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Title: The Black Phantom
Author: Miller, Leo E. (Leo Edward), 1887-
Language: English
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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.

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THE BLACK PHANTOM

       *       *       *       *       *

BY LEO E. MILLER

The Black Phantom
The Hidden People
In the Tiger's Lair

CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

       *       *       *       *       *

THE BLACK PHANTOM

by

LEO E. MILLER

Illustrated



[Illustration: Here, where he had rested before, he would sleep again
Page 217]



Charles Scribner's Sons
New York
1922

Copyright, 1922, By Charles Scribner's Sons
Copyright, 1922, By The Open Road

Printed in the United States of America



TO MY SON SPENCER KELSEY MILLER



INTRODUCTION

The dried or mounted skins of animals from out-of-the-way places are
familiar to every one who has visited museums and other similar
institutions. But, no matter how cleverly arranged, they suggest
comparatively little of the creatures' real appearance in their native
environment.

The comedies, the tragedies, and the life stories of the untrammelled
wild creatures are infinitely more fascinating than a survey of their
lifeless and often faded forms, only too frequently collected by the
hundreds with little other thought than that of classification or the
possession first of rare or undescribed species.

It was with the view of bringing to light the home life of some of the
jungle's inhabitants that "The Black Phantom" was written.

                                                        Leo E. Miller.
Floral Park,
Stratford, Conn.
August 1, 1922.



CONTENTS
                                                                    PAGE
When the Deluge Came                                                   1
Oomah, the Story-teller                                               30
The Terror of Claws and Fangs                                         44
As It Was in the Beginning                                            82
The Struggle for Existence                                           114
The Cruelty of Tumwah                                                150
The White Feather                                                    189



ILLUSTRATIONS

Here where he had rested before, he would sleep again       Frontispiece

                                                             FACING PAGE
Suma waited with bated breath and blazing eyes                        96

There was the twang of the bow and the deadly missile
whined through the air                                               208

"Tumwah, send the rain-clouds here"                                  222



THE BLACK PHANTOM

CHAPTER I

WHEN THE DELUGE CAME


With the coming of night, _Siluk_, the Storm-God, laid a heavy hand upon
the cowering jungle. Now, the coming of night in the Upper Amazon is in
itself an awe-inspiring event; but coupled with the furious onslaught of
_Siluk_, the Storm-God, it is terrible.

In the tropics there is not the lengthy twilight of a temperate clime;
nor the fearsome splendor of the Aurora Borealis with its million
streamers of ghastly light shooting into the heavens in a fan-shaped
flare of quivering color to lend mystery and enchantment to the long
months of the frigid, scintillating polar night.

One moment, the sun like a brassy ball of fire hangs low upon the
threatening horizon; the next, it has dropped into the belt of grayish
mist that marks the earth's end and darkness has spread its silent,
ominous mantle over the forest. Almost, as a room is plunged into
blackness upon the snuffing out of a candle at midnight, so the jungle
is flooded with gloom at the snap of the solar switch.

_Uru_, the great howling monkey, eyed with suspicion the bank of angry
clouds descending from the slopes of the dark mountain masses to the
west. Then he turned to his party, five in number, and from his throat
there emanated a few gruff barks followed by a long-drawn, rumbling
roar. The females hugged close the branches, gave one furtive look at
the threatening sky, and joined their voices in the deafening chorus
that shook the wide-spreading canopy of the tall ceiba tree and
penetrated into the innermost recesses of the jungle a distance measured
in miles. Then the troop clumsily made its way over the swaying branches
and sought a friendly shelter in the crown of a chonta palm.

The wild things of the forest heard the warning and understood its
meaning. From the snug security of the cavernous greenheart, the little,
woolly _douroucoulis_ or night monkeys roused themselves from their
daylight slumbers, peered out into the fading light with round, blinking
eyes, and then curled up again for another nap.

_Sama_, the tapir, one massive forefoot raised in midair, stopped
soothing with his tongue the ugly gash inflicted by _Ueshe_, leader of
the peccary herd when he had incautiously stumbled into its midst, and
listened. His mind had been made up that to-night he should feast on the
luscious grass growing so abundantly in the bed of the broad, nearly dry
river. But the swelling chorus from the treetops caused Sama hastily to
reach another decision. He would remain where he was, in the dense brake
of _chuchilla_ canes and satisfy his hunger on their coarser leaves. The
river bed was too exposed to danger. In the all but impenetrable cane
thicket lay at least a measure of safety.

Even _Picici_, the bushmaster, largest and deadliest of all the
poisonous snakes heard--and heeded. Not one muscle in all his nine feet
of tightly coiled, scale-covered body quivered. Ordinarily, Picici
feared not one living thing. In the jungle he was supposed to reign
supreme, save only for _Muzurama_, the black snake who could
successfully engage him in combat if he chose; but this enemy was so
rare as to be almost negligible. The other animals instinctively knew
and feared his lightning thrust and death-dealing fangs. But Siluk, the
Storm-God was different--an intangible, elusive something he did not
understand, could not subdue. And the terror that Siluk brought was even
worse, for it stalked boldly in the night and slew without warning or
mercy. And so the mighty serpent was contented merely to remain in the
damp, evil-smelling burrow under the decaying vegetation to wait and to
watch.

About the only creatures to remain unaffected by the approach of the
storm were the birds in the treetops; to them the thing it heralded
meant a superabundance of food and a denser, more protective growth of
vegetation. And the stupid _Agoutis_, overgrown guinea-pigs they were,
who could never profit by past experiences anyway, either squatted
comfortably in their burrows or stole out noiselessly to nibble the
tender shoots, as suited their fancy.

The hush that fell upon the jungle was appalling. It was the great,
breathless silence of fear and apprehension. But the suspense was of
short duration.

A sighing breeze sifted its way through the whimpering leaves; again the
deadly calm; then a dull roar, distant at first, but gaining in volume
with each passing heartbeat. With a crash that rent the tallest ceiba
from the topmost branches to the buttressed roots, Siluk arrived. The
trees bent and groaned before the furious onslaught of the wind that
enfiladed their ranks and tore off branches a foot through and hurled
them to the ground; a deluge of water beat down upon them from above;
and in the glare of the brilliant, blue-green lightning flashes, the
startled eyes of trembling wild things saw the weaker and more venerable
monarchs of the forest succumb to the unequal struggle and fall with a
roar that made itself heard above the drumfire peals of thunder.

But, terrible as the Storm-God was in all the majesty of his unleashed
fury, it was not he alone that the trembling denizens of the wilderness
feared. Rather, it was the thing he portended, the message he brought.
For, with this coming of Siluk, began the dismal season of seemingly
unending rains when the waters of the lowlands reached their flood stage
and drove into the higher, forested country that crafty, merciless
terror from which few were safe and which was held in awe and dreaded by
even the strongest among them.

_Suma_, the Jaguar, basking in the glaring sunlight, awoke with a start,
stretched her massive forelegs, yawned, then snapped halfheartedly at
the annoying insects that buzzed about her ears and stung her lips; and
lowered her head for another nap. But, sleep came slowly and then it
was for short periods of time only. Something stirred within her and
warned her of a coming danger--not from the other inhabitants of the
wilderness for among them there was none to dispute her sovereignty;
rather, she looked upon the wild folk as creatures that had been
provided to satisfy her hunger, gratify her whims when in a playful
mood, or upon which to vent her rage. Besides, the flat-topped rock she
had chosen for her daily resting place was well out from the banks where
unknown peril might lurk and high enough above the sluggish, yellow
river to discourage the designing crocodiles that swarmed below. In the
open, and in a fair fight these repulsive reptiles were easy victims of
her power and cunning; but, taken unawares, she would find them
formidable adversaries. For this reason she drank only of the shallowest
pools, and refrained from swimming, reaching her abiding place over a
series of conveniently-placed boulders that served as stepping stones.

All through the torrid day the disquieting impulse warned her to be up
and on her way--just as the birds feel the urge of an irresistible voice
to desert the land of their birth and to seek a foreign clime as the
change of the season draws near, and, heeding it, run the gauntlet of
long migrations through uncharted space.

But, Suma was loath to give up the life of ease and plenty on the
sandbanks for the sterner existence in the forested country. Not until
she was driven from them would she undertake the long, fatiguing journey
to the more elevated regions.

The river was at its lowest stage. Vast islands and low, flat bars
dotted its winding course. The latter extended far as the eye could see
on both sides of the now narrow channel. Young turtles in legion were
emerging from the hot, sun-baked sand and making for the water the
instant they breathed the outer air as if their very lives depended on
it, and they did--for during the hours of daylight there were herons, an
ever-present host of hawks, and other predaceous birds waiting for the
eggs to hatch and eager to feast on the defenseless horde the instant
the little creatures pushed their heads through the crumbling sand and
while they scrambled frantically toward the water and safety. At night
the four-footed animals from miles around gathered on the bars to growl
and to snarl at one another and to feast on the manna so bountifully
spread by heaven for the delectation of all. Fights were almost unknown
for full stomachs were not conducive to quarrelsomeness. Nor must it be
thought that Nature was cruel to the turtles only to be generous to the
other creatures. This very emergency had been amply provided for by the
fact that each adult turtle during her annual visit to land deposited as
many as one hundred eggs in the hole she carefully scooped in the sand,
and had all her offspring survived the rivers would soon be overstocked,
constituting a real menace to the perpetuation of the race. So long as
the others took their toll, that generation was safe.

Crocodiles too were bursting through their tough, leathery egg-shells,
but in smaller numbers. They were vicious little creatures right from
the start, snapping quickly and savagely at everything that interfered
with their rapid march to the muddy stream. But they too had their
enemies and numbers did not live to reach the water's edge, in spite of
the fact that the mother caiman had the unpleasant habit of keeping a
watchful eye on her nest and escorting her brood to safety if she
chanced to be present when it came into the world. If an overzealous
jabirou stork or a gluttonous opossum ventured near she charged with a
hoarse bellow that put the intruder to flight; and while she was thus
engaged, some other keen-visaged marauder would be sure to take
advantage of the opening created by her absence to satisfy his rapacious
cravings.

But the turtles and the crocodiles were not the only delicacies the
sandbars provided. There were iguanas two yards long, and on the knolls
where the wind had blown the sand into heaps fat young skimmers and
terns were testing their wings for the new life that lay before them in
the air.

The shallow inlets were full of fish. They came out of the deeper water
at night to spawn, and could be dragged ashore with little effort.

From such a well-stocked hunting ground Suma was not eager to depart.
Day after day the journey was postponed, and the procrastination, as
usual, brought evil consequences.

It was night, but a full moon, and the myriads of stars, beaming and
twinkling in the glorious tropical sky, shed a mellow light on the
sandbar where the last of the turtles were escaping from their prison
shells. Suma feasted leisurely, then drank from the lazy stream, and sat
straight upright like a huge cat and began unconcernedly to tidy up by
licking her huge paws with her pink tongue and then applying them to her
face.

A dull roar pierced the silence with a suddenness that was ominous. The
Jaguar sprang to her feet and uneasily tested the air, first in one
direction, then another. There was not a stir of wind. The sky was
cloudless--the growing rumble was not thunder.

Onward came the mysterious sound with a terrifying swiftness, and Suma
knew it must be the river. The abrupt bank was fully half a mile distant
but toward it the startled creature bounded in gigantic leaps that took
her over the sand with the speed of the wind. The goal had all but been
attained when the cataclysm struck. A wall of water, four feet high and
crested with foam came rushing down the river bed with incredible
swiftness, engulfing everything within its reach. The sandbar with its
varied population was submerged in a flash and as the air imprisoned in
the wide cracks and crevices of the sun-baked surface rushed up toward
freedom, the water seethed and boiled like the contents of a gigantic
cauldron.

Completely overwhelmed by the first wave, Suma struggled frantically to
regain her foothold and finding this impossible followed the path of
least resistance and struck out boldly with the current until the water
drained from her eyes and she could discern the bank which had been her
objective. By varying her course slightly toward that side nearest the
land she made fair progress and soon reached a point where the water was
shallow and wearily dragged herself ashore. Pausing only long enough to
shake the glistening drops from her shivering body she began the long
journey westward for at last Suma was forced, reluctantly, to admit the
truth. Days before, she had sensed the coming of the melancholy weeks of
endless downpours with the attendant saturated earth; but the warning
had gone unheeded. Now, when it was all but too late it served as a
stimulus to redoubled effort; for the rains had started in the foothills
and would soon extend their sway to the lower country.

Daylight found the journey well under way, with vast stretches of swamp
and forest and plain to be traversed. Before her lay the wild
pantenales, vast wastes of land and water. The inhabitants of these
dismal places too felt the coming of the change for, between the sky,
now overcast and angry for the first time in days, and the earth,
seemingly waiting in sullen acquiescence to the dictates of a higher
power, flecks of black soared in stately circles, or whirled in erratic
courses, that were either manifestations of abject surrender to the
inevitable, or else a show of frenzied despair, one could not tell
which. The soaring flecks of black were flocks of graceful ibises
sailing hour after hour on tireless wings and indistinguishable from
vultures save for the long, outstretched necks and legs; for, outlined
against the grayish heavens all the winged creatures appeared dark, no
matter what their color. The whirling swarms were hordes of cormorants,
herons, terns and skimmers defying every known law of gravity in their
mad evolutions.

The chorus of screams and squawks from overhead could be heard for miles
and chief among the offenders in this respect were the terns whose
shrill voices and incessant clatter were like the cries of woe of
demented souls. Below, the occasional bellow of a crocodile hidden in
the reedy bed of a marsh or the high-pitched wail of the great brown
wolf added its note to the clamor of the multitude.

Suma spent the nights only in travel. When the approach of day was
heralded by the crimson glare in the eastern sky she sought shelter in
one of the dark forest islands so liberally sprinkled over the pantenal
country. To the Jaguar these were places of delight, free from
disturbance and well suited for repose. To man, these same places would
have been an inferno.

The tall trees, mostly of a wood known as _quebracho_, eagerly sought in
other regions on account of its qualities of yielding tannin, rich dyes
and compounds of medicinal worth, grew in dense clumps, the straight
trunks packed close together and the spreading, leafy branches almost
completely shutting out the daylight. More often than not reeking pools
of black water formed the floor of these desolate places. Mosquitoes in
clouds rose from the stagnant mire; their buzzing wings made an
ever-present music for, the insects being of various kinds and sizes, the
note contributed by each species was of a different pitch. Near the
ground the din was maddening, and the bites of the ravenous creatures
were sufficient to cause death.

The wily Jaguar avoided the intolerable annoyance and danger by seeking
a partly-fallen, leaning tree-trunk, or a thick branch, fifteen or
twenty feet above the ground. This was well above the zone of perpetual
torment, for the obnoxious insects formed a stratum that hugged the
earth. Among the branches the squirrels frolicked, whisking their
plume-like tails and keeping at a respectable distance from every other
animal that was not of their own family. Some of them were of
extraordinary size, with red backs and white under parts; others
belonged to the extreme lower end of the scale and were scarcely larger
than good-sized mice; but they all seemed a good-natured, fun-loving lot
that enjoyed life to the fullest extent.

The Cebus monkeys were of a very different nature. They always wore
tragic expressions on their faces and their lives were full of suffering
and woe for they had enemies without numbers. If they showed themselves
on the sunlit dome of the treetops, an eagle was always ready to pounce
down upon them and carry away one of their number, screaming piteously,
in its talons. When they descended to drink caimans were lurking near at
hand to drag them into the dark depths below. Snakes of the constrictor
family were not wanting among the branches; despite their huge size they
had a habit of lying patiently in wait where the cover was thickest, or
of appearing in the most unexpected places and after each of their swift
lunges the monkey population was reduced by one. Then too, there was
Suma, never averse to striking with murderous intent at anything that
came within reach. The damp chill of the nights penetrated the bodies of
the closely huddled groups, and caused them to shiver; and during the
hottest hours of the day they trembled with the ague. So their
existence, taken as a whole was a most unfortunate and melancholy one.

There were also other denizens of the dismal places. At noon the marsh
deer with wide-spreading antlers sought them out as the only available
protection from the blistering sunlight. But they were wary creatures,
ever on the alert, sensing danger and fleeing from it before their
position was really imperilled. The tapirs too were shy but not so
apprehensive of their welfare, for they were powerful animals and well
versed in jungle strategy. Once Suma had essayed to try her prowess on
one of the big ungulates by springing from a lower branch and burying
her claws and fangs in its shoulder. But the hide was so tough,
particularly along the ridge that ran down from the neck that she gained
little more than a secure hold and this the tapir broke by promptly
bolting through the densest brush where the stout overhanging branches
brushed the Jaguar off as if she had been a fly and left her lying
bruised and stunned on the soggy ground. Herds of peccaries roamed the
forest islands at will. Their safety lay principally in numbers, but
more of them anon.

Keeping just ahead of the encroaching water that daily added broad miles
to the inundated areas, Suma was finally driven to the heavy forest that
spread its mantle over the rough, low ridges forming the Andean
foothills. And the long journey finally over the great cat felt a thrill
of delight at again seeing the old, familiar haunts in the rain-drenched
thickets.

With a caution akin to awe she approached the windfall where a cyclone
years before had levelled a wide swath through the heavy growth. Giant
trunks and branches, resisting decay, littered the floor of the lane and
formed a barrier impenetrable to those inhabitants of the jungle
confined to a life on the ground. Second growth sprouts had pushed their
way through the tangled, twisted debris and waved their plumed heads
above the mass of wreckage. Creepers and trumpet vines covered it with a
green cloak so that an endless mound of verdure dotted with clusters of
scarlet flowers greeted the eye in two directions. Gorgeous humming
birds, aflame with ruby and emerald light, flitted from one patch of
color to another, sipping the nectar from deep-throated corollas and
picking out the ants and other minute insects that too had been
attracted by the delicacies stored in the brilliant blossoms.

Suma knew the country well. Thrice before had she taken up her abode
there while the rains were falling. And now, springing nimbly from one
prostrate tree-trunk to another, threading her way through
verdure-covered tunnels, and pushing aside the sprouts that impeded her
progress she made her way to the old lair--a great cavity in the heart
of an uprooted cottonwood.

At the entrance she stopped short and sniffed the air enquiringly. Her
nose told her that the spiny rats had been there, probably that very
night, but they were beneath her serious attention and now that she had
arrived they would lose no time in seeking other quarters; so she
dismissed them from her mind without another thought. A stronger and
more disagreeable odor proclaimed the presence of an opossum; in fact,
its beady eyes could be seen dully glowing in the farthermost corner of
the cavity. How dared the impudent creature appropriate for its own use
and defile the place that Suma held sacred? Ordinarily she would pass it
in contempt, but such impertinence must not remain unpunished. With a
snarl of rage she dashed through the entrance and struck the wretched
creature a terrible blow with one claw-armed paw that tore it into
shreds and turning, with a second quick thrust tossed it out where it
fell among the trumpet-vines, a limp and lifeless mass.

