twice, during the morning's
march, he had observed some particularly gorgeous butterflies flitting
about, and he promised himself that he would spend at least a portion of
his sojourn in the ravine in an endeavour to secure a few specimens.
There was one duty, however, which he at once recognised must fall upon
him, which was the supply of the camp with meat, and accordingly, upon
the conclusion of the mid-day meal, when Earle started to get his
photographic gear ready for the campaign among the sculptures, Dick took
his rifle and, accompanied by two of the Indians, proceeded up the
ravine in search of game.  The country rapidly became wilder and more
picturesque as they went, to such an extent indeed that Dick quickly
made up his mind to pay it another and more leisurely visit; and after
about an hour's tramp, which carried him into a labyrinth of rocks, he
got a splendid shot at a creature strongly resembling a bighorn, which
he neatly bowled over and with it triumphantly returned to camp.

On the fourth morning of the party's sojourn in the ravine, Dick,
accompanied as usual by two Indians, set out, immediately after
breakfast, in search of meat for the day.  Game was not particularly
plentiful in that region, but the lad preferred to take his chance of
finding something in his accustomed haunts, rather than tramp all the
way back to the savannah, and accordingly he proceeded, as usual, right
up the ravine, until he arrived at a point where a branch route led off
toward the left.  Hitherto he had not tried his luck in that particular
direction, but he decided to do so now; and after about half an hour's
tramp, upon surmounting the crest of a ridge, he found himself looking
down into a small circular basin, surrounded by rocky cliffs, the bottom
of which was a smooth, grassy plain, in which, as luck would have it,
several antelopes were grazing.  The nearest of these, a fine fat buck
to all appearance, was at least a thousand yards away, which was much
too long a shot for Dick to risk; and he therefore set out to stalk the
animal, leaving the Indians where they were to follow as soon as the
buck should fall.

There were clumps of bush growing quite close up to the base of the
encircling cliffs, offering admirable cover for stalking, as well as a
certain amount of shelter from the sun's scorching rays, and of these
Dick gladly availed himself, ultimately succeeding in bringing down the
buck with a three-hundred yard shot.  Then, while waiting for the
Indians to come and break up the quarry, the young man flung himself
down in the shadow of a clump of bush to rest.

Stretched there at length in the cool, lush grass, with the great wall
of sandstone cliff towering before him, it gradually dawned upon Dick
that the enormous mass of rock upon which he was gazing must be that
upon the opposite face of which were those wonderful sculptured pictures
which Earle was doubtless at that moment busily engaged in
photographing, and the thought caused him to regard the cliff with some
interest.  There were no sculptures upon it, but as Dick allowed his
gaze to wander over the face of the cliff his quick eye detected a sort
of crack some twenty feet above the surface of the ground, out of which,
as he lay regarding it, there came fluttering one of those splendid
butterflies, a specimen or two of which he was so eager to obtain; and
he at once made up his mind that as soon as the Indians had broken up
the buck and carried it away, he would explore that crack, which looked
wide enough to allow him to squeeze his body through, and access to
which seemed possible by way of a number of narrow ridges and
projections in the face of the rock.  Accordingly, as soon as the
Indians had done their work and departed--Dick having informed them that
he proposed to remain in the basin for a while and examine it
thoroughly--he slung his rifle over his shoulder and started to climb
the rock, reaching the crack with but little difficulty.

He found that the aperture was considerably larger than it had appeared
to be when viewed from below and squeezed through it with ease, to find
himself in the mouth of what looked like a cave, the dimensions of
which, however, it was not possible to ascertain, for within a couple of
yards of the entrance he found himself in darkness.  But he saw enough
to stimulate his curiosity and determine him to see more; and with this
object he descended to the plain and, hunting about among the bushes,
soon secured a sufficiency of dry twigs and branches to serve as
torches.  With these and a bit of dry moss he returned to the aperture
in the face of the cliff, where, before entering, he ignited the moss
with the aid of a powerful burning-glass which he habitually carried
about in his pocket, and then, blowing the moss into flame, kindled one
of his torches.

At first sight the cave appeared to be of very circumscribed dimensions,
being only just high enough for Dick to stand upright in it, while he
could touch both its sides at the same moment with his outstretched
hands.  But it extended back toward the heart of the cliff, and as the
lad cautiously groped his way inward the crack gradually widened until
at length he found himself traversing a spacious tunnel, piercing
steadily deeper and deeper into the heart of the cliff.  Determined now
to see the full extent of the cave, and beginning to wonder whether
perchance it pierced right through the rock, Dick pushed steadily on,
oblivious of the fact that his stock of torches was rapidly diminishing;
and when at length this fact was forced upon his attention by the
necessity to kindle the last torch, it was far too late for him to think
of returning, and feeling by this time convinced that there must surely
be another outlet at no great distance, he set his teeth and pushed on,
hoping to reach that other outlet before his last torch should be
consumed.  But the hope was vain, for in less than ten minutes Dick
found himself in profound darkness, with still no indication of any
other outlet than that by which he had entered.

Thus far the lad had gone without any difficulty; the tunnel-like
passage which he had traversed for a distance of, as he estimated,
nearly a mile, had been without pitfalls or complications of any kind,
and he believed it would be possible for him to return by the way he had
come without difficulty, even in the dark.  He halted to consider the
matter, debating within himself whether he should risk everything by
pushing on, or whether he should go groping his way back over that long
stretch of rough, rocky road in the darkness.  There could be no
question as to which was the more prudent of the two plans; but there
was a vein of obstinacy in Cavendish's character; he hated to confess
himself beaten, and a light draught of warm air coming from the
direction toward which he had been heading decided him to take the more
risky course of pressing onward.

Accordingly, he resumed his course, holding his rifle horizontally
before him to guard himself against the chance of collision with unseen
obstacles, while he carefully felt the ground before him with one foot
before throwing his weight upon it.  Proceeding thus cautiously, in
about a quarter of an hour he became aware of a faint glimmer of
greenish light on the walls of the tunnel on either hand, and a few
minutes later emerged into what appeared to be a great chamber, or
cavern, the interior of which was just sufficiently illuminated by the
light entering through another tunnel on its opposite side, to reveal
the fact that the vertical walls of the chamber were, like the cliff
which was occupying Earle's attention, covered with sculptures from the
floor upward as high as the light had power to reach.  But it was
altogether too feeble to reveal anything of the details of the
sculptures, and with a mere glance about him Dick crossed the floor of
the cavern--mechanically noting as he did so, that it was smooth and
level--and passed into the opposite tunnel, entering which, he at once
became aware that his journey was practically ended, for at a distance
of but a few yards there appeared before him an irregular opening, into
which, through a thick, screen of shimmering foliage, the light of day
was streaming.  A minute later, and he was once more in the open air,
forcing his way through a tangle of bushes which effectually masked the
opening from which he had just emerged.

Dick's first act, after forcing a passage for himself through the screen
of bushes, was to look about him, when he found, not very greatly to his
surprise, that he was within a short half-mile of the camp, the tunnel
through which he had journeyed piercing the great mass of sandstone from
one side to the other.  Then, knowing that Earle would wish to examine
the sculptured chamber, he sought some means of identifying the position
of the opening, and soon found it in a peculiarly shaped projection in
the face of the rock almost immediately above.  This done, he made the
best of his way to Earle, who was busy with his camera, and informed the
American of his morning's adventure.

As Dick had anticipated, Earle manifested the utmost interest in the
story of the cavern with sculptured walls, going even to the length of
announcing his determination to visit it immediately after lunch.  Dick
accordingly proceeded to the camp and, summoning four of the Indians,
instructed them to prepare a goodly supply of torches for the occasion.

When, some two hours later, the friends, accompanied by a couple of
Indians--one to hold a pair of blazing torches aloft, and the other to
carry the reserve supply--stood in the cavern and glanced about them,
they at once became aware that they had stumbled upon a very remarkable
and interesting monument.  For the cavern, a great circular chamber,
measuring forty-three paces in diameter--was, beyond all doubt, an
ancient temple, as was made clearly manifest by the character of the
sculptures on the walls.  These depicted a number of different religious
ceremonies, intermingled with subjects which seemed to be allegorical,
but apart from the exceedingly curious scenes depicted, the most
remarkable circumstance connected with the sculptures was that they were
of a totally different character from those on the cliff outside, being
much more crude in design and execution, and apparently of far earlier
date.  The fact, however, above all others, which stamped the cavern as
a temple, was the presence of a hideously carved life-size idol,
enshrined in a most elaborately carved niche, with a great block of
stone before it which had evidently served as an altar.

The idol was a nude male figure, squatted cross-legged on a bench in the
niche, its only decoration being a necklace with pendant attached.  This
ornament escaped the notice of the observers until they came to study
the detail of the sculptured niche, when the glint of metal and a sheen
of green rays attracted their attention and caused them to inspect it
closely.  The inspection ended in Earle taking possession of the thing,
and subsequent examination revealed the fact that the chain was wrought
out of pure gold, while the pendant consisted of a lozenge-shaped plate
of gold nearly a quarter of an inch thick, chased all over both surfaces
with strangely shaped markings or characters surrounding a great
emerald.  It was an unique ornament, if only from the barbaric character
of its design and execution, while the emerald rendered it valuable, and
Earle at once placed it round his own neck for safe keeping, voluntarily
proposing to pay Dick its intrinsic value upon their return to
civilisation, as his share in the profits of the discovery.  He would
fain have photographed the interior of the cavern but was reluctantly
forced to forgo the gratification of this desire, from inability to
produce artificial light of the necessary actinic value.  But, to
compensate for this disappointment, he spent no less than three days in
the cavern, making sketches and voluminous notes.

At length, Earle having completed his photographs of the cliff, and
provided against future disappointment by developing and fixing his
negatives on the spot, the party moved on up the ravine, and came out
upon the lower slopes of the mountain range toward which they had been
steadfastly travelling from the moment when they first entered the great
swamp.  Two evenings later, greatly fatigued by a long day's march, they
encamped near the head of a rocky pass, the steep sides of which were
shaggy with bush and trees, among which a number of small monkeys
gambolled and chattered incessantly until darkness fell, staring down
curiously from the branches at the intruders upon their domain.

The place looked as solitary as though it had never before been trodden
by the foot of man, but watch-fires were lighted and sentinels posted
about the camp as usual; and in due time the party retired to rest with
that feeling of perfect security which the observance of every proper
precaution, coupled with a conviction of perfect immunity from danger,
is wont to inspire.

Excessive fatigue, aided doubtless by the cooler air of the mountains,
caused the leaders at least to sleep heavily until the early hours of
the following morning, when they were suddenly awakened by a savage
snarl from King Cole, ending in a doleful moan, and they started up on
their pallets, instinctively groping for their weapons, only to find
themselves instantly thrust back again and their limbs pinioned by an
overwhelming crowd of assailants, so many in number that the tent was
packed with them.  Before they fully comprehended what had happened, or,
still less, realised the completeness of the disaster which had befallen
them, they were so effectually bound with raw-hide thongs that they
could scarcely move a finger, and in that condition were dragged forth
into the open air, over the dead and mangled body of poor King Cole, to
find the camp in the possession of a band of some eighty stalwart and
ferocious-looking Indians, with every one of their followers, save four,
like themselves, bound hand and foot.  The four exceptions were the
unfortunate sentinels, the corpses of whom, transfixed by spears, could
be seen lying close to the smouldering watch-fires.

The captors wasted no time in any attempt to rummage the contents of the
camp; on the contrary, they took each prisoner, and while half-a-dozen
hemmed him in and threatened him with instant death upon the points of
their spears, a seventh cast loose the thongs that bound him.  Then,
still threatening him, they indicated certain portions of the camp
equipment and signed to him to pick it up and carry it, thus
distributing the entire contents among the eleven survivors, Dick and
Earle being each assigned a load like the other captives.  The only
exception made was in the matter of the firearms, which the captors
seemed to recognise as weapons of some sort, and distributed among
themselves; though from the carelessness with which they were handled,
it seemed doubtful whether the method of using them was understood.
This done, the leader of the marauders gave the word to march, and the
entire party of captors and captives set off up the pass, each prisoner
still surrounded by half a dozen Indians with spears held ever ready to
strike upon the least provocation; thus it was impossible for any of
them to hold converse with the others, the whites, in particular, being
kept as far apart as possible, Dick being stationed with the head of the
column, while Earle was compelled to march with the rearguard.

Luckily, as it at first seemed, for the captives, their march was not a
long one; for upon surmounting the crest of the pass they found
themselves only a short two miles from a native village, the inhabitants
of which no sooner perceived the approach of the party than they turned
out and greeted it with songs and dances of rejoicing, the fervour of
which became almost frantic when, a little later, the presence of the
two white men became known.  The language of the strangers was utterly
incomprehensible to Dick and Earle, and so jealously was every movement
of the two watched that they found it impossible to communicate with
Inaguy; but after observing their captors for some time, while they
seemed to be explaining matters to the villagers, Earle gradually got
the impression that the strangers had somehow obtained knowledge of the
presence of the explorers in the country and had been watching them for
perhaps a day or two, waiting for a favourable opportunity to fall upon
the camp and take it by surprise.

Upon their arrival at the village the entire plunder of the camp was
deposited in a large hut which was hastily prepared for its reception,
and this done, the prisoners were once more securely bound and
distributed among the huts of the village, one prisoner to a hut, the
owner of which, with the several members of his family, was held
responsible for his safe keeping.

The ensuing three days were spent by the captives in this village,
during which nothing of moment happened except that they were kept in
such rigorous confinement that none was permitted to obtain even a
momentary glimpse of another, otherwise they had not much to complain
about, being kindly treated, according to savage ideas of kindness.  But
although, during those three days, the inhabitants of the village seemed
to go about their business pretty much as usual, there appeared to be an
undercurrent of subdued excitement, coupled with a condition of eager
expectancy, which was plain to both Earle and Dick, and which somehow
produced in both a considerable amount of apprehension as to their
ultimate fate.

Then, well on toward evening of the third day, a runner, hot, tired, and
dusty, wearing every appearance of having travelled far and fast,
arrived in the village, evidently bearing an important message or
communication of some sort; for within a few minutes of his arrival the
entire population of the village became imbued with a spirit of the
wildest rejoicing and excitement, which lasted far into the night; and
early on the following morning the prisoners were brought forth, loaded
up with the baggage belonging to the explorers and, surrounded by an
armed guard of sixty men, they set out upon a forward march, accompanied
by the entire populace of the village, who beguiled the tedium of the
journey by continually singing what seemed to be songs of a highly
jubilant character.



CHAPTER TEN.

IN THE HANDS OF THE MANGEROMAS.

For five weary days did that company tramp up hill and down dale through
rugged, mountainous country, the Indian women carrying their meagre
belongings in small bundles wrapped in matting upon their bowed
shoulders, while their lords and masters strode blithely along,
encumbered only with the weapons they carried, making the air vibrate
with their barbarous songs, the unhappy captives meanwhile, staggering
under their heavy loads, being compelled to keep pace with their
light-footed guard.  It was not so bad for Dick and Earle as it was for
their unfortunate servants, for the two white men were by this time in
the very perfection of training, and capable of an amount of physical
exertion that, six months earlier, they would have regarded as
impossible; moreover, they were both highly endowed with that
inestimable quality known as "grit," while the miserable bearers were,
in addition to their heavy loads, weighed down by a premonition that
their present misery was but the prelude to an inconceivably horrible
and lingering death.

Late in the evening of the fifth day, after an exceptionally long and
fatiguing march, the company reached what was without doubt the capital
of the country, for it covered some two hundred acres of ground, and
contained dwellings capable of accommodating, at a moderate estimate, at
least five thousand persons.  It is true the dwellings were of the most
primitive description, consisting of huts, for the most part built of
wattles and palm thatch, with here and there a more pretentious
structure, the walls of which were adobe, and it was indescribably
filthy; yet the place was laid out with some pretension to regularity,
being divided up into several wide streets, while in the centre of the
town there was a wide, open space, or square, one side of which was
occupied by a hideous and ungainly idol of gigantic proportions, with a
long sacrificial altar at its feet, while on the other three sides stood
dwellings of such pretentious character that they could only belong to
the chief dignitaries of the place.

The arrival of the captives in this town--the name of which, it
subsequently transpired, was Yacoahite--was the signal for an outburst
of most extravagant rejoicing on the part of the inhabitants, who turned
out _en masse_ to witness the event, crowding about the party so
persistently that it was only with the utmost difficulty that the
guards, reinforced by a strong body from the town, were able by a free
use of the butts of their spears, to force a passage along the streets.
The delight of the populace, it appeared, was almost wholly due to the
capture of the white men, who were the objects of their unquenchable
curiosity, to such an extent, indeed, that it looked very much as though
they had never before seen a white man.  At length, however, the
procession reached the central square, and after having, in obedience to
signs, deposited their burdens in one of the biggest of the buildings,
the prisoners were divided up and marched away, Dick and Earle, to their
mutual delight, being placed together in a small hut, which was at once
surrounded by an armed guard of such strength as to render escape
impossible.

Fortunately, their limbs were not bound, or their movements hampered in
any way, therefore the moment that the wattle door of their prison was
slammed upon them and barred on the outside, the pair joyously shook
hands as they exchanged greetings.

"Well, Dick, how goes it, old son?" demanded Earle, as he wrung his
friend's hand.  "Tired?"

"Yes, I am, a bit," admitted Dick; "tired, and thirsty too.  And just
look at me.  Jove!  I'm ashamed to be seen.  I feel as though I hadn't
washed for a month.  And you don't look very much better, old chap.
Say! what would you give for a swim in a good, deep river, free from
alligators, at this moment?"

"What would I give?" repeated Earle.  "Why, a thousand good American
dollars, willingly.  And I'm not sure that I should worry very much as
to whether there were any 'gators in it, or not.  By the way, how did
you come off that morning when those ginks rushed the camp?  Did you get
hurt any?"

"Not a scratch," answered Dick.  "Hadn't a chance to.  The beggars were
upon me and had me trussed up so that I couldn't move hand or foot,
before my eyes were fairly open.  Hadn't even time to make a snatch for
my revolver.  Did you get hurt at all?"

"Nope," replied Earle.  "I was just as completely taken by surprise as
you were.  And I am not at all sure, Dick, but that it was as well.  If
we--you and I--had been able to put up a fight, we could never have
beaten them off, there were too many of them.  We should no doubt have
killed a few, but it would have ended eventually in our meeting the same
fate as poor old King Cole.  Poor chap!  I'm sorry they killed him."

"So am I," agreed Dick.  "But I suppose it was bound to be.  He would
never have allowed them to lay hands upon either of us, so they would be
compelled to kill him, sooner or later.  And I believe he did not suffer
much.  They must have killed him on the spot, I think.  Peace to his
ashes!  And now, what do you think is going to happen to us?"

"I don't know," answered Earle, suddenly adopting a much graver tone.
"My motto is, `Never say die,' for I have been in a good many tight
places and have always managed somehow to get out of them.  But there is
a proverb to the effect that `the pitcher which goes oft to the well
gets broken at last,' and it may be that here is where I get `broken.'
I don't know; I don't care to hazard an opinion.  But I wish to heaven,
now, that I had not brought you along with me, Dick."

"Do you really think it as serious as all that, then?" demanded Dick.

"What do you think yourself?" retorted Earle.  "What does the capture of
us at all mean?  Friendly disposed natives don't do that sort of thing,
you know.  And why, having captured us, are they taking such extreme
care that we shall get no chance to escape?  I'm afraid, Dick, it means
that they want us for some particular purpose, of which, probably, we
shall very strongly disapprove."

"You mean--?" began Dick.

"Yes," answered Earle.  "Something like that.  But say! don't you take
what I'm saying too seriously.  I give you credit for being no more
afraid of death than I am, therefore I think it only right you should
have an inkling of what may possibly be in store for us.  But don't
believe that I am going to take lying down what may be coming to us.  I
shall do everything I know to persuade these savages that they could not
do a more unwise thing than hurt either of us.  If we should by any
chance be brought within earshot of that idol on the opposite side of
the compound, I shall try the ventriloquial dodge again, among other
things.  The worst of it is that I can't speak these beggars' language;
and for a man's own idol to address him in a foreign tongue is not
altogether convincing, is it?"

"It is not," admitted Dick, "although it worked away back there, and it
may again.  Poor Grace!  If it were not for her, I should not mind so
much."

"What's that about Grace?" demanded Earle.

"My sister, you know," explained Dick.  "I have been hoping that, in one
way or another, this expedition would enable me to provide for her, so
that she would not be compelled to go on very much longer earning her
own living.  She is all right so long as she can remain with the
Mcgregors; but if anything should happen necessitating her leaving
them--"

"Say, Dick, don't you worry about that," interrupted Earle.  "Your
sister is all right for three years from the signing of our contract,
anyway, for she will have your pay to fall back upon if anything should
go wrong during that time.  And for the rest, I may as well tell you for
your comfort that although, in view of this confounded expedition, I did
not think it right to bind Grace to me by a definite engagement, she and
I understand each other to the extent that if I should return to England
within three years, she will do me the honour to become my wife.  And--
this of course is strictly between you and me and my lawyer in New
York--if I should _not_ turn up in three years, I am to be presumed to
be dead, and my will is to be executed forthwith.  That will was made on
the day before we left New York, and by its provisions your sister
inherits everything that I possess."

"What is that you say?" demanded Dick, utterly bewildered.  "My sister--
Grace--inherits everything you possess?"

"Guess that's what I said," replied Earle, composedly.

"But--but--" stammered Dick, "I can't understand it.  Why should you
leave Grace all your property?"

"For two very excellent reasons," answered Earle, "the first of which I
have already explained to you, namely, that I love her--and mean to make
her my wife, please God, if we should by any chance get out of this fix.
And the second is, that if we don't and I die, I have nobody else to
whom to leave my property.  You look astonished, Dick; and, come to
think of it, I suppose it is only natural.  For while you were kept
busy, way back there in Liverpool, over the inquiry into the loss of the
_Everest_, I saw a good deal of your sister, with, I believe, the full
approval of your friends, McGregor and his wife.  I was attracted to
Grace from the very first, and the more I saw of her, the greater grew
my admiration of her.  McGregor saw what was happening, I guess, and at
length he brought me to book upon the matter, pointing out that my
attentions to Grace were such as threatened ultimately to engage her
affections.  I was glad that he did so, for it enabled me to come to a
clear understanding with myself.  It enabled me to realise that your
sister was the one woman in all the world for me; and the upshot was
that, after a very frank exchange of views, I was able to satisfy
McGregor, and ultimately to come to an understanding with Grace.  But,
of course, she knows nothing about my will, although I made up my mind
what I would do immediately that she consented to wait for me.  And the
reason why I have not mentioned this matter to you before is that I
preferred we should, for a time at least, remain upon our original
footing as simple comrades and co-adventurers.  But, say, Dick, now that
I have told you, are you agreeable to accept me as your brother-in-law?"

"My dear chap," exclaimed Dick, grasping Earle's outstretched hand with
a strength which made the latter wince--"of course I am.  I have seen
enough of you and your character to convince me that you will be good to
Grace--if we survive long enough to return to her.  And if she loves
you--and I know that she would never have encouraged you if she didn't--
why--that's all that really matters.  But--poor girl, it will be worse
than ever for her if we should both be wiped out."

"It will," agreed Earle, gloomily.  There was silence in the hut for a
few moments as the two friends faced the doom that seemed to be
impending; but neither of them was of a pessimistic nature, and
presently Earle turned to his companion and said:

"Look here, Dick, you and I have got to buck up, for Grace's sake as
well as for our own.  We are not going to take it for granted that we're
down and out, just because we happen to have fallen into the hands of a
lot of savages.  We're not going to take, lying down, anything and
everything that they choose to hand out to us.  I guess I am going to
have a chance to make these ginks sit up and take notice before they
have done with me, and you bet I mean to do it.  Give me a quarter of an
hour's talk with them, and I'll make them believe I'm the boss
medicine-man of South America.  If only we could get into touch with
Inaguy and prompt him what to say, I would soon make it all right.  But,
anyway, I'm some conjurer as well as a ventriloquist, and it will be
strange if I can't get a chance to astonish them before the end comes."

The two friends continued to chat far into the night, discussing various
schemes of escape; but the difficulty in every case was their Indian
servants, whom neither of them for a moment dreamed of deserting; and at
length, quite unable to hit upon any practicable plan, they composed
themselves to sleep in preparation for the possible ordeal of the
morrow.

Nine days passed, however, and nothing happened, except that--as the
prisoners discovered, by peeping through a small chink in the wail of
the hut, by way of beguiling the time--day after day the town became
more crowded with people, who seemed to be pouring into it from all
directions, as though mustering for some great event; while singing,
hideous blasts from trumpets made of burnt clay, and the pounding of
drums made from hollowed sections of trees, created a deafening din that
lasted from early dawn until far into the night.  On the ninth day this
state of things reached its climax, for the din lasted all through the
night without intermission, raging with especial fury in the great
square, in the centre of which an enormous fire was kindled, round which
multitudes of people, mostly naked, danced furiously, shouting and
yelling themselves hoarse, while the trumpeters and drummers seemed to
vie with each other in the effort to drown all other sounds.

"I guess," yelled Earle into Dick's ear, when the babel of sound was at
its height--"this is the eve of some great festival; and before
twenty-four hours more have passed, you and I will know our fate.  Now,
there is just one thing that I want to say, Dick.  You and I have done
our level best to devise some scheme by which we might save the lives of
not only ourselves, but also of Inaguy and the rest of our followers;
and we have failed.

"Now, if the worst should come to the worst, there will be no sense in
throwing away our own lives because we can't save those of the others--
that would be carrying sentiment to a perfectly ridiculous extreme;
therefore, in the last extremity, and if all other efforts should fail,
you and I must endeavour to break away, make a sudden dash for the hut
where all our belongings are stored, and get hold of a weapon or two.
And if we should succeed in that, we must then be guided by
circumstances, fight our way out, if there is a ghost of a chance; and
if not, shoot ourselves rather than go tamely to the torture stake.  How
does that strike you?"