After a thorough inspection of her old quarters the Jaguar was
apparently satisfied that they would serve their purpose another season,
and set about renovating them. This consisted of carefully digging up
and turning over the decayed bark and leaves that had sifted in through
the opening. Nor was this labor without its reward, for numbers of fat
grubs and the helpless larvæ of rhinoceros beetles were unearthed,
providing dainty morsels for the big cat. This accomplished, Suma
inquisitively sniffed at each nook and crevice, then turning around a
number of times in search of the most comfortable spot, settled down for
a long nap--her nostrils toward the entrance beyond which the rain
roared and the thunder crashed. The air was fragrant with the smell of
growing things for the rainy season was not yet far enough advanced to
induce decomposition of the wilted and dead vegetation; and Suma, glad
to be back in her home again, speedily sank into a peaceful and
refreshing sleep.

From the cautious hunter moving shadow-like over the dreary expanse of
the pantenales or stealing like a spirit through the forest islands and
killing for food only, Suma suddenly changed to a bloodthirsty terror
that slew whatever came within her reach. Back and forth she patrolled
along the edges of the windfall. No creature was too small, none too
large to merit the fury of her onslaught.

Numbers of the more careless or stupid animals, panic-stricken at last
when it was too late, fell ready victims. Instead of seeking safety at
the first menacing roar they foolishly succumbed to their curiosity or
stopped only long enough to listen and to wonder, then went about their
own affairs as was their custom. This seldom failed to bring dire
consequences, for when the sudden rush came it confused them and they
dashed blindly into the very jaws of their destroyer. Such particularly
was the fate of the agoutis, which had either forgotten the experience
of past seasons or had failed to inherit the cunning of the other wild
folk. When the Jaguar approached, noisily announcing her coming with
voice and footfall, they sat stock still and waited. Only their noses
twitched and their large, black eyes stared dumbly in the direction from
whence the sounds came. They never had long to wait. With a growl, Suma
pounced upon them, mauled them into bits and left them as a warning the
meaning of which could not be misunderstood.

The lot of the armadillos was not vastly different. Digging for grubs in
the wet mould, they were oblivious to their surroundings for with their
heads hidden from view they felt a fanciful security from outward
aggression. The rings of bony armor that covered their bodies was strong
enough, it is true, to protect them from the talons of the harpy eagle
and claws of the tiger cats; but when Suma dealt her crushing blow it
proved at once the fallacy of taking too many things for granted. So the
shattered casques and broken bones of many a luckless armadillo were
strewn along the way, mute evidences of Suma's insatiable savagery.

In contrast to the actions of the agoutis and armadillos was the
behavior of the ocelots. At the first intimation of danger they
disappeared to their hiding places or climbed the nearest tree from the
branches of which they watched with the eyes of hatred as their larger
relative passed below. However, in the event that they were trapped in
the middle of a stalk they spat and hissed and offered the strongest
resistance of which they were capable, or at least so it seemed. In
reality they were merely bluffing, knowing all the while, with sinking
hearts, that their position was hopeless, and that their strategy had no
effect whatever on the actions of their persecutor.

The more knowing animals heeded the warning so plainly written in the
mutilated bodies of their brethren; in the snarls of rage and in the
screams of terror of the doomed victims; and in the roars of triumph
that followed each notable kill. To them, all these signs were
superfluous, for had they not witnessed the coming of Siluk, the
Storm-God, and had they not known of the thing that portended? But such
is the nature of the wild things that they are loath to change the
established order of their lives until forced to do so. So, not until
death walked boldly in their midst, and struck--no one could tell when
and where--did they profit by their superior intelligence. Then the
more timid ones among their number moved to safe quarters far from the
windfall, while the others redoubled their vigilance and dared not
venture many paces from the protection of their burrows and shelters.

So far, the inhabitants of the treetops had not been molested. Largest
among them were the howling monkeys. Secretly, they feared Suma and
hated her with all the vehemence of their intractable natures. In secret
also, they followed her movements whenever possible, dogging her steps
and gazing with furtive eyes upon her acts of violence. But they were
careful to keep to the higher branches and to view the jungle tragedies
from the safety of their lofty perches. So long as the Jaguar hunted
openly and made no efforts to conceal her movements, they had nothing to
fear. It was later, when the great cat called into play all the
resources and artifices at her command that their hour would strike. But
like the other foolish wild folk, they looked upon that time as
something belonging to the indistinct future and not until the lesson
should be brought home to them, swiftly and terribly, would they profit
by it.

In her turn, Suma hated the monkey tribe. She had frequent glimpses of
the dark forms slinking through the branches high above her head, but
gave no indication of the fact. At the present time she could not hope
successfully to wage war upon them in their arboreal fastness. But it
would not always be so. Other days were coming and then the monkey band
would be given their lesson and punished for their presumption.

The bird flocks swept through the forest in quest of their livelihood
with as much clamor as ever. To them Suma meant nothing; the majority of
them had never seen her--did not even know that such a creature existed.
The jays, quarrelsome and noisy as are their relatives of the temperate
zone, occasionally saw the spotted hunter as she passed where the
undergrowth was more open, and sent up a loud chatter that apprised all
the other wild things of her whereabouts. And while realizing her
impotence to deal with them, Suma could never quite check the growl that
swelled in her throat nor stay the lips that drew back until the
gleaming, white fangs were exposed to view. Then, with a sheepish look
as if heartily ashamed of having noticed the pests at all, she hastened
to thicker cover and quickly lost herself to her tormentors.

And so the days, and the nights too, passed swiftly, each with its
complement of thunder and of rain, and of intimidation and destruction;
but at last Suma was satisfied. The region had been cleared of
everything that might disturb the tranquillity of the weeks to come.
That had been her first care, her first duty prompted by an instinct
that made her merciless in its execution. Her abode was safe from
disturbance. She could come and go as she chose, serene in the knowledge
that not a living thing remained in the vicinity to trouble her, or, if
any remained they were cowed to the point where they dared not make
their presence known. Then she retired to the cavity in the great
cottonwood and for three days and three nights the jungle saw her not.

The deluge thundered and beat upon the drooping vegetation with a sound
so monotonous that Suma grew accustomed to it and did not notice its
existence. But the chamber in the giant tree trunk remained dry and
comfortable, a little world apart from its mournful surroundings. And
scarcely had she entered upon her voluntary retirement when a swarm of
craneflies took up its station at the entrance. These latter were
slender, almost wasplike insects with lacy wings and long, thread-like
legs, that whirled and danced with the mad joyousness of life, the mass
of swirling creatures seemingly spinning a net of sheerest gossamer that
curtained the interior from the prying eyes of the wrens and ant birds
hopping inquisitively through the crevices of the windfall.



CHAPTER II

OOMAH, THE STORY-TELLER


The approach of Siluk, the Storm-God, brought terror not only to the
animals of the boundless wilderness. Besides the creatures that lived in
the treetops, in the air, on the floor of the forest and under the
rubbish that littered the ground were other living beings, no less wild,
no less savage than the ones that shared their jungle homes.

They were the Indians, living in scattered tribes, some numerous, others
so few in numbers that they verged on extinction. They roamed the vast
hinterland in bands, subsisting on the bounty of the land when food was
plentiful, suffering hunger in less propitious seasons, and sleeping on
the ground where night overtook them.

The dry season was their time of harvest, of care-free existence and of
abundance. No sooner had the heavens ceased to drench the long-enduring
earth with its tears than they followed the receding floods to the lower
regions where the forest ended.

Then came long days of brilliant sunshine, of balmy breezes, and of
feasting beside the great rivers that were the very arteries of life of
the great Amazon country.

Well-filled stomachs were conducive to friendlier dispositions. Old
enmities were forgotten or at least held in abeyance. Each tribe was too
busily engaged in the enjoyment of life to spend precious days in
warfare on its neighbors with all the attendant hardships and suffering.

It was only after the skies had been leaden for days at a time; when
rain in torrents beat unceasingly upon the hastily erected shelters and
found its way in rivulets through the palm-leaf roofs so that the
earthen floors were converted into basins of mud; when game retreated to
unknown or inaccessible places so that the procuring of food became an
increasingly difficult problem; it was then, after the weeks of brooding
and confinement that nerves snapped and the picture of war formed
itself as a saving diversion before the blood-shot eyes of the savages.

At this stage no one was safe. The war party might at any moment find
itself ambushed by the very ones it hoped to surprise. The snap of a
twig; the dropping of a fruit from some tall tree; each sudden sound was
interpreted as the twang of a hostile bow. Overwrought nerves peopled
the jungle with spectral enemies; they found relief in combat and
destruction.

And, above all the scenes of desolation, above the turmoil and the
strife, the grim storm god ruled supreme, heartlessly sending new
deluges and crashing bolts in answer to the prayers for deliverance.

The Cantanas had ventured farther down the river than was their wont.
The season had been a remarkable one. Never had there been such
abundance along the stream that for many years had served as their
annual camping-ground. They revelled in the luxury of a care-free
existence. Fish teemed in the water; turtles came in hordes to visit
the sandbank; and birds in countless numbers filled the air with
twinkling wings and harsh screams. They had only to take, to eat, and to
make merry for it was not their nature to look too seriously upon the
morrow.

And then, like a fateful omen of troubled times on the horizon came the
first sign, the first warning of the impending change.

The tribe was small, reduced in numbers by the periodical inroads made
upon it by some of its neighbors. Also, led by an aged man who relied
more on charms and incantations than upon valor, it stood in a fair way
of utter extermination.

Among the men was a youth of promise, Oomah by name. He was a general
favorite, praised by the men for his deeds of courage and daring,
admired by the women and beloved by the children.

Oomah was only seventeen. Still, at that early age he stood half a head
above any other member of the tribe and was built in proportion. It had
been hinted on more than one occasion that he was to be their next
leader. But, if he knew of it, he gave not the slightest evidence of the
fact. He went about his affairs as stolidly as ever, indifferent to all
but the urge of the water, the lure of the forest and those other things
that rounded out the well-filled days of the annual period of
recreation.

And now the time had arrived when that period must soon come to a close.
But the sun was shining still, the wind blew and the birds shrieked in
their revels overhead.

The men were dozing in their hammocks; the women had built fires over
which to roast the turtle meat for the evening meal. And the children
played in the sand.

A shout went up suddenly from one of the group.

"Here comes Oomah now."

"Yes! We will run to meet Oomah," another said. "See, he brings birds
from the forest."

They raced toward the oncoming figure still a few hundred yards away on
the edge of the sandbank. Each wanted to be the first to reach his side
and to hear from his lips the story of the afternoon's hunt.

"Oh, look," the leader said in wide-eyed wonder when they all came to a
stop in front of the mighty hunter. "A _gura_ and a _chapla_. Tell us,
Oomah, how did you get them?"

"In the forest, high up in the trees," the youth replied with a smile.
"Now look at the birds and tell me what you see."

A chorus of answers came instantly, for close observation of all things
is part of the life training of the wild people.

"One has a short tail," said one.

"The big one has a long tail," said another.

"The feathers on its head are all curled and twisted," added a third.
"And they both have long necks and long legs."

"Listen," said Oomah, "and I will tell you why these things are true."

He sat down in the sand and crossed his legs and the group of eager
urchins dropped down in a semi-circle before him.

"In the very beginning of things, many, many changes of the season ago,
the _gura_ and the _chapla_ were just alike," Oomah said impressively,
holding up one hand for further emphasis. "They were married one day
just as the rains were about to stop for good and the floods were going
back into the rivers where they belonged. But, they were not happy.
Before long they quarrelled. The _gura_," holding up the trumpeter, which
was like a turkey without a tail, for such it was, "was forever cackling
and scolding and the _chapla_" pointing to the curassow, which resembled
a turkey with a long tail, "resented this and answered in loud squawks.
Then they began to fight. The _chapla_ pushed the _gura_ into the fire
over which she was cooking and burned off her tail. In rage, the _gura_
pushed her husband into the fire, scorching the feathers on his head so
that they curled up. Now, Wallaha, god of the forest saw the fight and
it made him angry. 'For shame,' he said, 'fighting like that when you
should be peaceful and happy. I will punish you. You will bear the marks
of your disgrace with you forever.' And that is why the _gura_ has a
short tail and the feathers on the head of the _chapla_ are singed even
to this day."

A chorus of "Oh's" escaped the cluster of eager listeners. "Tell us
another story."

"What do you want me to tell about?" Oomah asked indulgently.

"Tell us about the rivers."

The youth was silent for a moment, as if lost in thought. Then he began.

"The little streams that come from the mountains so far away and rush
through the forest are always talking, always babbling. They are never
silent. Have you not noticed that?"

"Yes, and they are always in a hurry," came the prompt reply. "What are
they saying?"

"They are _praying_,'Father of Waters,' they are pleading, 'wait for us
and take us into your arms and carry us away with you to the great sea
where the land ends. We are small and cannot travel the distance alone;
the hungry ground would drink us up or the wind would dry us up. But in
your embrace we will safely reach our home.'"

"Tell us, Oomah," one of the boys said in an awestruck tone, "are there
still greater rivers than the Father of Waters we know?"

"The Father of Waters is but as a drop compared to the great sea into
which it empties," Oomah said wistfully. "It is so large that there is
no other side. The fish in it are bigger than the tallest tree and when
the wind blows the waves are high as mountains."

"Oh, did you see these things Oomah," the eager listeners asked.

"No," came the reply, regretfully.

"Then, who did see them? Who told you of them?"

"Long, long ago the Cantanas were a powerful people. They built the
largest canoes and travelled to the river's end. They saw them. The
story of their wandering came to me from my mother."

"When we are men," one of the boys said, "we will make a great canoe.
Then you will take us to see the water that is so broad it has no other
side."

"No," Oomah said sadly. "It is impossible, for since that day white men
have come in countless numbers and settled along the borders of the
Father of Waters. Little by little they are pushing up the river. Some
day they will be even here."

"Not so long as there is a Cantana alive," the oldest of the youths
replied. "We will fight them and drive them back."

"I am glad to hear you say that and I would that I could be the leader
against them. But, that too is not possible," regretfully. "The white
men are numerous as the stars in the heavens. They fight with sticks
that roar like thunder and throw the lightning that kills instantly.
Their boats vomit fire and smoke and are longer than from here to the
water's edge."

"What terrible savages they must be," one of the boys said breathlessly.

"Some day," Oomah continued, a strange light brightening his face, "I
will take you down the river to the border of the region where the
white men live. We will travel at night and hide by day. From our places
of concealment we will watch them but they shall not see us."

"What would Choflo say?" one of the more timid ones asked.

"We will not ask Choflo," another promptly replied. "He says too many
things and always makes us do the things we hate to do."

"You forget," Oomah advised them, "that Choflo is leader of the tribe.
So long as he lives he must be obeyed."

This calmed the threatened insurrection. Oomah's words had been
calculated to uphold their respect for the one who was their leader and
they had accomplished their purpose, so the subject was dismissed.

"Would you hear more?" the youth asked.

"Yes, yes," came the response in a chorus of eager voices. "Tell us
another story."

"This, also have I not seen," the storyteller continued, "nor do I hope
ever to see it. But it has been known that at certain intervals of time
a mysterious spirit appears in the forest--a huge black being, so
powerful and so ferocious that every living thing shrinks from it in
terror. Our sharpest arrows, shot from the most powerful bows do not
harm it. It roars at night so that the sound of its voice may be heard a
distance of a full day's travel and it slays on sight but does not
devour the men it kills."

The hearers drew closer together. They were too interested for speech.

"It is said that the terrible monster is a phantom, sent by Tumwah, God
of Drought to punish us for our evil deeds. It takes the form of the
tiger but of a _black_ color. May none of you ever come under the spell
of this vile spirit."

The tale was interrupted at this time. A shadow flashed past them on the
sand.

"See, see," Oomah shouted, jumping to his feet. He pointed to a black
bird, a vulture, that was circling over their heads.

"The omen never fails. Siluk is coming; he is upon us. Look! look!"

He was now pointing to the fleeting shadow on the sand. Some of the
bird's primary feathers were gone so that the wings cast a barred
shadow.

"When the vulture sheds his wing-feathers the rains have started to fall
in the mountains. Run, all of you, to the high banks and remain there. I
will go to warn the others. Soon the flood will be upon us."

The urchins fled without further urging. And Oomah started on a run
toward the cluster of hovels on the margin of the water.

His cries brought out the men and women before he reached their midst,
and it required but a moment to deliver his message.

"Impossible," Choflo replied with a malicious gleam in his eyes. "The
sign did not appear to _me_."

"But, I saw it. The children saw it. Gather up what you can and run for
your lives."

"No!" The leader raised his hands. "The flood will not reach us. I will
stop it."

He raised his voice in a low, droning chant but before he had uttered a
dozen words there came a distant roar, dull but unmistakable, that
drowned the sound of his incantation.

The Indians needed no further evidence of the truth of Oomah's warning.
Abandoning everything, they rushed in a body toward the distant bank
that meant safety; and Choflo, despite his years, well held his place
among them.

They were just in time. Scarcely had the last man gained the higher
ground than the wall of water thundered down the riverbed, engulfing
everything in its path. Their weapons were lost; the turtles in the
corrals were swept away; their cooking utensils had vanished. Had they
heeded Oomah without delay it would have been different.

They had escaped with nothing but their lives; but, even for this they
were grateful even though it meant days of suffering in the
rain-drenched forest before they could again replace their loss.



CHAPTER III

THE TERROR OF CLAWS AND FANGS.


When Suma, the Jaguar, driven from the dismal wastes of the pantenal
country by the encroaching floods of the rainy season reached the
higher, forested region skirting the Andean foothills, she entered upon
a wild orgy of terrorism and slaughter.

Her instinct gratified, Suma retired to the cavity in the cottonwood
while the torrential rains fell with a monotonous roar, and the
craneflies with their lacy, whirring wings formed a curtain in the
entrance to lend sanctity to the inner chamber.

Ordinarily, Suma did not destroy wantonly; she killed for food only or
in self-defense; or, in resentment of the too familiar advances or the
indifference of some one of the less intelligent creatures that had not
yet learned to respect her power and acknowledge her sovereignty in the
jungle. But, the present was not an ordinary occasion, for soon Warruk,
as the Indians on the Ichilo River called the Jaguar cub, was to make his
appearance in the big world; and it was but for his comfort and safety
that Suma provided.

After a three days' retirement the great cat emerged from the seclusion
of her dark retreat, hungry and ferocious but with a stealth and caution
well calculated to evade any prying eyes that might attempt to observe
her actions from the treetops and surmise their meaning.

A puff, like smoke, from the entrance to the cavity announced her
coming; but it was only the madly dancing cloud of craneflies clearing
the passage at her approach.