"I'm with you," shouted Dick in reply.  "I shall watch for your signal,
and act directly you give the word."

"Good!" returned Earle.  And with a grip of the hand the two parted and
made their way to opposite corners of the hut where, seating themselves,
each in his own way proceeded to prepare himself for the anticipated
tremendous ordeal of the morrow.

That ordeal seemed very near when, about an hour after dawn, the door of
the hut in which Dick and Earle were confined was flung open, and a
gigantic Indian, fully armed, and arrayed in a gorgeous mantle composed
of the skins of brilliant plumaged birds, and with a narrow band of gold
around his head, clasped to which, one above either ear, was a great
scarlet and black wing, like that of a flamingo, beckoned the two
prisoners forth.  Hitherto they had been treated fairly well, having
been supplied with three good meals per day; but no food was now offered
them, and both thought the omission tragically ominous.

With a quick grip of the hand, which each felt might be his farewell to
the other, the two stepped into the blazing sunlight, and, surrounded by
a numerous guard, were led across the square and halted before the
altar, which stood at the foot of the idol.  But what a change had taken
place within the last hour.  The great square, as well as the streets
leading to it was, with the exception of a small space, packed with
people, as were the roofs of the buildings abutting on the square, yet
the silence was so profound that, to use the hackneyed expression, one
might have heard a pin drop.  The small space left vacant consisted of
an area some thirty feet square, bounded on one side by the sacrificial
altar, and on the other by the front row of spectators, squatting on the
ground, these evidently being, from the magnificence of their feather
robes and the splendour of their barbaric ornaments, chiefs, to the
number of about sixty, in the middle of whom sat an Indian who, by the
superlative richness of his garb, the two white men at once decided must
be the paramount chief, or king.  The third side of this small open
space was occupied by a front row of fantastically garbed men who
eventually proved to be priests, behind whom stood a dense mass of
ordinary spectators, while the fourth side was bounded by a row of nine
massive posts, or stakes, to which--ominous sight--were securely bound
Inaguy and the remaining eight of Earle's followers.

Arrived at a spot some five paces from the altar, the two white men were
turned with their backs to the altar and the idol, and their faces
toward the long array of chiefs, and then the armed guard stationed
themselves to the right and left of the prisoners, while the silence
hovering over the scene seemed to become more intense than ever.

It was broken by Earle, who turned to Dick and murmured in a low voice:

"That scheme of mine for making a dash at the hut containing our weapons
won't work, Dick.  We could never force our way through this crowd.  I
must try another stunt."

"All right," murmured Dick in return.  "Go ahead.  But I'm afraid it's
all up with us.  I don't see how--"

"You wait," interrupted Earle, and fell silent again.

Meanwhile, all eyes were intently fixed upon the line of priests who,
presently, at a signal from him who seemed to be their chief, prostrated
themselves with their faces to the earth, and so remained.

For the space of some thirty seconds nothing happened.  Then that vast
assemblage was suddenly electrified by a loud voice, issuing apparently
from the mouth of the idol, saying, in the Indian language:

"Inaguy, son of Mali, and servant of my son Toqui, speak to this people
and say that if they dare to hurt so much as a hair of the heads of the
white men, or of you and the others, those white men's servants, I will
visit them in my wrath and pour out upon them pestilence and famine,
drought and fire, until not one remains alive.  For the white man with
black hair is a great medicine-man, capable of working wonders; he has
come into this land to do good to my people, and it is my will that no
harm shall come to him or his."

The incredible wonder of the thing, the marvel that their god, who had
never before been known to speak, should at this particular and solemn
moment see fit to break his long silence, absolutely paralysed the
thousands who heard the voice.  They could do nothing but stare,
open-mouthed, at the gigantic figure, afraid almost to breathe, lest
something frightful should happen to them.  There were many present who
comprehended the meaning of the words, although they were spoken in a
different tongue from that generally in use among them, and these began
to question themselves:

"Inaguy, son of Mali!  Who is he?  We know no priest of that name.  Is
he one of us?  Why does he not speak?"

Meanwhile Inaguy, who had once before witnessed such a phenomenon, was
not altogether surprised that a god should again intervene to save his
master; and turning his face to the idol, he cried:

"Lord, first bid them to release me.  It is not meet that I, thy
servant, should deliver thy message, bound here to the torture stake."

"Nay, the man is right," murmured Jiravai, the king, who understood
Inaguy's speech, and who began to fear that he was like to get into very
serious trouble if he was not exceedingly careful.  And, rising to his
feet, he looked toward Inaguy and demanded:

"Art thou Inaguy, son of Mali?"

"Lord, it is even so," answered Inaguy.

"Then, release him," ordered the king.  Turning toward the idol and
prostrating himself, he continued:

"Great Anamac, god of the Mangeromas, forgive us, thy servants.  What we
have done was in ignorance--"

"Tell him, Inaguy, that I am displeased with him and his people, for
acting as he has done without first consulting me, and that I refuse to
listen to him or communicate with him, save through thee," interrupted
the idol sternly.

At the king's command a crowd of officious guards dashed forward, and
with the hardened copper blades of their spears quickly severed Inaguy's
bonds, whereupon the latter strode forward and, puffed up with pride at
again being made the mouthpiece of a god, stood before the grovelling
figure of Jiravai, haughtily awaiting the moment when it should please
his Majesty to rise and receive Anamac's message.  And presently the
king, realising perhaps that his grovelling was not doing any good, rose
to his feet, and the message was duly delivered.

"It is well," returned Jiravai.  "It must be as the Great Anamac
pleases.  Yet, say to him, good Inaguy, that if I have erred, it was
through ignorance.  To-day is his festival, and when the news was
brought to me that two white men had been taken alive in my country, I
rejoiced, and bade them and their followers be brought hither; for I
thought that to sacrifice them upon the altar would be pleasing to him;
while as for you and those with you, it was a great opportunity for--But
it is as our great Lord Anamac pleases.  And now, I would fain know what
is his will toward the white men and you, their followers."

Facing round, Inaguy shouted to the idol, repeating the words of the
king's apology.  Whereupon the idol graciously replied:

"It is well.  I know that the Mangeromas have erred through ignorance,
therefore I forgive them.  But it must never be permitted to happen
again, for I do not forgive twice.  There must be no more human
sacrifices offered to me; nor must the Mangeromas ever again eat men;
for both are offences in my sight.  And touching these white men and
their servants, it is my will that the king and his people shall make
them welcome in Mangeroma, treating them as honoured guests and doing
all things to help them; so shall the Mangeromas derive great profit and
happiness from their visit.  I have spoken."

This message Inaguy repeated in the tongue commonly used among the
Mangeromas, shouting it in tones which were distinctly audible all over
the square, and for some distance beyond it.

"It is good," answered the king.  "Say to our Lord Anamac that his will
shall be obeyed in all things, and the white men, ay, and ye, too, his
servants, are henceforth my brothers, the sons of my father's house."
Then, turning to the armed guards, he added, pointing to the eight
figures still bound to the stakes:

"Release those men and take them to my guest house until my white
brother with the black hair shall be pleased to express his wishes
concerning them.  As for my brothers, the white men"--he turned to the
chiefs immediately about him--"make ye room for them that they may sit,
the one on my right hand and the other on my left."

These orders having been carried out, Jiravai appeared to be somewhat at
a loss what to do next.  For to-day was the annual festival of the Great
God Anamac, and an elaborate programme of proceedings had been prepared,
the chief items of which had been the offering up of the white men as a
sacrifice to the god, and the torturing to death of the white men's
followers, to which festivity all the people of note throughout
Mangeroma had been invited; and now, by the omission of these two "star"
turns, so to speak, the whole affair was likely to fall woefully flat.
In his perplexity, the king faced round toward the array of priests on
the left side of the open space and, addressing the chief of them, said:

"Since the offering of human sacrifices is displeasing to our Lord
Anamac, say now, O Macoma, in what other manner shall we fittingly and
acceptably do honour to him on this day which is especially dedicated to
his service?"

But Macoma, the chief of the priests, was in no humour just then to help
his illustrious master out of a difficulty.  He was an exceedingly proud
and haughty man, the greatest man in Mangeroma, next to King Jiravai
himself, and he felt slighted and humiliated to an intolerable extent
that, before all that vast assemblage, consisting of the pick of the
Mangeroma nation, Anamac should have absolutely ignored him, the chief
priest, and have chosen instead to make his wishes known by the mouth of
an obscure stranger, coming from heaven only knew where.  Therefore, in
response to the king's question, he rose to his feet and said:

"Nay, Lord, ask me not, for I cannot answer thee.  Ask rather the man
Inaguy, whom it has pleased our Lord Anamac so signally to honour this
day before thee and all the people.  Doubtless he will be able to tell
thee all that thou may'st desire to know."

And in high dudgeon Macoma resumed his seat.

The king frowned.  There was a hint of veiled insolence in Macoma's
manner that at once set his majesty's easily kindled anger aflame; and
it was not the first time that the chief of the priests had so offended,
though never until now had the man dared to flout the supreme ruler of
the Mangeroma nation in public, much less in the presence of all
Mangeroma's nobility.  The fellow threatened to get out of hand if he
were not checked, and the present moment seemed to offer an excellent
opportunity not only to check Macoma's growing insubordination, but also
that of the priesthood in general, which had for some time past
manifested a disposition to claim for itself rights and privileges which
Jiravai was by no means willing to concede.  Therefore he said to
Macoma:

"Thou can'st not answer me, Macoma?  Then will I act as seems good to
myself.  A sacrifice of some sort has always been offered to Anamac on
this day, and he shall have one now.  And what better sacrifice can we
offer him than those who have devoted their lives to his service?
Therefore, stand forth, Macoma; we will offer thee and ten other
priests, to be chosen by lot, in the place of these strangers whom our
Lord Anamac has forbidden us to sacrifice."

In a paroxysm of mingled anger and consternation Macoma sprang to his
feet--as did all the rest of the priests--and for several seconds the
king and the chief priest faced each other, the one smiling sardonically
at the effect of the bomb which he had hurled into the enemy's camp,
while the other stood clenching and unclenching his hands as he racked
his brain in the effort to find an answer to what he had sense enough to
understand was a personal challenge on the part of the king, and a
challenge, moreover, which, unless he could quickly find the right
answer to it, might very easily result in utter disaster to himself.
For Jiravai, like most savage kings, was an absolute monarch whom none
might beard with impunity, and now, when it seemed too late, the chief
of the priests heartily execrated that sudden ebullition of ill-humour
which had in a moment brought him and ten of his following to the brink
of the grave.  Then, suddenly, in a flash of memory and inspiration, the
right answer came to him and, lifting his head, he said:

"Be it so, as my lord the king has said.  Let him sacrifice us to
Anamac, if he will.  Doubtless, the man Inaguy was speaking only idle
words when he said that our Lord Anamac forbade human sacrifice
henceforth.  Sacrifice us then, O my Lord Jiravai; and let all Mangeroma
see what will happen, and whether any dependence is to be placed on the
words of Inaguy."

The battle was won, and Macoma knew it.  So also did the king; for
absolute monarch though he was, there were certain things which he dared
not do, and to go against the directly spoken word of the god Anamac,
and that, too, when the word was the first which the god had ever
condescended to utter--was one of them.  Therefore, making the best of
what he now perceived to have been a serious mistake, King Jiravai
smiled across the open space at the now triumphant Macoma, and said:

"It is well, Macoma, I did but try thee.  But now, perhaps, having had
time to think, thou may'st be able to say what sacrifice, other than
human, we may acceptably offer to Anamac."

Macoma shook his head.  The king had given him, to say nothing of the
other priests, a very nasty five minutes, and even now, when the danger
was past, his nerves were all a-quiver from the shock of finding himself
suddenly looking into the eyes of death; moreover he was a man who did
not easily forgive; he was unwilling to abate one jot of his triumph,
therefore he answered:

"Nay, Lord, I am still unable to answer thee, excepting in so far as
this.  Let Inaguy be recalled, and let him put thy question to our Lord
Anamac, and if the god refuses to reply, then I say let Inaguy be
sacrificed as a deceiver."

"Thou hast answered well, Macoma," retorted the king.  "It shall be as
thou sayest; and if our lord replies through his mouth it shall be a
sign that Anamac prefers Inaguy to thee, and Inaguy shall be chief
priest in thy stead."

Thus neatly did Jiravai turn the tables upon the man who, a moment
before, had been congratulating himself upon having got the best of the
king in a public battle of wits.

Meanwhile, Dick and Earle had been interested watchers of the scene; and
although the language in which the king and the chief priest had been
sparring was strange to them, they caught a word here and there which
sounded so nearly like words with the same meaning in the language with
which they were by this time becoming fairly conversant, that they were
able to follow, without very much difficulty the general trend of the
conversation, including that portion of it in which Macoma had ventured
to cast a doubt upon Inaguy's _bona fides_.  And although Earle had no
great liking for the task of exercising his ventriloquial powers while
seated in such close proximity to the king, he felt that he must make
the effort, and make it successfully, too, if Inaguy's life was to be
saved.  Therefore, when a few minutes later, Inaguy was led forth, and
the king put to him the question which Macoma had declared himself
unable to answer, and Inaguy had in turn passed it on to the idol, the
latter was heard to reply, sharply:

"Let a young bull be found, without blemish, and let him be slain upon
the altar and his carcass be burned before me, and I shall be satisfied;
for ye can offer me no more acceptable sacrifice than this and your
obedience to my commands.  It is enough.  I have spoken.  Henceforth,
trouble me not, for I will speak no more."



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

A DEFINITE CLUE AT LAST.

This final communication from the god Anamac was received by the vast
multitude with great shouts of rejoicing, for it was accepted as putting
an end finally and for ever to the practice of offering annually human
sacrifices to him.  And upon those occasions the choice of victims was
usually made jointly by the king and the chief priest; and the choice
was always of so capricious a character that, when invited to attend the
festival, no man could ever know whether he would survive to return from
it.  Therefore the substitution of a single animal for several human
victims--seldom less in number than half a dozen--was regarded as a
national boon; and never, perhaps, was Anamac worshipped with more
sincerity, or with more gratitude, than he was upon the day when Dick
Cavendish and Wilfrid Earle so narrowly escaped dying upon his altar.

The festivities not only lasted through the entire day, but were
continued far into the night, some fifty oxen being slaughtered and
roasted to provide a feast for the numerous visitors whom King Jiravai
had invited to Yacoahite to participate in the great annual festival;
and when at length it was all over, and the guests had departed to their
respective homes, everybody agreed in the opinion that it had been the
most joyous and successful festival within living experience.  As for
Dick and Earle, they were lodged in the king's own house, with Inaguy to
act as their interpreter--that astute individual having soon made up his
mind that service with the white men was safer, and likely to be more
profitable in the end, than even the position of chief of the Mangeroma
priests.  And on the night of the festival, when the great square of
Yacoahite was given up to the populace, and all the great chiefs were
being entertained at a banquet given by the king, Earle, "the white man
with the black hair," availed himself of the opportunity to demonstrate
his capabilities as a great medicine-man by performing a few very clever
conjuring tricks before the king and his guests, which the simple
Mangeromas regarded as absolute miracles.  It was a stroke of sound
policy on Earle's part; for after seeing him cause a pack of cards to
vanish into thin air, extract coins--a few of which he still had in his
pocket--from the hair, ears and noses of great warriors, and perform
sundry other marvels, there was not a Mangeroma in all that great
assemblage who did not regard the American as something superhuman, or
who would have ventured, even in the most secret recesses of his soul,
to meditate treachery to him or anybody connected with him.

Taken altogether, the day had been a rather trying one for both Dick and
Earle, for, to start with, neither of them had slept at all during the
previous night, their minds having been in a state of extreme tension
with regard to the events of the coming hours; and when at length the
suspense was over and they knew that they had escaped a terrible fate by
the bare skin of their teeth, the reaction, combined with the necessity
to preserve during several hours a perfectly calm and unruffled
demeanour in the presence of those about them, had told upon both rather
severely, and especially upon Earle, upon whose cleverness and readiness
of resource the safety of the entire party depended.  Therefore it was
with a sense of profound relief that the two friends at length found
themselves alone together and free to throw off the strain to which they
had been obliged to subject themselves all day.

It was well past midnight when the king's banquet having come to an end,
the two white men were conducted with much deference and ceremony to an
apartment in the king's house, in which, to their great delight, they
found the whole of their belongings, including their two camp beds,
which some thoughtful individual--who afterwards proved to have been
Peter--had fixed up and prepared for their occupation.  They lost no
time in discarding their clothing and flinging themselves upon their
pallets, for both were feeling utterly exhausted; but before
surrendering themselves to sleep they exchanged a few remarks relative
to the events of the past day.

"Yes," agreed Earle, in response to an observation of Dick's, "we have
had an exceedingly narrow escape, Dick, and don't you forget it, a more
narrow escape, indeed, than you probably realise.  For example, do you
know the name of this tribe of Indians?"

"Certainly," answered Dick.  "I heard the king call the idol, this
morning, `Anamac, god of the Mangeromas,' so I suppose these johnnies
are the Mangeromas."

"Correct, my son; they are," returned Earle.  "Remember ever hearing
anything about the Mangeromas?"

"Of course," returned Dick.  "They are the tribe with the bad name that
those Catu Indians told us about, and whom we have been looking for ever
since, because they are supposed to know something of the whereabouts of
the city of Manoa.  Isn't that it?"

"That is it, Dick," assented Earle.  "And you knew it?  Well, you were
so cool, so apparently unconcerned, during the whole time that our fate
was hanging in the balance, that I thought you had missed the point of
the king's remark."

"Not much," retorted Dick.  "But why shouldn't I keep cool?  What would
have been the use of getting excited and anxious?  That would only have
given our show away and spoiled everything.  But, although I may not
have shown it, I don't mind admitting now, old chap, that I _was_ most
confoundedly anxious.  For I knew that if your ventriloquial trick had
been discovered, it would have been all up with us."

"You bet it would," agreed Earle.  "And that was just where our narrow
escape came in; for I was so nervous that, when the critical moment
came, it was only by an almost superhuman effort that I was able to
control my voice.  However, here we are, still alive and well, thank
God!  And--Dick--after all, I'm glad that you are with me.  A chap with
a nerve like yours is worth a whole regiment of soldiers.  Good-night!"

The two white men slept the sleep of exhaustion that night, to awake
refreshed and re-invigorated on the following morning, with scarcely a
trace remaining of the stress and strain through which they had passed
on the preceding day.  Inaguy and Peter presented themselves at daylight
with the accustomed morning cup of chocolate; and the former, who was by
this time well acquainted with his master's habits, mentioned that he
had learned by inquiry, that there was a stream just outside the town in
which the white lords might safely venture to bathe.  Whereupon the pair
sallied forth and enjoyed the now rare luxury of a swim, receiving, as
they went and returned, the respectful salutations of the populace.
Upon their return they found an excellent breakfast awaiting them,
prepared by the indefatigable Peter from viands supplied by the king's
especial order.

Earle announced his intention of accepting the king's proffered
hospitality and remaining several days in Yacoahite, not only to afford
his men time to recover from the hardships and sufferings which they had
experienced while filling the _role_ of prisoners doomed to the
sacrifice, but also to enable him to prosecute the inquiries which he
wished to make regarding the whereabouts of the city of Manoa.  And he
was not less anxious to stay than the king was to entertain him and get
the benefit of his advice and guidance upon several burning questions
which had of late been causing him uneasiness.  For now that the great
god Anamac had made it clear that the white strangers enjoyed his
especial favour and protection, and were therefore not to be molested,
but, on the contrary, were to be treated with the utmost honour and
distinction, the astute Jiravai immediately arrived at the conclusion
that they must certainly be something more than mere ordinary men--as
witness the marvels which Earle had performed during the progress of the
feast--and that consequently their advice and assistance must be of more
than ordinary value, and well worth securing.  Therefore the king took
Earle and Dick unreservedly into his confidence and, with the help of
Inaguy as interpreter, fully laid before the pair a number of
exceedingly delicate and difficult problems which were just then
confronting him.  And Earle, being a born diplomatist, entered into the
thing with keen zest, taking the problems one by one and asking question
after question until, as he put it, he had fairly "got the hang of the
thing," when, by a judicious admixture of his own diplomatic instinct
with Dick's shrewd common sense, it became not very difficult to find
solutions of the several problems, which not only effected a general
clearing of the air, but also ultimately added considerable lustre to
Jiravai's name as that of a wise and powerful monarch.

The settlement of these matters of high and intricate policy took time;
so that it was not until some ten days after the festival of Anamac that
Earle was able to introduce to the king's notice the subject of Manoa,
to ask what his majesty knew about it and its precise situation, and to
request his assistance to enable the expedition to find the place.

But no sooner was Earle's project mentioned than Jiravai began to throw
cold water upon it.  First of all, he denied all knowledge whatsoever of
any city named Manoa; and when Earle met this denial with the admission
that there might possibly be some mistake in the matter of the name,
explaining that it was not this that was of importance, but the fact
that there was a city distinguished by certain curious and remarkable
characteristics that he was anxious to find and visit, the king, while
reluctantly admitting that he had certainly heard of such a city, most
earnestly besought Earle at once and for ever to abandon his intention
of visiting the place, since rumour had it that the inhabitants so
strongly objected to the intrusion of strangers among them that, of the
few who had been known to force a way in, not one had ever been known to
come out again.  Jiravai asserted that he knew nothing whatever about
the city, beyond the above-named peculiarity, and the fact that its
actual name was Ulua--bluntly adding that he desired to know no more--
and he greatly doubted whether there was any Mangeroma now living who
possessed more information on the subject than himself; yet, if the
white lords very particularly desired it, he would cause immediate
inquiries to be made.  To which statement Earle replied that the white
lords desired the information in question more than anything else,
except to find themselves within the walls of Ulua itself; and that the
king could not more conclusively demonstrate his friendship than by
causing the most exhaustive inquiries to be made forthwith.  And there
the matter rested for nearly a fortnight, during which Earle and Dick
wandered about the district together, shooting, but finding very little
game; for they soon discovered that the Mangeroma country was pretty
thickly inhabited, and that, between hunting and the clearing of the
land for cultivation, the game had been nearly all driven away or
exterminated.

At length, however, in response to the inquiries which the king caused
to be made, an old man was found who asserted that, many years ago, when
he was but a lad, he had been lost while engaged in a hunting
expedition, and in his wanderings had actually seen, from the summit of
a high hill, a great city of palaces, which he believed could be none
other than the legendary city of Ulua, but that he had made no attempt
to approach it, being afraid that, if he did so, he would fall into the
hands of the inhabitants, and never more see his kith and kin.  Asked
whether he believed it possible, after all those years, to find his way
back to the spot from which he had beheld the city, he replied in the
affirmative, provided that he could be carried thither and back again,
but not otherwise, the way being altogether too long and rough for his
old limbs to traverse unaided.  Arrangements were accordingly made for
the construction of a litter for the accommodation of the old man, and
on a certain morning the expedition set out from Yacoahite, the party
now consisting of thirty men all told, including the old man, Busa, who
was to serve as guide, his eight bearers, and ten additional bearers to
assist in the transport of the white men's baggage.

As Busa had warned them, the way proved both long and difficult, leading
as it did up and down wild ravines, along the dry and stony beds of
mountain torrents, through rough and narrow passes, and by the edge of
dizzy precipices where a single false step would have meant a fall of
hundreds of feet through space; but after ten days of arduous travel the
journey was accomplished without accident, and without any very
startling adventure, the party arriving, late in a certain afternoon at
a "divide," from which they looked down upon a vast basin containing a
lake some thirty miles long by twenty broad, on the northern shore of
which stood a city which Busa had not misrepresented when he spoke of it
as a city of palaces.  For a city it certainly was, covering an area of
ground about four miles long by three broad, and many of its buildings
seemed palatial, if one might judge by their lofty white walls and
glittering roofs, shining like gold in the rays of the declining sun.
Of course, it was not possible to judge very accurately the character of
the buildings, or to see much detail, for the city was some twenty miles
distant from the spot to which Busa had conducted the party, while the
rarefaction of the atmosphere rendered even the field-glasses of little
use.  But that the city was actually there before their eyes was
indisputable, and it was a city consisting not of a mere agglomeration
of mud huts with thatched roofs, but of stately buildings of solid
masonry, possessing such architectural adornments as towers, pinnacles,
and domes, evidencing on the part of the inhabitants a condition of high
civilisation and refinement.

From his knapsack Earle produced a folded map of the northern portion of
South America which he opened and spread out on a rock.  It was the most
modern and up-to-date map that he had been able to procure, and it was
drawn to a scale large enough to show not only every town of any
importance but also innumerable villages, some of them so small that, as
the party had themselves proved, they contained less than a hundred
inhabitants.  Yet on the part of the map upon which Earle now placed his
finger, and for hundreds of miles in every direction therefrom, there
was no indication of town or village, and only a mere suggestion of the
mountain range through which they had lately been travelling, while even
the courses of rivers were merely indicated by dotted lines; in short,
the party were now, and had been for several weeks, in a region which
had not been explored.  But by means of astronomical observations made
and worked out by Dick, the track of the party had each day been plotted
upon the map, and such details as the forests they had passed through,
the rivers they had crossed, the Indian villages they had met with, the
great swamp, and the mountain ranges, had all been carefully plotted.

"Now," remarked Earle, pointing to a pencil mark on the map, "that is
where we were at noon to-day, and we are somewhere about here now.
There is no indication of a town or village of any sort anywhere near,
yet just about there"--laying his finger on another point of the
map--"stands yonder city on the shore of a lake, in a great basin
surrounded on all sides by mountains, of the existence of which this map
affords no indication.  What do I deduce from that? you will ask.  I
will tell you, Dick.  I deduce from it that yonder city is the one
which, though our friend Jiravai says it is named Ulua, has been spoken
of ever since the Spanish conquest, and diligently sought, as the city
of Manoa; and to us has fallen the honour and glory of having actually
found it!  Just think of the wonder of it, Dick.  For over three and a
half centuries the legend of the existence of that city has persisted,
yet there is no absolutely authentic account of it having ever been
reached, although hundreds, possibly thousands--if one could but know
the whole truth--have most diligently and painfully sought it.  And at
last its discovery falls to the lot of two very undistinguished people,
an Englishman and an American, as is quite in accordance with the
fitness of things.  Now let us make use of our remaining daylight to get
down to a lower level, for, with the setting of the sun, it will be
bitterly cold up here, and I have no fancy for spending the night in a
temperature that will probably fall below freezing point."

So saying, Earle folded up his map and, replacing it in his knapsack,
gave the word for the party to proceed, Dick and himself taking the
lead.  Picking their way among towering rocks and along narrow ledges,
they travelled a distance of some three miles and effected a descent of
about two thousand feet before night overtook them, finally pitching
their camp on a little rocky plateau under the lee of an enormous
vertical cliff, which effectually sheltered them from the icy wind which
sprang up and roared overhead with the force of a gale almost
immediately after sunset.

Notwithstanding the shelter afforded by the cliff, however, the cold was
intense, and the party, acclimatised by this time to the hot, humid
atmosphere of the plains, suffered severely, the more so that they were
camped among bare rocks without a vestige of vegetation of any kind, and
were therefore without the materials for a fire; the return of daylight
therefore found them more than ready to resume the march, in the hope
that before long they would reach a region where fuel of some sort would
allow them to kindle a fire and prepare a much-needed hot breakfast.

They reached such a spot after about an hour's march, camping in the
shelter of a small clump of stunted pines; and here, after breakfast,
Busa approached the two white men with the request that, having
performed his task of guiding the party to a spot from which the "city
of palaces," could be seen, he and his bearers might now be permitted to
set out upon the return journey, he and they being anxious to recross
the divide during the hours of daylight, and so escape the bitter cold
from which they had suffered so severely during the preceding night.
The request seemed a reasonable one, for the old man's services were no
longer needed; Earle therefore liberally rewarded the old fellow and his
eight bearers, and dismissed them with a message of greeting and thanks
to the king.

The two parties broke camp simultaneously, Busa and his bearers taking
the back trail up the path which they had all descended an hour earlier,
while the others, under Earle's leadership, proceeded down the mountain
side at their best speed, being impatient to reach the fertile,
cultivated country bordering the lake below.

But the task was not by any means so easy as it had first appeared, for
they had scarcely gone a mile when they unexpectedly found themselves at
the verge of a long line of precipitous cliffs overlooking the great
basin in which lay the lake and the city.  It was by no means a pleasant
situation in which they found themselves, for they were standing upon a
steep slope, clad with short, dry grass, almost as slippery as ice to
walk upon, and this steep slope ended abruptly in a precipice which
Earle, going down upon his stomach and peering cautiously over the edge,
declared could be not less than six or seven thousand feet high.  So
terrible was the shock it gave him to find himself overhanging and
gazing down into that dizzy void, that it induced a violent attack of
vertigo, causing him to scream out that he was falling, and to beg those
who were holding him to pull him back.  They, of course, did so at once;
but several minutes elapsed before the adventurous gazer sufficiently
recovered his nerve to stand, and when he did so he was bathed in a cold
perspiration, while his teeth chattered to such an extent that it was
some time before he could distinctly articulate.

"Never had such a fearful shock in my life," he afterwards explained to
Dick.  "Of course, I knew that the valley was an enormous depth below
us, but when I undertook to peer over the edge of the cliff I did not
for a moment anticipate that I was going to find myself hanging over a
sheer void, thousands of feet deep.  I expected to find below me a
precipitous cliff seamed and scarred with innumerable irregularities and
projections, by means of which an ordinarily active man might easily
make his way down; but, man alive, this precipice is sheer, from top to
bottom like the wall of a house, without a single projection, so far as
I could see, big enough for a fly to settle upon.  It was awful to find
myself lying there, with my heels higher than my head, gazing down into
that dizzy hollow, at the bottom of which tall trees looked no higher
than pins, and to feel that if I dared to move a muscle I should
inevitably go sliding over, head first!"

"Ay," assented Dick.  "I think I know the kind of feeling.  I
experienced something very like it myself the first time I climbed to
the height of the royal yard.  The hull of the ship below me looked so
small, and so utterly inadequate to sustain the substantial spars about
me, that, quite unconsciously, I found myself moving with the utmost
precaution, lest my additional weight should capsize the ship."

"Yes," assented Earle.  "I guess that was something like what I felt,
except that, in my case, I was convinced I should never be able to get
back to safety.  Nevertheless, here I am, safe and sound.  And now the
question arises: How are we going to get down into that valley?  So far
as I can see the cliffs are everywhere vertical, like this one; yet
there must be a way down somewhere; else how did the inhabitants of the
city get there?"

"Oh yes, of course there is a way down, somewhere," agreed Dick.  "We'd
better camp, hadn't we, and pursue our usual tactics, you going one way,
and I the other, exploring?"

"Yes," assented Earle.  "But we won't camp just here, thank you.  I
should be afraid that some of us would go sliding over that cliff edge
before we knew it.  We will go along yonder, to the eastward, a bit.
The ground looks less steep in that direction, and probably we shall
find a suitable camping place before long."

They did, about a mile and a half to the eastward; and the camp having
been pitched, Earle accompanied by Inaguy, set off in one direction,
while Dick, accompanied by another Indian, named Moquit, went in the
other, in search of a practicable route down to the plain and the shore
of the lake, the two white men taking their rifles, as usual, and each
carrying a pair of powerful binoculars slung over his shoulder.

The way taken by Dick led him back along the edge of the cliff by the
route which they had traversed shortly before; and having reached the
spot where Earle had taken his thrilling peep down into the abyss, the
young man continued on, eventually entering a fir wood, through which he
passed, bagging two brace of a species of pheasant as he went.  Emerging
from the wood, which was about a mile long, he found himself approaching
a spot where the cliff seemed to dip somewhat, and halting for a moment
to reconnoitre the prospect through his field-glasses, he became aware
of the fact that work in the valley had begun for the day; for he
observed smoke issuing from the chimneys of a number of detached
buildings which he took to be farmhouses; while, studying the scene more
intently, he was presently able to pick out the forms of numerous people
apparently engaged in tilling the wide fields and at work in the
orchards--as he took them to be--dotted here and there in the valley far
below.  Farther away, he perceived a number of small dots on the bosom
of the lake, carefully watching which he at length became convinced that
they were canoes, or some similar kind of craft, crossing the lake, some
heading towards the city and others from it.

Some two hours later, Dick called a halt in a small pine wood, and
ordered Moquit to kindle a fire and prepare a brace of the shot birds
for their mid-day meal; and while this was being done the young
Englishman sauntered off a little way in search of another spot from
which he might advantageously effect a further reconnaissance of the
valley.  He found such a spot at no great distance and, unslinging his
glasses, proceeded to search the valley and the face of the neighbouring
cliffs from his new view point.  But, look where he would, it everywhere
seemed the same: vertical unscalable precipices of appalling height, and
nowhere anything suggesting the existence of a road by means of which
the valley might be reached.

Yet stay!  As he was in the very act of removing the binoculars from his
eyes his keen sight detected what appeared to be an infinitesimally
small moving dot against the bare drab face of the cliff, some two miles
away.  Focussing his glasses afresh upon the spot, Dick watched it
steadily for two or three minutes until he became certain that it was
moving.  Yes, moving downward along the cliff face toward the valley.
Precisely what it was, he could not determine with any certainty, but he
judged it to be a vehicle of some sort, a slow moving vehicle; and if
so, it was of necessity travelling over a road, and that road, although
it was indistinguishable from where Dick stood, was one of very easy
gradient, judging from the movements of the object upon it.  Satisfied
now that he had made an important discovery, the lad carefully noted his
surroundings, noted with equal care a number of objects which would
enable him to fix the position of the road, and closing his glasses,
walked briskly back to his temporary camp, where he found Moquit
anxiously awaiting his return, with the birds cooked to a turn and just
ready for eating.

Hurriedly dispatching his meal, Dick, with Moquit at his heels, resumed
his task of exploration, proceeding first to the spot from which he had
just observed the moving object, and there treating the face of the
cliff to a further close scrutiny.  But the object, whatever it may have
been, was no longer to be seen; and, satisfied of this, Dick pressed on.
Two miles farther on, still following the edge of the cliff as closely
as was prudent, he halted, arrested by the sight of what, at the
distance of about half a mile, had the appearance of a structure of some
sort, clinging to the very verge of the cliff; and inspecting it through
his binoculars, he saw that he was right in his surmise.  It was a
building, something in the nature of a wall, with what looked like a
closed gateway in its centre.  And on the parapet immediately above the
gateway, there was a figure, apparently that of a sentinel, stalking
slowly to and fro!

It was enough; the structure before him was undoubtedly the gateway at
the head of the road giving access to the valley, and his mission was
accomplished.  His first impulse was to go on and view the gateway, or
whatever it might be, at close quarters; but the inhabitants of the
valley were evidently jealous of the intrusion of strangers, as was
clear from the presence of the sentinel on the parapet; and giving the
matter a few moments' consideration, Dick came to the conclusion that,
before revealing his presence, it would be well to return to Earle and
report.  He therefore faced about forthwith and, keeping under cover as
well as he could, retired in good order, pretty confident that, up to
that moment, he and his follower had not been seen.

The sun was just sinking behind the mountain ridges to the westward of
the mysterious city when Dick reached the camp.  Earle, he found, had
not yet returned, but he arrived some ten minutes later, greatly
disgusted at his own want of success.  He had searched the northern
cliffs for a distance of some twelve miles, it appeared, and nowhere had
found a spot where even a goat or a monkey might have passed up or down
them.  But he had penetrated to within some eight or nine miles of the
city, and having viewed it at that distance and from a great height
through the lenses of his powerful glasses, was fully persuaded that,
let the name of the city be what it might, it was none other than that
which, crowned with the halo of legend and romance, had been spoken and
written of and sought for as "Manoa."

"It is a magnificent city, Dick," he exclaimed, enthusiastically; "a
city of palaces embowered in gardens; and the roofs of many of its
buildings are covered with gold.  They _must_ be," he insisted, in reply
to Dick's incredulous shrug of the shoulders, "otherwise they would not
gleam so brilliantly in the sun as they do.  And to-morrow night, please
God, we will rest our weary limbs in that same city, and perhaps, if
luck is with us, make the acquaintance of El Dorado himself, or at all
events, his successor."



CHAPTER TWELVE.

GUESTS--OR PRISONERS?

The camp was astir with the coming of dawn on the following morning; and
after an early breakfast the expedition started, under Dick's guidance,
for the gateway, which was reached shortly before noon.  As the party
approached, the sentinel was seen pacing to and fro across the parapet,
as on the preceding afternoon; and that he was keeping a sharp look-out
was manifest, for the little band had scarcely emerged from the pine
wood in which Dick had halted for his mid-day meal on the preceding day,
when the man was seen to pause in his monotonous march to and fro and
gaze toward them under the shadow of his hand.  Then, apparently
satisfied that the party were bound for the gateway, he was seen to move
a few paces and bend over, with his hand to his mouth, as though
shouting to someone below, after which he resumed his march as before,
occasionally eyeing the strangers as they approached.

Arrived at length at the gateway, it was seen that the structure
consisted of a wall, some thirty feet high, very solidly built of great
blocks of masonry dressed to a perfectly smooth face, and so accurately
jointed that, even at the distance of a few paces, the joints were
scarcely perceptible.  The wall was built with a vertical face to a
height of some twenty feet, above which it swelled outward in the form
known as a "bull-nose," the upper surface of which sloped so steeply
upward as to render it unclimbable; so that, even if a man, or men,
should climb as far as the swell of the bull-nose by means of a pole or
ladder, the would-be intruders could get no farther.  The wall was
semi-circular in plan, jutting out from the edge of the cliff for a
distance of some fifteen feet at either end and descending the face of
the cliff, diminishing as it went, until it died away to nothing, some
fifty feet below, rendering it an impossibility for anyone to pass round
either end of it.  The middle of the wall was so constructed as to form
a watch-tower, some thirty feet square, with a flat roof, upon which it
appeared a sentinel was always posted; and it was in the base of the
watch-tower that the gateway, about ten feet wide, was pierced, the
opening being filled with a pair of wooden doors of exceedingly solid
construction.

As the party halted, the sentinel, who wore a burnished helmet and
corselet that flashed in the sun like gold and was the colour of gold,
leaned over the parapet and shouted to them what seemed to be an
inquiry; but the words, though quite distinctly pronounced, were utterly
unintelligible to all.

"Wants to know our business, I guess," remarked Earle.  "Step forward,
Inaguy, and explain that we wish to pay our respects to his majesty, El
Dorado.  Try him in all the dialects you happen to be acquainted with."

Inaguy accordingly stepped forward and did his best, but without avail;
the sentinel, though he listened attentively to all that was said, could
evidently make nothing of it, replying only with shakes of the head.

"It is the usual fate of the explorer who enters a new country,"
remarked Earle.  "He is unable to understand or make himself understood.
But there is always the language of signs to fall back upon.  Let me
see what I can do in that way."

Stepping forward and thus claiming the sentinel's attention, he pointed
first to himself, then to Dick, then, with a comprehensive wave of the
hand, to the Indian carriers, and finally to the door, motioning with
his hands as though opening it.  This seemed to be intelligible to the
sentinel, for he nodded, and stepping aside a few paces, shouted a few
words to someone below in the interior of the tower.  A few moments
later a second man appeared on the top of the tower and, approaching the
parapet, regarded the would-be visitors intently.  The inspection
appeared to result satisfactorily, for a few moments later he
disappeared; a short interval of waiting ensued, then the gate swung
open, and he came fearlessly forward, while the gates swung to behind
him, and there was a sound of ponderous bars being shot into their
sockets.

Judging from the richness of his dress and the quiet dignity of his
manner, the man was probably an officer.  He was apparently about thirty
years of age, some five feet ten inches in height, and was well-made
though perhaps a trifle slight in build.  In complexion he was somewhat
sallow, but he was distinctly good-looking, with a somewhat Hebrew cast
of features, and with coal-black hair, eyebrows, beard and moustache,
the beard trimmed square, and the hair worn rather long, trimmed square
across the nape of the neck, with a short fringe trimmed square across
the forehead.  His eyes were black and piercing, but there was a
straightforward honest look in them that instantly created a favourable
impression.  He was attired in helmet and corselet, apparently of gold,
like those worn by the sentinel, but with the addition of a splendid
plume of long black feathers surmounting his helmet.  Beneath his
corselet appeared a sort of skirt of fine chain mail reaching to just
below the knees, and his legs were protected by greaves made of the same
metal as the rest of his armour.  His feet were encased in buskins, a
sash of black and yellow passed over his left shoulder and was knotted
upon his right hip, while at his left dangled a short sword encased in a
jewelled scabbard, supported by a jewelled belt or chain of broad links,
all made of the same gold-like metal.  As he strode forward, his eyes
glancing questioningly from Earle to Dick and back again, he threw up
his open right hand, palm forward, and said a few words, which sounded
like a greeting, in a full but very pleasant tone of voice.  Like the
speech of the sentinel, his words were quite unintelligible to those
addressed, but his action seemed easily interpretable as the sign of
peace, and Earle instantly imitated it.

"Thanks, old chap," the American replied, beaming amiably upon the
soldier; "it is good of you to say so; but I'm awfully sorry that I
can't understand you.  The fact is, you know, that I and my friend
Cavendish"--he indicated Dick with a wave of his hand--"have come all
the way from New York expressly to discover your city--which I learn is
called Ulua--"

The officer instantly caught the name Ulua and repeated it, smilingly
pointing in the direction of the city.

"Yes," proceeded Earle, "that is so.  I guess you get me all right.  We
want to go in through that gate and make the acquaintance of your king,
El Dorado, or whatever his name may be.  Do you get that?"

All this was accompanied by much gesture, but it did not seem to be very
illuminating to the officer, who merely repeated the word Ulua, pointing
again toward the city.  Then, pointing to himself, he pronounced the
word "Adoni," following it up by pointing at Earle, and uttering a word
that sounded like "Hu."

"Yes, sirree, I get you all right," was Earle's reply as he gripped the
astonished man's right hand and shook it heartily, smiling in his eyes
as he did so.  "Gee!" he exclaimed, turning to Dick, "we're getting on
like a house afire.  He says his name is Adoni, and he asks who I am.
Isn't that right, old golden image?"

The "old golden image" looked a trifle nonplussed for a moment, but
presently repeated his last performance; upon which Earle remarked:

"Of course, I knew I wasn't mistaken.  You sir," pointing, "are named
Adoni--" The officer nodded.  "And I," he continued pointing to himself,
"am named Earle--_Earle_.  You get that?"

"Adoni," replied the officer, pointing to himself, "Earle"--pointing to
the owner of the name.

"Right!" agreed Earle.  "You are a quite intelligent guy, if I may be
permitted to say so.  And this youngster's name is Dick--Dick.  That's
easy enough to remember, isn't it?"

"Adoni," replied the officer, again pointing to himself.  "Earle--Dick,"
pointing first to one and then the other.

"Sure!" exclaimed Earle, delighted with the progress which he considered
he was making.  "I knew there must be a way of making you understand."
And he proceeded to explain all over again, and speaking very slowly,
with plenty of gesture, his desire that he and his party might be
allowed to pass through the gate and visit the city of Ulua.  It was a
tedious and lengthy process, but apparently it was in the end attended
with a certain measure of success, for eventually the officer shouted an
order, the gate was thrown open, and, taking Dick and Earle each by an
arm, Adoni led the pair through.  Inaguy and the other Indians, who had
grounded their burdens while the long colloquy was proceeding, hastened
to resume them and follow the white men, but before they could do so
their leaders were inside, and the gate was bolted and barred upon them.

Taken by surprise for the moment, Earle did not realise what was
happening until it was too late; but the instant that he did so he broke
free from Adoni's grasp and dashed up a flight of steps, which he saw a
little ahead of him, and which he rightly guessed led up to the parapet.
Arrived there he brushed aside the sentinel, who half-heartedly sought
to bar his way and, rushing to the parapet, ordered Inaguy and the rest
to remain where they were, and on no account to think of departing, for
he would certainly arrange, sooner or later, for their admission.  Then
he calmly descended and surrendered himself to the astonished and
somewhat amused Adoni, who said a few words which sounded as though they
were intended to be reassuring.

Resuming the _role_ of guide, Adoni now conducted the pair into a room
in the rear portion of the tower, in which was a window opening,
unglazed, affording a delightful view of the valley and lake, with the
road leading thereto; and here they were turned over to another officer,
who by signs, indicated a request that the strangers should remove their
outer garments.  Earle at first evinced a disposition to refuse this
request, but Dick was less fastidious, and stripped to the waist without
demur, whereupon the unnamed officer, who was evidently a physician of
sorts, after glancing admiringly at the young Englishman's stalwart
proportions and magnificent muscular development--to which he
particularly drew Adoni's attention--proceeded to tap Dick on the chest
and between the shoulders, listen to the action of his heart and lungs,
punch him in the ribs, and act generally as though he were examining the
lad on behalf of a life insurance company; finally expressing his
approval of the youngster's physical condition in a manner which there
was no possibility of mistaking.

Then Earle was again invited to subject himself to the same ordeal, and
this time he did so without demur, stripping off first his thin linen
jacket, and next the light woollen singlet which he was wearing as a
substitute for a shirt.

And now came a startling surprise.  For the removal of Earle's singlet
revealed the curious lozenge-shaped jewel with its inset emerald, which
he had removed from the neck of the idol in the sculptured cave
discovered by Dick, and which the American had ever since worn round his
neck for safe keeping.  No sooner did the eyes of the examining officer
glimpse the jewel than he uttered a strange cry, suggestive of the
utmost astonishment.  He gazed upon it with awe-struck eyes, drew
cautiously near to inspect it more closely, half stretched forth a hand,
seemingly to touch it, and then, suddenly, saying something to Adoni
which seemed to suggest that a most wonderful and amazing thing had
happened, prostrated himself at Earle's feet, an example which Adoni
instantly followed.

"Now, what in the nation does this mean?" demanded Earle in a low voice
of Dick.  "Why are these two guys kowtowing to me in this fashion?  Gee!
They surely don't think that I'm some fancy god of theirs, come down
from Olympus to visit them, as a special mark of favour, do they?"

"Well, it looks very much like it, by the way that they are carrying
on," returned Dick.  "I think that it might help matters a bit, both now
and in the future, if you were to play up to the idea and infuse a
general air of benevolent condescension into your intercourse with them.
I don't see that it could possibly do any harm.  Do you?"

"Don't know," answered Earle.  "It might if, later on, they were to come
to me and demand that I do some impossible thing for them.  But, on the
other hand, I guess it would be up to me to refuse, if I chose.  On the
whole, perhaps--and yet, I don't know--Yes, I guess I'll try it, and see
how it works."

Bending down, he lightly touched the two officers upon the shoulder and,
when they ventured to glance up at him, graciously signed to them to
rise, which they did, with every mark of the most profound reverence.
From that moment there was no further trouble.  Without waiting for
permission from the examining officer, Earle calmly resumed his singlet
and coat, taking care now, however, to leave fully exposed the jewel, or
amulet, or whatever it was, that had produced such a wonderful effect;
and this done, he signed to Adoni to open the gate and admit Inaguy and
the rest of the Indians, which was instantly done.  In the meantime,
while the Indians were with much deliberation gathering up their loads
and adjusting them upon their shoulders, in response to Earle's
reassuring call, Adoni and the other officer had withdrawn to a little
distance and were plunged into an earnest, anxious consultation, the
result of which was that, a few minutes later, a man, naked save for a
sort of breech cloth wrapped about his loins, started out from the guard
house and set off down the road leading to the city, as though running
for his life.

As the last of the Indians passed through the gateway, the massive
timber gates were closed and securely barred behind them, and Earle and
Dick stepped forward to place themselves at their head, intending to
resume their march toward Ulua.  But Adoni, perceiving their intention,
at once intervened and, firmly yet with the utmost reverence of manner,
intimated by signs an earnest desire that the party would postpone their
departure.  He did this by standing before them in the middle of the
road, with his arms outstretched as though to bar the way; then he
signed to the Indians to remove themselves to a wide plot of grass by
the side of the road and deposit their burden there; and finally
beckoned the two white men to accompany him into the guard house, where
he conducted them into a plainly but comfortably furnished room, and
signed to them a request to rest themselves upon a couple of couches
which he indicated, at the same time giving them to understand that a
meal would presently be served to them.

Earle, well pleased at the success which had attended his effort to
penetrate to the interior of the forbidden country, signified his
acquiescence by seating himself on one of the couches, whereupon Adoni,
equally well pleased, withdrew, with a profound bow, leaving the two
friends to themselves.

"Well," remarked Earle, rising from the couch and gazing with
satisfaction upon the glorious prospect of lake and valley revealed by
the window opening before which he placed himself, "we are inside the
gate, and that is something achieved, anyway.  For, at first, I feared
that they were going to refuse us admission, and if they had done so I
guess we should have found it a pretty difficult matter to get in.  But
our friend Adoni has evidently no authority to allow us to go on without
first referring to the boss, whoever he may be; and I guess that naked
runner was the bearer of a report and a request for further
instructions.  Now of course our line of conduct will be to conform to
the manners and customs of the natives, so far as may be, and give no
trouble; for our only object in coming here is to see the country and
the people, and that can best be accomplished by keeping on good terms
with everybody; therefore we will just let them make all the
arrangements, and we will fall in with them.  But I have great hopes
from the possession of this jewel, which evidently has some powerful
mystic significance in the eyes of these people.  Adoni and the other
fellow appeared to recognise it at once, and there can be no question as
to the reverence with which they regard it.  Judging from the behaviour
of those two, the thing ought to secure us a very favourable reception
at headquarters.  I wish I knew the history of it."

"We shall perhaps learn that later on," returned Dick.  "And I
anticipate that when we do, it will prove both curious and romantic.
The mere finding of it in that wonderful cavern was remarkable enough,
but the astonishment and delight of Adoni at recognising it were still
more remarkable, to my mind.  To me, their behaviour was that of men
suddenly brought face to face with something that they had almost
despaired of ever seeing again."

"Yes, I guess you are right," agreed Earle.  "Not that either of those
two could ever have actually seen the thing, for it must have lain
hidden in that cave for--well, a hundred years or more, I should say.
But be that as it may, it is evidently in their eyes an object of
extraordinary sanctity, and should--indeed, most probably does--confer
some very special privileges upon its possessor, of which I shall feel
justified in making the fullest use."

The pair were still chatting in a somewhat desultory fashion when two
men, evidently servants, entered the room, bearing a table already set
for a meal, and they were immediately followed by others who brought in
several smoking dishes of food, a jar of a light kind of wine, an
open-work metal tray heaped with small cakes, and a piled-up basket of
fruit, consisting of oranges, grapes, nectarines, and one or two other
kinds which neither Earle nor Dick was able to identify.  The plates,
dishes, and drinking-cups were unmistakably of gold, but quite plain, as
were the dagger-like knives and a kind of skewer which was evidently
intended to serve as a fork.  The food consisted of a stew, apparently
of kid's flesh, a roasted bird about the size of, and somewhat similar
in flavour to, a duck, roasted yams, ears of green maize, boiled, and a
dish of some kind of bean which both pronounced delicious; indeed the
meal as a whole was excellent, and was done full justice to by both
participants.  The wine, too, if wine it was, was almost icy cold, and
of exceedingly agreeable though somewhat peculiar flavour, and was
apparently unfermented, for although both drank freely of it, it might
have been pure water, so far as its intoxicant effect was concerned.  At
the conclusion of the meal Earle produced his pipe and, lighting up,
sallied forth with Dick, to see how the Indian bearers were faring; his
appearance, with smoke issuing from his mouth and nostrils, again so
profoundly impressing the beholders that they were once more impelled to
prostrate themselves as he passed by.  The Indians, with characteristic
philosophy, had camped on the grass plot at the side of the guard house,
and had been as well cared for in their way as had their masters, and
were evidently quite satisfied with the state of affairs in general.