The rain was falling with a steady drone from a sky of unbroken,
cheerless gray, and rivulets of water trickled from the drooping
vegetation. Mosses and ferns, revived by the superabundance of moisture
had sprung up on the decaying trunks and branches of the uprooted
trees, pushing their feathery leaflets through the blanket of creepers
and forming a dense, soggy layer cold and clammy to the touch and
treacherous underfoot. But Suma knew her domicile well and passed
rapidly and surefootedly over the interlocking tree skeletons and soon
reached the level forest floor.

Straight as an arrow she headed to the north on some mission well-known
to herself, moving like a shadow and at a rapid pace. Before long the
windfall with the giant cottonwood containing the precious little Warruk
had been left far behind. Suma knew where the round, red chonta nuts
grew and that they ripened during the season of rains; and that even now
the ground was covered with the tasty morsels. But this knowledge was of
a vague nature only and interested her but indirectly. What was far more
important was that the peccary herds fed on the chonta nuts and were
sure to be in the neighborhood of their favorite feeding-grounds.

To stalk and kill one of the ferocious little animals entailed a great
deal of danger--to the inexperienced hunter, but Suma feared them not.
Never, since the time she had miscalculated the distance of the spring
and had succeeded only in slightly wounding her quarry--with the
resultant squeal of terror and the onrush of fully a hundred of the
stricken one's fellows--and the night of uncertainty spent in the
treetop, had they given her any trouble. But all that is another story
as likely as not to repeat itself in the life of Warruk for it seemed
that trouble with a peccary herd fell to the lot of every Jaguar and was
part of his education.

The clump of chonta trees grew a good five miles from the windfall. Suma
had covered half the distance when a sharp odor in the air caused her to
stop and, standing like an exquisitely chiselled statue, with tensed
muscles and alert poise, to drink deeply the scent-laden air. The vision
of a peccary dinner left her instantly and her pink tongue stole out
gently until it touched her moist, black nose in anticipation of a far
more satisfying gorge on venison.

A moment later the Jaguar resumed her journey, but in a different
direction. She had swerved at right angles to her former course and was
hot on the trail of the deer.

Like a shadow Suma seemed to flow over the ground, looking neither to
right nor left, the massive paws falling with the lightness of leaves
dropping from the trees. A frightened agouti scampered across her path
and stopped, frozen with fear, and a green ribbon-like snake drooping in
festoons from a low-growing branch hastily drew up its coils as the big
cat passed below.

Again Suma paused to sniff the air, then advanced; but this time in a
careless, leisurely manner. In a moment she came upon the deer standing
in an open little glade among the dark tree trunks. If the creature was
startled by the appearance of the Jaguar, it gave no indication of the
fact. It snorted and stamped its forefeet while Suma sat down on the wet
leaves and surveyed her intended victim in the most unconcerned manner.
For a moment the two stared at one another. Then, without warning, the
brocket turned and darted away.

Suma did not follow. Instead she arose and began to search the
neighborhood, for the other creature's actions plainly betrayed the fact
that she had a fawn hidden nearby. Why exhaust herself in a fruitless
chase after the fleeting mother whose speed was so much greater than her
own and who had dashed away simply to deceive her foe and in the hope of
drawing her from the spot where her offspring was concealed? The fawn,
far more desirable than its elder, could be had for the mere finding.

But the fawn had already learned one of the most important lessons of
life and this bit of knowledge had saved him from an untimely end no
fewer than seven times during his ten days on earth.

Now, the fawn was prettily spotted, and most persons who delve into such
matters and try to reconcile cause and effect, particularly from a
distant point of view, would have said that this coloration was the
means of rendering it, crouching among the ferns with head and neck
flattened to the ground, invisible to its enemies. But the truth of the
matter was that its color had nothing to do with its security. During
the hours of dusk and darkness when the predaceous animals came out to
hunt, the fawn might have been red or blue or green so far as its color
was concerned with its safety, for in the gloom of the jungle all
objects not snowy white appeared black if they could be distinguished at
all. The important thing was that it lay motionless--had been in this
identical position for some time, and so long as it did not move it gave
off no scent. It was for this same reason that the tinamou and quail and
other ground-nesting birds escaped the keen noses of the foxes,
otherwise they would have been exterminated long ago. The preying
animals hunted by scent, not by sight.

If the brocket mother, after her wild dash in the hope of luring Suma
from the spot had only stayed away both she and her offspring would have
been safe. But, finding that her ruse had been unsuccessful she
anxiously returned. The Jaguar sensed her coming and waited; the snort
and impatient stamp that announced her arrival was superfluous for Suma
had seen her approach.

Again the deer tried to lead her enemy away, trotting off a few paces
and turning to look back with large, questioning eyes. The big cat
merely sat upright and yawned as if bored by the proceedings. The
brocket retraced her steps, but the Jaguar seemed not to notice and
began to wash one of her massive paws. By this time the deer was
thoroughly aroused; she grunted and stamped her feet and pivoted this
way and that. Suma, while feigning indifference, eagerly watched each
movement and when the brocket, finally, frantic with apprehension made
one of her quick turns the Jaguar glided forward a few steps and sprang.
Like a flash she catapulted through the air; there was the gleam of
white fangs and when the jaws crunched together they closed upon the
neck of the unfortunate deer, crushing the vertebra. A second swift
lunge below the shoulder and the long teeth had penetrated the heart.
The deer, with a startled gasp staggered forward a step and dropped.
Suma eagerly lapped up the red pool forming on the wet leaves, purring
with satisfaction and then fell upon her victim with a savage relish,
for not in days had she eaten.

Long before the gory feast was completed the fawn, becoming impatient at
its mother's non-return, left the clump of arums, green leaves, wide as
an elephant's ear, not ten yards away and ambled up unsuspiciously to
within a few feet of the great cat where it stood and gazed with wide,
innocent eyes upon the fearful scene before it. Suma paid no attention
to the little creature, even when it came a step nearer and bleated
plaintively, for she had enough before her to satisfy her hunger. And
when the Jaguar had eaten her fill she carefully cleansed her face and
paws and started toward the river to drink before returning to the
windfall. The fawn followed, so she increased her pace, hopelessly
outdistancing the little creature and leaving it to the mercy of the
next marauder that chanced to pass that way. Without the guidance of its
mother it was a forlorn and pathetic little object left to drift
aimlessly through the rain-soaked forest with its numerous watchful eyes
and alert ears. Somehow, the other creatures sensed the fawn's
helplessness and the news soon spread among them. Shadowy forms appeared
where there should have been none. And the awe-inspiring Suma had
scarcely succeeded in shaking the dainty little sprite off her trail
when it met an untimely end from an unexpected quarter.

A family of great owls had been following the jungle tragedy from the
black trees, with large, glowing eyes. And when the proper moment
arrived they swooped down with noiseless wings like spirits from a
shadow world. Monsters of fury they were, stabbing and rending with
needle-sharp claws and hooked beaks that clattered; tearing at eye and
throat and flank until the poor fawn succumbed to the terrific attack.
Then they fretted and quarrelled among themselves, grunting and bowing,
and striking at one another with arched wings as they hopped around
their victim. The commotion attracted a pack of five short-tailed,
dog-like creatures which rushed upon the scene and drove the owls back
to their sphere in the tree tops, while they cleaned up the remains.

When Suma again emerged from her lair, two nights later, she started in
a different direction. Never did she return to a kill the second time or
hunt on two successive occasions in the same region.

Unless she remained to ward off the hungry advances of a host of other
creatures there would never be enough of her victims left to come back
for; and even if there had been, one short day's time in the hot,
steaming jungle atmosphere sufficed to cause the flesh to decay. Suma
had ideas of her own about spending the days away from her proper
rendezvous; and as for carrion, she never failed to give it a wide
berth.

As to her hunting instincts, there were several reasons why a region
should be shunned after one of its denizens had been slain. A nightly
raid in the same place might cause the creatures living in it either to
become so wary that soon it would be impossible to secure any of them at
all; or, they would be exterminated which was even worse. No! Suma
obeyed well the impulse that guided her actions. By visiting a new
district on each quest of food the game was not too greatly disturbed
and its numbers or existence was not imperilled.

Nor was this instinct confined to the Jaguar alone. The other
flesh-eating animals also heeded it. And the wild tribes that inhabited
the wilderness knew from bitter experience that it was best to conserve
their food supply and that to waste today was to want tomorrow. It was
only when men who professed some degree of civilization appeared on the
scene that the wild things found existence impossible; and the more
advanced the men the greater the slaughter. They showed an insatiable
lust for killing--under one pretext or another; but always they killed,
with guns and rifles and--from a safe distance.

On her second food-hunt since the arrival of Warruk, the cub, Suma
essayed to visit the margin of the swollen, raging river where the fat
capybaras lived in the dense cane brakes. The great creatures, like
hundred-pound guinea pigs, were rancid eating, it is true, but this was
in a measure counterbalanced by the fact that to capture them required
no excessive effort. Both by day and by night they were very much in
evidence gnawing tirelessly at the tough canes and when the stems were
finally severed they squatted complacently and munched the broad,
ribbon-like leaves. One wondered when, if ever, they slept; and why, in
the midst of such an abundance of food their appetites seemed never
satisfied. Upon the first sign of danger they stopped eating only long
enough to give vent to their resentment of the disturbance in a few
guttural grunts; but once the spectre of disaster was swooping down upon
them they made hurriedly for the water and dived with a loud splash.
They were good swimmers, with only the head showing above the surface
sending out a trail of V-shaped ripples that shimmered and sparkled if
the sun shone, and on moonlit nights. Often, however, they swam under
water to some nearby island reed-bed or to the security of a burrow
beneath the overhanging bank.

The rain had stopped for one of those rare and all too brief intervals
that broke the monotony of the sullen roar and the misery caused by a
perpetually drenched skin when the Jaguar approached the fringe of tall,
waving canes. Broad runways opened into the maze of stalks where the
capybaras had gnawed their way through the dense growth and then hastily
had turned back to start a new one--just as a woodpecker chiseling a
hole through a wall and dismayed at seeing daylight ahead, leaves the
laboriously excavated tunnel and quickly starts another.

The forest beyond the canes was an unknown world of lurking dangers. But
the capybaras simply found it impossible to loose themselves from it.
Always, at the most unexpected moment they came suddenly upon it looming
before them like a sinister, black monster.

Suma boldly entered one of the numerous openings for she knew it was not
there she would come upon her intended victims. She was only taking an
easy route to the main path that ran parallel to the river but upon
nearing this she immediately left the beaten trail and glided into the
growth at one side. There she lay in wait fully concealed by the
darkness, and the stems and leaves.

In addition to the wide runway trodden by the feet of countless
generations of the great rodents there were other evidences of their
recent presence and the atmosphere was laden with their scent. Suma
sniffed the heavy air greedily and her eyes glowed as she shifted her
gaze up and down the thoroughfare for a first glimpse of an unsuspecting
victim to come her way. There was but a minute to wait. A black, rounded
hulk appeared, moving with the silence of a shadow; on the near side
were two smaller forms, young, moving along stealthily at the side of
their mother. The Jaguar's mind was made up instantly; when the trio
came within range she would pounce upon the cubs, for they were tender
and without the layers of rancid fat of the older animal. But while her
eyes shone with the fire of anticipation and her tail lashed ever so
slightly an unforeseen thing happened. Evidently a difference of opinion
over some matter or other arose between the two smaller creatures, for
they stopped suddenly and began fighting, rolling over and over amidst
squeals and groans, feet waving in the air, and teeth champing, more in
bluff than in menace. Their elder, impatient at the disgraceful conduct
of her offspring turned and chided them with a stamp of her forefoot and
a low grunt.

The commotion startled a cane rat which was stealing down the path so
that it bolted for the nearest cover with a loud patter of feet, heading
straight for the Jaguar, of whose presence it was unaware. Suma saw it
just in time to raise a massive paw in order to avoid contact with the
lowly creature, but when she lowered the great foot it was directly upon
the rodent's tail for it had stopped as soon as it had reached the
protection of the canes. Of course this calamity was infinitely worse
than the noise that had first frightened it and the rat promptly began
to squeak with a lustiness that was surprising, the shrill voice
carrying a distance of many yards. The capybaras immediately stopped
fighting and all three wheeled to see the cause of the disturbance.
Their eyes caught the glint of Suma's burning orbs and with a cry of
alarm they dashed into the brakes. The Jaguar followed like a streak but
their lead had been too great and in a moment three distinct splashes in
quick succession announced the fact that they had dived to safety in the
river. From up and down the line of riverbank came the resounding
_plump, plump_ of other heavy bodies. The danger signal had not gone
unheeded and with a growl of rage and disgust Suma turned to slink away
from the scene of her disappointment. Further hunting in that region was
useless. Not for days would the capybaras trust themselves more than a
few steps from the security of the waterside. So, with a second deep
rumble of chagrin the mighty cat skirted the outside of the cane-brake
and was compelled to satisfy her hunger on a couple of agoutis.

Sometimes the Jaguar hunted each night; more often it was every second
night. It depended entirely upon the size of her kill. And all the time
not required in procuring food was spent within the cavity in the
cottonwood fondling and guarding the precious Warruk.

Three weeks had passed. The cub had grown at a surprising rate and was
beginning to observe his immediate surroundings, though still unsteady
and exceedingly awkward. The first thing he saw was his mother and he
was sure she was the most beautiful thing in the world--which was
exactly the way he should have felt. He snuggled close to her warm
body, looked adoringly into her face, and purred, while she, proud and
happy in his possession, smoothed his soft, velvety fur with her tongue
while a deep rumble of satisfaction came from her throat.

It was shortly after this that the thing happened that caused Suma to
reverse her course of procedure so far as hunting was concerned, and
came near bringing dire consequences.

She was returning to her abode rather earlier than usual, having
succeeded in cutting off a straggler from the peccary herd and killing
it before its cries could bring the other numerous members of the band
to its rescue. Spurred on by some subtle sense of intuition she had
eaten hurriedly and then made for her home where the cub had been left
curled upon the rotting chips and leaves, sound asleep.

As she bounded lightly over the first prostrate tree-trunks of the
windfall, an infrequent but not unfamiliar odor assailed her nostrils.
It was a disagreeable smell, not unlike that of cabbage or potatoes in
the first stages of decay. The first tinge of it lashed her into frenzy
so that she sprang forward in great leaps risking the breaking of her
legs in the jam of branches and tangled creepers. Her only thought was
of her little one. Had she arrived in time to save him from a horrible
fate, or should she find the lair empty?

Near the entrance to the cavity she stopped with a terrible growl. The
sinewy body of a great snake--a bushmaster,--was gliding rapidly into
the opening; in fact, half its scale-covered length had already
disappeared from view. This was an advantage to the Jaguar for the head
with its death-dealing fangs, being in the cavity, was rendered harmless
unless the serpent had heard her coming and had doubled back with the
lightning speed of which it was capable. But, so fixed was its attention
upon the still sleeping cub that it had heard nothing until the growl
apprised it of the presence of danger; and then it was too late. The
great paw fell upon the back of the reptile with a crash, shattering the
bones and crushing the flesh into a pulp. Out of the cavity darted the
arrow-shaped head, hissing and lunging frantically and blindly in all
directions, while the latter half of the body writhed impotently and
twisted itself into knots; but the snake could not move from the spot.

Suma drew back to a safe distance and waited, and before long the
contortions of the great serpent became less violent; then they stopped
altogether, but the triangular head raised above the mass of coils was
turned toward the crouching Jaguar while the greenish eyes glared at her
with a demoniacal hate. Suma knew her enemy well; to move suddenly was
to invite the deadly stroke. So she began creeping, so slowly and so
evenly that it was impossible to detect the slightest motion. Inch by
inch she advanced but not for an instant did her eyes leave those of the
snake. The latter took no note of this strategy or else seemed
spell-bound by the blazing eyes of its adversary. Nearer and nearer she
came, even more slowly than before, with tense muscles ready to carry
her far to one side should the snake suddenly awake to its peril and
strike. At last but a scant yard separated them.

The reptile's black, thread-like tongue began to play in and out of its
mouth with great rapidity. Apparently it was so confused or dazed that
it could not see clearly and was feeling for the antagonist that was so
near. The decisive moment had arrived. A massive forefoot bristling with
claws an inch long streaked through the air and fell on the serpent's
head with a thud, followed by another, equally crushing; long, white
teeth set in wide-open jaws flashed for an instant ere they met to sever
the mutilated head from the quivering body. In a moment the snake had
been clawed and mauled into a mass of pulp, and leaving it where it lay
Suma hastened to the side of the now wide awake Warruk. She pushed him
over gently with her nose, licked his face and sides, grunted with
satisfaction and then curled up beside him.

When daylight came there was the swish of wings through the air followed
by the sound of heavy bodies alighting. A trio of vultures had appeared
on the scene, guided unfailingly by some mysterious sense known only to
themselves. They hopped and flapped awkwardly over the rough surface of
the windfall to where the dead snake lay and began to tear at the flesh.
As they ate they quarrelled noisily among themselves croaking and
sighing with hoarse voices and striking at one another with wings and
beaks.

The Jaguar watched their antics with little interest and made no attempt
to disturb them. When they had gorged themselves on the loathsome repast
they tore off long strips of flesh and carrying them in their hooked
beaks flew to the lower branches of the nearest trees.

After her encounter with the bushmaster, Suma spent as little time as
possible away from her abode. Knowing that the deadly snake hunted by
night only, the Jaguar changed her former habit and went in search of
food during the daylight hours, spending the hours of darkness at home,
on guard against any similar intruder.

Warruk grew at a surprising rate; for, being alone the nourishment
ordinarily sufficient for two, occasionally even three, was all diverted
to his use. Before many weeks had passed he began to show interest in
various things that attracted his attention. After spending many hours
in admiration of his mother's beautiful coat, tawny with rosettes of
black dots and with longer and softer white fur underneath, he wondered
at the length of her claws, the whiteness of her fangs and the great
size of her--it tired him to walk completely around her as she lay
sprawled out on the floor.

There was also the tender care she gave him and her solicitude for his
welfare to be taken into consideration. She was forever caressing him
with her nose and washing his face with her tongue. The picture within
the cavity in the great cottonwood was a pleasant one to contemplate.
Suma the mother was a creature different from Suma the hunter moving
shadow-like through the forest intent on slaughter.

The hunting instinct asserted itself early in Warruk's life, and quite
unexpectedly. On one of his excursions around the outstretched form of
his mother he suddenly became conscious of a black fluff of something
that was jumping nervously from side to side. Crouching low, he watched
intently, prompted at first by curiosity. Back and forth the object
moved, lightly and without sound. An irresistible impulse came over the
cub; he ran forward a few steps, stopped, then sprang and the mysterious
thing was pinned firmly to the ground by his paws while his sharp little
teeth dug into it furiously.

Suma jumped to her feet with a grunt of surprise, quickly turned and
gave him a gentle cuff that however bowled him over, and when he
regained his feet, very much perturbed and startled, he arched up his
back and hissed, not knowing what else to do. It was the first time he
had noticed Suma's long, graceful tail, which was never quiet except
when she slept; but after that he had many a happy game of tag with the
tip of it even if there was the certainty of punishment ahead in the
event that his play became too strenuous. While his mother was a firm
believer in discipline she was never too severe; and often, after the
chastisement she hastened to caress him so that he quickly forgot the
occurrence.