The afternoon was well advanced when, as Dick and Earle sat in the
embrasure of the window, looking out over the lake and valley, and
chatting together upon the sort of reception which they might expect
from the Uluans, they observed a light yellow cloud-like appearance
across the lake, on that side of it upon which the city was built, and
bringing their glasses to bear upon it, they perceived that it was dust,
in the midst of which could be perceived the forms of horsemen and the
glitter of accoutrements.  After careful scrutiny, Earle pronounced the
troop to be about a hundred strong, and it appeared to be advancing at a
fairly rapid pace.

While the American kept his glasses bearing upon the cavalcade, Dick
permitted his gaze to search the nearer landscape; and it was while he
was thus engaged that he detected another and much smaller dust cloud,
almost immediately beneath the guard house, on the road which wound
round the south-eastern extremity of the lake toward that part of the
valley where the cliff road leading to the guard house began.  Focussing
his glasses on this smaller dust cloud, he saw that it was caused by a
group of three horsemen who were riding as if for their lives.  Judging
from the richness of their garb and the sumptuous trappings of their
horses, they were persons of considerable consequence, and Dick, who
always had an eye for detail, noticed that two of them, who rode a
horse's length in the rear of the third, carried each a capacious roll
or bundle of some sort strapped to the bow of his saddle.  He directed
Earle's attention to the little group; and together they watched it
until it disappeared round a bend in the road.

"Coming here, I guess," pronounced Earle.  And half an hour later his
surmise proved to be correct, for, still watching from the window, the
pair again sighted the trio of horsemen urging their animals at top
speed up the gentle slope of the cliff road toward the guard house.

A few minutes later the trio reined up their winded and sweat-lathered
steeds and dismounted at the door of the guard house, where they were
met and greeted with profound respect by Adoni; and while the leader,
accompanied by Adoni, entered the building, the other two busied
themselves unstrapping from their saddle bows the bundles which Dick had
noticed, and bearing which they presently followed their leader.

For fully twenty minutes the newcomers remained in close conference with
Adoni and the officer who had acted the part of medical examiner--and
whose name, it transpired, was Camma--and at the end of the conference
they were conducted by the two officers into the presence of Earle and
Dick.  It was Adoni who presented them, naming them respectively, Acor--
who subsequently proved to be the captain of King Juda's guard--Tedek
and Kedah, the two latter being lieutenants in Acor's corps.  They were
all fine, upstanding men, of distinctly imperious and haughty bearing--
Acor perhaps exhibiting those characteristics most markedly, as was only
natural, considering the exalted position which he occupied at Court,
and the almost autocratic authority which he wielded; nevertheless, at
the sight of Earle's talisman, they suddenly subdued their haughty
demeanour to one of deep reverence, and bowed low before the American,
with their hands crossed upon their breasts, while they murmured a few
words, which sounded like something in the nature of an invocation.
Then they turned to Dick and, with a glance of admiration at his
stalwart frame, bowed again, though with somewhat less of deference than
they had manifested toward Earle.  As for Earle, he did his best to act
up to the distinguished position into which Fate seemed to have
pitch-forked him, returning the bows of the officers with a slight
inclination of the head and a still slighter flexure of the body, while
he gazed upon them with a kind of bland abstraction; Dick imitating his
friend's deportment as closely as possible, though there was a gleam of
frankness and friendliness in his eyes which Earle had not permitted to
appear in his.

Notwithstanding a certain suggestion of reserve in the demeanour of the
new arrivals, they could not altogether conceal the astonishment they
evidently felt at the style and cut of the white men's clothes--by this
time very much the worse for wear and travel stains--which afforded so
marked a contrast to their own splendid habiliments.  The three officers
were attired alike in helmets, corselets, greaves, and gauntlets of gold
plate worn over a shirt of fine chain mail, also made of gold, and were
armed with short swords, encased in golden scabbards suspended from
belts consisting of gold plaques linked together.  But there were
certain differences in the uniform of the three; for whereas the plumes
which adorned the helmets of the two lieutenants were black, those of
their chief were red; and whereas their helmets were perfectly plain,
Acor's was richly decorated with embossed ornamentation.  Also the arms
of the two lieutenants were bare from corselet to gauntlet, while Acor's
were clad in sleeves of thin red silk.  The lieutenants' sashes were
black and yellow; that of the captain red; they wore buskins of white
leather, while his feet and legs were encased in golden armour to just
below the knee; and lastly, his sword hilt, belt and scabbard were much
more richly ornamented than theirs.

The introduction having been effected, Acor addressed himself at some
length and with much gesture to Earle.  Precisely what he said was of
course unintelligible to the white men; but they gathered some hint of
meaning from his gestures, which they interpreted--rightly, as
afterwards transpired--as a sort of qualified welcome to Ulua, founded
entirely upon Earle's possession of the mysterious amulet.  Acor
concluded his address by beckoning forward his two lieutenants and
directing the attention of the white men to the contents of the bundles,
which, when unrolled, proved to be two dresses made of an exceedingly
fine, silky sort of woollen material.  The dresses consisted of a sort
of singlet without sleeves, a pair of short pants somewhat like those
worn by football players, and an outer garment, cut somewhat like a
shirt, but rather longer, the hem reaching to just below the knee.  This
garment, made quite loose, was confined at the waist by a belt.  The
costumes were completed by the addition of sandals and a kind of turban.
But the two costumes, although similar in cut, were different in
appearance; for while that which was offered for Earle's acceptance was
decorated with turquoise blue braid sewn round the edges of the outer
garment in a broad pattern very similar to the Greek "key" pattern, with
an edging of bead fringe of the same colour, the ornamentation of the
costume offered to Dick consisted of an elaborate pattern beautifully
worked in red braid, with a fringe of red beads.  The turbans, too, were
somewhat different in shape, Earle's being considerably the higher of
the two, intertwined with a rope of large blue beads, while Dick's was
perfectly plain.  Recognising that Acor was inviting them to accept
these garments and don them, the two white men bowed their assent and
took the garments, whereupon Acor and his lieutenants retired, leaving
Earle and Dick to themselves.  Truth to tell, the presented garments
were most acceptable gifts, for not only were the clothes which the
explorers were wearing grimy and tattered, but, having been originally
designed for hard service, they were also unpleasantly heavy and hot, so
that their owners were only too glad to discard them in favour of others
much more suited to the climate, and the pair lost no time in effecting
the change.

They had scarcely done so when the sound of horses' hoofs approaching up
the road attracted their attention, and going to the window, they
perceived a dozen horsemen, with two led horses, galloping toward the
guard house.  A few minutes later, these having arrived, Acor presented
himself, and by signs invited the two white men to follow him.  This
they did, passing out of the guard house just as three servants led
forth the horses of Acor and his two lieutenants, which meanwhile had
been groomed and fed.  Then, as the two white men stepped forth into the
open, each of the newly-arrived horsemen flung up his right hand in
salute and shouted a word that sounded remarkably like "Hail!"  The two
led horses were then brought forward, and with a gesture of deference,
Acor invited his two guests--or were they prisoners?--to mount.

The horses were beautiful animals, full of mettle and fire,
notwithstanding the journey which they had just performed, and they were
most sumptuously caparisoned, the saddles, though differently shaped
from the European or American article, being made of soft leather,
thickly padded, with a handsome saddle cloth beneath, under which again
was a fine net made of thin silk cord, reaching from the animal's
withers to his tail, the edges of the net being fringed with small
tassels.

Earle was of course an accomplished horseman, riding indeed like a
cowboy, and therefore, out of a feeling of compassion for his companion,
he chose what appeared to be the most mettlesome of the two proffered
horses; but Dick, although a sailor, had also learned how to keep his
seat upon a horse's back, and the manner in which the pair lightly swung
themselves up into the saddle, and the easy grace with which they
retained their seats, despite the curvetting and prancing of their
steeds, evoked a low murmur of admiration from the beholders as the
latter formed up round the white men.

Then, just as Adoni and Camma were bidding their strange guests a
respectful farewell, Earle noticed that his Indian followers and all his
goods had disappeared.

"Say!" he exclaimed, seizing Acor by the arm and pointing to the spot
where the Indians had been camped a couple of hours earlier--"where are
my Indians?  Surely, you haven't turned them out, have you?"

The tone of voice in which the question was put and the gesture which
accompanied it were evidently quite intelligible, for Acor instantly
replied in deferential tones, at the same time pointing down the road;
and, sure enough, after the cavalcade had proceeded about two miles,
Inaguy and his companions were overtaken, trudging cheerfully along
under the escort of a man who both Dick and Earle remembered having seen
about the guard house earlier in the day.

The two friends, with their escort, reached the foot of the cliff road,
after a ride of some six miles, shortly after the sun had disappeared
behind the mountains at the western end of the valley.  They were now in
the valley itself, with mountains hemming them in on every hand; and as
they gazed upward in wonder at the high, vertical cliffs all round them,
they realised at last that they were inside an absolutely impregnable
fortress, hewn out of the mountain range by the hand of Nature herself,
and accessible only by air, or by the road which they had just
traversed.  After a thoroughly comprehensive survey of their
surroundings, Earle explained to Dick that the only theory upon which he
could account for so extraordinary a formation was, that thousands, or
possibly even millions, of years ago the valley had been the crater of a
gigantic volcano which, after the volcano had become extinct, had
gradually filled with debris, leaving a depression in the middle, which
in process of time, had become a lake.  And, indeed, if the theory of a
volcano upon so gigantic a scale could but be accepted, it looked very
much as though Earle's explanation might be correct; for the soil of the
valley--a belt of flat land some two miles wide, extending all round the
lake--was light and friable, but extraordinarily rich, as is apt to be
the case with volcanic soil, while the vertical cliffs which hemmed it
in all round bore a striking resemblance to the interior of certain
well-known craters.

Just clear of the foot of the cliff road the party came upon an
encampment, easily recognisable as that of the body of soldiers seen
advancing from the city earlier in the day; and here the night was
spent, the two white men being housed in a capacious tent, most
luxuriously furnished and adorned, in which, shortly after their
arrival, a meal of so elaborate a description, that it might almost be
termed a banquet, was served to them by a staff of reverentially
obsequious servants, and in which they subsequently slept the sleep of
the just, on great piles of soft rugs spread upon the short grass.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

THEIR FIRST DAY IN ULUA.

With the rising of the sun on the following morning, the camp became a
scene of bustling activity, the soldiers grooming, feeding, and watering
their horses, while a little army of servitors bestirred themselves in
the kindling of fires and the preparation of a meal, prior, as the two
white men surmised, to a start for the city.

Whatever might be the climatic conditions in the valley later on in the
day, the early morning air was fresh, cool, and fragrant, with the
mingled odours of rich pastures, luxuriant cornfields, orchards, and
gardens, brilliant with many-hued flowers.

As Earle and Dick emerged from their tent, fresh and buoyant after a
sound night's sleep, the troopers, very lightly clad, were mounting
their horses, bare-backed, with the evident intention of taking the
animals down to the lake; and the idea occurred to Dick and Earle
simultaneously, that there was nothing in the world they so ardently
desired at that moment as a dip in the lake, which, gently ruffled by
the lightest and most balmy of zephyrs, lay shimmering invitingly in the
sunshine some two miles away.  With one accord, therefore, they advanced
toward where the horsemen, now mounted, awaited the word of command to
march.  Most of the troopers had only their own individual horses to
look after, but there were some twenty or so who were each also in
charge of a led horse, and walking up to a couple of these, the two
white men took from the somewhat surprised but submissive soldiers a
horse apiece, and vaulting upon the animals' bare backs, lined up
alongside the officer in command, who received them with a respectful
salute.  Half an hour later, Dick and Earle were sporting in the lake
like a couple of mermen, to the amazement and admiration of the Uluans,
not one of whom appeared to possess the most elementary knowledge of
swimming.  The temperature of the water was just right to render a swim
both invigorating and enjoyable, and when at length the two friends
returned to camp, they were in excellent form to do justice to the
breakfast which they found awaiting them.

The journey from the foot of the cliff road where the camp had been
pitched, round the south-eastern extremity of the lake and so to the
city, was taken at an easy pace, to spare the cattle which drew the camp
carts, in which room had been found for Earle's impedimenta as well as
for a few of the Indians, while those not so accommodated made no
difficulty of running or walking beside the carts.  The journey was
devoid of incident, but the ride was an exceedingly pleasant one, since
the road wound its way for the whole distance through fields and
orchards, the flourishing condition of which bore eloquent testimony to
the richness of the soil and the agricultural skill of the inhabitants.
Here and there farms were passed which were devoted to the raising of
horses, cattle, sheep, and goats, and the splendid condition of the
animals was a source of constant admiration to the two white men.

The city was reached about noon, but long before then the strangers had
begun to realise the splendour and magnificence of it.  A peculiarity of
it was that it had no suburbs, the farm lands coming right up to the
gardens of the outermost houses of the city, which clustered as thickly
on its outskirts as in its heart.  A further peculiarity was that there
were no rows of houses; each was completely detached and stood in its
own grounds, the only difference being that some of the buildings were
larger, more ornate, and had more extensive gardens than others.  The
buildings, though by no means overloaded with ornament, were exceedingly
handsome in a quiet, chaste style, which Earle said reminded him very
forcibly of certain Pompeiian houses; much of the ornamentation
consisting of painted designs upon the white walls.  All the houses
appeared to be flat-roofed, and many of them had gardens on the roofs,
the shrubs and trees showing over the low parapets.  Others were covered
with gay awnings, beneath which some of the occupants could be seen
taking their ease in hammocks.  The Uluans appeared to be passionately
fond of flowers, the gardens being full of them, while their condition
evidenced the care with which they were tended.  Fountains, too,
abounded, some of those adorning the public squares being of very
curious and elaborate design.  The streets were very wide, few being
less than a hundred feet in width, while some were considerably wider,
with narrow strips of garden running down the centre, full of the most
exquisite flowers interspersed with umbrageous trees.  Trees also
overshadowed the rather narrow sidewalks.

Ulua, however, was by no means a city devoted exclusively to luxury.
There was evidently a considerable amount of business done there also,
for some of the streets were occupied entirely by shops, though who,
except the inhabitants, patronised them, was a question, since all the
indications pointed to the fact that there was no trade done with the
outside world.  The commodities exposed for sale seemed to consist
mainly of fruit, vegetables, flowers, confectionery, what looked like
bread in various fanciful shapes, embroideries, jewellery, silks, soft
woollen materials, paintings, lamps and lanterns, harness, and other
goods too numerous to mention.

What surprised the visitors most of all, perhaps, in this wonderful city
was the extraordinarily lavish use made of gold; to them it appeared
that everything that could possibly be made of gold was of that metal;
and it was not until some time afterwards that they learned that gold
was the most common of the metals with the Uluans, who valued it only
because of its untarnishability and beauty of colour.

The wider thoroughfares, squares, and the spacious public gardens
through which the cavalcade passed contained a fair number of people,
although the visitors discovered, later on, that this was the hour when
most of the inhabitants who were not called abroad by business preferred
to remain in the seclusion of their own houses and gardens, this being
the hottest hour of the day.  Naturally, Earle and Dick regarded with
some curiosity the people who paused to regard them as they passed, and
they came to the conclusion that, on the whole, the Uluans were a
distinctly attractive-looking people, the women especially reminding
Earle of the Italians, not only as regarded the regularity of their
features, but also in the grace of their form and carriage.

At length the cavalcade came to a halt in a spacious and beautiful
square, situated, as the visitors judged, in about the centre of the
city.  One side of this square was entirely occupied by an enormous,
lofty, and handsome building, the central portion of which was
surmounted by an immense dome, covered with plates of gold, arranged in
tiers or bands of different shapes among which that of the lozenge was
the most conspicuous, while each corner of the building was crowned with
a smaller dome, similarly covered and ornamented.  Each of the five
domes bore on its summit, as a sort of finial, the figure of a winged
serpent, half of its body being arranged in a coil, while the other
half, with outstretched wings, was upreared in a graceful curve.  A
similar figure crowned a large and beautiful fountain which occupied the
centre of the square, and it was noticeable that every individual who
passed this figure halted and bowed profoundly to it, from which the two
white men inferred that the winged serpent was a sacred symbol,
evidently held in the highest veneration.  This surmise ultimately
proved to be correct, the winged serpent being the figure of the Uluan
god Kuhlacan, who was believed to dwell at the bottom of the lake, in
its centre, and at whose annual festival sacrifices of jewels of immense
value were made by casting them with much ceremony into the lake, from
richly decorated boats.  The building with the five golden domes was, of
course, the temple, sacred to Kuhlacan, in which the god was daily
worshipped.  Earle, whose aesthetic sense was stirred by the beauty of
the fountain and the wonderful workmanship of the figure surmounting it,
directed Dick's particular attention to it and descanted at some length
upon the taste of the design; and Dick, while listening to his
companion, could not fail to observe that Acor, the officer in charge of
the escort, as well as the members of the escort, and indeed all who
were gathered in the square at the moment, regarded Earle intently, with
an expression of mingled wonder and satisfaction.  Acor waited
respectfully while Earle was speaking and, when the latter had finished,
gave the order to dismount.

At a signal from one of the officers, two troopers advanced and took
charge of the horses which Earle and Dick had been riding, and then
Acor, bowing respectfully to the pair, invited them by word and gesture
to follow him into a building on the opposite side of the square from
the temple.

This building, which, like the temple, occupied an entire side of the
square, was much more elaborate, from an architectural point of view
than the sacred edifice, the design of which was chaste, majestic, and
rather severe, while its _vis-a-vis_--which proved to be the royal
palace--was ornate and decorative in effect.  It consisted of an immense
block of buildings, arranged in the form of a hollow square enclosing a
magnificent garden, adorned with many beautiful fountains and statues,
access to which was gained through a wide and lofty archway closed by a
pair of immense and beautiful gates, modelled apparently in bronze, the
archway and gates being so treated as to form a distinctive feature in
the general design of the building.

As Acor and his two companions approached the archway the great gates
swung open, actuated by some unseen agency, and the trio passed through,
saluted, as they went, by the two impassive sentries who stood on guard.

Wheeling sharply round to the left as soon as they had passed through
the archway, Acor conducted his charges along a wide pathway paved with
slabs of variegated marble, until they reached a lofty doorway, entering
which, Earle and Dick found themselves in a spacious lofty hall, the
temperature of which was delightfully cool compared with the blazing
sunshine outside.  They appeared to be expected, for upon their
entrance, a little group of men, whose rich attire seemed to proclaim
them palace officials, came forward and bowing low, were introduced by
Acor, who simply pointed to each man and pronounced his name.  This
done, the captain of the guard gravely and respectfully saluted his
charges and retired, leaving them in the hands of the little group of
supposed officials.

One of these, an elderly man of very dignified mien and presence, whom
Acor had named Bahrim, and who afterward turned out to be the major-domo
of the palace, at once stepped forward and with a low bow, signed the
two white men to follow him.  He led the way to one side of the hall,
where a noble staircase of elaborately sculptured marble swept upward to
a wide gallery running round three of the walls, and ascending this,
Earle and Dick were presently inducted into a suite of three lofty and
luxurious rooms, two of which were furnished as sleeping-chambers, while
the third, lighted by two lofty window openings, shaded by sun blinds,
looked out over the garden.  The rooms were all most sumptuously
furnished, the furniture, of quaint but graceful design, being made, for
the most part, of rare and beautiful woods, richly carved.  In each of
the sleeping-chambers there was a large marble bath, already filled with
water, and on each of the couches was set out a change of apparel.

With a wave of the hand, Bahrim indicated the rooms and their contents
generally, and said a few words, from the tone of which Earle judged him
to be asking whether they were satisfactory; for when Earle carelessly
nodded an affirmative, Bahrim smiled, as though with gratification, and
clapped his hands.  This proved to be a summons to two attendants, who
instantly entered and made their obeisances to the white men.  These
Bahrim introduced by the simple process of pointing to one and saying,
"Shan," and to the other, saying, "Raba."

"Thanks," said Earle; "that will do nicely."  Then, as Bahrim
respectfully bowed himself out, the American turned to his friend and
remarked:

"Say, Dick, how is this for high?  Some lodging, this.  What?  I wonder
how long it is to lunch time?  That ride has proved a fine appetiser in
my case.  But those baths look good.  Guess I'll have a dip now.  I
suppose these two guys are to be our servants.  Which one will you
have?"

"Oh," answered Dick, "either of them will do for me.  They both look
reasonably decent chaps.  Take your choice."

"Right!" said Earle.  "Then I guess I'll have Shan, because I think his
name is the easiest to remember.  Come along, Shan, and help me to get
out of these togs.  I'm going to have a bath.  See?"

Shan apparently saw, which indeed was not difficult, since Earle pointed
toward the bath as he spoke.  The man bowed and turned to help Earle rid
himself of his clothes, while Dick, beckoning to Raba, retired to the
other sleeping-chamber, and a few minutes later was also luxuriating in
the coolness of the bath.

Refreshed by their dip and a delicious luncheon, the two friends were
seated in the deep embrasure of one of the unglazed windows of their
sitting-room, Earle lazily smoking as he and Dick discussed the
advisability of sallying forth, a little later, to learn the geography
of the town, when they were interrupted by the appearance of Bahrim, the
major-domo, accompanied by two other men, whom he introduced
respectively as Zorah and Kedah.

The former was a tall, thin, ascetic-looking man of probably sixty or
sixty-five years of age.  He had doubtless been, in his prime, an
exceedingly handsome man, for, even now, his features were well modelled
and clean cut, but his sallow skin was deeply wrinkled about the
forehead, eyes, and the wings of his nostrils--his mouth and chin were
hidden by a thick moustache and long, straggling grey, almost white
beard.  A few thin wisps of long white hair escaped from the back part
of the turban which covered his head, and fell to the level of his
shoulders.  But perhaps the most striking feature of him after his thin,
hawk-like nose, was his eyes, which were large, black and piercing.  He
was attired in a dress which was a replica in every respect of that
which had been provided for Earle, and his carriage, as he entered the
apartment, was assured, haughty, almost arrogant, that of a man of high
and assured position who possessed a profound faith in himself.

He bowed to Earle with a gesture of restrained humility which contrasted
oddly with the hauteur of his expression, and striding up to the
American, laid his two thin, talon-like hands upon the other's
shoulders, and turned him round until Earle fully faced the light.
Then, bending forward, he intently scrutinised the queer jewel, or
talisman, which Earle now wore fully exposed to view.  And as he did so,
the expression of almost defiant pride which his features had worn upon
his entrance, gradually relaxed until it vanished and gave place to one
of humble conviction.  Then, laying the extremities of his fingers to
his forehead, he bowed very low and backing away from Earle, gradually
bowing himself out of the chamber.

Meanwhile, the other man, Kedah, had stood, a profoundly interested and
impressed spectator of the short scene.  He, too, was an elderly man,
short, rather inclined to be stout, and bald-headed save for two thick
tufts of white hair that sprouted over his ears.  He was attired very
much like Earle, except that the garniture of his robe was emerald
green, instead of turquoise blue; also, instead of a turban, he usually
wore a small, close-fitting skull cap of green silk, which he had
removed upon entering the apartment.  In one hand he carried, as well as
his skull cap, a rather clumsy-looking umbrella of green silk, modelled
somewhat after the pattern of the Japanese article, while the other hand
grasped a roll of what looked like thin parchment.

Upon the departure of Zorah, Kedah laid aside his umbrella and skull cap
and, respectfully motioning the two white men to be seated, drew forward
a small table, upon which he unrolled the parchment, revealing the fact
that its inner surface was covered with small but beautifully executed
drawings of a multitude of objects, such as men, women, boys, girls,
infants, horses, cattle, sheep, etc.  To several of these he pointed in
turn, giving each its proper designation in the Uluan tongue, making his
pupils--for such they were--repeat the words several times after him
until they had caught the correct accent.  Then, after he had named some
twenty objects, he harked back to the beginning again, pointing to each
object and then, by expressive motions of his hands and bushy eyebrows,
requiring them to repeat as many of the names as they could remember.
In this fashion they proceeded for about an hour and a half, by which
time the two white men had mastered the designations of some fifty
objects and were enabled to repeat them when pointed at haphazard.
Kedah graciously expressed his satisfaction at their progress in a flow
of words accompanied by so much action and spoken in such a tone that
there was little difficulty in understanding his general meaning.  This
system of tuition was continued day after day, accompanied by a gradual
extension of the hours of study, and, after the first week, by the
introduction of short sentences, such as: "This is a table.  That is a
picture.  There is a man.  Yonder go a woman and child.  Observe that
crowd of people," and so on, the sentences gradually lengthening and
becoming more intricate, so that by the end of two months, Kedah's
pupils were not only able to gather the general sense of most of what
was said to them, but also intelligibly to ask for almost anything they
required.

Meanwhile, during the progress of that first lesson, certain muffled
exclamations, accompanied by the sounds of heavy breathing and scuffling
feet, reached the ears of the pupils from the adjoining apartments; and
when, upon the conclusion of the lesson they entered those apartments,
Dick and Earle had the satisfaction of finding that all their belongings
had been brought up and were neatly stowed away; also that Inaguy and
Moquit, two of their Indian followers, had been added to their staff of
servants.  And from these men they also received the satisfactory
information that the rest of the Indians were lodged together and being
well cared for in a chamber beneath the palace.

The afternoon was by this time so far advanced that the two white men
felt they might safely venture to sally forth and see something of the
city, without much fear of being unduly incommoded by the heat, and they
were also curious to ascertain how far they were free agents to come and
go as they pleased; they resolved, therefore, to put the matter to the
test without further ado.  Accordingly, each thrusting a pair of fully
loaded automatics into his belt, as a measure of precaution against
possible contingencies, they left their apartments and, descending the
stairs, made their way to the garden quadrangle, from whence they
passed, without interference, into the grand square, receiving the
salute of the sentry at the gates as they went.