Warruk's real education began when his mother started to bring some of
her victims to the lair. For this purpose she always chose the smaller
animals which she ordinarily should not have bothered to kill for her
own use. Mice, spiny rats, forest quail and an occasional squirrel were
taken to the cavity at various times and carelessly deposited by the
side of the cub. Cautious at first of making too intimate advances
toward these unfamiliar objects he began soon to look forward to the
return of his mother, knowing well that she would not come empty-handed.
He pounced upon the lifeless forms clawing, biting and shaking them
until the fur or feathers flew, amid growls and snarls that were but the
forerunners of the ferocious nature which would assert itself when
latent character was fully developed. Suma always watched the
proceedings with a complacent expression, fully satisfied with the
progress of her offspring.

Although using every strategy to conceal her secret from the other
inhabitants of the forest, particularly while in the vicinity of the
windfall, the actions of the Jaguar had not escaped the sharp eyes of a
band of female howling monkeys that frequented the wall of trees on one
side. They were alone, that is, the males had been driven to distant
parts until the mothers could bring forth their young and rear them to
the point where they were no longer in danger of death at the hands and
teeth of their jealous fathers.

Among the members of the troop, numbering four, was Myla, sad and
forlorn of face and housing a broken heart within her bosom, for she
had lost her baby. It happened early one afternoon when the four had
ascended to the top of a tall tree to dry their bedraggled fur during
one of those rare intervals when the clouds broke and the sun showed
his brassy face for a brief time. Such an opportunity was not to be
neglected. Happy and grateful they were, the four monkey mothers,
sitting on the dome of green leaves, each with her little one in her lap
while her long fingers delved among its rather sparse fur. Then, like a
bolt out of a blue sky it fell. A shadow plunged down from the heavens
with a rush that was almost a roar; wide-spreading feet with long,
curved talons shot out of the hurtling black mass, and Myla's lap was
empty. She leaped high into the air after the marauder with a frantic
scream of anguish only to fall back heavily upon the boughs clutching a
black feather in her hand. The eagle had made good its escape and
flapped away above the green sea of treetops with a cry of triumph.

Myla was mad with grief for hours after that and the other three joined
their voices to her barks and wails of sorrow as they moved restlessly
among the branches in constant dread of another visit from their aerial
foe. But when at last this external show of emotion had subsided the
bereaved mother looked with envious eyes at the offspring of her more
fortunate sisters. The latter, however, were not slow to divine the
thoughts that filled her mind. When she approached them, apparently with
the most innocent of motives they charged savagely and drove her off.
All her plotting availed her nothing.

And now, Myla had observed the big, spotted cat stealthily making her
way over the windfall with food in her mouth. Not once, but many times
had she clandestinely peered from her concealed position among the dense
foliage; and each time the Jaguar had entered the same cavity in the
great tree-trunk. That could mean but one thing; she too had a baby.

A fierce hope sprang up in Myla's empty heart and rapidly grew into an
obsession; but soon she realized with a sinking sensation how futile
were her desires. She was no match for the Jaguar; indeed, the mere
sight of the fearsome beast made her tremble. Never could she muster
the courage to descend from her lofty perch while such a creature roamed
the earth below.

In spite of these sound conclusions, an indescribable fascination held
her prisoner in its grasp. So day after day she spied longingly and
furtively upon the comings and goings of the big cat.

As for Suma, unsuspicious of the existence of the pair of burning eyes
that followed her movements, the days were brimming over with
contentment.

Warruk was growing by the hour, or at least so it seemed, and increasing
in sprightliness each day. He even insisted on following her to the
entrance of the cavity when she departed and met her there when she
returned. The fear that he might some day disobey her injunction and
sally forth alone in her absence did not once occur to her. She trusted
him to obey, even if he was different in one respect from her other
children, and for this difference he was doubly precious to her. For,
the first beams of daylight falling upon his glossy fur revealed the
fact that he was _black_. Instead of being a miniature replica of his
mother with her lovely markings he shone with a satiny lustre the tone
of jet. A rarity indeed was Warruk, and because of his color, destined
to grow into the largest and most ferocious of his species. Had the
Indians on the Ichilo River known of the birth of the black cub they
would have beaten their breasts and wailed, "_Simla Wallah-Caru_,"
meaning "a Black Phantom has come to haunt us;" and they would have
placed offerings of roots and nuts, and calabashes of milk from the
milk-palm in the forest to soothe and placate the temper of the shadowy
one.

Warruk, all oblivious of the fact that he was in any way different from
the usual, spent his waking hours in play. Many were the victims Suma
brought him on which to exercise his developing powers, but so far they
were of scant interest to him as food.

As the days passed the cub's curiosity concerning the opening that led
into the world increased and as he looked in wonder at the splash of
light coming through the doorway he determined to learn more about it.
He started toward the enchanting radiance with cautious steps, but ere
he had gone far his mother halted him with deep rumblings in her throat,
well calculated to inspire him with awe. Never must he venture to the
border of that outer world without her guidance, she repeated. Death, or
a thousand mishaps almost as bad awaited him there from the trees, the
earth and even from subterranean places of concealment.

Warruk took the warning seriously and retreated with high-arched back,
but he liked to sit upright and watch the mysterious shaft of light and
to wonder.

Suma had gone for more playthings for her little one, as was her custom.
And, as she disappeared through the opening the cub sat for a long time
pondering and fighting to keep back the curiosity that was consuming
him. As he looked a dark rounded form like a ball of some fluffy
material blown by the wind rolled across the patch of light near the
doorway. He glided toward it noiselessly, filled with the spirit of
adventure. Then he stopped, crouching with tense muscles while his
little eyes shone with a new light. Again the strange object came into
view on the return trip, and with an agile leap Warruk had pounced on
top of it. It wriggled under his feet, and squeaked dolefully and for a
moment he was at a loss as to what to do next. Then he cautiously raised
one forefoot, bent his head and sniffed at the soft, warm thing and
remembered that it was exactly like the rats his mother had brought him,
only smaller; but they were always limp and silent while this one
struggled and made queer little noises! He raised his other paw for a
good look at the creature, his heart pounding wildly with excitement.
And the mouse, feeling the pressure relaxing gave one quick wrench and
was free. Warruk bounded after it but it slipped nimbly into a crevice
in the rotten wood and was gone. Exasperated at being outwitted he
clawed and bit furiously at the minute opening into which his captive
had escaped, spitting and growling the while. His exertions only tired
him so at last he was compelled to stop to rest.

It seemed however, that this was destined to be Warruk's unlucky day.
Scarcely had he thrown himself down upon the litter of soft chips than
another black, rounded form hove into view, precisely where the first
had been; but it was of larger size. This time there would be no mincing
of matters. He was determined that the new prize should not escape him.
With a savage little snarl he rushed at the newcomer and struck it with
all the might at his command.

A howl of pain escaped him as he tried to lift his paw quite as quickly
as it had descended but the awful thing clung to it and it was only
after a number of vigorous shakes that he succeeded in dislodging it. In
his lack of experience he had planted his paw directly upon a giant
rhinoceros beetle with bristling, thorn-like "antlers" one of which had
penetrated the skin between the pads. The pain was intense so he held
up the injured member and wailed for his mother; he was in trouble and
wanted her badly.

Fortunately, Suma at that very moment was stealing across the windfall
and at the sound of her offspring's cries of distress she darted forward
with frantic speed and rushed into the cavity so hurriedly she upset
him. Warruk scrambled to his feet and followed her to the farther end of
the hollow where she licked his foot until the pain left. At the same
time she chided him for his disobedience and again tried to impress upon
him the peril of venturing too near the outer world while she was away.
And childlike, Warruk remembered the lesson for a period of exactly one
day.

Again Suma was away, working havoc among the smaller wildfolk. Time hung
heavy and the light of the world beyond his horizon exerted a stronger
fascination than ever. It attracted the cub like a magnet and before he
knew it he was standing before the opening. His eyes opened wide at the
strange scene in front of him. Inside the cavity there was only
darkness, or gloom at best. Outside were light and heaps and walls of
green things that moved as if alive. Everything was dazzling and
brilliant; even the sun had burst through the angry clouds to bid him
welcome.

Warruk wanted to go out among the waving, dripping leaves that sparkled
as the sunlight caught the drops of crystal water hanging in fringes
from their edges, and to drink in the fresh, moist air; but he dared not
venture out. All he had the courage to do was to stare in awe and
wonder.

Something moved at his feet, startling him so that he withdrew quickly
into the shelter of his safe retreat; but upon observing it for a while
he concluded that it must be nothing more than some new kind of mouse or
similar creature. It was dark and danced back and forth in a dainty
manner as if inviting pursuit. The cub retraced his steps and reached
for it gingerly with one paw but it evaded him and fled lightly to one
side. Again he reached and again there was nothing in which to fasten
his sharp, little claws. Then he became more eager than ever to capture
the elusive something. He struck at it, ran after it and jumped on top
of it but it always escaped him; for the puzzling thing was only the
shadow cast by a bunch of trumpet-flower dangling high overhead.

The antics of Warruk had not escaped the watchful eye of Myla, the
bereft monkey. And in her eagerness to see the better she descended to
the lower branches and leaned far out over the ridge of the windfall.
How the actions of the cub reminded her of those of her own little one!
And how she longed to clasp the small form in her arms! To feel it near
her breast and to stroke its silky fur. The mother-love was strong in
Myla and her loss still caused her untold agony.

As she watched, with yearning heart, she suddenly became aware of the
appearance of Suma on the far edge of the upheaved barrier and with a
sob she realized that in a moment her joy would be ended. The little
creature would disappear into the dark cavity with its mother; perhaps
she should never see it again.

An impulse that smothered all fear, all caution swept over her with an
urge that defied resistance; and dropping to the tangle of forest
wreckage she bounded to the cub's side, seized him and clasping him in
one arm sped back to the trees.

Suma had seen it all; but in spite of every effort had been unable to
reach the thief before she swung gracefully into the branches and made
for the denser growth of the interior. Mad with hate and fury she raced
along the ground roaring and whining in turn while Myla bounded through
the leafy canopy high overhead; and in chorus with the cries of anguish
from below, and the triumphant chatter of the monkey, came the screams
of Warruk terror-striken and helpless, rushing headlong to certain doom.



CHAPTER IV

AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING


In stealing Warruk, the Jaguar cub, the howling monkey acted on the spur
of the moment. She had been disconsolate since the loss of her own baby,
stolen from her lap by a pitiless eagle and borne away in the sharp
talons as the marauder skimmed the level expanse of treetops to its
nest on the bleak mountainside.

But not until she was leaping through the tops of the tall trees did she
regain her normal senses and feel reasonably safe; she even stopped
occasionally to look in triumph at the outraged mother fuming and
threatening so far below. When she reached the heavier growth covering
the foothills she stopped to examine the little creature in her arms.

Myla's heart beat with ecstasy as she surveyed her small captive. She
held him at arm's length, turned him around slowly and felt of his ears
and feet, for by this time Warruk had stopped struggling but continued
his plaintive whining. Then she drew closer and peered into his face;
but the moment she did this the cub's forepaws shot out, inflicting
parallel rows of deep, painful scratches in her cheeks. The monkey
bounded upward and nearly lost her footing as she screeched in surprise
and resentment; then she drew back her free hand as if to give him a
cuff but instead, quickly stooped and gave him a sharp nip in the back
of the neck. But remorse overcame her immediately so she placed the
little form across her lap and gently stroked his fur. This was soothing
indeed to the terrified and exhausted Warruk and soon he stopped whining
and lay helplessly gazing at his unfamiliar surroundings.

It did not take Myla long to discover that the possession of her
foster-child did not bring her the joy she had anticipated for he was
most unlike her own unfortunate offspring. He ignored the choice fruits
and buds she picked for him, repaid her caresses with scratches,
screams and snarls or received them in the most indifferent manner in
those rare intervals when he did not violently resent them. Myla was in
a quandary. Should she restore him to his mother by taking him back to
the windfall? Should she desert him in the treetops, or should she cast
him to the ground and thus be rid of him quickly and without trouble?
No! She had longed for him, had risked her life to gain possession of
him, and she would keep him against all odds. He did not fill the void
left in her heart by the inroad of the ruthless eagle; he did drive her
to the point of distraction; but he was new and interesting just as a
doll or a mirror or a rubber ball would have been.

As for Warruk, he was far from having an enjoyable time. At first he was
terrified at the great creature that clutched him so closely he could
scarcely breathe. He struggled, bluffed, clawed and bit his captor but
she was tolerant and agile and usually forgave him or managed to hold
him in such a way that his outbursts were futile.

The cub was frightened at being so high above the ground; at the
prodigious leaps taken by his abductor; at the strange calls of the
birds and at the wind screeching through the branches; and at the
hundred other new and terrifying things. When night came he was more
frightened than ever. He wanted his mother. Why did she not come with
the customary dainty for him? It was dry and cozy in the hollow in the
giant cottonwood and he missed the daily game of rough and tumble. In
the treetops it was cold and damp.

The monkey seemed to divine his thoughts but in reality was thinking
only of her own comfort and safety. She chose a tall palm with
spine-covered trunk and broad leaves for her sleeping place. And when
she was snugly ensconced under the umbrella-like top which the rain
could not penetrate Warruk was truly grateful for the warmth and shelter
and promptly fell asleep. Once during the hours of darkness he awoke
with a start; from below had come the sound of a familiar voice, faint
but unmistakable. Myla too had been awakened and stirred uneasily. But
as the sound was not repeated the monkey again slept while the cub felt
a first, faint ray of hope and happiness, for he knew that his mother
had not deserted him; in fact, was even then close at hand and would
come to his assistance at the proper time.

All through the hours of night Myla hugged the little form close to her
body. When he whimpered or struggled she quieted him by stroking his
head and back, making soft, cooing sounds the while.

When daylight came the monkey again examined and admired her newly
adopted little one. It was raining, as usual, and not until the day was
well advanced did she venture from the protection afforded by the
roof-like palm-leaves overhead. Even then she did not leave from choice.
Grim necessity drove her from her snug retreat--the necessity of
procuring food. And as for Warruk, he was so hungry he could think of
nothing else. He forgot his great fear, his resentment toward his
captor, even his longing for his mother; what he wanted more than
anything else in the world was something to eat. Never had he been so
famished.

Myla knew where a clump of wild figs were bending under their burden of
ripe fruit and she hastened to the spot. The wild fig was a terrible
thing. It started as a slender creeper feeling its way toward the light
above the vast expanse of forest roof, clinging lightly to the trunk of
some tall, sturdy tree. As it climbed, stealthily, like a viper stealing
upon its victim, it sent out slender tendrils that completely encircled
its support; and when its crown reached the bright sunlight high above
the ground the slender stem quickly thickened to massive proportions and
the tendrils widened into bands like steel that tightened and strangled
the life out of the helpless tree. Then the fig blossomed and brought
forth its small, red fruit.

Myla was fond of the juicy berries; so were the other members of her
tribe and the bird hosts including even some of the flycatchers.
Reaching the feeding place, the monkey climbed nimbly into the
branches, venturing as far as she dared; then she reached out with one
hand and drew the springy tips of the limbs toward her, picking the
luscious morsels with her mouth.

Warruk watched her eat and knew what she was doing. When he whimpered
suggestively she pulled down a branch very low and waited for him to
eat. But the food was unknown to him so he ignored it. Myla seemed
offended at his refusal and proceeded to devour the berries without
ceremony.

An hour later the monkey's sharp eyes detected the nest of a toucan made
in the hollow of a thick branch. An opening much like the doorway to a
woodpecker's abode led into a spacious cavity on the bottom of which
reposed two fat, ugly fledgelings. As yet their bodies were naked
excepting only for dark rows of pin feathers bursting through their
sheathes; and their bills were very short instead of long and thick like
those of their elders.

When the monkey, after peering intently into the opening for some time
finally reached into it and drew out one of the struggling young birds,
Warruk's interest was aroused at once. He made a lunge for it and
seizing it in his mouth growled so menacingly while his claws dug deeply
in Myla's side that she hastened to put him down on the branch while she
withdrew a short distance to watch the proceedings. Free of his captor
the cub crouched low and greedily devoured the prize while Myla hopped
up and down excitedly and screeched and chattered her opinion of the
unexpected sight. The parent birds, feeding in a nearby tree, heard the
commotion and surmised that it spelled disaster for their brood. They
stopped plucking fruits with their long beaks and tossing them into
their throats and flew heavily to their nesting tree. The spectacle that
greeted their eyes filled them with consternation. They rattled and
clattered their horny mandibles and yelped dog-like while they swung
about the branches like the accomplished acrobats they were. Their
cries of distress brought others of their tribe from a distance who lent
their voices to the din until the treetops were filled with a
screeching, whirling mob.

This demonstration unnerved the monkey. She snatched up the cub still
clinging to his unfinished meal, and darted away at breakneck speed. Her
show of fright gave courage to the toucans. They immediately took up the
pursuit, their white throats flashing a sharp contrast to their black
bodies as they hurtled after the fleeing monkey, easily keeping pace
with her and nipping her ears and back and tail. At each pinch Myla
emitted a scream and increased her speed until she seemed to fly through
the branches handicapped though she was by the cub securely tucked under
one arm. And Warruk, unable to fathom the new calamity that had befallen
him, clung to the half-devoured bird with his teeth and to the monkey
with his claws as they skimmed through space until their tormentors gave
up the chase and returned to their own affairs.

The hours that followed the loss of her offspring were filled with
anguish for Suma. All night long she had lurked in the vicinity of the
palm tree; but the frightful spines bristling from the trunk a distance
of six inches effectively discouraged her from climbing to the rescue.
Her loud demonstrations of rage and grief had given way to a strategy of
watchfulness for the opportunity for revenge that must at some time,
somehow, present itself, and then, woe to the audacious monkey that had
dared incur her wrath. Her punishment should fit the crime.

When the storm that had uprooted the trees forming the windfall cut its
wide swath through the forest the ridge of interlocking trunks and
branches formed a barrier that most of the ground-inhabiting animals
could not cross; also, the broad, open space between the wall of trees
on each side was impassable to those dwellers of the treetops lacking
wings or too timid to descend from the security of their aerial homes.
The monkeys belonged to the latter class.

Here and there, however, where the cut narrowed somewhat the spreading
branches of the great trees met overhead forming bridges that were
utilized on occasions by the kinkajous, monkeys and other animals in
crossing from one section of the jungle to the other.

The supply of fruits on the hill side of the windfall was becoming
exhausted. There was no denying that fact, for the depredations of the
toucans, trogons, tanagers and hosts of other birds that swarmed through
the dripping branches were enough to strip even the most prolific of the
fruit-bearers. Most destructive of all were the flocks of parrots; they
wasted more than they ate. They plucked the choicest morsels, took one
bite and dropped them or, snipping the stems with their shear-like
mandibles permitted the nuts or berries to rattle down to the ground.
Later, when there were no more to eat, let alone destroy, they
complained with raucous screams as they were compelled to satisfy their
hunger on leaves and buds.