The temple, situate on the opposite side of the square, was naturally
the first object to claim their attention, and observing that its great
main entrance doors stood wide open, the pair sauntered across the
square, reverentially saluted as they went by everyone they met, and
passing up the long flight of steps leading to the open doorway, they
boldly entered the building.

It was a magnificent structure, the rich and lavish ornamentation of its
interior making ample amends for the severity of its exterior design.
The four corners of the building were occupied by spacious rooms, or
possibly subsidiary chapels, the doors of which were closed, but the
main or principal temple was open, and into this the two friends boldly
made their way, Earle declaring to Dick that he was determined to put to
the test the exact measure of independence and power which the
possession of the talisman conferred upon him, which he believed to be
almost supreme, judging by the extraordinary reverence and veneration
with which it had thus far been regarded by the Uluans.

The main temple was far and away the most spacious interior which either
of them had thus far seen, Earle, after running his eye over it,
expressing the opinion that its floor would accommodate at least twenty
thousand persons comfortably.  It was rectangular in shape, its longest
dimension running east and west.  Its main walls were about sixty feet
high, tinted turquoise blue--as was the ceiling--with decorative designs
in white.  It was lighted by windows in the sides, fitted with slats
instead of glass, so carefully adjusted that while admitting a
sufficiency of light--when one's eyes became accustomed to the
semi-obscurity--they effectually excluded rain.  The centre of the
ceiling was pierced by a circular aperture about one hundred feet in
diameter, above which rose the majestic dome which, from the outside,
had already attracted their admiring attention.  This dome was supported
by four enormous columns connected by arches, and its interior, while
shrouded in gloom, was a mass of subdued scintillating colour, as though
it were encrusted with innumerable gems and glowing enamels.  The
eastern wall of the interior was remarkable from the circumstance that
it bore a gigantic replica of the jewel, or talisman, which Earle wore--
a fact which finally and definitely confirmed the conviction already
arrived at by the American that the possession of the ornament conferred
upon him almost supernatural powers and authority.  At a distance of
some twenty feet from this eastern wall there was an immense figure--or
statue--of the Winged Serpent, reproduced in the middle of the square
and on the domes of the temple, and before it stood a very large altar
which bore evidences that sacrifices were continually offered upon it.

Upon entering the building the two friends were under the impression
that it was empty; but they had scarcely been in it ten minutes, and
were standing before the altar, studying the marvellous modelling of the
Winged Serpent, when a strain of music smote upon their ears, and the
next moment a curtain parted and a company of priests, some sixty in
number, of whom about a third were playing upon quaint-looking musical
instruments, filed into the building, headed by Zorah, their
acquaintance of an hour or two earlier.  Advancing with slow and solemn
steps they halted before the two friends and, after bowing profoundly to
Earle, broke into a slow and solemn chant, which gradually changed into
a kind of triumphal hymn, at the conclusion of which they again bowed
until their foreheads almost touched the pavement, and then filed out
again.

The two white men, completely taken aback by the solemnity and
unexpectedness of this apparently impromptu ceremony, knew not what to
do, and therefore did nothing, which, as afterwards transpired, was the
wisest course they could possibly have adopted.  For, although they were
quite unaware of it at the moment, their every movement was being
carefully watched, and when they entered the temple, Zorah, the high
priest, was instantly informed of the fact; whereupon he marshalled his
subordinate priests and carried out the ceremony above recorded, in
order to do honour to the individual who, in virtue of his possession of
the mysterious jewel bearing the "sign" of Kuhlacan, the Winged Serpent,
was implicitly believed to be either Kuhlacan's special ambassador to
the Uluans, or, possibly, a human incarnation of Kuhlacan himself.  The
ceremony brought home a vague inkling of this state of affairs to both
of the individuals most intimately concerned, and Earle, while
expressing some embarrassment and dislike of the position in which he
found himself placed, announced to Dick his determination to accept it,
in the hope and belief that, before leaving Ulua, it might be his good
fortune to wield the authority with which he was endowed for the benefit
and advantage of the people, and quite possibly, the correction of
abuses.

Leaving the temple, the two friends passed out of the square and entered
a road which attracted them because of its extraordinary width, the
magnificence of its shade trees, the beauty of its central strip of
garden, the sumptuous character of its buildings, and the air of dignity
and well-being which seemed to characterise the people who were
promenading it.  Taken altogether, it appeared to be Ulua's most
aristocratic quarter, or at least its most fashionable promenade, for
the men and women who thronged it were all elegantly dressed, and all
had the air of belonging to the leisured class, while the roadway was
thickly sprinkled with elegant and beautifully decorated chariots, drawn
by teams of two, or sometimes three, handsome horses, driven by young
men who appeared to be inviting the admiration of Ulua's fair ones.

Still unobtrusively followed by a palace official, the two friends
wended their way down the street, receiving the respectful homage of all
who passed them.  They had traversed about half the length of the
street, which was about two miles long, when suddenly loud and excited
cries arose behind them, punctuated by the quick clatter of galloping
hoofs, and wheeling round, they beheld a beautiful chariot, the body,
wheels, and pole of which were entirely covered with plates of embossed
gold, coming careering along the road toward them at full speed, and
swerving wildly from side to side of the road as it came, the two cream
stallions which drew it having evidently bolted.

The man who drove was doing his best to regain control of his terrified
and mettlesome animals, and at the same time to avoid the chariots ahead
of him, the drivers of which hurriedly drew in towards the sides of the
road to give the runaways a free passage; but the lad--for he was
apparently still in his teens--might as well have attempted to control
the elements; the horses had got their heads and seemed determined not
to stop until they were tired, while it was evident that a very serious
accident was inevitable, the road being thronged with vehicles, horsemen
and pedestrians--the latter seeming to use the roadway quite as much as
the footpaths.

And even as Dick and Earle halted and turned to ascertain the cause of
the commotion, the wildly careering chariot collided with another, a
wheel of which it sheared off, while the impact of the two vehicles
jolted the driver of the runaways off his feet and flung him violently
into the road, where he lay motionless.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Dick, as the two creams came tearing along,
with the reins trailing in the roadway, "the brutes will not only kill
themselves, but dozens of people as well, if they are not stopped!"  And
before Earle could reply, or do anything to restrain him, the lad sprang
into the roadway, close to the path of the runaways, and braced himself
for a spring.  The next instant the frantic horses were upon him; but
meanwhile, with a leap, Dick had started to run in the same direction as
the horses, and as they tore past, with one hand he snatched at the
reins and got them, while with the other, he gripped the rear of the
chariot and swung himself into it.  Then, gripping the reins with a firm
hand, and shouting all the time to warn those ahead, he brought a steady
strain to bear upon the horses' mouths, guiding them meanwhile as best
he could.  And almost immediately his pull upon the reins began to tell,
for his thews and sinews, hardened and tempered to the strength of steel
by his long tramp from the banks of the Amazon, were very different from
those of the effeminate youth who had been thrown out; and after
traversing a couple of hundred yards, the animals acknowledged
themselves beaten and came to a standstill without having done further
damage.  Then, turning the sweat-lathered animals gently round, Dick
drove them at a foot pace, snorting and curvetting, back to the spot
where the owner, still insensible, lay upon the footpath, being tended
by sympathisers, of whom Earle was one.  As Dick came up and dismounted
from the chariot, which he surrendered to an official, he was greeted
with loud plaudits, the people clapping their hands and shouting "Aha!
aha!"

They made way for him as he came up and joined Earle, who was already
bending over the insensible charioteer, feeling the youth's body and
limbs.

"Any damage done?" he inquired, as he came to a stand and looked down on
his friend.

"Hillo! you back?" returned Earle.  "You've soon done the trick, Dick.
Did you manage to stop 'em without hurting anybody else?"

"Yes, luckily," answered Dick.  "Pulled 'em up, and brought 'em back
again.  They're in the road there, now, in charge of a fellow who, I
suppose, is a sort of policeman.  Is that dude hurt at all?"

"Left arm broken; but that seems to be the full extent of the damage,"
answered Earle.  "If I could get a couple of sticks and a bandage, I'd
set it while he is still insensible.  Just see if you can find anything
that will do, Dick, there's a good chap."

Dick looked about him, but could see nothing at all suitable until his
gaze happened to fall upon the window of a house opposite him, which was
closed by a kind of jalousie shutter.  A couple of slats from this
shutter would serve excellently, and without ceremony he wrenched two of
them out and, breaking them into suitable lengths, handed them to Earle.
Then, while the latter brought the ends of the fractured bone into
position and held them there, Dick adjusted the splints, as directed by
Earle, afterwards assisted by a bystander, binding them firmly into
position with the folds of his turban, which he unwound for the purpose.

By the time that this was done the friends of the injured man had been
summoned and were on the spot; and to them Earle handed over his
patient, directing them by signs what to do, after which the two friends
returned to the palace, amid the admiring murmurs of all whom they
encountered.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

EARLE SETTLES A DELICATE MATTER.

The following day was marked by two incidents, namely, a visit to Earle
and Dick from the parents of Mishail, the young man who had been injured
by being thrown out of his chariot, and the presentation of the two
friends to Juda, the King of Ulua, and his granddaughter, the Princess
Myrra.

The visit occurred shortly after the friends had finished breakfast, and
the visitors were accompanied and introduced by Kedah, the individual
who, on the previous day, had begun the task of instructing the two
white men in the Uluan tongue.

Kedah introduced the visitors by simply indicating them and pronouncing
their names, that of the man whom he introduced first being Hasca, while
he named the lady Tua.

Judging by the deference which Kedah displayed toward them the visitors
were people of high degree; an inference which was borne out in the
first instance by the stately dignity of their manner and the richness
of their garb, and afterwards by the sumptuousness of their abode, which
was almost palatial in its spaciousness and the magnificence of its
furnishing.  Hasca was, in fact, one of the most powerful and
influential nobles of Ulua, and the acquaintance which began with this
visit was destined to have important results.

Hasca was a very fine specimen of Uluan manhood, some forty years of
age, standing about five feet ten inches in his sandals, of swarthy
complexion, with coal-black hair, beard and eyes, the latter very keen
and piercing.  There was a distinct touch of hauteur in his manner to
Kedah; but to Dick he and his wife were friendliness itself, while to
Earle they showed that deep reverence which seemed to be the invariable
rule with the Uluans.

The lady Tua seemed to be some five years younger than her husband,
dark, and decidedly handsome, but, like all the Uluan women of mature
age, she displayed a distinct tendency to become stout.

Kedah undertook the task of explaining to his two pupils the object of
the visit, and to do the old gentleman justice, he succeeded fairly
well, considering the difficulties which confronted him.  He talked a
good deal, but speech, of itself, naturally did not count for much.  He
supplemented his words, however, with such a wonderful wealth of
gesture, accent and tone, that the two white men found it by no means
difficult to guess the general drift of his speech, especially as he
adopted the novel method of further elucidating his meaning by a number
of amazingly clever sketches produced upon a kind of papyrus, with the
aid of a very fine brush and a small bottle of some kind of ink, which
he had taken the precaution to bring with him.

With these aids, then, he managed to make Earle and Dick understand that
the visit was, first, one of thanks for the assistance rendered to the
unfortunate Mishail on the preceding day, and next, a request that one,
or both, would be so very obliging as to visit the patient, who was
either very ill, or suffering much pain--they could not quite make out
which was meant--and see what could be done for him.

To this request the comrades at once willingly assented, the more
readily because, having, by a piece of extraordinarily good luck,
obtained entrance to what they understood was, to all intents and
purposes, a forbidden city, so far as outsiders were concerned, it was
now good policy on their part to establish the best possible relations
with its people.  Accordingly, Earle routed out his medicine case and,
tucking it under his arm, signified his readiness to go at once.

As it chanced, they had not very far to go, the Hasca residence being
situated less than a mile from the palace, in an even more aristocratic
looking avenue than the one in which the accident had occurred.  They
found Mishail, the patient, lodged in a sumptuous chamber, attended by
his sister Lissa, a remarkably pretty girl, some sixteen years of age.

The patient appeared to be suffering great pain, was in a high state of
fever, and in a condition bordering on delirium, which indeed was not
surprising, since the unhappy youth was in a room upon the outer wall of
which the sun beat all day, while the shutters of the two windows were
closed and heavy curtains drawn across them.  The room, in fact, was as
stifling as an oven, and Earle's first act was to draw apart the heavy
curtains and throw wide the shutters, thus letting in both air and
light.  Then he looked at the injured arm, which he expected to find
properly dressed, naturally supposing that upon the arrival of the lad
at his home, the family physician would be summoned and the fracture
carefully attended to.  To his great surprise, however, he found the
limb in exactly the same state as when he had left it, with the
makeshift splints still there, but shifted out of position by the
restless movements of the patient, and he afterwards learned that this
was because they had not dared to tamper or in any way interfere with
the work of the illustrious representative of Kuhlacan!

Upon the arm being unstrapped, Earle found, as he fully expected, that
the bone had become displaced and needed re-setting; and this he at once
proceeded to do, having first secured all that he needed in the way of
effective splints and bandages, and put his patient under chloroform.
He took care that this time the job was properly done, and the patient's
arm so securely strapped to his body that it could not be moved; and as
soon as Mishail had recovered from his state of anaesthesia, Earle
administered a draught designed to reduce the fever, and, having made
his patient as comfortable as possible, left him, promising to call
again some time during the evening.  And, not to dwell at undue length
upon the incident, it may here be said that, under Earle's skilful
treatment the patient made a rapid and perfectly satisfactory recovery,
to the admiration, delight, and gratitude of the entire family.

Upon leaving Hasca's house, the two friends indulged in a walk through a
few of the streets that they had not yet visited; consequently it was
after noon when at length they got back to the palace.  Here they found
Bahrim, the major-domo, in their suite anxiously awaiting their return.
The poor man was evidently in a state of great excitement concerning
some matter which he found himself wholly unable to explain; but by dint
of signs he at length contrived to make them both understand that he
desired them to bathe, and afterwards don certain festive garments, to
which he respectfully directed their attention.  Understanding at last
what the old fellow required of them, and also that he was in a most
desperate hurry, the two friends disappeared, to re-appear, about a
quarter of an hour later, bathed, perfumed--by their assiduous servants,
who insisted upon the process--and clad in garments of so sumptuous a
character that there could be no doubt the wearers were booked for some
exceedingly important ceremony.

They were immediately taken in charge by the obsequious Bahrim, who, by
expressive signs, invited them to follow him.  Led by the major-domo,
the two friends rapidly traversed several corridors until they reached
another wing of the palace, finally halting before a closed door,
outside which two soldiers, clad in golden armour and armed with sword
and spear, stood on guard.  Signing to the white men to remain where
they were, Bahrim opened the door, disclosing a drawn curtain beyond it,
and closed the door behind him, only to re-appear, some two minutes
later, beckoning his charges to follow him.

Not until having received the salute of the guards as they passed
through the re-opened doorway, and the door was closed behind them, was
the shrouding curtain withdrawn, and then Earle and Dick found
themselves in a small but most sumptuously furnished apartment, at the
far extremity of which were seated two people, a man and a girl.

The man was apparently between fifty and sixty years of age--and a very
fine specimen of Uluan manhood, as the visitors presently discovered
when he rose to his feet.  Like most Uluans, he was dark complexioned,
his hair, beard and moustache, all of which he wore of patriarchal
length, having been originally black, though now thickly streaked with
grey.  His features were well formed, clean cut, and aristocratic
looking, as they might well be, seeing that the man was none other than
Juda, the King of Ulua, and direct descendant of a long line of kings
whose origin was lost in the mists of antiquity.  He wore a long sleeved
garment, which reached from his throat to his feet, the colour of it
being red, with a wide border containing an intricate pattern wrought in
black, white and gold braid.  On his head he had a kind of turban of
red, black and gold, surrounded by a coronet that appeared to be made of
iron, set with many beautiful stones, while its front was adorned with
an aigrette of crimson feathers, fastened by a brooch which also
appeared to be made of iron.  A broad belt, embroidered in red, black
and gold, encircled his waist, attached to which was a great
cross-hilted sword which looked as though it might have originally
belonged to a crusader.  His feet were shod with sandals of crimson
leather, and his fingers decorated with several rings, apparently of
wrought iron, each of which was set with a very fine stone, either
emerald, sapphire, ruby, or diamond.

Taken altogether, Juda was a remarkably imposing specimen of manhood,
and a worthy progenitor of his handsome granddaughter, Myrra.  She,
however, unlike her grandfather, was fair as a summer's dawn, of medium
height, with violet eyes, and an extraordinary wealth of ruddy-golden
hair which, confined to her head by a fillet of what looked like red
velvet set with precious stones, rolled thence to far below her waist in
great waves.  Her outer garment, sleeveless, might have been copied from
those depicted on the Greek vases in the British Museum and, like her
grandfather's, was red in colour, adorned with braiding in the same
colours as his.  Her sandals were of white leather, and she wore armlets
and bracelets of beautifully worked iron encrusted with precious stones.

As the two white men, intuitively guessing the identity of those in
whose presence they found themselves, walked slowly up the room, Juda
and Myrra rose to their feet and stood gazing with the utmost interest
at their visitors.  Juda's eyes were intently fixed upon the amulet
which Earle now habitually wore fully exposed to view; but after the
first glance, Myrra seemed far more interested in Dick, with his
stalwart frame and good-looking features.

Arrived within some half-a-dozen paces of the two august figures, Earle
and Dick came to a halt and bowed, while Bahrim, who had been bowing
almost to the earth during his progress up the hall, now knelt down,
touched the marble pavement three times with his forehead, and then,
rising to his feet, introduced the visitors in a long speech, which was
of course utterly unintelligible to the white men, though they gathered
from certain of Bahrim's movements and gestures that the incident of the
runaway horses, of Dick stopping them, and of Earle's attentions to
Mishail, the injured charioteer, formed part of the speech.

The two royal personages listened with the closest attention to Bahrim's
long speech, the king nodding emphatic approval as the major-domo, with
much appropriate gesture, described Dick's dash into the road and
stoppage of the runaway horses, while the eyes of the princess flashed
and sparkled with excitement and undisguised admiration at what, from
the expression of the listeners, seemed to be a deed of most
unparalleled heroism.  The speech came to an end at last; and then, as
Bahrim stepped back with the air of a man who has performed his duty
well, Juda advanced to Earle and fixed his eyes upon the amulet,
intently examining its every detail.  Then, to the amazement of the two
white men, he turned to the princess, addressed a few words to her,
beckoned her to his side, and the next moment the royal pair had
prostrated themselves at Earle's feet, with their foreheads humbly bowed
to the pavement.  They remained thus for nearly five minutes, until
Earle, fearing that they were never going to rise from their humble
posture, bent forward, touched each lightly upon the shoulder and,
extending his hands, raised them gently to their feet, when, first Juda,
and then the princess, reverently took the amulet in their hands, raised
it to their foreheads, and bowing low, backed to their seats.  The king
then drew a handsome ring from his finger and, beckoning to Dick to draw
near, slipped it on to the corresponding finger of the young
Englishman's hand, while the princess, following suit, transferred one
of her bracelets to Dick's wrist, each with a polite little speech,
which Cavendish greatly regretted his inability to understand.  This
little ceremony performed, Juda bowed his dismissal of his visitors,
and, led by Bahrim, the pair retired to their own quarters, a good deal
puzzled by, yet very much pleased with, all that had passed.

As they went Earle turned to Dick and remarked:

"Gee!  Dick, I guess this is some amulet, eh, when even a king and a
princess of the blood royal do homage to it.  Seems to me that I'm the
most important personage in this realm; and as soon as we are able to
understand the language a bit, and get the hang of things, I mean to use
the power and influence which it bestows for the abolition of a few of
the evils which are sure to exist, either in the religion or the
government of the country."

"If you take my advice, you will leave this people's religion and
politics alone," remarked Dick.

"I will," agreed Earle, "if there is nothing to find fault with, but not
otherwise.  Gee!  What's the good of possessing such power as mine, if I
don't make use of it?  And, civilised as these people are in some
respects, they are centuries behind the rest of the world in others; and
I'm prepared to bet that, when we begin to understand things a bit, we
shall find that there is plenty of room for improvement in a good many
directions.  And it is entirely against my principles not to do good
when the opportunity offers.  But--well, we shall see."

And now, something like a month passed without anything occurring worthy
of detailed record.  Kedah, the instructor told off to teach the two
white men the Uluan language, was indefatigable in the execution of his
rather difficult task, while his pupils were equally indefatigable in
their efforts to master the tongue spoken by all around them, with the
result that they made excellent progress and were no longer obliged to
remain dumb when addressed.  They made a good many acquaintances, and
not a few friends, chief among whom were the king and the princess,
whose demeanour toward the white men was, like that of everybody else,
indeed, a curious mingling of reverence and friendliness.  They spent a
good deal of time walking and riding about the city and its outskirts,
thus in the course of time becoming intimately acquainted with every
street, road, alley and by-way; while Dick early found an outlet for his
superabundant energies among the shipbuilders, whose ideas concerning
the most desirable model for their craft were of the crudest possible
character.  He also discovered that they knew nothing about sails and
how to use them, and he enjoyed himself immensely in rigging one of
their most suitable lighters as a fore-and-aft schooner, and then
watching the crew's amazement and delight as he navigated her across the
lake and back in about a quarter of the time usually occupied upon the
trip.

It was about this time, when their progress under the tuition of Kedah
was so far advanced that they were able to catch a glimmer of the
meaning of what was said to them or in their hearing, that the two white
men began to sense a suggestion of steadily growing excitement among the
populace generally, accompanied, on the part of those with whom they
were more intimately acquainted, by a continually increasing curiosity,
not unmingled with anxiety, concerning themselves and something with
which, in some mysterious manner, they (Dick and Earle) seemed to be
intimately connected.  They became aware that they were being keenly
watched, and their slightest words and actions carefully noted, as
though some word or action of extreme significance or importance on
their part was being eagerly expected and watched for.  More
particularly was this the case with regard to Earle; but although the
two friends frequently exchanged ideas upon the subject, neither of them
caught the slightest clue to the mystery until Zorah, the high priest,
one day sought Earle and, with the assistance of Kedah, the tutor,
broached the subject of the approaching great Septennial Festival in
honour of Kuhlacan, the Winged Serpent, god of the Uluans, who was
supposed to have his abode at the bottom of the lake.

This was the first that either Earle or Dick had heard of the festival,
but bearing in mind the fact that the amulet which he wore bore the
"sign" of Kuhlacan, and that it was undoubtedly the possession of this
amulet which, from the first, had inspired the Uluans with that profound
reverence which had everywhere been shown him, the American at once
began to suspect that the Uluans were in some way connecting his
presence in the country with the approaching festival, and possibly
expecting him either to take a leading part in it, or it might be, to
issue some definite pronouncement in connection with it.  Therefore, as
soon as Earle clearly realised the attitude of the people toward him,
and realised also that one or more important, perhaps vital, issues hung
in the balance awaiting his pronouncement, he assumed what he deemed to
be the correct oracular pose, in accordance with which he now bade Zorah
set forth his statement, or propound his questions, without
circumlocution.

Then the whole terrible truth came out, though it had to be wrung from
Zorah bit by bit, the high priest using his utmost endeavours to induce
Earle to endorse certain generalities put forward by the wily
ecclesiastic.  But Zorah, clever and astute as he was, was no match for
the American, who simply listened to the priest's statements as he made
them, one by one, and then, without comment, bade the man pass on to the
next point.  Earle's imperfect knowledge of the Uluan language, coupled
with Zorah's rapid, excited speech, made anything like a clear
understanding of the case exceedingly difficult.  But Earle was in no
hurry; no sooner did he get an inkling of the actual object of the high
priest's visit than he determined to arrive at a perfectly clear and
definite understanding of the whole case; and in this he was ably
seconded by Kedah, who spared no pains to make every point advanced by
Zorah intelligible.

Condensed into a few words the issue raised was as follows:

On a certain date, the anniversary of which was now rapidly approaching,
an annual festival was held in honour of Kuhlacan, in the course of
which offerings were made to the god by every Uluan, who, embarking in a
gaily-decorated boat, proceeded to the middle of the lake and there cast
into the depths the most precious thing in his possession, usually some
costly article of jewellery made especially for the purpose.  But every
seventh year the festival assumed a much more serious and important
character, inasmuch as that, in addition to the offerings above referred
to, the nation as a whole was accustomed to make a joint offering; such
offering consisting of the seven most beautiful maidens, between the
ages of twelve and twenty, in Ulua, who, on this great day, were dressed
in magnificent garments, loaded with jewels, until they could scarcely
stand for the weight of them, and then taken to the middle of the lake,
where, with much ceremony, and to the accompaniment of prayers and hymns
chanted by the priests, they plunged into the lake, one by one, and were
of course never again seen.

This ceremony, known as the Sacrifice of the Maidens, had been observed,
it appeared, from time immemorial, and was regarded by the priests--who,
being celibates, had no daughters to lose--as of the utmost importance
and sanctity, to such an extent, indeed, that even the slightest
approach to a murmur or protest against it was denounced as an
unpardonable sin.  Yet, as may be easily understood, the approach of
every Septennial Festival was a time of infinite anxiety to all those
who happened to have daughters eligible for the sacrifice, the more so
that no family, not even royalty itself, was exempt, while the choice of
the maidens rested with the priests, from whose decision there was no
appeal.  And the barbarity of the custom was accentuated in this
particular year, from the fact that Princess Myrra was both by age and
her remarkable beauty, to be certainly reckoned among the eligibles,
while an impression had arisen, rightly or wrongly, that the priesthood,
in order to manifest and assert their power, would assuredly so arrange
matters that she should be included among the fatal seven.