Myla noted the coming shortage but remembered that lower down, near the
river, the food supply always held out weeks after it had been exhausted
in the foothills. And, all unconscious of the fact that the wrathful
Suma was shadowing her every move, unconcernedly she made her way to the
nearest bridge, a mile distant, and crossed to the land of plenty.

All that afternoon she feasted, Warruk spurning the delicacies she
offered him but growling savagely as she drew the young of a trogon out
of its nest in the cavity of a termites' domicile which was plastered,
like a huge knob, on one of the high branches. And, when night came,
tired and drowsy from overeating she forgot her usual caution and made
herself comfortable on the nearest thick limb that offered her sleeping
quarters, and which was close to the juicy figs so that she could resume
her gorge early the next morning.

Suma observed the foolish creature's action and unable to restrain her
impatience started stealthily to climb up the tree. Inch by inch she
clambered up the columnar trunk. Warruk whimpered and Myla cooed low
and stroked his back to quiet him; then she peered up and down and to
both sides before again settling herself for sleep while Suma's claws
dug deeply into the bark as she clung in dread suspense lest the monkey
should discover her.

When all was quiet the Jaguar again resumed her upward journey while
Myla slumbered on in blissful ignorance of the proximity of her deadly
enemy.

As the gloom deepened numbers of the nocturnal feeders began to arrive.
First of all came the kinkajous, beautiful creatures of the weasel
family, with glossy brown fur and long, prehensile tails. In some
respects they resembled monkeys. They were alert and active but silent
as the very shadows.

The gray night monkeys put in their appearance soon after in a
twittering, nervous band, snatched their food furtively, and departed
without loss of time.

When the great curassows reached the spot it was with a rush of wings
that startled all the other creatures to the point of panic. They were
elegant birds, almost the size of turkeys, of a glossy, jet black color
and having beautiful crests of curled feathers. As they ate, they
flapped heavily from branch to branch and emitted low, groaning calls.
Myla heard their coming and trembled as with an ague. It was not her
first experience with the curassows but previously she had paid scant
attention to them from the security of her perch in the spiny palm tree.
Now it was a different matter. She was alone in a strange country and
the uncanny noises all around her terrified her and made her flesh
creep, and finally the nerve-racking commotion became unbearable. She
arose and silently started back toward the bridge across the windfall.

Suma could not suppress a cough of disappointment and rage as the monkey
slipped out of her reach. The one opportunity she had watched and waited
for was gone. And, Warruk, hearing his mother's voice, replied with a
wail of despair. As for Myla, the realization of her narrow escape had
the same effect upon her that an exploding fire cracker would have
produced. She cast caution to the winds and dashed away with a burst of
speed that made the branches shake as if agitated by a heavy wind.

The Jaguar quickly slid to the ground and raced along underneath the
fleeing monkey. As the latter neared the windfall Suma suddenly seemed
to divine her intentions and sped on ahead, crossed the creeper-covered
barrier and started up the tree the branches of which formed the far
side of the aerial bridge. She had just time enough to crouch on the
thick butt of a limb that overhung the passageway when the rustling of
the leaves announced the arrival of Myla. A dark form emerged from the
wall of trees opposite her and ran nimbly onto the swaying bridge. Suma
waited with bated breath and blazing eyes as her claws crept out of
their sheathes. Onward came the shadow-like figure, all unsuspicious of
the vengeful fury that lay in wait; and when the monkey reached the
border of her own country and, as she thought, safety, a lightning blow
from a monstrous, claw-armed paw smote her from above and sent her
hurtling to the cushion of creepers below.

[Illustration: Suma waited with bated breath and blazing eyes]

Suma followed her in a prodigious leap, unmindful of her own safety.
And scarcely had Myla landed with a thud when the Jaguar was upon
her--not to continue the assault but to rescue the whining Warruk who
lay on the bed of leaves several feet away. She seized her cub by the
nape of the neck, as a cat carries her kitten and without a moment's
pause dashed away into the forest.

As for Myla, the blow had stunned her; and when her senses slowly
returned she wondered where she was and how she happened to be there. It
came to her in a flash. A moment later she was painfully dragging
herself up into the branches after which she slowly made her way back
toward the foothills, glad to be rid of the surly Warruk and firmly
resolved thereafter to pursue her own life in the treetops and to let
the denizens of the lower world pursue theirs without interference from
her.

Suma crossed the windfall a short distance from the scene of the
encounter and headed toward the east. Throughout the greater part of
that night she travelled, impelled by a mad desire to put as much
distance as possible between herself and the region infested with the
meddlesome monkeys. Also, a mysterious something in the air told her
that the time for her journey to the lowlands had arrived. And, when at
last the shrieking parrot flocks overhead and the dull, gray light in
front of her, bravely struggling through the mist, foretold the coming
of day she stopped and carefully deposited her burden on the leaves.
There followed a minute inspection, much fondling and purring and other
evidences of glad rejoicing over the reunion.

Warruk was none the worse for his experience except that he had lost
some of his plumpness; and he had developed such a strong dislike of
monkeys that it boded ill for the members of that tribe in the future.

At last there came the day when the rising sun vanquished the sullen
mists that had so persistently hugged the earth and all the world
breathed in the glad fragrance of the morning and revelled in the light
and warmth; and gave thanks for its deliverance from the clutches of
Siluk, the Storm-God. For, the months of rain had been full of gloom;
the days dark and cheerless, the nights chill and dreary beyond measure.
The pulse of life ran high in anticipation of the joyous days to follow.

The birds, bubbling over with the sheer joy of living raised their
voices in a swelling chorus and flashed their gorgeous colors as they
hopped and flitted through the thick foliage bedecked with myriads of
drops of water that scintillated like the rarest of gems. Their ranks
had been augmented during the period of enforced seclusion and numbers
of their young lacking the grace and brilliant hues of their elders
viewed the new world with bright eyes as they learned the manifold
lessons of life upon which their existence depended.

Monkeys howled with a tinge of cheerfulness in their hoarse voices;
squirrels whisked their plume-like tails and barked at the swaying,
sparkling leaves; tapirs wandered out into the open places; and the
sinuous, scale-covered bodies of snakes glided from their hiding-places
under the rotting leaves and prostrate tree-trunks and sought the
splashes of sunlight for a reviving bask in the warm rays.

Amidst such scenes Suma led her cub through the region of forest growth,
keeping with a fixed purpose to the direction that would take them to
the vast open country where life and living were more worth while. They
travelled in a leisurely manner either by day or by night, as suited
their fancy and rested on a slanting tree-trunk if one was conveniently
available and if not, at the foot of some giant of the jungle, or in the
seclusion of a bamboo thicket.

Food was abundant although it required almost constant effort to secure
enough to supply the two for the reason that only the smaller animals
were stalked--for Warruk's benefit--so that he might become a successful
hunter, learning his lessons step by step. But, when at last they
reached the forest's end and the boundless reaches of papyrus marshes,
pampas and tree islands lay before them Suma did not hesitate to slay
whatever came within her reach. Warruk was always an interested
spectator from some nearby point of concealment.

It was at the edge of one of the marshes that the cub saw his first
deer. Suma had sensed his presence and stood tense and alert while the
cub, a few feet in her wake, gazed at the fringe of swaying reeds in the
tops of which black birds with red heads sat and trilled a cheery
warble. Suddenly the stems parted and the head of a deer, crowned with
wide-spreading antlers appeared framed in the mass of green. Warruk was
fascinated by the sight of the magnificent animal which seemed to
challenge them and expected his mother to hurl herself upon it and bring
it down so that he could feel the joy of possessing it and of examining
it at closer range. But Suma did nothing of the kind; she stood like an
inanimate thing as the moments passed, knowing well that the deer's
curiosity would cause it to draw nearer; that would be the time for the
spring. But Warruk did not know this. He waited as long as he could and
then bounded to his mother's side with an inquisitive whine. The spell
was broken. The deer turned and vanished with a crackling of reeds and
the splash of water; in a moment it was safe in the depths of the marsh.
Suma knew better than to follow; she merely bestowed a look of disgust
upon her young and moved away.

That very afternoon Warruk's very existence was threatened. His mother
had penetrated into the papyrus a short distance the more fully to
investigate a promising scent while he waited without. A spotted form,
very like his mother but of much smaller size, darted from the reeds not
ten yards away and stood eyeing him. Warruk did not like the other
creature's looks and said so in a low growl, but instead of moving away
it advanced a few steps and made an ugly grimace. How dared the
impudent thing affect such boldness! The cub was accustomed to seeing
much larger animals beat a hasty retreat upon the approach of himself
and his mother and somehow he had gained the impression that he might be
at least partly the cause of their temerity. But this stranger actually
threatened him. In resentment he rushed blindly forward until the
ocelot, for such it was, also charged and bowled him over with a swift
stroke of its paw. He regained his feet with difficulty and screaming
with pain and fright darted back towards the reeds. Suma heard the cry
of distress and charged out of the dense cover with a snarl, but the
ocelot had anticipated her coming and in a graceful leap to one side
disappeared in the papyrus.

After that Warruk was content to leave the larger creatures to his
mother; but the smaller ones such as the cavies and opossums he dealt
with mercilessly and swiftly; in fact, Suma urged him to such a course
and often watched from some nearby point of vantage while he conducted
the stalk and launched the attack. Then she walked up to him and
rewarded dexterity with deep purrs and penalized failure with cutting
indifference or unmistakable chidings.

Life in the low country for the two wanderers was simply a succession of
pleasant days and nights with just enough adventure to make it
interesting. They never lingered long in one place and by gradual stages
their journeying took them further and further away from the forested
foothills and nearer to the great arteries that poured their waters into
the system of the mighty Amazon.

Food became more abundant as the days passed and Warruk learned the
lessons of life with Suma, his mother, and instinct, as instructors. As
often as not, however, some particular bit of knowledge was acquired at
personal risk; and this latter was accentuated by the fact that the cub
showed a headstrong disposition to do things his own way, often
impatient of his mother's more cautious maneuvering.

The great grass-covered areas were delightful places. In some of them
the grass was ten feet tall and topped with white plumes that swayed and
quivered in the wind. Here the bobolinks were sojourning--visitors from
a far-off land who, after the wearying flight of thousands of miles over
sea and land were spending the balmy days chattering and feeding on the
abundant supply of seeds or, rising in swarms of thousands took short
flights so that their wings might remain fit for the long journey
northward when the call should come to return. With them, the
red-breasted meadowlarks of the pampas sang and frolicked as if
constituting themselves a welcoming committee to the strangers during
their annual visit. Their gaudy plumage contrasted strongly with the
sombre, spotted attire of the bobolinks.

Suma paid no attention to the birds but Warruk, trailing her like a
shadow, often paused to cast longing glances in their direction or to
strike one down if it fluttered within reach.

A perfect network of trails and runways covered the grasslands, made by
the cavies and other of the smaller animals that kept to the dense cover
and used also by the predatory animals that preyed on them. There were
large birds also among the denizens of this underworld; one, somewhat
resembling a turkey in size and shape but of gray color with bright red
legs, was encountered frequently. But it always disappeared so silently
that it seemed more like a shadow until its clear gobbling call rang out
a moment later from some distant spot to which it had fled. It was
usually found where grasshoppers were abundant and the two hunters not
infrequently followed its movements for the purpose of locating more
easily the swarms of insects. Suma was not overfond of this small fry
but Warruk caught and ate of them until his stomach refused to accept
another mouthful.

One afternoon they made a discovery of more than ordinary moment. Flocks
of rheas--ostrichlike birds--were common in the open country. They were
so wary that the two had only infrequent glimpses of the long-legged,
long-necked birds as they dashed away and faded into the horizon. To
pursue them was out of the question and Suma knew it for they ran with
the speed of the wind. But this afternoon they came upon one of the
great creatures squatting on the ground, head and neck straight down,
outstretched in a serpentine attitude; nor did it attempt to move until
the hunters had approached to within a few yards. Then it ruffled up its
feathers, raised its head and hissed and bellowed in a threatening
manner; but Suma was not dismayed. She crouched, gave vent to one hoarse
roar and then began to advance. The bird held her ground until the
Jaguar was less than six feet away, then rose suddenly and charged. Suma
well knew what to expect, nimbly stepped aside to avoid the kick that
was aimed at her and struck a swift blow in return that sent a fluff of
feathers into the air. That was enough for the bird; she kept on going
without even turning to see if the big cat was in pursuit and soon
disappeared in the tall grass.

Before them lay a heap of smooth, white objects, larger than Warruk's
head and as he looked on enquiringly his mother planted one massive paw
directly in the midst of the pile with a crash that sent up a shower of
white and yellow spray. The cub eagerly lapped up the contents of the
broken eggs each of which held in volume as much as a dozen of the hen.

As the weeks rolled on Warruk grew rapidly in size and strength and the
restless disposition that went with his black color began to make itself
felt. He became impatient of his mother's caution and strategy.
Something within him urged him even at his tender age to assert himself,
to proclaim his superiority and to strike out alone.

At first he was content merely to stray from Suma's side only to return
at her summons or when the odds were against him. Self-reliance came to
him bit by bit. He learned that mastery in the wilderness depended
largely upon a game of bluff--especially when cornered, and on one
occasion when a fox, far larger than he, advanced menacingly he charged
straight at it with a deep snarl; the fox turned and ran away. So,
emboldened by this encounter Warruk was not slow to make use of the new
knowledge gained from experience and encouraged by instinct. He strayed
further and further from Suma's protection and at last came the day when
the two drifted so far apart that the beginning of a permanent
separation had most assuredly arrived.

The cub was startled, at first, when his mother failed to respond
promptly to his call. He realized all of a sudden that he was alone.

As for Suma, she too had foreseen the coming event but when it actually
occurred she promptly went in search of her wayward offspring which she
had no difficulty in finding. But the meeting was not as joyous as
either had anticipated. They heard the call of personal interests urging
them to go their own ways and to follow their own desires.

The separations became of longer duration--the pleasure of the reunions
less and less. And, presently Suma lost all thought of Warruk as the
time for choosing a mate drew near.

As for the cub--he was free; free as the wind that swept the wild wastes
of land and water comprising the desolate pantenal country. And he
reveled in his new liberty. The whole world lay before him and he was
its ruler by right of heritage but--there were many among the wildfolk
who were not willing to acknowledge his supremacy or to render him the
respect he considered his due until he had proven his prowess. This fact
was driven home the very first night after the parting of the ways had
been reached.

Warruk was hungry. He hunted on the border of one of the forest islands
that were so numerous. Not a sound escaped him as he trod on velvety
feet, eyes, ears and nose on the alert for the faintest indication of
anything that might satisfy his craving stomach. A full moon shone upon
him but so stealthily did he move that keener eyes than those of man
would have been required to detect his presence. Still, at least some
one of the creatures concealed in the clump of trees had observed his
approach and had given the alarm. For here was the fresh scent of a deer
leading into the thick growth; also that of a drove of pigs; of agoutis
singly and in pairs, and even of an armadillo, but the animals
themselves remained hidden in the dense cover.

He circled the thick mass that loomed black against the star-flecked sky
but saw not a living thing. This was trying for well he knew of the
abundance so near, still out of reach. Furtive eyes, no doubt, were
following his every movement, their owners eager to pursue their own
affairs the moment danger had passed.

Discouraged, Warruk sat down to rest. His eyes were turned toward the
black wall of trees. A rustle, ever so faint, reached his ears and he
crouched instantly.

Out of the darkness appeared a strange little creature, tripping along
so daintily, so ethereally that the cub looked at it more in
astonishment than with savage design. Onward it came across the moonlit
strip of grassy plain and the soft light falling upon it revealed a
plump body clothed in a coat of black fur with white stripes while
above, like a silvery halo, waved a bushy, plume-like tail.

The stranger tripped merrily toward him, apparently unaware of his
presence; then the cub's eyes began to glow in anticipation of capturing
the prize. He crouched lower and drew back for the spring. Then a
curious thing happened. The dainty little creature whisked around and
puffed up to twice its former size. At the same time Warruk felt a fiery
sting in his eyes; and, the odor of carrion was like a soothing incense
compared to the stench that assailed his nostrils. He recoiled as if he
had been struck a heavy blow. His eyes burned; his breath came in gasps;
for a moment he was stunned. The first thing he thought of was his
mother; but his call sounded hollow and unnatural and there was no
response. He had been out-generaled, vanquished and insulted by a skunk,
a creature but a fraction his size, and the realization of it hurt. His
good opinion of himself fell, and he needed sympathy and encouragement
as he had never needed them before. But they were not forthcoming. He
was alone in the world and must fight his way or perish. In sheer
distress he sat upright like the cat he was and proclaimed his woes to
the moon in a series of lusty wails.



CHAPTER V

THE STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE


Warruk, the black cub was alone in the world, and a strange world it
was, stretching on mile after mile into the hazy distance; seemingly
there was no end.

The encounter with the skunk which had resulted in his ignominious rout
brought home to him the fact that as yet he was not master of the
wilderness. Far from it. He was but one of the hordes of creatures
struggling for existence and the sooner he learned that caution and
stealth led to success while bravado led to failure, the greater were
his chances of survival and growth to the stage where he could
fearlessly proclaim his mastery.

The struggle for existence was very real and very intense but not in the
generally accepted sense of the word. It was not a competitive struggle
between individuals of the same species, or even between members of
different species. It was a fight to overcome obstacles; a battle
against circumstances. There was food enough for all with sufficient to
spare to supply the wants of untold numbers that did not exist; but, one
of the problems was how to get it and the black cub was compelled to
admit to himself that he was not an adept in reaching the solution.

Suma, his mother had taught him many things both practicable and useful.
Others he knew from instinct, an inheritance from countless generations
of his forebears. But as the days passed he more fully appreciated all
that the knowledge of his mother had meant to him, especially when the
voice in his stomach insistently demanded food that he was all but
incapable of procuring. As a last resort, at such times, there were
always the grasshoppers to fall back on even if he had lost his earlier
liking for these insects. He had only to listen for the calling of the
great, turkey-like _Chunha_, follow the gobble to its source and then
gather up the winged but sluggish quarry until his hunger was
satisfied, hoping, all the while that something better would turn up for
the next meal.

There came the day, however, when the hosts of grasshoppers disappeared.
They had lived their allotted span and had passed on. The cub was
reduced to sore straits. The "crumbs" remaining from the feasts of foxes
and wolves, heretofore passed in disdain were now eagerly pounced upon
although they consisted mostly of bits of fur or feathers and fragments
of bones.

Not once did his courage desert him in the face of adversity. This was
demonstrated the day he first met the great ant-eater--a curious animal,
black, with white stripes on its shoulders, and fully as large as Suma,
his mother. The strange creature had a long, slender nose and a flat,
bushy tail while its feet were armed with dagger-like claws six inches
long. As it lumbered heavily over the ground it presented an interesting
spectacle to Warruk, but not one to invite familiarity. At the same time
he was not dismayed. He had not eaten for two days and here was the
possibility of a feast.

The ant-eater and the cub discovered one another at about the same
instant; but the former ignored the latter without a second thought
feeling subconsciously that such an antagonist was not worthy of serious
consideration. Warruk, however, felt differently about it. It was not
necessary for him to attempt a surprise attack for the big, black bulk
was waddling and swaying right towards him. He had only to stand his
ground and this he did. The realization that the stranger was
indifferent to his presence added rage and a desire for revenge to his
longing for food and he flew at him with a swiftness that took the
larger creature completely unawares. Before the latter knew that
anything out of the ordinary had happened the cub was on his back and
with claws and teeth was digging frantically at neck and shoulders.

Warruk might as well have spared himself the exertion for the
ant-eater's hide was as effective as armor-plate against such an
assault. The great, shaggy animal shook himself vigorously in an
attempt to dislodge the small assailant, but the cub clung tenaciously,
growling, clawing and biting the while. Then the ant-eater reared
himself straight upright and fanned the air with his murderously armed
forefeet; his long, round tongue played out of his minute, toothless
mouth like a snake's. Still the Jaguar retained his footing. The
ant-eater then dropped on all fours, leisurely ambled to the nearest
tree and, scraping his back on the low branches soon brushed the cub off
when he started unconcernedly away. No sooner did Warruk regain his feet
than he again sprang at his quarry, only to be again dislodged as
before. A third time the performance was repeated but now the ant-eater
lost his temper. When his tormentor struck the ground he charged him
savagely, striking with wicked design and galloping back and forth after
his nimble assailant until at last the cub was forced to take refuge in
the tree where his pursuer did not bother to follow. Instead, the queer
creature shuffled to a nearby ants' nest--one of a group of slender,
brown monoliths fifteen feet high that dotted the grassy plain--and broke
away a part of the base of the structure with his great claws. When the
break in the wall of the insects' domicile admitted a flood of daylight
into the heretofore darkened interior, the ants rushed out in a solid
stream to investigate the cause of the disturbance; and the ant-eater's
whip-like tongue promptly gathered them up by the thousands.

Warruk watched the proceedings from his perch in the tree. He could tell
by the actions of the large creature that it was eating and at the
reminder of food he became frantic. He scrambled hastily to the ground
just as the big beast ambled away and lost no time in poking his head
into the cavity in the ants' nest in the hope of finding some remnant of
the other's meal. But, if he thrust his head into the opening hurriedly
he withdrew it in still greater haste. He had indeed found remnants of
the feast, just as he had hoped. A carpet of ants covered his nose and
face, clinging with a vise-like grip, their poisonous mandibles buried
deep in his tender skin. The pain they inflicted was so intense that he
screamed, rolled over and over, and rubbed his face in the soft grass;
then, in a fit of rage he raced after the ant-eater which had been
responsible for this new calamity, had deliberately tricked him no doubt
in return for the annoyance he had caused him.

He caught up with the shaggy brute just as it was climbing, clumsily, a
thick tree on the outskirts of one of the forest islands. In a crotch of
the tree was a mass of sticks several feet across, and numbers of small,
green parrots were clambering nervously over its rough exterior while
others fluttered about in excitement screeching at the top of their
voices. The birds sensed the danger to their nest and were vainly trying
to avert the inevitable.

The ant-eater paid no attention to their clamor; he calmly established
himself comfortably on a nearby branch and tore away at the nest,
sending a shower of sticks and rubbish rattling to the ground. Inside
the structure were little hollows, each containing three or four round,
white eggs. The latter were the treasures the ruthless creature sought
and after crushing the shells it lapped up their contents with audible
gusto.

Warruk could endure the scene no longer. His enemy, busily engaged in
the pleasurable task of eating, might be easier to handle; or, at least
he could inflict painful injury to his lower extremities. While up in
the tree he might also be able to catch one of the panic-stricken
parrots which were climbing and fluttering around the destroyer of their
abode with frantic shrieks. He dashed up the trunk wildly bent on
securing both food and revenge at the same time. Suddenly he stopped. A
fiery sting pierced his back; another bored into his side; a third smote
him on his tender nose; and then it felt as if red hot needles were
being thrust into every square inch of his body. Dark specks flashed
past his eyes and a vicious buzzing sound filled his ears. His claws
relaxed their hold on the rough bark and he fell to the ground.

Luckily the hornets did not pursue or the episode might have had a fatal
ending for the cub. However, such experiences were to be expected. They
were a part of the education that fitted him for the battle of life. He
had at last learned that, at least for the present, he was no match for
the ant-eater. He possessed cunning, stealth, agility and intelligence.
The other creature could boast of none of these things; but in their
stead it had formidable as well as useful claws, and was covered with a
leathery hide that rendered it immune to assaults that he could not hope
to withstand. It was evident that their paths in life lay in diverse
directions.

That very night, as he lay moaning in the grass, a foolish agouti hopped
up to him inquisitively and paid with its life for the indiscretion. And
after bolting the tender flesh of the victim the cub again viewed the
world in a friendlier light. What if he was alone, surrounded by lurking
dangers. Others had braved the pitfalls that awaited the weak and unfit
and had conquered them; he should do likewise. Then, eventually, the day
would come when he could assume his proper role, schooled by bitter
experience to hold the all important position of master. But, that time
was still some distance off. Until then he must tread with discretion;
must use that stealth and caution that was his by heritage. Of what
value were the instincts accumulated by his kind through the ages if he
continued to ignore them? He _would_ heed them in the future; and to
reassure himself on that point he lay still as death when a spiteful
ocelot came into view not a dozen paces away. So soon as this prowler on
mischief bent, oblivious of his presence, had passed on, he sought the
densest cover in the forest island and curled up for a much-needed rest.

The first season of drought in the life of Warruk, the black cub, was
drawing to a close. He felt the coming change just as surely as had
Suma, his mother, one short year before while sunning herself on the
rock in the river. The urge came from within and past experiences had
taught the cub that not to heed the voice of his ancestors was to court
trouble.

His wanderings had not taken him far into the low country; consequently
he had not far to return to the forested region skirting the foothills.
This was fortunate, for the rains swooped down upon the yearning world
with a suddenness that was appalling.

Instead of the usual warning showers, water gushed in torrents from the
sodden skies; and, during the brief intervals between the deluges the
thunder of the flooded river replaced the steady, monotonous drone of
the rain with its terrifying warning.

At nightfall, when the tropical day drew to its abrupt close, there was
usually a lull in the tempest, as if the elements had hushed their
ragings so that the cowering earth might view without distraction the
terrible spectacle that unfolded itself.

An ominous calm made itself felt by its very intensity. The low, dark
clouds in rafts scurried past at frantic speed; through rifts in the
fleeing masses the higher layers were visible, hurrying in a different
direction. The whole scene was a picture of wild confusion, and
then--far on the horizon the cloud curtains were thrust aside for one
brief moment. The sun, like a splash of blood, hovered waveringly over
the rim of the black abyss and with a sudden plunge passed into
oblivion. But, that short glimpse was enough. Siluk, the Storm-God, had
plunged a knife into the heart of the heavens; no wonder the skies wept
for months and months while the earth, wrapped in a dark pall of
clinging mists also mourned, with streams and rivulets, like gushing
tears, cutting deep furrows into its face.

Warruk knew nothing of all this. He simply felt the urge to leave the
low country and by dint of hard travel managed to keep ahead of the
encroaching water until he reached safety in the forested country.

The sight of the great trees, the chatter of the monkeys, and the smell
of the rotting vegetation recalled a thousand memories. He was home
again--home in the land of Suma and of plenty. And as the early mental
pictures crowded into his brain he whined joyously and turned unerringly
in the direction of the windfall. It was there the real home had been,
in the cavity in the great cottonwood; he would seek its warmth and
protection while the rain roared and the storm raged outside.

There it was at last, the high ridge of interlocking tree trunks and
branches just as the storm had uprooted the forest giants years before.
As time passed and the lower layers of the debris succumbed to the
influences of decomposition, the mass settled, making the barrier more
impassable than ever. The mantle of creepers covering it grew thicker
and more even, smoothing the rough outlines and concealing the
treacherous nature of the matter underneath.

Warruk hailed the familiar landmarks with delight. He raced along the
edge of the windfall, his excitement growing as he neared his goal.
Suddenly he stopped; almost directly overhead was the monkey-bridge
where Myla, the monkey mother had crossed from and back to the hill
country and at the far end of which Suma, his own mother had rescued
him. He hastened past. And not long after he felt that he could not be
far from the place of his birth.

Locating the exact spot presented some difficulties for he had never
gone from the place in the normal way; the monkey was to blame for that.
But before long his nose caught the scent of Suma and following it he
warily picked his way over the tangled ridge straight to the entrance to
the cavity in the cottonwood.

He stood in awe at the portal, undecided as to just what to do, for, in
the opening hung the gauze-like curtain that obstructed his view of the
interior. As he gazed at the veil he detected motion; then it dissolved
itself into sections that moved independently of one another. Finally he
could make out individual specks that whirled and danced with faintly
buzzing wings and long, thread-like, dangling legs. The craneflies were
keeping their yearly vigil, veiling the inner chamber from the profane
glances of the outer world.

An instant later a monstrous form charged out of the darkened interior
scattering the madly gyrating insects like chaff before a wind. It was
Suma, the Jaguar, but she acknowledged no relationship between herself
and Warruk, her cub of last year. In him she saw only an intruder in her
abode and a possible source of danger to her new little one reposing in
the seclusion of the cavity.

Warruk evaded the charge in a nimble spring to one side and, surprised
and bewildered by the reception accorded him, dashed away--not in the
direction whence he had come but straight over the top of the windfall.
Ignorant of the pitfalls concealed by the mantel of creepers he hurried
on his course, only to break through the thin veneer and plunge headlong
into a black abyss; then he realized the treacherous nature of his
footing.

Catlike, he landed on his feet five yards below in the center of a
great, hollow stub; and, cat-like, he almost immediately began to climb
the circular wall that surrounded the damp, evil-smelling hole into
which he had fallen. But the wood was decayed; it was so soft and spongy
it would not support his weight. As fast as his claws dug into the sides
of the stub flakes broke off so that he could not draw his body off the
ground. He tried again and again; but always the result was the same.
Warruk was a prisoner in a gloomy cavity and while his prison walls were
decayed and crumbling they prevented him from climbing to safety as
effectively as if they had been made of the hardest of steel.

After numerous futile attempts the cub lay down panting, to rest.
Suddenly he became aware of the fact that he was not the only occupant
of the trap-like enclosure. A pair of beady eyes were silently regarding
him from a crevice between two great roots. The eyes were sinister eyes,
set too closely together to belong to an animal of any size unless----.
With a shudder of terror the cub leapt to the farthest side of the
prison, for the eyes were stealthily advancing, followed by a thick,
sinuous body that seemed to flow from its hiding place. The newcomer was
a great serpent.

Warruk felt an instinctive dread of the terrible creature that was so
silently approaching. The unblinking eyes transfixed him--held him
spell-bound. He had experienced nothing like it during the short year of
his life. Trembling, he drew himself back against the wall of rotten
wood as far as possible. The snake stopped and from its mouth came a
hiss that sounded like a jet of escaping steam and lasted fully half a
minute. Still the eyes came no nearer but motion was discernible in the
darkened corner from which the reptile had appeared. The boa
constrictor, for such it was, was noiselessly drawing foot after foot of
its thick body into the chamber in preparation for a quick lunge at its
victim. In a flash the scale-covered coils would be thrown about the
cub, crushing him into pulp.

Warruk shot forward as if hurled from a catapult--not at the snake, but
over its head, soaring above it a distance of fully two feet. He struck
the side of the circular prison with a thud, rebounded instantly and
landed on the neck of the great serpent before it could turn to follow
his movements. The strategy had been successful. Writhe and shake itself
as it would, the reptile could not dislodge the jaguar; nor was it
possible to entwine him with the coils that groped and threshed about in
vain for an effective hold, so closely did he cling. His claws were
buried deep in the snake's flesh while his teeth had closed like the
jaws of a trap upon the slender neck just below the head.

Seconds passed slowly and minutes, seeming more like hours, dragged by
while the death struggle continued. Warruk knew that to lose his
foothold meant a speedy end for him; his claws dug deeper through the
tough hide and his jaws drew together with the slow, irresistible force
of a vise. At last it came, a dull, faint report. The great reptile's
head fell forward and the body lashed frantically; the spinal column
had been severed and that marked the beginning of the end.

A half hour later the long black and yellow body had writhed its last
and lay in a limp, knotted heap in one side of the prison. The cub was
crouched as far away as possible from the mound of shimmering flesh and
not for an instant did he remove his eyes from it. It was as if he half
expected the snake to come back to life to renew the combat.

When night came Warruk resumed his restless pacing around the wall of
his confining cell. The dead serpent did not trouble him now but he was
careful not to tread upon it as he made his rounds.

The air in the hollow stub was anything but invigorating. It was heavy
with the stench of decaying vegetation, and damp. It was not unnatural,
therefore, that the cub should stop to sniff enquiringly at a thin
stream of fresh air that gushed from somewhere near the floor and rushed
up the chimney-like stub. That phenomenon was worth investigating for
the air must enter through a passage communicating with the outer world;
and the cub was not long in finding it.

An opening near the base of the stub, caused by the rending of the side
when one of the giant trees crashed against it during the storm that
razed the windfall through the jungle and piled up the wreckage to form
the ridge, was located at last. It was through this that the snake had
entered and the latter part of its body still clogged, at least
partially, the passage.

Warruk dragged in the remainder of the snake and breathed deeply the
fresh air and thrust first one forepaw and then the other into the
crevice which was too narrow to permit the passage of his bulky head and
body. His sharp claws caught in the edges of the break; the decayed wood
crumbled away. Encouraged, he began to claw at the sides of the
aperture, his excitement increasing until he was tearing at it
frantically with no other thought than to escape from the trap into
which he had fallen.

Daylight had come, however, before the opening had been increased to
twice its original size and turning his head sideways the prisoner
forced it through. His shoulders followed easily but when he attempted
to draw the remainder of his body through, the hole seemed too narrow,
holding him fast. After one or two tugs forward he tried to back out but
going in that direction too was impossible. This indeed was an unusual
and unenviable predicament, his forward half in the outer world which
meant freedom, the other in the dark hollow of the stub where the
serpent lay.

Just then a flock of wood-hewers, large, brown birds with strong, curved
beaks, that hopped up and around the stems and branches like woodpeckers
saw the young jaguar. They had been rummaging among the tangle of
decaying wood, feasting on the superabundant grubs and larvæ. But no
sooner did they notice the prisoner than all thought of food vanished.
Like the jays, they never failed to take advantage of an opportunity to
tantalize some other creature, especially if they found the latter under
distressing circumstances.

They darted at Warruk, flitted back and forth, hopped nimbly along the
branches and raised their voices in low _churrs_ or louder agonized
wails. The cub was nonplussed and stared at the birds, at first blankly,
then angrily; but they grew constantly more impertinent, even making
daring sallies at his face as if to peck out his eyes.

One of the tormenters, unobserved by the captive, stole over the rim of
the stub to investigate things in the gloomy interior and, while its
brethren were busy outside found an undisputed field for activity in the
cavity. Swooping low it dug its sharp, strong beak into Warruk's back
just above the root of the tail.

The effect on the prisoner was magical. For all he knew the great snake
had come to life again and was attacking him from the rear. With a
mighty wrench he turned on his side and slipped through the opening to
freedom.

All through the weeks of rain that followed Warruk hunted along the
border of the windfall; but he did not again venture near the region
where Suma, his mother held sway. He saw nothing of her. It was not
until long, long after that their lives again intertwined when Suma
unwittingly assumed the role of avenger and thus fulfilled an old belief
of the wild men of the forest. So far Warruk knew nothing of man--did
not even suspect the existence of such a creature. Blessed ignorance!
for with the coming of that knowledge the lives of all the inhabitants
of the wilderness undergo a change.

Food was so plentiful that on no occasion did the cub go hungry. And
nurtured by the great abundance he grew in size and fearlessness even as
the vegetation overhead and underfoot thrived in the soggy earth and
moisture-laden air.

When the rains stopped, as they finally did, Warruk instinctively headed
back toward the low country. After the long weeks in the rain-drenched
forest the prospect of the pampas flooded with golden sunlight, of reedy
marshes where the birds twittered and animals worthy of his prowess
moved shadow-like in and out of the fringe of papyrus, and of tree
islands with their ever-present air of mystery and adventure, was a
joyous one to contemplate.

On the last day but one before the jungle's end was reached Warruk came
upon the vanguard of the peccary herd. There were several hundreds of
the ferocious little beasts scattered over a wide area uprooting the
succulent sprouts that grew luxuriantly among the undergrowth.

The cub did not suspect that the band was so large, for there was no
indication of its great number. The individuals ate quietly and moved
stealthily. There was but an occasional low, moaning grunt given as a
signal to keep the herd headed in the right direction, and the champing
of the murderous tusks of the leaders.

Selecting the straggler nearest him the jaguar rushed upon it and in a
short leap landed upon his victim's back. The peccary was doomed, but
before the end came it had ample time to voice its terror in shrill
screams that penetrated through the forest with an appalling clearness.
Instantly the place was in an uproar. A hundred throats took up the cry
and dark forms dashed into view from all directions surging in a solid
mass to the assistance of their stricken fellow.

Warruk saw the avalanche of infuriated creatures sweeping toward him. In
a moment he would be buried in the deluge of cloven hoofs and flashing
tusks and torn to shreds. There was only one thing to do, so he leapt
lightly to the trunk of the nearest tree and drew himself into the lower
branches.

Before long the tree was surrounded by the enraged mob, rearing and
plunging and vainly trying to climb in pursuit of its assailant. At the
same time the animals squealed and grunted their hatred and threatened
with gnashing teeth.

The siege lasted throughout the day; nor was it raised at nightfall. So
far as Warruk was concerned, he crouched comfortably on the thick limb
and interestedly observed the proceedings below, rather enjoying the
impotent manifestations of the peccary herd; that is, he felt no
misgivings so long as daylight lasted for the sun shone brightly and it
was warm. But with darkness came a brisk wind that lashed the treetops
into a madly waving, groaning tangle of spectral branches and brought a
cold shudder to the besieged. There was no rain but the air was heavy
with moisture from the saturated mould underneath and the chill
penetrated to the very bones.

Warruk shivered. The cat tribe may endure neither excessive cold nor
moisture and here was a combination of the two. The cub was rapidly
growing numb and it was not long before that fact made itself felt.
Should his strength fail him he would be unable to retain his hold on
the elevated perch and would plunge down into the midst of the merciless
horde that awaited him.