It is supposed that the king's opposition to the immemorial custom
really took definite shape on the day upon which his orphan
granddaughter entered upon her thirteenth year.  Be this as it may, it
was not long afterwards that Juda, pious monarch as he was, ventured to
hint to Zorah his opinion that the time had arrived when the Sacrifice
of the Maidens might very well be abolished.  But Zorah, a zealot of
zealots, would not hear of such a thing, possibly because, among other
reasons, the abolition would rob him of an appreciable amount of the
power which he now possessed, and which power, it was hinted, had been
more than once wielded to secure--for a substantial consideration--the
elimination of a name from the list of the chosen.  Juda, of course,
might have approached the high priest with a similar proposal on behalf
of his granddaughter; but there were several reasons against it, one of
which was that the king was, according to his lights, a just monarch,
and would have scorned to secure the princess's exemption by any such
means, while another was that he shrewdly suspected Zorah would refuse
to forgo such a marked demonstration of his power and, in addition, give
himself away even at the cost of an enormous bribe.

Under these circumstances the king, while not actually revolting openly
from the dictum of the high priest, had instituted among the people a
practice of private prayer that the Septennial Sacrifice of the Maidens
might be dispensed with; and when during the actual year of the
Septennial Festival Earle had unexpectedly appeared, wearing an amulet
bearing the "sign" of Kuhlacan, and demanding admission to Ulua, it is
not to be wondered at if all who were in any way interested in the
burning question should regard his appearance as, in one form or
another, an answer to their petition.  Whether that answer was to be in
the affirmative or the negative was what everybody, and especially
Zorah, were now particularly anxious to learn.

For Earle, with his as yet imperfect knowledge of the Uluan tongue to
get a clear comprehension of a somewhat intricate case, took some time,
and taxed Kedah's ingenuity to its utmost extent; but Kedah happened to
be a vitally interested party, and believing, in common with everybody
else, that Earle was in some mysterious fashion, either the incarnation
of Kuhlacan, or an ambassador and representative of the god, he
determined that, by hook or by crook, the white man should be made
clearly to understand every point of the case, and he succeeded.

On the other hand, as point after point was unfolded and made clear to
him, the quick-witted American began to realise that there was far more
in the case than, at a first glance, met the eye; it quickly resolved
itself, in fact, into a struggle between the priesthood and the laity;
and it needed but a single glance at the fanatical high priest's stern,
inflexible expression to assure oneself that he was not at all the sort
of person to yield without a struggle.  To add to the difficulty, Earle
had no means of knowing what sort of a backing the priests would be
likely to have, should the struggle for supremacy become an open one,
which was by no means improbable.  There was one point, however, upon
which Earle's mind was very quickly made up, since the decision seemed
to be left in his hands; let the consequences be what they might, the
barbarous custom of human sacrifice must be abolished.  Other
developments must be left to take their course; but naturally, his
influence, whatever it might amount to, would be thrown into the scale
on the side of right and justice.

Therefore when at length Zorah, the high priest, had fully stated his
case, and was expectantly awaiting an answer, Earle turned to him and
said:

"Know, O Zorah, high priest of the god whom the people of Ulua call
Kuhlacan, that to settle this important question of human sacrifice is
one of the reasons for my presence in this country; and it was my
purpose to have made the Divine Will known as soon as I had sufficiently
mastered the intricacies of your tongue to render myself intelligible;
but ye have forestalled me.  The matter is urgent, I know, seeing that
the Septennial Festival is at hand; yet, in virtue of the `sign' which I
bear"--here he lightly touched the amulet--"it would have been better
had ye abided in patience until it was convenient for me to speak.  Let
that pass, however; your impatience was the outcome of your zeal, and it
is therefore forgiven.

"Now in the olden time the Deity whom all worship ordained that a
portion of His worship should consist in the offering of sacrifices
involving the shedding of blood; and, for a time, such sacrifices,
accompanied of course with prayer and praise, and the living of an
upright life sufficed.

"But the sacrifices of which I have just spoken were merely the figure,
reminder of, and substitute for, a still greater sacrifice which in the
fulness of time was made, but news of which I am the first to bring ye;
and that sacrifice has rendered all others involving the shedding of
blood and the destruction of life unnecessary; hence it is the will of
Him whom all worship, that the Sacrifice of the Maidens shall cease for
ever.  I have spoken."

Evidently this was not at all the kind of pronouncement which Zorah had
anticipated; he looked not only greatly surprised, but also profoundly
disappointed; and there was also something in the expression of his
strongly marked features which seemed to indicate that he was by no
means prepared to accept Earle's dictum unless supported by proof of
some sort.  For a minute or more he stood silent and thoughtful, turning
over the problem which presented itself to him.  Then, looking up, he
propounded his question.

"Lord," he said, "thou sayest that sacrifice is no longer necessary.
How then shall we henceforth worship, seeing that the very essence of
our worship is sacrifice?"

"Nay," answered Earle; "ye mistake me, Zorah.  I said not that sacrifice
is no longer necessary; but that sacrifices involving the taking of life
are no longer required.  Ye are accustomed to slay and burn animals upon
your altars; but that is an easy thing for ye to do, involving no real
sacrifice indeed, since it is only the animals who suffer.  And ye make
annual sacrifice by casting into the lake the most precious thing ye
possess.  But even that is not sufficient; ye must make sacrifices that
are still more difficult, and cost ye more than that.  Ye must
steadfastly resist every temptation to do evil, to injure an enemy, to
rob, defraud, to utter untruths, to do anything which ye know to be
wrong.  And ye must do this, not only at stated times set apart for
worship, but ye must do it always, whenever the impulse to do evil
comes.  So shall ye offer the most acceptable sacrifice which it is
possible for man to render to his God."

Again Zorah bent his mind to the full comprehension of all that Earle's
words meant.

"Then," said he at length, "the festivals will be as heretofore,
excepting that the Sacrifice of the Maidens is forbidden?"

"Even so," agreed Earle, "but with a further difference.  Ye are
accustomed every year to cast some very precious thing into the lake.
That sacrifice also is unnecessary, since Kuhlacan has no need of jewels
or ornaments of any kind.  Yet, sacrifice, being an act of worship and
an expression of gratitude for mercies and benefits received, is good,
and therefore shall be continued, but in a different form.  Here in
Ulua, as elsewhere, ye have poor and sick; and henceforth your sacrifice
shall take the form of ministering to them and providing them with those
things necessary to their comfort and welfare which, by reason of their
poverty, they are unable to provide for themselves.  Therefore,
henceforward it shall be that every person desiring to offer sacrifice
shall, instead of casting some precious thing into the waters of the
lake, take its value in money to the temple, and present it to the
priests, who in their turn shall expend it in the manner which I have
indicated."

Zorah nodded.  "The plan seems good," he said; "yet I foresee many
difficulties in the way.  We shall need continual guidance from thee,
lord, if the innovation is to be successfully accomplished."

"True," assented Earle.  "And ye shall have all the guidance that ye
need.  I will speak to thee again of this.  Now go in peace."



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

DICK CAVENDISH LOSES HIS TEMPER.

Earle thought he had good reason to congratulate himself upon the
success with which he had grappled the problem of human sacrifice in
connection with the septennial festival in honour of Kuhlacan; for, at
the first, his pronouncement seemed to meet with universal approval.
Yet but a few days elapsed before it was apparent that even so
humanitarian an edict as Earle's, one which, it might have been
supposed, would appeal more or less directly to everybody, was not
without its objectors.  True, those objectors were only to be found
among those who had not, and were not in the least likely to have,
daughters who might be reckoned as "eligible"; yet it was really
surprising to find how many of these there were.  Precisely _why_ they
objected it was very difficult to ascertain; but it was thought that the
reason was that the "sacrifice" afforded an exciting spectacle to
persons of a cruel, morbid and vicious disposition.  Also, it soon began
to be hinted that although Zorah, the high priest, had seemed to
acquiesce in the innovation, the priesthood were in reality opposed to
and were secretly stirring up the people to rebel against it.

Meanwhile, however, Earle had earned the undying gratitude of the king,
the princess, and several of the most powerful and influential of the
nobles, who treated him and Dick with greater respect and reverence than
ever.  The preparations for the festival proceeded apace; and to
compensate the masses for the loss of the most spectacular feature of
the event, Earle and Dick inaugurated a series of games and sports, with
valuable prizes for those successful in them, sufficient in number to
occupy the entire day; so that when that day arrived, it not only passed
without any marked demonstration of dissatisfaction, but was pronounced
to be a distinct improvement upon the old order of things.

True, it was not possible for those who keenly watched the demeanour of
the crowd to avoid noticing that the satisfaction was by no means
general; and another disconcerting fact in connection with the festival
was that, when it was over and Zorah was requested to report to Earle
the amount presented in the temple on that day, in lieu of the usual
offerings cast into the lake, the sum named by the high priest was
disappointingly meagre, amounting to less than a tenth of what had been
anticipated.  Earle mentioned privately to Dick his suspicion that there
had been a tremendous amount of leakage somewhere, and expressed his
determination to look into the matter at the earliest possible
opportunity; but before he could do so his attention was distracted from
it by other and more important happenings.

The first of these happenings was the sudden and wholly unexpected death
of the king.  When he retired to rest on the preceding night, Juda
appeared to be in the enjoyment of perfect health; but when his servants
entered the royal sleeping-apartment on the following morning to arouse
his Majesty and attend him to the bath, he was found lying dead upon his
couch, with every indication that dissolution had taken place several
hours previously.  Of course, the court physicians were instantly
summoned; but they could do nothing except pronounce that death had
actually occurred, and that it was due to natural causes.  To the great
surprise of Earle and Dick, no attempt was made to hold a _post mortem_,
with the object of ascertaining the actual cause of death; but a little
judicious inquiry soon elicited the fact that such investigations were
unknown in Ulua, the skill and knowledge of the physicians not having
advanced so far.  With the permission of the princess, Earle was present
when the physicians viewed the body, and he was compelled to admit that
there was nothing in its appearance to justify the slightest suspicion
of foul play, which indeed nobody so much as hinted at.  Earle gave it
as his opinion that the cause of death was some obscure and unsuspected
affection of the heart.

Simultaneously with the summoning of the physicians upon the discovery
of the royal demise, the "Council of Nobles"--a council, the functions
of which correspond in some measure with those of the British Cabinet--
was summoned to the palace; and it was to the members of this that the
physicians formally reported the death of the king.  Thereupon steps
were immediately taken for the public announcement of the event, which
took place at noon of the same day, the heralds proclaiming the death of
the king and the accession of the Princess Myrra to the throne, first in
the square before the palace, and next in four other squares situated
respectively in the northern, southern, eastern, and western quarters of
the city.  And at the same time the state embalmers were called in and
the body was handed over to them that they might at once begin the long
and elaborate process by means of which the subject is rendered
practically impervious, for all time, to the influences of decay.

The young queen was now allowed a clear week of complete retirement, in
order that she might give free vent to her natural grief at the loss of
her grandfather, and prepare herself for the discharge of the important
duties which would now devolve upon her, during which period she was
left entirely to herself, and was not asked to transact business of any
sort whatsoever.  At the expiration of the week she emerged from her
seclusion, a little pale and worn-looking, but to all appearance
perfectly calm, as the two white men were rejoiced to see, for it now
transpired that the religious beliefs of the Uluans were such as to
preclude anything in the nature of deep or lasting sorrow at the loss of
relatives, an article of their faith being that the departed, unless
they happened to be notoriously evil livers, found everlasting peace and
happiness in a sort of Elysium, and that therefore there was no occasion
for prolonged grief.

No sooner, however, did the young queen emerge from her temporary
seclusion than she found herself face to face with a problem which,
unless all the conditions are favourable, may easily resolve itself into
one of the most unpleasant which a young woman so placed can be called
upon to solve.

For it now appeared that Myrra occupied a position unique in the annals
of Uluan sovereignty, being the only female who had ever succeeded to
the throne.  All the past monarchs had been male, from time immemorial;
and the fact that a female had now succeeded, and she only a young girl,
filled the Council of Nobles with consternation, which is easily to be
comprehended, when it is remembered that in Ulua women are regarded as
being so far inferior to men that they are considered as mere chattels
and but little better than domestic animals.  A Council of Nobles had
already been convened to discuss so novel and disconcerting a situation,
at which one more than usually daring spirit had actually ventured to
suggest the election of one of themselves to fill the vacated throne.
But this suggestion had been promptly vetoed by Lyga, the "Keeper of
Statutes," who, referring to the musty tome in which were the laws
relating to the government of Ulua, reminded the council that the law of
succession explicitly provides that, upon the death of the sovereign,
his next immediate successor becomes monarch.  Or, failing an immediate
successor, through pre-decease--as in the present case--then, the
immediate successor of him who should have succeeded comes to the
throne.  The title of Princess Myrra to the throne was thus indubitably
established, and the only question really before the council was how so
unique a situation was to be met.  A long and heated discussion
followed, in the course of which two facts were clearly established, the
first of which was that, by the law of succession, Myrra was now the
Queen of Ulua; and the second, that the idea of being governed by a
woman was utterly distasteful to the members of the Council of Nobles.
Finally, it was decided that, since by immemorial custom, the Uluan wife
was the subject of her husband, the only thing to be done was to request
the queen to marry, when her husband would become virtually king.  This
decision was regarded as a quite satisfactory solution of the
difficulty; and it was immediately proposed that a list of approved
names should be there and then prepared for submission to her Majesty,
and that she should be invited to select from that list the person whom
she would accept as her spouse.

So far, so good.  But now, at the very moment when the great difficulty
appeared to have been surmounted, other and equally awkward difficulties
at once began to arise.  The position of husband to the queen was one
which naturally appealed to every member of the council, and equally
naturally, each member claimed the right to have his name included in
the list.  Sachar, the most powerful of the nobles--he who had suggested
the election of one of themselves to fill the throne--seized a parchment
and, with the air of an autocrat, at once inscribed his own name at the
head of the list, without deigning to inquire whether such action was or
was not acceptable to his colleagues.  Then, still retaining the pen in
his hand, he glanced round at the assemblage and said:

"I propose that the next name upon the list shall be that of Lyga, the
Keeper of Statutes."

For a moment the members regarded each other in amazement; then, under
the impression that Sachar was perpetrating an ill-timed jest of more
than questionable taste, they broke into a storm of protest; for Lyga
was a little wizened, dried-up man, close upon eighty years of age.

But Sachar answered their protests with a stare of haughty surprise that
quickly silenced them, for not only was he the most powerful man among
them, but he was also of a headstrong, domineering disposition,
impatient of opposition and quick to resent anything that in the least
degree savoured of it.  He was by no means popular, either with his
colleagues or with the people at large; but he was greatly feared,
because of the immense power and influence which he commanded, and the
unscrupulous manner in which he wielded it.

"What mean ye?" he fiercely demanded.  "Am I to understand that ye
object to Lyga as unsuitable?  And if so, upon what grounds?  Is he not
the `Keeper of Statutes,' and as such, the most suitable man for the
position of virtual ruler of Ulua?  For who among ye knows a tithe so
much as he of the laws by which we are governed; or who so likely to see
that those laws are maintained in perfect integrity?"

"So far, perhaps ye are right, Sachar," retorted Lyga, who was the only
man present entirely devoid of fear of the formidable noble.  "But is my
age to be counted as nothing?  Am I a suitable consort for a girl of
sixteen?  Ye know that I am not; and ye know, too, that if the choice
rested between me and thee, thou would'st be the chosen one.  Go to!  Ye
are astute, Sachar, but not astute enough to deceive old Lyga.  If ye
are taking it upon yourself to propose names, propose those of men who
shall not only be capable of efficiently discharging the duties of their
exalted position, but who shall also be acceptable to her Majesty in
point of age and disposition.  I say that, in nominating such a man as
myself, ye are lacking in respect and consideration to your sovereign."

There was a low murmur of approval at this fearless, straightforward
speech from the old man, hearing which, Sachar, who perceived that his
ruse had been seen through, savagely dashed down the pen and, wheeling
round upon his colleagues, exclaimed:

"So ye approve of and endorse the unworthy insinuation which Lyga has
preferred against me?  It is well!  Proceed ye with your nominations,
uninfluenced by me.  My aim was to nominate those who, by wisdom and
experience, are most suited to rule over us, irrespective of age or
other considerations.  But since ye have seen fit to suspect my motives,
nominate whom ye will.  Understand this, however, I demand that my name
shall be included, for I am at least as capable of governing as any man
among ye; and understand this also, that I retain my right to vote
against those nominated whom I may regard as unsuitable."

And therewith Sachar bowed to the assembly, a bow in which scorn and
contempt were about equally expressed, and stalked out of the chamber.

For a few moments consternation reigned supreme among those who
remained, for they knew Sachar well, and clearly understood that, quite
unwittingly, they had made a bitter and implacable enemy of the most
powerful and unscrupulous man in Ulua.  But presently Lyga grappled with
the situation and, with a few carefully chosen words, rallied his
colleagues upon their alarm, which he assured them was altogether
disproportioned and uncalled for, and brought them back to the business
in hand, with the result that, after a long and acrimonious discussion,
a list was drafted, containing some twenty names, for submission to her
Majesty.

In due course the list was presented, with all the state and ceremony
which so momentous an occasion demanded.  And then consternation again
reigned; for the young queen, after carefully perusing the list, handed
it back to Sachar, who had presented it, with the calm pronouncement
that none of the names therein was acceptable to her!

Thereupon the council retired in confusion; another meeting was held,
another list prepared--in which Sachar insisted that his name should be
included, notwithstanding the queen's previous rejection; and her
Majesty was requested to name an early date for its presentation, which
she did.

The second presentation took place at about half-past nine o'clock in
the morning, a few minutes prior to which the Council of Nobles, having
previously assembled in the antechamber, filed in and took their places.
These were immediately followed by a squadron of the queen's bodyguard,
fully armed, under the command of their officer, who drew them up across
the lower end of the chamber, completely blocking all means of exit or
entrance, except through the doorway at the upper end of the chamber,
used exclusively by the monarch and his or her personal attendants.
This done, a court messenger was dispatched to acquaint the queen that
the council had assembled; and a few minutes later her Majesty entered,
heralded by a flourish of trumpets moulded out of a sort of terra-cotta,
and, accompanied by the ladies and officers of her household, among whom
were Earle and Dick.

With slow and dignified step her Majesty moved to the throne and, bowing
to the assembled council, seated herself, at the same time signing to
the two white men to stand one on either side of her, to the undisguised
astonishment of the nobles and the scarcely concealed indignation of
Sachar.

A short pause now ensued while the members of council, who had risen
upon the queen's entrance, seated themselves.  Then Sachar, who occupied
the place at the head of the table on the queen's right hand, rose to
his feet and, addressing her Majesty, made a lengthy speech, in which he
set forth, in considerable detail, all the reasons which had led up to
the present action of the council, reminded her of her rejection of the
first list presented, and in veiled dictatorial tones, ventured to
express the hope that her Majesty would experience no difficulty in
selecting a name from the list now about to be laid before her.  Then he
unrolled the parchment and, with a bow which seemed to say: "This is
your last chance, so make the best of it," laid it upon the table before
her.

Bowing in return, and with just the faintest suggestion of a smile
lurking about her lips and in her eyes, Myrra stretched forth her hand
and, taking the parchment began to read it.  But no sooner had her eyes
rested upon it than she laid it down again.

"How now, my Lord Sachar!" she exclaimed.  "What means this?"  And she
laid her finger upon the place where his name again occupied the head of
the list.  "Have ye here the list which was first submitted to me?"

"No, your Majesty, we have it not here," answered Sachar.
"Understanding that the names therein were unacceptable, we thought it
unnecessary to produce it.  But it can be procured in a very brief space
of time, if your Majesty so desires."

"I do so desire," remarked the queen.  "Let it be brought forthwith."
And she sank back in her seat to await the arrival of the document.

A few minutes later Lyga, in whose charge it was, appeared with the
first list, which he laid open upon the table before the queen.  He wore
a smile of amusement as he hobbled back to his place, for in common with
most of the members of council, he pretty shrewdly guessed what was
impending, and he would very cordially welcome anything that savoured of
a snub administered to the haughty and domineering Lord Sachar.

"So!" continued the queen, placing a slim forefinger upon each of the
documents.  "I felt sure I was not mistaken.  The name of my Lord Sachar
heads each of these documents.  Yet I think it will be remembered that,
only a few days agone, I distinctly stated that _none_ of the names in
this list"--tapping Number 1 with her left forefinger--"was acceptable
to me.  How comes it, then, that a name once rejected by me is again
submitted for my approval?"

And, so saying, Myrra stretched forth her hand and, taking the reed pen
which Lyga smilingly handed to her, drew it firmly and deliberately
through Sachar's sprawling signature.

For a moment there was a breathless hush, while the very atmosphere
seemed to shudder in anticipation of that tempestuous and irreparable
outbreak on the part of Sachar which the queen's deliberate snub might
be expected to provoke.  The man's sallow visage grew black with fury,
his eyes blazed lightnings down upon the head of the girl who was
smilingly erasing his name, his fists clenched until the knuckles showed
white, and his beard and moustache bristled like the mane of an angry
lion.  Indeed, so menacing was his aspect that Dick Cavendish, with a
single stride, interposed his own bulky form between that of the queen
and the infuriated Sachar, into whose flashing eyes he stared so
threateningly that the noble suddenly found a new object for the vials
of his wrath.  But Dick simply did not care a fig for Sachar or his
anger; he already knew the man pretty well by reputation, and
instinctively understood that there was but one way to deal with a
bully, therefore he laid a heavy hand upon the noble's shoulder, glared
as savagely at him as he knew how, and whispered--a whisper which
reached the ears of every occupant of the table:

"Have a care, my lord; have a care!  Restrain yourself, sit down if you
don't want me to wring your neck for you!"

And Sachar, who had never in his life before been cautioned, much less
threatened, sank into his seat, speechless and utterly overwhelmed with
amazement, for the moment, at the discovery that there actually existed
an individual who was not afraid of him.

Meanwhile, the queen, with the pen still in her hand, was thoughtfully
considering the list before her and calmly and deliberately erasing name
after name, until not one remained.  Then, with a smile, Myrra glanced
at the faces turned toward her, and remarked:

"I am sorry, my lords, that you should have been put to so much trouble
to no purpose, but the names in this list are no more acceptable to me
than were those in the first."

Sachar had been watching the steady process of erasure with fast growing
anger.  He believed he began to see the full meaning of the queen's
action.  She did not intend to wed at all if she could help it, and
unless she could be compelled to do so, his chance of becoming king was
gone.  If she could only be induced to name some person as acceptable,
he believed he could find means to persuade that person to waive the
honour in his (Sachar's) favour; but if she would not do so, what was to
be done?  Therefore, when the queen lightly pushed the rejected list
from before her, Sachar sprang to his feet and, addressing the assembly
at large, said:

"My lords, we seem to be singularly unfortunate in our endeavours to
find a consort in every way acceptable to her Majesty.  To me it seems
possible that we may compile list after list of names regarded by
ourselves as in every respect eligible, and every list shall meet with a
fate like unto that now upon the table.  I would therefore venture to
suggest that the process be reversed, and that instead of our drafting a
list and presenting it for her Majesty's approval, the Queen be
requested to prepare a list of persons acceptable to her, and submit it
to us.  Then we, in council assembled, will take that list, give it our
most careful consideration, and decide whether there be any names in it
of which we can all conscientiously approve.  What say you, my lords;
does my proposal seem acceptable to you?"

A momentary silence followed this proposal; then, one after another, the
assembled nobles briefly expressed their acquiescence, finishing up with
old Lyga, who pithily remarked:

"If her Majesty approves your proposal, my Lord Sachar, I see not why
any of us should disapprove."

"That being the case--" began Sachar.  But the queen stopped him with
uplifted hand.

"One moment, if you please," she said.  "If I understand the council
aright, their purpose in all this talk about lists, is to hurry me into
marriage, irrespective of my own inclinations.  Now, my Lord Lyga,
before we proceed farther into this matter, I wish to ask you, as Keeper
of Statutes: Is there in existence a law compelling me to wed at the
bidding of my Council of Nobles?"

"I am not aware of any such law, your Majesty," answered Lyga.  "Nay, I
will go farther than this, and say that, knowing the statutes intimately
as I do, there is no such law."

"Good!" answered the queen.  "I have never heard of any such law, but in
view of my council's somewhat high-handed action, I thought it possible
such a law might exist, of which I had not heard.  You say that there is
no such law; and I trust my council will accept your assurance as proof
of its non-existence.  Now, one more question.  Is there a law
prohibiting an unmarried woman from ruling Ulua?"

"No, your Majesty, there is no such law," answered Lyga.  And the glance
of triumph which he flashed at Sachar seemed to say that he was glad of
it.

"Again, good!" remarked the queen.  "My thanks to you, my Lord Lyga, for
making this matter perfectly clear.  And my thanks to you also, the
members of my council, for the keen interest which you have been pleased
to manifest in a matter which, now that it comes to be investigated,
seems to concern me alone.  Believe me, I appreciate that interest at
its true and full value; but I beg that you will not trouble yourselves
further in the matter, for the thought of marriage has not yet occurred
to me, and at the present moment I am not prepared to entertain a
proposal from anyone.  When I am, I will let you know, and the matter
can be re-opened.  Meanwhile, I will seize this opportunity to say that
I believe I, though unmarried, shall be able, with your wise advice and
assistance, to govern Ulua as efficiently as though I enjoyed the help
of a husband."

For a moment the members of council were stricken dumb with amazement
and consternation at the quiet, self-possessed firmness with which this
young girl deliberately set herself in opposition to their combined
wishes.  And the worst of it was that, as they now fully realised, she
was acting entirely within her rights.

They were still struggling with their emotions when Sachar, always
bitterly impatient of opposition, and always accustomed to act upon the
impulse of the moment, sprang to his feet, his eyes ablaze with fury,
and shouted:

"My lords, fellow members of the Council of Nobles, are you going to
submit without protest to this most monstrous disregard of our wishes?
Because, if you are, I am not.  I say that, law or no law, we will not
be governed by a woman.  The queen _must_ and _shall_ marry forthwith;
and if she will not choose for herself a husband, acceptable to us all,
we will choose one for her and compel her to marry him, by force, if
necessary--"

He stopped suddenly and sank helplessly back into his seat, forced
thereto by the irresistible pressure of Dick's hands upon his shoulders,
the grip of which threatened to crush his shoulder-blades together.
And, looking up, he found Dick Cavendish towering over him with a look
in his eyes that seemed to spell sudden death to the rash offender.  For
three or four seconds Dick, still retaining that frightful and agonising
grip upon Sachar's shoulders, glowered at the now writhing noble; then
he shook the unfortunate man with such furious violence that Sachar's
teeth not only clicked together like castanets, but they also bit his
tongue through as he attempted to speak.