He arose, stretched his limbs and peered down; the frantic host was
still there in full number. Then he began pacing back and forth on the
branch. The exercise restored the sluggish circulation of his blood and
he felt he had a new lease on life. Ten feet above his head was a
thicker though shorter limb; he clambered up the trunk to it but the
moment one paw touched the new footing it gave way, struck other
branches in its downward course and fell to the ground a good fifty feet
from the base of the tree. When it landed with a crash, stunning several
of the peccaries and injuring others which immediately announced the
fact in loud screams, the remainder of the herd rushed to the spot and
in a moment was converted into a struggling, frantic mass. The animals
were crazed with excitement and bent on but one thing--the destruction
of their enemy which supposedly had fallen into their clutches.

That was Warruk's one chance, provided by his timely though
unintentional loosening of the decayed branch. He slid quickly down the
side of the trunk opposite the struggling mass of animals and darted
away.

The ensuing months of sunshine and balmy weather were passing all too
quickly in a succession of glorious days and starlit nights. Everywhere,
in grassy pampa, forest island, reedy marsh and in the streams and
lagoons, life teemed and the creatures were filled with the joyousness
of living. Everyone was happy. What did it matter if myriads were doomed
to die in the course of each twenty-four hours to provide food for the
others? Was not it the plan of Nature that it should be so, from the
very beginning? When an individual of any species lost its life there
were others left to carry on the purpose of the kind and the survivors
took no note of the fact that one of their number had vanished. There
was no trace of dread or tragedy in the demeanor of any creature. Each
unconsciously took his chance in the game of life just as civilized man
takes his in multitudinous ways. If a bird narrowly escaped the talons
of a hawk, even losing a fluff of feathers in the encounter, it did not
remain indefinitely in dense cover, in fear and trembling; it soon
forgot the experience and went about its affairs in the usual way, just
as a man who barely escapes being struck by an automobile while crossing
the street will not hesitate to again run the same risk at the very next
corner. That is exactly as Nature intended it should be for, if either
man or beast spent the time brooding over the many things that _could_
happen, life would be a perpetual torment and probably of short
duration.

Warruk, the black Jaguar, lived with a measure of joyousness that was
brimming over. He was thrilled with the vastness of his world and with
the possibilities that arose each day. There were adventures and
misadventures and he relished both, for each added to the sum total of
the things he should know.

As the dry season advanced the water in the lagoons fell rapidly and
some of the smaller ones dried up completely. Those of larger size
shrank to narrow proportions, the water receding gradually under the
onslaughts of the sunshine and drying wind.

The pools that lay in the center of the wide, sun-baked mudflats were
the mecca of a host of things. They teemed with imprisoned fish. Ducks
and other waterfowl swarmed to them. Jacanas, birds with wide-spreading
toes, ran nimbly over the lily pads on the surface, seemingly skating
across the water itself. And, crocodiles migrated from a distance to
these havens of security and plenty.

There was no choice. The animals of the plains and forests that required
water to sustain life were compelled to seek out the remaining pools to
quench their thirst. Some of them came only at lengthy intervals. Others
came not at all, for apparently they could subsist through the entire
period of drouth without drinking. But the vast majority were forced to
visit the lagoons frequently or perish.

And as it was, not a few of them lost their lives in the midst of
plenty. The sun, however, shone just as brightly as if there were no
note of tragedy; parrots screamed as usual; blackbirds trilled, frogs
croaked and bellowed, and the turtles laid their eggs in the hot sand.
In other words, the procession of life moved on without taking note of
those that dropped out along the way. It was neither more nor less than
the enactment of an old, old drama.

Warruk drank after each kill. Sometimes that was daily; more often two
or three days elapsed between gorges. But, the feast completed, he was
always seized with a burning thirst and to quench it he was forced to
visit the lagoons as occasion required.

By this time his mastery of the pantenal country was pretty well
established. And when his supremacy was disputed it was invariably by
some inhabitant of the denser growth where the advantage lay with the
other creature. In the open country there was no need for apprehension.
So far as the water was concerned he did not even surmise that possible
danger might lurk in the stagnant depths.

The cub had eaten heavily of venison, having surprised a fawn in the
tall grass while its mother had gone to the nearest water-hole, a full
two miles away, to drink. And later, to quench his own thirst, he
leisurely made his way to the margin of the river, further on, for the
murky water of the lagoon was not to his liking.

A wide trail led to the edge of the stream, cut deep by the hoofs of
tapirs, peccaries and other animals. Below, the water eddied lazily, as
in a deep pool, before swirling away hurriedly further down.

After a casual survey of his surroundings the Jaguar stooped and began
lapping up the warm but satisfying liquid. Something flashed dark
beneath his nose and he drew back with a start; the action, sudden and
violent, mired his forefeet deeply in the soft mud. Before he could
recover his balance the long snout of a crocodile was thrust above the
surface; the jaws opened, revealing rows of gleaming, peg-like teeth,
and they closed again almost instantly with Warruk's left paw in their
clasp.

The cub was no match for the great, powerful reptile, and before he
could even attempt to offer resistance he had been dragged beneath the
surface. The sudden plunge bewildered him, but only for an instant. Then
he began struggling, frantically, the three free feet, with claws
unsheathed groping blindly for a foothold. At first they encountered
nothing but the unresisting water; and then one hindfoot grazed the
crocodile's back, but the tough hide turned the sharp claws aside. The
fact that there _was_ a footing somewhere within reach changed despair
to hope. If he could but obtain a firm hold to brace his body there
might be the possibility of resisting his assailant which was rapidly
backing further and further from the bank. Again his feet groped blindly
in the darkness; again they encountered something besides the swirling
water but this time the claws held fast then sank deeper as he pushed
with all his might, slid slowly downward and once more were free.

Warruk had not the strength left to make another effort. There was no
need for it for his claws had rent into ribbons the less tough hide of
the crocodile's throat.

Painful though this injury must have been it was not enough to deter the
villainous reptile from its purpose. On the contrary, it seemed to
increase its speed. Other marauders, however, had been attracted to the
scene of the combat, first by the struggle that they sensed from a
distance and now by the blood that flowed freely from the lacerated
throat of the crocodile. They were no other than the _piranhas_ or
cannibal fish. In legion they came until the water seemed packed with a
solid mass of the ravenous creatures, crazed by the taste of blood and
struggling so frantically to reach the source from which it came that
they forced one another above the surface of the water.

Those nearest the crocodile ripped and cut at the wound with their
triangular, razor-sharp teeth. And the great saurian soon understood
that it was doomed unless it immediately sought refuge on the land where
the fish could not follow. It rose to the surface and with powerful
strokes of its feet and tail made for the bank.

But the frenzied horde was all about it, enveloping it as in a heavy
cloak that dragged steadily downward. And all of the time there was the
merciless tearing and slashing of keen-edged teeth attacking from all
sides and in unbroken files. It was over in an incredibly short time--a
few minutes at most. With its head nearly severed from its body the
crocodile rolled on its side and sank slowly to the bottom.

As for Warruk, the vise-like jaws had opened at the first onslaught of
the _piranhas_ to snap at its assailants in frantic efforts at defense
and retaliation; and thus freed, he rose to the surface and succeeded in
swimming to the land with scarcely enough strength remaining to draw
himself up. Luckily the fish did not attack him; they centered all their
energy on the crocodile because the great gashes inflicted by his sharp
claws rendered the heretofore invulnerable reptile an easy victim; for,
once the tough hide had been penetrated the opening could be enlarged
without trouble.

For a long time the cub lay as in a stupor. In fact, not until darkness
fell did he arouse himself sufficiently to rise unsteadily to his feet
and to limp away from the bank of the treacherous river.



CHAPTER VI

THE CRUELTY OF TUMWAH.


It was the seventh year since the great drought. Choflo, headman,
sorcerer and oracle of the Cantanas, scanned the brassy sky and smote his
breast with clenched fists.

"Tumwah is angry," he muttered to the members of the tribe who were
huddled in a cowering group several paces to his rear. "The heavens tell
me so; the curling leaves whisper the sickening message. Yesterday I saw
the nest of a partridge; where there should have been four eggs there
were six, for in this manner the knowing bird provides against the
coming destruction, hoping that of the larger brood some one will
survive. Five of her young may die but one will remain to carry on her
species."

"And today," Oomah, youngest but most fearless of the hunters panted, "I
pursued a she-pig in the forest. Three young were running at her heels
instead of two."

"The signs do not lie," Choflo returned. "Look! See how the sand in the
islands and on the riverbank is cracking! Tumwah is angry. Soon his
fiery breath will sweep the green earth, parching the vegetation,
searing our flesh and leaving death and destruction in its wake. Long
days of suffering are coming."

No one spoke. But the Indians looked heavenward with terror in their
eyes and trembled more violently than before.

"We must try to ward off the catastrophe; and failing in that, we must
prepare for the worst. Let the corrals be well stocked with turtles and
fill the calabashes with the oil of their eggs. A sacrifice must be made
to Tumwah. Tonight, a crocodile shall be killed and eaten in his honor.
Everyone must partake of it. And if the God of Drought be pleased with
the offering a sign from heaven will show itself. If it displeases
him--woe to all living things that walk the earth."

The group dissolved itself. The people silently went to their shelters
of palm-leaves dotting the sandbar that extended far out into the river.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Warruk, the Jaguar, was no longer a cub. Four seasons of rain had come
and gone since his advent into the world in the hollow cottonwood in the
windfall. The erstwhile kitten, playing in the entrance to the cavity
that had proved an irresistible attraction to Myla, the monkey, and to
her sorrow, had grown into a creature of great size and powerful build,
capable of more than holding his own with any other denizen of the
jungle. Seen from a distance his coat was of a glossy, jet black color;
but a close inspection would have revealed a regular pattern of rosettes
similar to that marking the coats of his tawny brethren. The spots were
very faint, however, like the watermarks on paper.

In the forest he reigned supreme, fearing nothing but feared by all; the
same was true in the pantenales. Where the interlocking branches of the
trees formed a canopy that shut out the moonlight he moved like a
specter in the blackness. In the open country his shadowy form was
equally inconspicuous. Quick and terrible were his attacks. Like an
avalanche he descended upon his victims, seemingly from nowhere, but
with a violence and ferocity that bore down and crushed and rent all at
the same time, and with a suddenness that prevented escape or
resistance.

So far Warruk had not ventured into the lower regions of the pantenal
country--that vast world of marshlands, swampy forest islands and pampas
bordering the great river compared to which the streams he had been
accustomed to frequent in the upper reaches were but rippling brooks.

Suma, his mother, had warned him against the region below her own
well-defined hunting grounds. Once, exactly seven years before, while
the world writhed and baked in the throes of the last great drought she
had been compelled to venture into the unknown land. The streams and
lagoons had dried; those of the animals that did not perish outright
migrated, and Suma had followed the living stream as a matter of
self-preservation for, without food and water, life could not be
sustained. But the venture had proved painful in at least one respect
for men dwelt along the border of the master river, and in the very
first encounter with them Suma had suffered the loss of one ear--neatly
shorn from her head by the broad, bamboo blade of a Cantana arrow. She
was glad to escape even with such sacrifice; but she never forgot the
injury. The haunts of the man-creatures were avoided thereafter, as well
as their trails and everything else that savored of them. This dread she
had tried to impart to her offspring.

In the height of his powers, Warruk was ready to ignore the warning.
Then, too, the sun now shone with an unusual brilliancy; fiery tongues
from the sky seemed to lap up the water in the lakes and marshes,
leaving nothing but vast areas of cracked and peeling mudflats
sprinkled with brown, withered reeds that were a pitiful reminder of the
waving expanses of green where the red-headed blackbirds had trilled
their cheery song.

The drying-up process was gradual, yet swift. The crocodiles sensed its
coming and buried themselves deep in the mud to æstivate until the
coming of the rainy season; also the lung-fishes, queer little creatures
resembling tadpoles, which could live week after week under the hard
crust with only a pinhole in the surface through which to breathe.

As the water receded, the finny tribe proper imprisoned in the
landlocked bodies became more and more crowded. They struggled in
frantic masses, churning up the mud from the bottom so that the liquid
in which they swam was thick and black. The smaller ones attacked one
another savagely tearing at fin and tail; and the larger devoured their
mutilated remains in the mad struggle to prolong life. But there came
the day of complete annihilation when there was not water enough left
to support the survivors; they slid feebly through the mire, threw
themselves clear of it onto the sun-baked mudflats surrounding it, and
then died.

The hordes that perished were numberless. And the stench of the decaying
masses that dotted the country for hundreds upon hundreds of miles hung
over the pantenales like a pall.

Tumwah was indeed angry! His fiery breath had indeed swept the green
earth, parching and devastating it. And Warruk, even if the urge to
explore and to conquer new fields were not impelling him, fled the
scenes of desolation and guided by instinct made for the broad river
where food and water must be abundant.

Both by day and by night he travelled, stopping for a short rest only
during the early morning hours. Nor was he alone. Others of the larger
creatures, terrified, hungry and thirsty were heading in the same
direction, and of them he took a heavy toll.

The first sight of green trees fringing the horizon beyond the
seemingly endless expanse of brown came as a blessed relief. Upon
reaching it, Warruk found it a veritable oasis in the desert. The
vanguard of the unusual migration had already reached the spot and it
teemed with life.

The forest island covered many acres. There were deep, black pools in
the unbroken shade; stealthy deer, tapirs, peccaries, and agoutis moved
like shadows among the columnar trunks. A stream led from it into the
distance that appeared greener and still more cheerful. Overhead, in the
gnarled branches and leafy boughs were scores of snowy birds, egrets
that had chosen the place for a nesting site. Some of them squatted on
frail stick platforms; others sat motionless on the tips of the
branches. Steady streams were coming and going constantly, resembling
giant snowflakes that glistened and twinkled as the white wings fanned
the air.

Warruk looked at them longingly for, to him a bird was a bird, and he
remembered the tender partridges of more bountiful days. However, there
were other creatures to supply his fare and for a week he revelled in
the abundance.

Then the desire to push further and further into the unknown again came
with an overwhelming insistency and he turned his face eastward where
the grass was greener and low clouds hung like garlands of red and gold
upon the horizon.

The stream of birds from the rookery was flying in the same direction.
Soon he discovered its goal--a marsh of considerable extent which was
the feeding-ground. Numbers of the long-legged egrets were wading in the
shallow water, stopping now and then to dart their long, sharp bills
into the throngs of fish dashing about their feet. Others stood
motionless on the margin, like statuettes hewn out of purest marble;
though seemingly dozing, they were very much on the alert as Warruk
discovered when he tried to stalk one of them. He could never approach
closer than a dozen good paces before the bird flapped away to the
other side of the marsh, so after repeated trials he gave up the attempt
and continued his journey.

The country beyond the marsh grew constantly greener and of a more
cheerful character and the air of mystery surrounding the unknown
deepened as he ventured further from the oasis. But life was not so
abundant and the animals living under conditions varying little from the
normal were more wary. So, after a few days of wandering and exploration
Warruk returned to the spot so densely populated by the creatures that
had fled before the drought. They were there still; in fact, many
newcomers had been added to their number. As before, they moved
noiselessly in the deep shadows and drank of the black water in the
silent pools. But something about the place had changed. It differed in
some respect from the haven of a few days before. Warruk sensed the
change but at first could not discover what it was further than to note
an offensive odor that penetrated into even the most hidden recesses.
He sniffed the air in all directions; the stench came from overhead.

It was then he noted that the white birds that had made the treetops
their home were no more. Also the lines of twinkling wings linking the
nesting site with the marsh in which they fed were lacking. The place
seemed strangely deserted and unnatural without their hoarse croaks and
flashing bodies among the green leaves.

However, newcomers to the locality had taken their place. Huge, black
birds circled over the forest island. Gaunt, dusky forms sat ghoul-like
on the stick platforms that had been nests filled with impatient,
squealing young birds, or flapped heavily and clumsily through the
branches.

The oasis, now reeking of desolation far more than did the upper country
when Tumwah descended upon it, had been deprived of its attractiveness
and Warruk lost no time in leaving it. He followed the little
watercourse straight to the marsh. And there new experiences awaited
him.

The borders of the reed-dotted water were flecked with white. That much
he saw from a distance. Of course it was the egrets and their presence
here explained their absence in the treetops. But, why were they all so
motionless? Before, he had been unable to approach to within a dozen
paces of them! Now, not one stirred although he was less than half that
distance away and the slight wind that blew ruffled their feathers in a
most peculiar manner. He drew still nearer. Then it dawned upon him that
they were dead. Rafts of fish, also dead, floating on the surface of the
water dotted the edges of the marsh. And, strangest of all, queer
footprints were visible in the mud. They were unlike any Warruk had ever
seen--long, broad, and giving off a strange scent. He sniffed the tracks
and followed them entirely around the marsh to the river. There they
disappeared at the water's edge.

For once the Jaguar broke his rule not to eat anything he had not
killed. The birds for which he had longed were irresistible so,
cat-like, he picked one up in his mouth, carried it away a short
distance, and then, finding it not too rank, ate it. After that he
started to get another one. Like the one he had just eaten, the bird had
been mutilated by some ruthless hand; a part of its back had been torn
away. Warruk started off with the prize in his mouth but before he had
taken many steps a strange feeling came over him. A shudder passed over
his powerful frame and he became violently ill. He dropped the bird he
was carrying and rushing to the stream drank greedily, for a burning
thirst had now taken possession of him; and then followed nausea so
violent that it left him all but lifeless.

How many hours he lay on the bank of the stream, too sick to move, none
can tell; but it was many. Again and again he regained his senses long
enough to lap up water in great gulps and that always seemed, at least
partially, to quench the fire that was consuming him within. When a
measure of relief finally came he crawled weakly from the neighborhood,
determined never to visit it again.

In some manner Warruk connected his predicament with the new tracks in
the mud and the strange scent they conveyed. And he was right, for the
first time in his life he had come upon the trail of man, and upon man's
handiwork in all its most pitiless destructiveness.

What had happened was this: A party of plume hunters had discovered the
feeding-ground of the egrets; had gathered up great quantities of the
imprisoned fish and after poisoning them had redistributed them over the
surface of the water. The birds ate and died. Then the men returned,
stripped the plumes from their luckless victims and departed in their
canoes. The young in the platform nests in the forest island called in
vain for their elders and for the food they brought, at first lustily,
then feebly until they starved to death. Then the vultures came, making
a loathsome feast on the bodies of the little creatures that had
perished so miserably. The work of extermination was complete.

Warruk advanced slowly and cautiously for now he knew that in the
strange country danger lurked--danger of a kind unknown to him and of a
subtle quality. If the creatures whose footprints he had seen and with
whose scent the border of the marsh was redolent could outwit the wary
birds that had always eluded him, what surprise might not they hold in
store for him?