By this time the whole chamber was in an uproar, _every_ man having
started to his feet in terror of what should happen next.  A few of the
more timid ones were hastily leaving their seats and beating a
precipitate retreat toward the door, only to be stopped, however, by the
crossed halberds of the guard.  Lyga was the only noble who seemed in
nowise disconcerted by so extraordinary a happening, and he stood
smiling benevolently on Dick while the latter was manhandling the
enraged yet terrified Sachar.  Several of the other nobles, however,
anxious to curry favour with Sachar, hastened to his assistance, and
strove unavailingly to break Dick's grip, while the captain of the
guard, accompanied by a file of soldiers, having responded to Dick's
call, now stood uncertainly by, at a loss to know whether or not he
ought to obey the young Englishman's order to arrest a noble and member
of the council.

This state of uncertainty on the part of the captain of the guard did
not pass wholly unnoticed by those present, a few of whom loudly
protested against the arrest as illegal, in that it had been ordered by
one without authority.

"Ha! say you so?" cried the queen, also rising to her feet.  "Then that
is a matter to be easily remedied."  Turning to Dick, she added:

"My Lord Dick, I appoint you Captain-General of my bodyguard, here and
now.  And I authorise you to arrest my Lord Sachar and lodge him in
prison."



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

AN OMINOUS DISAPPEARANCE.

The startling character of the entire episode, coupled with the
suddenness and utter unexpectedness of its development, and the equally
unexpected firmness and decision of character manifested by the young
queen, exercised such a paralysing effect upon the members of council
that, as with one accord, they sank back into their seats and in silence
watched the arrest and removal of Sachar from the Council Chamber.  And
before any of them could pull themselves together to take any definite
action, the queen rose to her feet and, bowing to the assembly with a
serene and most engaging smile, said:

"My lords of the council, you are dismissed."

Then, turning to the two white men, she murmured, in a voice so low that
only they two caught the words:

"My lords Dick and Earle, give me the favour of your company to my own
apartments.  I desire to consult with ye both."  And, accepting the
support of Dick's proffered hand, she passed out of the Council Chamber
through the doorway by which she had entered, and, followed by her
retinue, made her way to the small but beautiful chamber where she and
her grandfather had first received the two white men.

Arrived here, she seated herself on a dais at the upper end of the
apartment and, directing her ladies to retire to the other end of the
room, where they would be out of earshot, she rested her chin upon her
hand, as though in deep thought, and so remained for the space of nearly
five minutes.

Then, raising her eyes, she glanced first at Dick and then at Earle, who
stood respectfully before her, and said:

"My lords, I am in a strait, and desire the benefit of your advice.  Ye
are from the great world without, and have doubtless mingled freely with
the teeming millions of whom ye have spoken to the late king, my beloved
grandfather.  Ye have told him of the marvellous doings of those
millions, of their wonderful enterprises and inventions, and of the
rivalry that exists between them; and I doubt not that, mingling with
them, as ye must have done, ye have acquired wisdom, beside which the
wisdom of the wisest of us in Ulua will seem foolishness.

"You did right, my Lord Dick, in ordering Sachar's arrest for his
arrogant and insulting speech, but I doubt whether I should have had the
courage to take so bold a step.  For I know that it will mean war
between him and me--a war of plotting and scheming, if not of actual
bloodshed--and I now wish to know whether, in the contest which I feel
to be inevitable, I may depend upon your advice and, if necessary, your
active co-operation?"

"You may, your Majesty," answered Dick and Earle in the same breath.

"I thank you with all my heart," returned the queen, glancing up at them
with a bright smile.  "I feel," she continued, "that in the struggle
which I foresee, I shall have to rely upon you almost entirely, for I
believe that the members of my council will, with very few exceptions,
be against me.  Go, therefore, and consult together as to the steps
which ye would recommend me to take; and then come to me again."

She presented her hand, which Dick and Earle bent over and kissed
respectfully before retiring from the presence.

Upon reaching their own suite of apartments, the two friends were
surprised to find Lyga, the Keeper of Statutes, awaiting them.  There
was a look of concern, not altogether unmingled with amusement, in his
expression as he rose and advanced to meet them.

"My lords," he said, "it has just come to my ears--and I thought that
ye, and you in especial, my Lord Dick, in your capacity of
Captain-General of the Queen's Bodyguard, ought to know--that Sachar,
together with the officer and the file of soldiers into whose custody ye
delivered him, has disappeared."

"Disappeared!" echoed Dick.  "How mean ye, my Lord Lyga?"

"Exactly as I have said," replied Lyga.  "Sachar has not been lodged in
prison, as ye ordered, and the officer and file of soldiers are not in
their quarters, as they should be.  I rather anticipated some such
occurrence, and because my sympathies are wholly with the Queen, and I
am on her side, I made it my business to leave the Council Chamber
immediately upon her Majesty's departure, and follow the route that
Sachar should have taken.  I ascertained that he left the palace,
accompanied by the officer and soldiers; but he had not reached the
prison when I arrived there, and it is certain that now he will not do
so.  My own conviction is that, being a man of known power and almost
unlimited wealth, he found no difficulty in bribing the officer and
soldiers to allow him to escape, and has very possibly carried them away
with him to protect them from the consequences of their treachery."

Dick and Earle regarded each other intently for a moment, and then
nodded with understanding.

"My Lord Lyga," said Dick, "I thank you for your promptitude in bringing
me this information, and also for the assurance of your sympathy with
the cause of the Queen.  Doubtless ye have already recognised that we,
too, are wholly and unreservedly on her side, to such an extent, indeed,
that we are resolved not to depart from Ulua until her Majesty and her
authority are firmly established.  Not only so, but we intend to do
everything in our power to bring that consummation to pass.  I speak for
my Lord Earle as well as myself.  You corroborate me, don't you?" he
added, turning to Earle.

Earle nodded emphatic assent, and Dick resumed:

"Is your sympathy with her Majesty strong enough to induce you to
co-operate with us in her cause, my lord?"

"Assuredly," assented Lyga, "else had I left ye to learn of Sachar's
escape at your leisure."

"Good!" approved Dick.  "Being strangers among you, we are naturally to
a very great extent ignorant of the characters of Sachar and those who
are likely to take part with him against the Queen; therefore we shall
be glad to hear your opinion as to the probable outcome of Sachar's act
of defiance.  How, think ye, will it end?"

"I will tell you," answered Lyga.  "Knowing Sachar and his ambitions so
intimately as I do, I think this is what has happened and will happen.
Sachar doubtless went direct from the Council Chamber to his own home,
provided himself with all the money he could lay his hands upon at the
moment, and then probably proceeded to the house of Nimri, the husband
of his sister, where, having explained the happenings of this morning,
he has arranged with Nimri to manage his affairs for him, collect his
moneys, and provide him with such funds as he may need, from time to
time.  These arrangements made, Sachar will almost certainly go into
hiding, and, from his place of concealment, endeavour to organise a
revolt against the Queen's authority, with the object of either
dethroning her, or--if the people will not permit that--compelling her
to marry him."

"So," said Dick, "that means something very like civil war, does it
not?"

"It does," agreed Lyga, tersely.

"And, in such an event, how think ye will it go?" demanded Earle.

Lyga considered deeply.  "It is a difficult matter to forecast," he
presently replied.  "On the one hand, such a thing as a revolt against
the royal house has never yet occurred in Ulua, and, broadly speaking,
the Uluans, as a people, will be opposed to it.  For it would be an
upsetting of one of Ulua's fundamental laws, and the people at large
will naturally argue that if it is possible to upset one law, it will be
possible to upset others, with consequences which no man can foresee.
On the other hand, Sachar is, far and away, the most powerful and
influential man in the kingdom.  There are few, if any, who love him,
but there are many who, believing in his power, may be prepared to help
him in the hope of being lavishly rewarded in the event of his being
successful, while there are many more--probably thousands--who, directly
or indirectly, are so dependent upon his favour that they will feel they
have no choice but to help him, if called upon.  And you may rest
assured that he _will_ call upon every man who is in the least degree
under his influence.  I fear it will be found that he will have a very
large following."

"In that case," said Dick, "it appears to me that prompt and energetic
action is called for.  And right here, my Lord Lyga, is where you can be
of the utmost service.  I know little or nothing of the laws by which
Ulua is governed, while you, I understand, have them at your fingers'
ends.  Tell me, therefore, how far does my authority, as Captain-General
of the Queen's Bodyguard, extend?"

"It extends just as far as her Majesty may be pleased to permit,"
answered Lyga.  "You are entitled, even without obtaining her Majesty's
express permission, to take whatever steps you may deem necessary for
the protection of the Queen's person; and, beyond that, you have only to
obtain her Majesty's permission to render lawful any act performed by
you in the maintenance of law and order."

"I see," returned Dick.  "It would appear, then, that my powers are
tolerably wide.  Are they wide enough, think you, to justify me in
seizing, on behalf of the Queen, all property belonging to Sachar?"

"With what object?" demanded Lyga.

"Primarily, to deprive him of what we English term `the sinews of war,'"
replied Dick, "or, in other words, the means to organise a campaign; and
secondarily, with the object of impressing upon all whom it may concern
that we who are taking the side of the Queen are fully prepared to
suppress with a strong hand any attempt to deprive her of any of her
rights or of her liberty."

"By Kuhlacan!" ejaculated Lyga.  "Are ye prepared to adopt such
stringent measures?  We Uluans are a little apt to deprecate force, a
little apt to parley and bargain, to compromise.  I think that, as a
people, we are so timorous that we would concede almost anything in
order to avoid strong measures.  And that is where Sachar has already
the advantage.  He is not timorous; on the contrary, he is bold,
courageous, overbearing--he frightens people into surrendering to his
will.  And if ye also are prepared to be firm, resolute, fearless, I
believe ye will conquer; for if once the people can be brought to
realise that your determination is as strong and unshrinking as that of
Sachar, there are many who will fear to join him, lest he fall and they
fall with him.  But it will not be well that the Queen shall be
personally involved in the struggle which I foresee.  She must remain
personally aloof, passive and detached from it.  The issues will be of
too grim and strenuous a character for her to be brought into personal
contact with them.  She is too young, too inexperienced, too
tender-hearted to grapple successfully with them; at a critical moment
when perhaps her throne, her liberty, possibly even her very life, may
be hanging in the balance, she might be tempted to yield, rather than
fight for what is rightfully her own, in order to avert bloodshed.  That
is a trait of her character upon which Sachar will confidently reckon,
therefore we who have her interests at heart must safeguard her from the
effects of untimely weakness by inducing her to invest you with full
power and authority to act in her behalf as may seem to you best,
without being obliged first to submit the point to her.  Thus, you and
Sachar, not she, will be responsible for what may happen.  Does such a
prospect make you shrink?"

"It does not, friend Lyga," answered Dick.

"I am glad to hear you say so," returned Lyga, "for your view accurately
coincides with my own.  Would that I were young enough actively to
support you!  But what matters?  My brain will be worth more to you than
thews and sinews, and I tell you, my Lord Dick, that the best my brain
can offer is and shall be at all times freely yours.  I am ready, if
need be, to back my wisdom and cunning against Sachar's courage and
strength.  And now, see ye, I advise that ye take immediate steps to
seize every item of Sachar's property and goods that ye can lay hands
upon.  Give the matter into the hands of Acor, who met ye at the gate
when ye first entered Ulua; he is a good man, staunch and--I believe--
faithful, and such orders as ye may give him he will execute.
Meanwhile, I will retire to mine own quarters and will there prepare a
parchment investing you with full power to act as you may deem necessary
in defence of the Queen's peace.  And to-morrow you and I will go
together and beseech her Majesty to sign it."

"Jove! the plot is thickening, with a vengeance," exclaimed Dick, when
Lyga had left them.  "But," he continued, "what puzzles me is, how it
comes that _I_ am suddenly boosted to the front and the top in such an
extraordinary manner.  What I mean is, that up to the present _you_ have
been _persona grata_ here, and now, without rhyme or reason, it seems to
me, I am pitch-forked--"

Earle smiled as he laid his hand on Dick's shoulder.

"My dear chap," he said, "if, as you say, I have thus far been the more
important individual of the two here in Ulua, you know as well as I do
that it has been solely by virtue of this Kuhlacan amulet that I wear.
But you have only to glance into one of those mirrors which reflect our
images to understand in a moment why a young girl like Queen Myrra
should instinctively turn to you, rather than to me when--"

"Oh, I say! that's the most utter rot, you know--" began Dick, blushing
furiously.  But Earle again interrupted him.

"Rot, or not, my young friend," he said, "it is human nature, which,
take my word for it, is pretty much the same all the world over.
Besides, you must remember that it was you who intervened so vigorously
when that bounder, Sachar, threatened the Queen; therefore it was but
natural that when those other johnnies began to protest against the
illegality of your order for Sachar's arrest, her Majesty should at once
invest you with the necessary authority to legalise your order.  And,
having made you Captain-General of her bodyguard, she will of course
look to you to discharge the functions of the post.  And as for me, I
tell you frankly that I think, in choosing you, she showed herself to be
a very wise little woman; for you are accustomed to responsibility and
command.  You go ahead, youngster, and fear nothing.  I'll back you up
to the last cent, whatever you do; and always remember that whenever you
feel in need of information or advice, you have wise old Lyga to fall
back upon, and he is a host in himself."

Thus reassured, Dick Cavendish summoned a servant and forthwith
dispatched him to the adjacent barracks in which the officers and men of
the bodyguard were lodged, with a message requesting Captain Acor's
immediate attendance.  And when, about a quarter of an hour later, Acor
put in an appearance, Dick briefly recounted to him the morning's
happenings, and wound up by directing him to tell off a sufficient
number of men and with them proceed to search for and arrest Sachar, to
take possession of and occupy not only Sachar's residence, but every
other building belonging to the man, and to seize and lodge in a place
of security all Sachar's horses, slaves, and other property capable of
being moved.  Acor readily undertook to do this, assuring Dick that he
believed he could enumerate every item of property belonging to Sachar,
and that he would permit nothing to escape him.  But he expressed some
doubt as to his ability to arrest Sachar, who, he doubted not, had
already found a secure hiding place.  Dick was greatly gratified to
observe that Acor seemed ready to take orders from him without evincing
the slightest symptom of envy or jealousy at the fact of Dick being put
over him, for he had rather feared something of the kind from all the
officers of the bodyguard.

Late in the evening, Acor returned to the palace and reported that he
had seized every particle of Sachar's property, but had been unable to
discover the slightest clue to the whereabouts of the man himself, all
his inquiries being met with the assurance that none of his relatives
had seen anything of him since his departure from his house, that
morning, to attend the meeting of the Council of Nobles.  Acor added
that, while he had not the slightest doubt that this statement was in
the main true, he had just as little doubt that certain of the persons
whom he questioned had lied, and among them he strongly suspected
Sachar's major-domo, and the Lord Nimri, Sachar's brother-in-law.  The
former of these, however, as Acor pointed out, could render no further
assistance to his master, since he and his fellow servants were now
under the strict surveillance of the officer who had been put in
possession of Sachar's principal dwelling; while, as for Nimri, he too
was under surveillance, Acor having instructed two smart, keen servants
of his own to relieve each other in maintaining a strict watch upon the
noble's movements and to follow him whithersoever he might go, reporting
to Acor regularly as they went off duty.

At the moment it appeared to both Dick and Earle that these precautions
would prove sufficient, and would doubtless lead, in the course of a day
or two, to the arrest of the recalcitrant noble; but when three days had
passed bringing no news of Sachar, they decided upon the adoption of
further measures and, having in the meantime, with Lyga's assistance,
obtained the Queen's signature to the document giving Dick _carte
blanche_ to act in any manner that he might deem fit, Cavendish
published a Proclamation declaring Sachar an outlaw, offering a
substantial reward for such information as should lead to his arrest,
and pronouncing outlawry against any and all who might be found to have
afforded him refuge or succour of any kind.

This drastic step, they fully believed, would result in Sachar's
discovery and arrest, especially as every house belonging to Sachar, and
every person suspected of being in the slightest degree likely to help
or even sympathise with him, was being strictly watched; but day after
day went by with no discovery made, no smallest scrap of information
coming to hand; and meanwhile the preparations for the state obsequies
of the late king were so far advanced that at length the date was fixed
for the ceremonial, which was to be of unparalleled pomp and
magnificence.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

THE FIGHT IN THE ROAD.

The morning of the day which was to witness the imposing ceremonial of
the obsequies of the late King Juda dawned brilliantly bright and fair,
to the unqualified satisfaction of the Uluans, every one of whom counted
upon witnessing some portion at least of the pageant, while the greater
number were resolved to see practically the whole of it, and, with that
intention, arose about midnight and betook themselves along the road
leading to the royal sepulchre, which was a great cavern, situate some
eight miles from the city, in the interior of which the bodies of the
monarchs of Ulua had been deposited from time immemorial.

With the first appearance of dawn the streets of the city had begun to
assume a festive appearance, which, to Dick and Earle at least, seemed
distinctly incongruous until it was explained to them by Lyga--who came
to them early--that the pageant was in nowise intended to be typical of
a nation mourning the loss of its monarch (the theory being that the
monarch never dies), but rather of the nation doing honour to one who,
after ruling them wisely and well, has laid him down to enjoy a
well-earned rest.

It was not, however, to furnish this explanation that Lyga had presented
himself at such an early hour, but rather to inquire what progress, if
any, had been made in the quest for the missing Sachar.

Dick was obliged to reply to this that, notwithstanding his utmost
efforts, and in the following up of innumerable clues which had proved
to be false, he had been unable to discover the whereabouts of the
missing man, who indeed had disappeared as effectually as though the
earth had swallowed him up.

"I feared so; I feared so," commented Lyga, in response to Dick's
explanation.  "I am inclined to the belief that he is being harboured by
some friend whose power and influence are so great that he believes
himself strong enough to defy you.  And I fear that, all this time,
Sachar has been using his own influence and that of his friend to plot
some scheme whereby he may secure possession of the Queen's person for a
sufficient length of time to compel her to marry him.  Hitherto this has
been impossible, for the simple reason that, thus far, her Majesty has
never left the precincts of the palace, where of course she is safe.
But to-day her Majesty goes forth to render the last honours to her
beloved grandfather, and to witness, according to custom, the deposition
of his body in the royal sepulchre; to-day, therefore, an opportunity
may arise for the conspirators to attempt to secure possession of the
Queen's person, if they deem themselves strong enough.  And if not
to-day, the opportunity must soon present itself; for it is manifestly
out of the question that her Majesty shall become virtually a prisoner
in her own palace.  She must of necessity frequently go abroad and show
herself to the people, otherwise they would soon begin to think, and to
say, that she is afraid of Sachar; and that would but strengthen
Sachar's hands and weaken her own.

"But mark ye this, my lords.  It is in my mind that if, as I very
strongly suspect, it is Sachar's intention to secure possession of the
Queen's person, the attempt is likely enough to be made to-day, for the
reason that to-day all Ulua will be abroad, and therefore it will be the
easier for a large body of Sachar's adherents to assemble together, and
maybe form part of the funeral procession, without exciting comment or
suspicion."

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning when, the great wrought
copper gates at the main entrance of the palace having been swung open,
the queen's chariot emerged therefrom and was carefully piloted to its
station immediately in the rear of the funeral car, to which, in the
meantime, twelve magnificently caparisoned white horses had been yoked,
the great cloths which covered the animals from head to heel being made
of purple silk, lavishly embroidered in silver thread and weighted at
the edges with heavy silver tassels.  Their heads were decorated with
long plumes of the royal colours, and their bridles were fringed with
purple silk bands, scalloped and heavily embroidered in silver.  All the
horses taking part in the procession, from those in the queen's chariot
down to the humble vehicle drawn by a single animal, were caparisoned
exactly alike, by strict regulation.  And after the chariots, some of
which were drawn by six horses, yoked three abreast, came those who, not
being wealthy enough to own a chariot, must follow on foot.

The horses having been yoked to the funeral chariot, Dick Cavendish
mounted his powerful charger and gave the order for the bodyguard to
form round it and the queen's chariot, which was at once done, the
troopers forming a cordon six deep, which completely enveloped the two
chariots.  At the same moment the great doors of the temple were thrown
open, and the priests, to the number of about one hundred and fifty,
clad in white robes and turbans edged with turquoise blue, filed out
through the portals of the building, walking with slow and measured
steps, and playing a kind of dirge upon their queer-looking musical
instruments, of which the most numerous consisted of long curved
trumpets formed of a kind of terra-cotta.  Zorah, the high priest,
marched in the van bearing aloft a pole surmounted by an effigy of
Kuhlacan, the Winged Serpent, while on either side of him walked
acolytes swinging censers charged with certain aromatic substances,
smouldering and throwing off thin wisps of perfumed smoke.

Down the great flight of the temple steps came the priests, and across
the square, until they reached the foremost files of the bodyguard, when
they wheeled to the left and proceeded along the appointed route, the
funeral car and the rest of the procession getting into motion close
behind.

Proceeding at the solemn pace which had been set by the priests at the
outset, the funeral procession slowly wended its way along the road
toward the place of sepulture, the route being lined on either hand by a
continuous crowd of people of the humbler classes, who knew that it
would be hopeless for them to attempt to file past the bier while it
stood in the great square before the palace, the time allowed for this
being only sufficient to permit the nobles and the more affluent classes
to pay this last tribute to their dead king; those, therefore, who could
not do this adopted the alternative of assembling along the highway and
casting their little bouquets of flowers upon the road when the head of
the procession approached.

The journey from the square to the great plain before the rocky cliff
which contained the royal sepulchre occupied practically four hours, and
another two hours elapsed before the tail end of the procession arrived
and was arranged in position to witness the elaborate ceremony attending
the consignment of the body to its last resting place; thus it was after
sunset and the brief dusk of the tropics was falling upon the plain,
enveloping it in a veil of mystery and cloaking many of the movements of
the enormous crowd assembled, when at length, after the observance of
the final rites, the queen, followed by such nobles as were entitled to
be present, and the priests emerged from the great cavern.  The funeral
ceremonies were over, and it now only remained for those who had taken
part in them to get back to their homes as speedily as might be.

Dick, in his capacity as Captain-General of the Queen's Bodyguard, and
Earle, in the character of a highly distinguished individual closely
connected in some mysterious fashion with the god Kuhlacan, were
awaiting her Majesty at the entrance of the cave, and immediately upon
her emergence they each offered her a hand and proceeded to lead her to
a chariot, which was awaiting her at some little distance, the troopers
of the bodyguard closing up in the rear of the trio and thus cutting
them off from everybody outside the cordon.

No sooner was this accomplished than Earle began hurriedly to address
the queen in a low voice:

"Your Majesty," he said, "we have the strongest reason for suspecting
that a very formidable and determined attempt will be made to secure
possession of your person to-night, during the progress of our journey
toward the city.  There is no time to enter into even the most brief of
explanations, but the point is this: My Lord Dick and I have devised a
plan to frustrate this atrocious plot, and all that we need is your
Majesty's immediate and unqualified assent to enable us to put the plan
into effect.  It involves your trusting yourself alone with me while I
take you back to the city and the palace by a shorter but very lonely
route.  Will you do it?  It is the joint plan of my Lord Dick and
myself, and it is our earnest desire and entreaty that you will be
graciously pleased to assent to it."

"Of course," agreed the queen, with the utmost readiness.  "I will trust
myself with my Lord Dick and you anywhere."

"I greatly appreciate the confidence which your Majesty is pleased to
put in me," remarked Earle.  "But I fear that I have not succeeded in
making myself quite understood.  The success of our plan demands that
you come with me _alone_.  My Lord Dick cannot come with us.  It is
necessary that he shall remain with the bodyguard."

"Necessary that he should remain?" objected the queen.  "Nay, surely
not.  Let him turn over the command for the moment, to Acor, and come
with us.  It is not that I am afraid to trust myself alone with you, my
lord," she added, in response to a sigh and a gesture of disappointment
from Earle, "but--but--"

"Oh yes, your Majesty, of course I know," responded Earle wearily, "but
what you suggest simply cannot be done.  You see--Oh! hang it all," he
continued, breaking into English, "tell the child that she simply _must_
do as we ask; that you wish it; or she'll stand here arguing until
further orders."

The unmistakable tone of annoyance and impatience with which Earle ended
his speech caused the queen to glance at him with big, startled eyes;
but when Dick bent over her and whispered an entreaty that she would
fall in with the plan, so that he might thus be relieved of a very heavy
load of anxiety, she acquiesced without further ado, while Earle
triumphantly chortled, in English:

"I told you so!"

They were by this time close to the royal chariot, near which stood a
dismounted trooper, holding his horse by the bridle with one hand, while
over his other arm he held unfolded the long, black military cloak in
which officers and men alike were wont to envelop themselves at night
time to protect their armour and accoutrements from the drenching night
dews.

Without saying a word, Dick at once took the cloak from the man and
wrapped it round the queen, enveloping her from head to foot; next he
drew the hood over her head and so arranged it that while the girl could
see clearly, her features were hidden in the deep shadow cast by the
overhanging hood.  And, this done, he seized her beneath the arms and
tossed her light as a feather, into the saddle, carefully set her feet
in the stirrups, and afterwards arranged the voluminous folds of the
cloak in such a fashion that the rich dress which she wore was
completely concealed.  Then, one on each side of the horse's head, Dick
and Earle led the animal to the head of the troop, while at a sign from
Dick, the dismounted trooper entered the royal chariot and drew the
curtains close.

It was by this time quite dark, save for the illumination afforded by
the stars, which brilliantly studded the heavens and just shed a bare
sufficiency of soft, sheeny light to reveal the white road, and the
nearer trees and clumps of bush standing out against the opaque black
background of the surrounding hills.  So far as could be seen, there was
nothing on the road ahead of the royal chariot and its escorting
squadrons of horsemen, for to precede them was contrary to etiquette;
therefore as soon as Dick and Earle reached the head of the returning
procession they mounted their horses and gave the word to march at a
trot, the two white men leading, with the queen riding between them,
while the nobles, accompanied by their retinues, came closely behind,
for all now seemed anxious to reach the city with as little delay as
possible.  In this fashion about a mile and a half of the return journey
was accomplished, and a bend of the road was reached where a sort of
bridle path bore sharply off to the right, forming a short cut to the
city, but practicable only for horsemen or pedestrians, because of its
narrowness, the road through the scrub being only wide enough to permit
the passage of a single horseman.  Here Earle left the escort and,
closely followed by the queen, plunged into the by-path, where their
forms instantly became merged in the deep shadow of the surrounding
bush, while the soft, sandy character of the soil so muffled the
hoof-beats of their horses as to render them inaudible above the sounds
caused by the passage of the horses and chariots along the high road.
Ten seconds after they had parted from the main body, Earle and his
companion had vanished as completely as though the earth had swallowed
them up, while none but the leading files of the escort had witnessed
their going.  Five minutes later, Dick uttered a low word of command,
and a sergeant, accompanied by four files of troopers, separated
themselves from the main body and pushed forward along the main road at
a canter acting as scouts.

Scarcely had these men vanished in the distance when the sky on the left
assumed an appearance as though being overspread by a soft golden
radiance, throwing the outline of the encircling cliffs in that
direction into sharp relief, the stars thereabout paled into
insignificant pin points of light ere they vanished altogether, and
presently up sailed the full moon into view above the hill tops,
instantly flooding the valley with her soft, mysterious effulgence,
until in the course of a few minutes objects were almost as clearly
visible as in the light of day, while the multitudinous polished metal
domes and roofs, of the distant city shimmered under the clear rays like
the waters of another lake.

Some ten minutes later, a clear, shrill whistle sounded far ahead, which
was the preconcerted signal announcing that the scouts had come into
touch with an opposing body of some description, and Dick immediately
gave the order for the bodyguard to roll up their cloaks and hold
themselves ready for action.  Scarcely had this been executed when the
sergeant in command of the scouts came thundering back, with the
intimation that a dense mass of footmen, armed with bow, spear and
sword, occupied the road about half-a-mile ahead, completely blocking
it, and that the officer in command--no less a personage than the
missing Lord Sachar--contemptuously refused to budge an inch, and
insolently demanded immediate speech with the Captain-General.

"He does, does he?" ejaculated Dick.  "All right, he shall have it; and
much good may it do him!"

The incident of the sergeant's return had not for a moment interrupted
the progress of the bodyguard, that official having simply wheeled his
horse in the road and drawn in alongside Dick as the latter came up,
riding a few paces in advance.  Then, keeping pace with the
Captain-General, the sergeant made his brief report, before falling back
into his proper place in the troop.  Five minutes later, upon rounding a
bend in the road, Dick found himself within fifty yards of the opposing
force, which had been posted with some skill right across the road, at a
point where the growth of scrub on either hand was so dense as to render
it impossible for either infantry or cavalry to pass through it and so
execute an outflanking movement.

"Halt!" shouted Dick to the troopers in his rear; and as the horsemen
reined in and came to a standstill, he allowed his hand to drop to the
butt of one of the four automatic pistols which he had taken the
precaution to thrust into his belt before setting out from the palace in
the morning.  Drawing forth the weapon and allowing the hand which held
it to drop to his side, he urged his horse forward until he was within a
few yards of the front rank of the opposing force, when he drew rein,
and demanded:

"Who are ye, and where is your leader?  Let him stand forth and explain
the meaning of this outrage.  Know ye that ye are opposing the passage
of the chariot of the Queen's most excellent Majesty?"

"Ay, right well do we know it, since that is our purpose," replied a
man, stepping forth in response to Dick's challenge.  He was dressed in
a suit of complete gold armour; but since the Uluan helmet has no visor,
and the light of the moon, now almost as brilliant as that of day, fell
full upon his face, Dick at once recognised him as the recalcitrant
Sachar.

"So it is thou, my Lord Sachar," remarked Dick.  "Hast heard that there
is a reward set upon thy head, and art come forth at this untimely hour
to surrender thyself?"

"Nay, not so," answered Sachar, "but to make two demands have I come,
bringing with me these my faithful followers and servitors, that I may
have the power to enforce my demands.

"I demand, first, the surrender of the Queen's person into my care and
keeping; and second, I demand the surrender of yourself and the other
stranger, your companion, in order that ye may be brought to trial for
the crimes of exercising undue and pernicious influence upon the mind of
the Queen, and the abolition of certain ancient rites and customs
connected with the worship and honour of the great god Kuhlacan.  And I
warn ye beforehand, oh insolent white stranger, that it will be useless
for ye to resist my demands; for though ye have some five hundred
soldiers at your back, I have here as many thousands to support me,
while in your rear there are thousands more who are pledged to help me.
Therefore, seeing that ye are hemmed in, front and rear, and cannot
possibly escape, I call upon the soldiers of the Queen's bodyguard to
surrender at discretion, and thus avert the shedding of much innocent
blood."

"Have ye finished?" demanded Dick.  "Then--" as Sachar made no
reply--"now hearken all of you unto me.  Ye know that this man Sachar,
once a Uluan noble, is now outlawed and a price set upon his head for
threatening her most gracious Majesty, Queen Myrra--whom may God grant a
long and prosperous reign--" Here the soldiers of the bodyguard broke in
with loud and enthusiastic cheers.  "And," continued Dick, when silence
was once more restored, "ye have also now heard his audacious and
treasonable demand that the Queen shall be surrendered, a prisoner, into
his keeping, that he may work his wicked will upon her.  Know,
therefore, that, rather than concede this outlaw's treasonable demands,
I will die here in the road fighting in defence of the Queen's person
and liberty, and so will every man who wears her Majesty's uniform--"
Here fresh cheers from the bodyguard again interrupted him.  "Ye hear
those cheers?" resumed Dick, as the shouts died into silence.  "And know
ye what they mean, oh misguided adherents of the outlawed Sachar?  They
mean death to you!  For your own sakes, therefore, I counsel you to
return to your allegiance to the Queen, surrendering Sachar to me, a
prisoner, to be tried and dealt with for his offence as the law of Ulua
directs.  Those of you who are willing to save your lives, face about
and retire with all speed, lest evil befall you."

"So!" roared Sachar, advancing upon Dick with uplifted sword, "ye would
pervert my followers and terrify them into deserting me!"  And he aimed
a mighty blow at Dick as the pair rushed at each other.  But Dick,
anticipating something of the sort, had already dropped the bridle upon
his charger's neck, thrust his automatic back into his belt, and whipped
out the good steel sword that he had that morning deemed it advisable to
substitute for the handsome but comparatively useless weapon that went
with his uniform, and the next instant the two blades clashed together.
The result was precisely what Dick had anticipated, the steel shattered
the hardened and toughened copper blade as though the latter had been
glass, and before Sachar in the least realised what had happened Dick
had driven his sword hilt into his antagonist's face, causing the Uluan
noble to stagger so that he would have fallen, had not Dick leaned
forward in his saddle and gripped the man by the arm.

"Sergeant Mato," he called, "take this man back to the centre of the
troop, bind him hand and foot, and see to it that he does not escape
you.  Now, followers of Sachar," he continued, "your leader is a
prisoner.  Will ye--"

But at that moment he was interrupted by a confused din of angry
shouting, the trampling of horses, and the clinking of blade upon blade
coming from the rear, showing that the armed retainers of some at least
of the nobles who had attended the interment had fallen upon the
bodyguard.  The sounds also reached the ears of Sachar's followers and,
encouraged thereby, they in their turn raised a great shout and rushed
forward, with the result that in a moment a fierce battle was raging in
the road, with the bodyguard attacked front and rear, while it soon
became evident that the aim of the assailants was to reach the queen's
chariot, doubtless in the hope of being able to secure possession of it
and drive it off through the melee.

For a few minutes the bodyguard were fighting at a serious disadvantage,
being all jammed up tightly together round the queen's chariot, so that
only a dozen or so in front and rear were able to strike a blow.  But
Dick and Earle, while discussing the probabilities of attack, had
foreseen just such a state of affairs as now obtained, and had issued
their orders accordingly.  These orders were now being faithfully
executed by the several officers, with the result that the troopers were
gradually forcing their powerful horses through the foremost ranks of
the attacking bodies, both front and rear, while other troopers closely
followed them up, sabreing right and left with a full determination to
make the traitors pay dearly for their treachery.  As for Dick, what
with his sword of steel, which sheared through copper weapons and golden
armour as though they had been paper, his snapping automatics which slew
people at a distance, and his fiercely plunging horse, goaded forward by
an unsparing use of the spur, he seemed to the simple Uluans like the
incarnation of the god of death and destruction, and after beholding
some eight or ten luckless wights go down beneath his sword, they simply
turned and fled from him, shrieking with terror.  This, added to the
confusion occasioned by the fierce onslaught of the troopers who
followed closely in his rear, presently proved too much for Sachar's own
particular body of retainers, and after some ten minutes of fierce
fighting they broke and fled, hotly pursued by the two leading squadrons
of the bodyguard.

Nor were those who attacked the bodyguard from the rear in much better
case; for although they outnumbered the soldiers by something like ten
to one, the cramped width of the road in which they fought nullified
this advantage, while their untrained methods of fighting allowed the
trained soldiers to ride and mow them down like grass, with the result
that after a few minutes of strenuous fighting their courage evaporated
and they, too, were seized with such overpowering panic that, to escape
the vengeful sabres of the bodyguard, they sought to fly, and finding no
way of escape, turned their weapons upon their own comrades and leaders,
speedily inducing a state of abject panic in them also.  The result was
that very soon the rear attack, like that in front, ceased and became
converted into a headlong flight, leaving the bodyguard victorious.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS.

Dick's first act on the following morning, was to dispatch to the scene
of the fight a strong body of men, whose duty it would be to collect the
slain and bury them in a common grave by the roadside, after the officer
in command of the party had ascertained, by means of the dead men's
uniforms, the names of their chiefs.  Then he proceeded in person to the
large building which had been hastily converted into a temporary
hospital, to which the wounded had been conveyed, and took the necessary
steps to discover the names of their chiefs also.  The final result of
this investigation was the discovery that at least five of the Council
of Nobles, in addition to Sachar, had been implicated in the previous
night's attack upon the Queen's Bodyguard, in the attempt to secure
possession of the queen's person.  Dick's next act was to dispatch to
the houses of the implicated five a sergeant's guard, with instructions
to the officer in command to arrest the owner--if he could be found, and
to seize his property.  To do the last was simple enough, but Dick was
not greatly surprised to learn that, in each case, the "wanted" noble
had failed to return home on the previous night, and that nobody was
able to give the slightest hint as to his probable whereabouts.  This,
however, did not very greatly trouble the young captain-general; Sachar,
the instigator and leader of the whole treasonable conspiracy, was
safely lodged in durance vile, under conditions which rendered his
escape a practical impossibility, the victory of the queen's troops over
the rebels had been signal and complete, the queen herself was safe and
sound, and Dick was disposed to think that, under the circumstances, he
would have no great difficulty in stamping out the smouldering remains
of the rebellion.

Nor was he mistaken, as circumstances soon proved.  He proclaimed the
missing nobles outlaws, announced the confiscation of their property,
and offered a substantial reward for their persons, dead or alive,
which, with the terrible threats against all who should dare to harbour
or help them directly or indirectly, produced such a wholesome effect
that, within four days, every one of the missing men had been
ignominiously brought in and surrendered.  And now, each man anxious
only to save his own skin, not only did the five--of whom Nimri,
Sachar's brother-in-law was one--proceed to lay the blame of the whole
affair upon Sachar, accusing him of influencing them by alternate bribes
and threats, but they also testified against certain other nobles who,
but for this, might have gone scot free and unsuspected; so that
ultimately no less than eleven of Ulua's most powerful and ambitious
nobles found themselves in danger of losing their heads in consequence
of their ambition having o'erleaped itself.

And now, Dick and Earle found themselves confronted with a difficulty,
for there were no such things as civil or criminal courts of justice in
Ulua, criminals being in the usual course haled before the _shiref_ of
the particular district in which the crime was committed, and summarily
sentenced by him to such punishment as he, in his wisdom, might deem
meet and adequate; while, if the crime was of a specially serious
character--as in the present case--it was the monarch who pronounced
judgment and determined the nature of the punishment.

But the two white men felt that it would never do to permit the young
queen to be saddled with the responsibility of judging eleven rebels
against her sovereign authority, and with the onus of personally
determining what amount of punishment they should receive; they
therefore put their heads together and, without very much difficulty,
drafted a scheme for the establishment of courts of justice, somewhat
similar in character to those in England, wherein criminals could be
tried and sentenced by duly qualified judges; though they decided that
the Uluans were not yet ripe for the introduction of the jury system.
This scheme they first submitted to Lyga, who, after suggesting certain
modifications calculated to adapt it more closely to the requirements
and peculiarities of the Uluan character, fully approved of it and
agreed to recommend it to the queen for acceptance and embodiment upon
the Statute Book.  This was done, and, the idea having been fully
explained to the queen by Lyga, was approved by her and in due course
became one of the laws of the land.  Then, a court having been
established, and men of suitable attainments found to serve as judges,
the prisoners were in due course tried, found guilty, and sentenced.  No
attempt was made to clear any of the prisoners by means of clever
advocacy or specious argument, the questions before the court were the
straightforward ones whether or not the accused were guilty of
conspiracy, and, if guilty, to what extent; and in every case the
verdict was the same, every prisoner was found guilty, but not all to
the same extent, some of them being able to show that, owing to the
power and influence wielded by Sachar, they were practically compelled
to throw in their lot with him, whether or not they approved of his
designs.  The result of the trial was, under the circumstances,
eminently satisfactory, considering that it was the first of the kind
ever held in Ulua; for the judges, instructed by Earle and Dick, devoted
themselves wholeheartedly to the task of administering strict justice,
without regard to the position or personality of the accused; and the
trial terminated with the condemnation of Sachar, Nimri, and two others
to death, with the confiscation of all their property, while the
remaining seven were punished in varying degrees, some by heavy fines,
and others by more or less lengthy periods of penal labour.

It was with considerable anxiety that Dick and Earle awaited and watched
for the effect upon the populace of this innovation in the judicial
methods of Ulua; but they had not long to wait before it became apparent
that the formality and solemnity of public trial were far more effective
as a deterrent than the former rough and ready methods, under which a
culprit was haled before a _shiref_ and summarily punished, with nobody
but himself and his immediate connections being a penny the wiser;
publicity and its attendant disgrace soon became more wholesomely
dreaded than even fine or imprisonment, and when a period of three
months had elapsed without the smallest sign of any recurrent
restiveness on the part of the Council of Nobles, the two white men felt
that Queen Myrra was firmly enough established upon her throne to be in
no further need of their services; they therefore announced their
intention to make an early departure, and proceeded to make their
preparations for the return journey.

It is not putting the matter any too strongly to say that the
announcement of the impending departure of the two white men from Ulua
was productive of the utmost consternation and dismay.  So thoroughly
had the two identified themselves with every movement having for its
object the improvement of previous conditions, and so far-reaching and
wholesome had been their influence generally, that the inhabitants of
the city had insensibly grown to regard them as heaven-sent reformers,
permanently settled among them for their benefit and advantage by the
especial favour of Kuhlacan, and the news that the pair were about to
leave them fell upon the Uluans with something of the effect of a bolt
from the blue.

And upon no one did the intelligence seem to produce so stunning and
grievous an effect as upon the young queen.  When, upon a certain
morning, Dick and Earle, having craved audience of her Majesty, made the
momentous announcement and asked her permission to depart, they were
shocked and astounded at the manner in which she received the
intimation.  She went as white as death, sank back in the throne-like
chair upon which she was seated, closed her eyes, and for a moment it
looked as though she had fainted.

And then, at the sight of the queen's manifest distress, a most
extraordinary revulsion of feeling swept over Dick Cavendish.  Up to
that moment he had regarded the projected return to civilisation as
merely part and parcel of the fulfilment of his contract with Earle, as
something which he had undertaken and must therefore of necessity carry
out; yet now he was fully conscious for the first time that it was
Earle, and not he, who had broached the subject of return, and he was
conscious, moreover, of the fact that he had viewed the prospect of
departure from Ulua with a singular lack of enthusiasm.

This illumination, however, remained with him only long enough to
impress itself upon his mind as a flash of lightning impresses itself
upon the sight, and was instantly succeeded by a rush of most
extraordinary and tumultuous emotion at the young queen's extreme
distress.  An overwhelming sense of her utter isolation and
friendlessness, a sudden realisation of her as the centre and victim of
a thousand ambitious plots by unscrupulous nobles like Sachar, and of
her bitter need of a strong arm and a cool head to keep and protect her
in the multitudinous trials incidental to her exalted position, a quick
appreciation of her extraordinary beauty, physical and mental, and--some
other exquisitely sweet and tender feeling which he had no time to
analyse, swept over him like a flood, causing him to forget everything
but the utterly irresistible desire to comfort her and alleviate her
distress; and, acting as irresponsibly as though he were in a dream,
forgetful alike of Earle's presence and that of the ladies-in-waiting at
the far end of the room, he sprang forward, flung himself upon his knees
beside the girl, took her in his arms, and proceeded to pour forth a
flood of tender incoherences, mingled with caresses, that very speedily
brought back the colour to her Majesty's lips and cheeks and the light
into her eyes.

"Oh, my Lord Dick," she murmured, placing her hands upon Dick's
shoulders as she gazed with dilated eyes into his, "What is this you
say?  That you are about to leave me?  Why?  What have I done, and
wherein have I failed in hospitality, that you should desire to go from
me?"

"Nay, your Majesty," answered Dick, "nay, it is not that at all, on my
soul.  It is simply that we have done what we came to do in Ulua, and
now, I suppose--I fear--we must--Earle and I--"

"My dear chap, don't worry about me," broke in Earle, in English, with a
grin.  "I am quite capable of making the return journey alone, if that
is what you are thinking about; indeed, to be candid, I have for some
time been contemplating such a possibility, for I foresaw all this.
Why, can't you see what is the matter with the Queen?  She has fallen in
love with you--and you with her, though perhaps you scarcely realise it
as yet--"

"By Jove!  I do, though," retorted Dick, "and if I thought there was the
slightest chance of what you say being true, I'll be hanged if I
wouldn't stay behind and--"

"Well, ask her, man; ask her, and see what she says," returned Earle.

And Dick _did_ ask her, there and then; and very simply, very sweetly,
and very frankly, Myrra confessed that the idea of Dick ever leaving her
was intolerable, and that if he would only consent to remain, she would
gladly marry him, and defy all the nobles of Ulua to say her nay, if
need be.

This understanding of course involved a considerable delay of Earle's
departure, for he at once announced his determination not to leave Ulua
until he had seen all prospective difficulties removed, and Dick, as
Myrra's husband, securely seated upon the throne of Ulua.

And difficulties to overcome there certainly were, for to the more
ambitious among the Uluan nobles the idea of the queen's marriage to an
alien was distasteful in the extreme, and a very determined effort was
made to stir up a popular demonstration against it.  But Lyga, the
Keeper of Statutes, pronounced unreservedly in favour of it, and his
influence was far-reaching.  The populace generally also looked upon the
project with undisguised favour, for Dick had contrived in a quiet way
to become exceedingly popular by the frank warmth and geniality of his
manner, no less than by his conspicuous gallantry upon the occasion of
the fight on the night of the late king's interment.  Lastly, the
nobles, finding that opposition would have no chance of success,
reconciled themselves to the inevitable, each consoling himself with the
reflection that although the queen had had the bad taste to reject him,
she had at least had the good taste not to accept either of his rivals.

When, having come to an understanding with the queen, Dick and Earle
withdrew from her Majesty's presence, Cavendish scarcely knew whether he
was standing on his head or his feet; for with a few impetuous words he
had completely altered his entire outlook upon life, and changed his
worldly prospects to an extent which he had never thought possible, even
in his wildest dreams.  No more of the sea life for him; he must bid a
definite and final good-bye to that once cherished hope of one day
commanding another such ship as the _Everest_; and--worst of all--there
was now the possibility that he might never more set eyes upon his
beloved sister, Grace.  In the whirlwind of tumultuous feeling that had
temporarily swept him off his feet, he had momentarily forgotten her,
and, but for what Earle had once in a burst of confidence confided to
him upon that subject, he would now have suffered several very severe
qualms of conscience.  But he knew Earle by this time, knew him
thoroughly, not only as the soul of honour, but as the man to whom,
above all others, he would and could most safely confide Grace's
happiness, and although the dear girl would doubtless shed a few tears
for her lost brother, Dick felt he could trust Earle to quickly dry
them.

Then again, as to the abandonment of his most cherished ambitions, Dick
felt that he was but exchanging them for others of an even more
important character.  For he had not dwelt among the Uluans for so long
without perceiving that, young and comparatively inexperienced though he
was, his knowledge of the outer world fitted him to rule and govern the
remarkable people among whom he had mingled, far better and more wisely
than any of the ignorant, bigoted, and narrow-minded nobles whom he had
met.

Something of all this he confided to Earle when at length the two found
themselves once more in the seclusion of their own apartments.  But
Earle soon put the youngster upon better terms with himself; he stoutly
maintained that, in acting as Dick had acted, he had done the right
thing, not only for the queen, but for himself as well.  He pointed out
at length the immense power for good which Dick, as King of the Uluans,
would wield, the many reforms which it would be possible for him to
introduce, the many evils which he could abolish, and, with the instinct
for business characteristic of the American, he rapidly sketched out the
numerous advantages to the Uluans which must result from the opening of
communication between them and the outer world--an easy matter to
accomplish, with the vast wealth at their command.  And, as to Grace, he
pooh-poohed the idea that she and Dick were never again to meet; indeed,
in his enthusiasm, he more than half promised that his and Grace's
honeymoon tour should include a visit to Ulua.  And lastly, he touched,
with the warmth and delicacy of a true friend and gentleman, upon the
manifold perfections and virtues of the girl queen, and especially upon
her frank and whole-hearted affection for Dick--to say nothing of his
for her; so that, before their chat was over, every one of Dick's doubts
and fears was dissipated and he felt free to regard himself, as indeed
he was, one of the most fortunate young men in the world.

"Come to think of it, you know, Dick," remarked Earle, when at length
they were able to get back naturally to more mundane matters, "this is
the most lucky thing that could possibly have happened for both of us.
For I have had that emerald mine of ours upon my mind for some time, and
have felt a bit puzzled as to how it was to be worked to our mutual
advantage.  But with you as King of Ulua, the thing will be as simple as
falling off a log.  You will be on the spot, so to speak--for, after
all, in actual mileage, the mine is really not very far from here--and
it will be an easy matter for you to arrange with our friends, the
Mangeromas, to work the mine and bring in the emeralds to you.  Then, I
have been studying my map, and according to it and our observations, I
calculate that we are here only some four hundred miles from the town of
Cerro de Pasco, in Peru, which appears to be connected by railway with
Lima and Callao.  I propose to return home by that route, roughly
surveying the ground as I go, and I think it not improbable that I may
discover a practicable road between the two places, by means of which
you may be able to communicate with the outer world and perhaps
establish a profitable trade with it.  With your permission, I will take
along half-a-dozen or so of good, reliable Uluans with me, sending them
back to you with a detailed report of the results of my exploration as
soon as I reach civilisation; then, if you think it worth while, you can
get to work to make a proper road.  But we can discuss all these little
business matters more at length, later on.  There will be plenty of
time, now, before I go."

This is not a love story, but a yarn of adventure, pure and simple; all
that need be said, therefore, in connection with Cavendish's wedding, is
that the preparations for it, upon a scale of unusual magnificence, even
for Ulua--the circumstances connected with it being in themselves very
unusual--went smoothly forward, and in due time culminated, as such
preparations should, in a ceremony, the splendour of which will linger
long in the memory of those who were privileged to witness it.  The
wedding ceremony, which was performed in the temple, was immediately
followed by the crowning of Dick as King, in strict accordance with
Uluan precedent and usage; and thereupon Dick entered upon his new
duties as a practically despotic monarch with the zest and thoroughness
which had always characterised his actions, yet with a discretion and
moderation which speedily lifted him to the zenith of popularity with
his subjects.

Earle remained on in Ulua for a full month after the celebration of the
royal wedding, and then, satisfied that all was going well with his
chum, completed his preparations for departure, and finally bade
farewell to Ulua and his many friends therein on the anniversary--as it
happened--of the departure of himself and Dick from New York on the
expedition which was destined to produce such extraordinary and
far-reaching results.

He departed, laden with costly gifts from Dick, Myrra, and numerous
other friends, for it turned out that the mountains which hemmed in the
valley and lake of Ulua were fabulously rich in gold and precious
stones, and the value of those which he took away with him amounted in
itself to a princely fortune.  Also he took a long letter from Dick to
Grace, containing, among other items, a cordial invitation from the
royal pair to visit Ulua as often and for as long a time as she pleased,
together with a parcel of priceless rubies as a joint wedding gift from
Dick and Myrra.  A dozen, instead of half-a-dozen, Uluans accompanied
Earle as far as Cerro de Pasco, in addition to Peter and the Indians who
had formed part of the original expedition.  The Uluans returned to the
city after an absence of a trifle over three months, bringing with them
a long and detailed report, accompanied by a map, from Earle, from which
it appeared that the American, during an eventful journey, packed with
adventure, had discovered a practicable route from Ulua into Peru; and
when last heard from, Dick was busily engaged upon the task of improving
this route, with a view to establishing regular communication between
Ulua and the sea.

THE END.





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