But, there was that insistent urge that bade him advance. And, too,
Tumwah was stretching his devastating hand toward the lower country. The
animals that had found a temporary refuge in the oasis were moving
onward also, for the water in the pools was vanishing and the vegetation
began to droop. Day by day the sun's rays grew more intense until it
seemed they must set the world afire.

Two weeks later Warruk reached the margin of the great river that wound
its sluggish way through a strip of forested country hugging its banks.
But, mighty stream though it was, it had not been spared the wrath of
Tumwah's onslaught. Where ordinarily a wide expanse of water greeted the
eye, stretching in a ruffled, brown sheet to the dimly outlined fringe
of palms on the distant bank, there was now a series of sun-baked
sandbars several miles wide and many, many miles long. The river, still
of imposing width, flowed through a channel in the center of the sandy
wastes but bore little resemblance to its former awe-inspiring grandeur.

Flocks of gulls and skimmers flew shrieking and wheeling in masses
overhead or ran excitedly over the sand. Crocodiles, too, were in
evidence, for here there were water and food so there was not the need
to bury themselves in the mud and in a semi-conscious condition await
the coming of a friendlier season, as did their fellows in the inland
country.

It was indeed a new and strange world veiled with an impenetrable air of
mystery and romance.

At night the stars glimmered with an uncanny brightness. The vast
sandbanks, heretofore peopled only by the shrieking birds and rows of
crocodiles, assumed a different and even more animated appearance. For,
with nightfall turtles in legion forsook their abode on the muddy
river-bottom and sought the hot sand to lay their eggs. The shuffle of
their feet and the scraping of their heavy shells was audible some
distance away in a muffled conglomeration of sounds. They moved rather
rapidly for such cumbersome creatures and made quickly for the highest
points in the sandy wastes where with much effort a hole was scooped and
the eggs deposited; then the excavation was neatly filled. The turtles
hurried back to the water to remain in the depths of the muddy river
until the following year.

Warruk looked in amazement at the seething mass of life.

"_Ca-urgh, ca-urgh, ca-urgh, urgh, urgh, urgh_," a gruff, coughing roar
pierced the still night air from near the deep channel and Warruk's
muscles tensed as he listened to the sound. It was the voice of one of
his kind. An instant later his own voice rang loud and sharp in answer
to the challenge and he started across the crumbling sand toward the
water. In the distance a dark form loomed up, motionless as a statue and
Warruk too stopped the moment he beheld the stranger. Then the latter
raised his head skyward and again the roar, savage, spiteful and
bespeaking rage shattered the air. What right had this newcomer to
intrude on his hunting-ground?

Warruk noted the smaller size of the resentful one; also that his coat
was, of course, spotted. He listened patiently until the roar had ended.
Then, with a mighty bellow he strode slowly toward his challenger.

The latter stood his ground for a moment. But suddenly he perceived the
color of the intruder and that one look was all that was required.
Without taking a second he dashed to the river, plunged into the water
and swam for the other side. Members of his tribe, of his own spotted
color he feared not and was ready to battle with at any time. But, when
the apparition of a _black_ individual appeared he retreated
frantically, relinquishing his choice feeding-ground without a show of
resentment or any desire to question the newcomer's status.

So it had been always. The other jaguars shunned Warruk because they
feared him. And being thus made an outcast intensified the black one's
naturally savage and truculent disposition.

Warruk hurled a bellow of ridicule after the fugitive and then turned
his attention to the food bedecking the sand.

One blow on the head was sufficient to end the earthly career of the
largest turtle but the bony armor encasing the body was not so easy to
dispose of; it required a number of powerful strokes of the great, armed
paws to crush the plates or break them apart and thus make accessible
the flesh within.

Those nights on the sandflats flanking the great silent river were full
of alluring enchantments. Never had the moon shed such velvety, silvery
light; never had the stars flashed with such supernatural brightness;
nor had meteorites drawn such lines of fiery brilliance across the
heavens.

The days were hot. In fact, the sun seemed to dart out tongues of fire
that threatened to lap up all the water in the mighty river. But,
throughout the night a gentle breeze stirred near the border of the
stream reviving the life that gathered at the haven of refuge and
plenty.

Warruk was now master of all. He strode across the sandy wastes with
majestic steps and swaying head. None questioned his position or
disputed his way. And when, as sometimes happened, a challenging cry
rang out across the water from some distant inlet and his own hoarse
voice was raised in answer to the roar, it was never repeated. News
travels fast in the wilderness, and in a mysterious way. And his
presence was known far and wide and he was avoided accordingly. So he
went his way, feasting on the turtles and their eggs which he soon
learned to dig out of their hiding places, and on the fish that came up
into the shallow water to spawn and which were so easy to catch.

Then, one night the great thrill of his life came. Far, far down the
river Warruk saw a light. Was it possible that one of the stars had
fallen from overhead to take up its abode on the earth? Had one of the
streamers of fire that criss-crossed the sky landed on the sand to
flicker out its life?

No! The stars above flashed as insolently as ever and their piercing
shafts of light were of a steel-blue color; the meteorites still
streaked their orange-red trails across the curtain of black. But this
light in the distance, growing constantly brighter, was a deep red. It
was different from anything he had ever seen. It seemed to beckon to him
and for many minutes he stood gazing at it, trying to fathom its
meaning.

If Warruk had only known! The bright light might be said to represent
his own star at its zenith. He had reached the parting of the ways. In
the height of his development and powers he could either maintain his
supremacy of the wilderness for years to come or risk everything in
battle with creatures of superior intelligence who possessed a high
degree of cunning, who fought unfairly and of whom he knew nothing. What
hope of survival had he, or any of the inhabitants of the wilderness in
such unequal combat?

Warruk looked steadfastly at the light flickering on the riverbank, far,
far away. He turned his gaze in the other direction where lay the untold
miles of untrodden wastes that were his kingdom, to have and to hold so
long as he chose. He faced the river; the turtle battalions were
emerging from the water as before, causing scarcely a ripple. Again he
looked at the fire, took a few steps toward it, halted, sniffed the air,
and checked a roar that welled up in his throat. He had reached a
decision.

If there were new worlds to conquer he would invade them, fearless,
determined and confident. He reckoned not on man, the unknown, and had
he known it is not improbable but that he should have acted exactly as
he did. For, what is all life but a game of chance? And what is chance
but a disguise for opportunity?

The first steps toward the fire had been taken. The die had been cast.
Fate had stepped into Warruk's life and while luring him onward, baited
with the promise of adventure the hard path that lay ahead.

Daylight was just breaking when the black Jaguar reached the vicinity of
the blaze. The fire, replenished throughout the hours of darkness, had
guided him unerringly on his way; but with the coming of dawn it had
been allowed to dwindle down until nothing remained but a bed of embers
and even these died when the sun shot over the horizon.

The place reeked of an uncommon though not unknown odor and the sand was
trodden into paths by long, broad feet. Once before he had come upon the
same tracks and scent; and it came to him in a flash that it had been
along the border of the marsh and near the stream flowing out of it
where the dead egrets lay in heaps and rows, their feathers ruffled by
the wind. And the recollection also came of the illness he had suffered
as the result of eating of the birds. The creatures that could work such
havoc among the shy egrets and the after-effects of whose presence was
violent sickness, were not to be taken too lightly and Warruk felt a
distrust of the insidious power they must possess.

He circled the place, once, twice, in search of further clues to the
strange inhabitants. They were not lacking in the form of heaps of
turtle shells, bones, feathers, fish scales and numerous other objects.
But, of the creatures themselves he saw nothing. His keen ears, however
caught the sound of deep breathing that came from a group of
leaf-thatched shelters dotting the sand.

Warruk lingered about the encampment until the sun was well above the
treetops. Then he entered the edge of the thick cover bordering the flat
stretch where the strange creatures dwelt and which was the beginning
of the forest. The wind, blowing the sand before it in rippling waves,
soon filled the imprints of his massive feet and obliterated all trace
of his visit. And this was on the very night following the gathering of
the Indians when Choflo, headman, had announced that the wrath of
Tumwah, God of Drought, was about to descend upon the land.

                 *       *       *       *       *

The crocodile had been slain by the hunters and its skin removed with
much ceremony. The head, with its leering expression and long rows of
peg-like teeth was raised on a pole in the center of the encampment. The
flesh of the reptile was roasted at night. A great fire was kindled and
as the flames mounted skyward they threw a red glow upon the dusky faces
of the Indians. Not in seven years had such a huge fire been made and
its glare could be seen many miles up and down the river, in regions
never penetrated by the watch or cooking fires. It was this light that
Warruk had seen as he patrolled his beat and that had lured him from
the country he knew to the region inhabited by ruthless man.

After the thick sections of white flesh had been roasted until they
resembled charcoal they were raked out with long poles. Everyone partook
in silence--grim silence that was ominous. And after a while Choflo
danced a sacred dance around the fire. He wore an anklet of dried seeds
that rattled above his right foot; as he stepped over the sand in rhythm
with the music of a wind instrument made of a long-necked calabash, and
the thrumming of a snake-skin drum played by two assistants, he called
upon Tumwah to look down upon them and to pity their unhappy plight.
Then both dancer and feasters went quietly to their shelters and the
fire was allowed to die down.

Daylight, as always, came with an appalling suddenness and soon the sun
was high in the heavens with searing rays that transfixed the earth as
relentlessly as before. Tumwah had not taken note of the sacrifice. He
was more than angry; he was enraged, for his onslaught was more
terrible than ever. Even at this early hour the heat-waves danced and
quivered in the still air in a blinding, confusing manner.

The men departed from the camping site while the day was young. They
pushed their long, narrow, dugout canoes into the water, clambered
aboard, took up the short paddles and pushed to the other side which had
not, as yet, been despoiled of its buried treasures. There they fell to
work probing the sand with sharpened sticks and when it yielded easily
to the thrust they dug with their hands until the pocket containing the
oblong, tough-skinned eggs had been uncovered. These they gathered into
baskets to be emptied into the canoes so fast as they were filled. All
day long they toiled giving not a thought to the women and children who
had been left behind.

Warruk, from his place of concealment in the border of the thick jungle
had not for a moment taken his eyes from the human habitations. He had
seen the men emerge from the shelters and paddle away. And he marvelled
at the strange creatures that were taller than any of the animals of the
forest or plain and that walked on two feet. He felt no antagonism
toward them, no desire to attack or slay. He was overawed, for he could
not comprehend them and that filled him with a burning curiosity to know
more about them, to see them at closer range.

So long as the queer creatures were present in numbers he dared not show
himself for he well remembered his experience with the peccary herd
whose strength lay in numbers.

The long awaited opportunity came toward mid-afternoon. From the
collection of huts, crackling and warping in the heat came a solitary
form. It was not unlike the others that had appeared earlier in the day
except that it was very much smaller and seemed to walk with uncertain
steps.

The little man-creature faltered to the shady side of one of the
shelters and sat down. Then it began to dig in the sand and toss
handfuls of it up into the air.

Warruk watched with glowing eyes. Here was his opportunity. Almost
before he knew it he had slipped out of the thick cover and was gliding
shadow-like across the sandbar. So silent and so stealthy were his
movements that the child was not aware of his approach, and even when he
halted and crouched low not more than ten paces away his presence still
was unsuspected.

In his turn, the Jaguar was so interested, so fascinated by the child
that he was oblivious to all else. Had he been suffering from hunger his
intentions might have been different. But with food so plentiful, the
thought of attack had not even occurred to him.

Mata, mother of the child soon missed her offspring and went in search
of it. She suppressed a scream of terror as she took in the scene of the
great, black beast apparently about to spring and dashed back into the
shelter for the long, keen-bladed knife that was always kept handy for
any emergency. Without thought of danger to herself she flew at Warruk
as only a mother can in defense of her young. The _machete_ was
upraised and flashed in the sunlight. It was not until this occurred
that the mighty cat became conscious of her presence, so absorbed had he
been. At the same time a streak of fire shot through his shoulder where
the point of the knife slashed its way through skin and muscle. He gave
one cry of pain and surprise, leaped to one side, and turning bounded
away to the forest. The Indian gathered up her little one and fled into
the hut. Her screams now brought out the others who had remained at
home, among them Choflo, and as they rushed from the low doorways they
had just time enough to see the black form disappear into the thicket.

That night pandemonium reigned in camp. The men built another great fire
and chanted prayers for deliverance while the women squatted in the
outer circle with swaying bodies and raised their voices in loud
lamentations mingled with praises for the valiant Mata who had dared
attack and repel the savage animal.

As for Choflo, he sat silently on one side throughout the demonstration
and consulted the contents of his charm-bag. There were the teeth of
crocodiles, pebbles worn round and smooth in the riverbed and a tuft of
snowy feathers taken from the shoulders of a luckless egret. Finally he
arose and raising his hands commanded all to be silent.

"Tumwah has not been pleased with our offering. He is more angry than
before," he announced in a sepulchral voice. "My magic tells me so. The
terrible god has sent a Black Phantom from the lower world to haunt us
and to render our lives more miserable. Dark and filled with forebodings
is the season that has descended upon us."

His hearers rocked to and fro and smote their breasts in unison with the
sorcerer.

"We must bring a greater sacrifice. Twenty turtles must be offered to
Tumwah. Then, and only then will he recall the evil spirit that lurks in
our midst. Otherwise we shall perish."

Without a word of complaint or remonstrance the men boarded their
canoes and pushed out into the river, for the turtles were kept in
corrals on the other side. When they returned, long after, the
creatures, their feet bound together, were heaped on the fire to which
the women had added bundles of driftwood. And as the struggling turtles
slowly expired the men danced about the fire to the sounds of hissing
flesh and crackling embers.

"Now go!" Choflo commanded after the flames had spent their fury. "Go to
your shelters. I alone will remain to study the heavens and read the
pleasure of the god."

But no sooner had the dancers departed than Choflo too entered his hut
to sleep.

The path was now open to Warruk. He had watched the fire and the dancing
but there was no longer awe in his heart for the man-creatures. A savage
rage and the desire for revenge had taken its place. His shoulder pained
him frightfully from the cut inflicted by Mata. Why had he been attacked
when his intentions had been of the friendliest? All the other creatures
of the wilderness respected his position and these too should have
their lesson. He would show them the savagery of which he was capable.
Never again would he trust man; he was cruel and unfair. Two experiences
had taught him that--first the poisoned bird and now the unprovoked
attack. Hereafter he would match his cunning with the man-creatures and
if necessary, it would be a battle to the bitter end. Vast as the
wilderness was, it was too small to harbor both the man-creatures and
himself.

Warruk glided out upon the sand so silently and stealthily that he was
like a shadow flowing over the ground. Straight as an arrow he went,
retracing his steps of the previous afternoon and in a few minutes he
stood before the entrance of Mata's shelter. None stirred inside but his
ears caught the sound of deep breathing. There was no hesitation, no
indecision. One quick bound and he had entered. His nose guided him to
the guilty one; a step in the right direction and his long, white fangs
had closed on Mata's shoulder and he began dragging her to the doorway.

Loud shrieks came from the terrified woman. She clutched wildly at her
assailant and at the poles of the hut but her strength was as nothing
compared to the power that held her in its grip. And the Jaguar,
forgetful of all else in this moment of triumph felt a savage exultation
in the anticipation of devouring his victim and thus proving that after
all he was master of all that walked the earth.

The encampment had been aroused by the cries and was in a turmoil. Men
rushed to the heap of smouldering embers, seized thick branches still
glowing at one end and waved them aloft until they burst into flame.
Others held spears and arrows in their hands, and came running to the
rescue of the woman.

At first Warruk paid no heed to the mob but when a flaming brand was
flung into his face, burning him painfully, he was compelled to
relinquish his victim. But he did not retreat; instead, he drew himself
up to his full height and faced his attackers.

A second blazing torch was hurled in his direction and he dashed it
aside with a blow of his massive paw. Then came a spear, the point
barely penetrating the skin of his flank. Warruk turned with a snarl and
crunched the shaft between his teeth. Blazing clubs and spears were now
falling in a shower; with a terrible roar he charged through the barrage
of missiles into the midst of the yelling group, striking to right and
to left. The men, panic-stricken, dropped their weapons and fled to
their shelters. When none was in sight the great cat voiced his victory
in a series of cries and grunts that made the very ground tremble. He
_was_ lord of the wilderness; even the man-creatures with all their
wiles and cunning had acknowledged his supremacy and had departed
precipitously, leaving him in possession of the field. Another savage
roar of triumph and he strode majestically to the forest.

It was several hours before the terrified Indians dared leave the
security of their shelters and then only at the imperious summons of
Choflo's voice. Three fires were hastily kindled and between them the
council sat feeling sure that neither beast nor demon would dare brave
the blazing barrier.

"Again our offering has been spurned by Tumwah," Choflo moaned, "and now
I know the reason why. A spirit of evil has escaped from the place of
darkness and is ravaging the earth; it has entered the body of a
monstrous tiger and has changed it into a black demon, a Black Phantom
whose very appearance is enough to strike terror to the bravest heart.
Twice has he made onslaughts on us. Who can tell what may next occur!"

"It is indeed a spirit from the world of darkness," Sagguk panted, his
superstitious fancy encouraged by Choflo's words. Sagguk had thrown the
spear that grazed Warruk's flank. "For, did I not thrust my spear full
into his heart so that the blood gushed out in a crimson torrent? Yet
the demon turned, grasped the shaft in his teeth and drew it out without
sign of pain."

"And my arrows bounded off his neck and shoulders as from the horny
back of a turtle," another added. "The phantom bears a charmed life. Our
weapons cannot harm this monster from the other world that has come to
destroy us."

"Listen!" Choflo commanded. "Thus have I solved the mystery. Tumwah is
not angry with us. He is angry with this evil spirit which is usurping
his power on earth. Therefore, by drying up the land and the water
Tumwah hopes to destroy the great tiger so that the demon must leave the
dead body and return to the place of blackness from which it escaped,
even if in so doing all others that live must perish in the battle. To
save ourselves we must kill the Black Phantom."

"But, have we not seen how useless our weapons are against this
monster?" Sagguk interposed.

"True. But I will prepare a charmed arrow with a poisoned point. Someone
must go to seek out the lair of the great tiger that harbors the evil
spirit and slay it."

"Is it not true, all-knowing one," Yaro, who was of great age ventured
to inquire, "that he who slays a tiger, possessed of an evil spirit
though it be, shall come under a spell? And that the spell shall not be
broken until his nearest of kin shall have forfeited his life in
atonement for the deed?"

"It is true. But what is one life compared to the lives of all of us?
Better that one die than all. But the honor that shall fall upon the
slayer will be great for, even as he sends the charmed arrow crashing on
its mission of beneficent destruction knowing that in so doing he is
sacrificing the life of his most beloved, he shall also know that he is
the savior of the race."

Choflo paused so that his words might have their full effect. Then he
continued. "Now go!" he commanded, rising. "And let no man look toward
the entrance of his shelter, for before the sun rises the Great Spirit
will decide. A white feather resting in the sand before the doorway will
announce the selection of the honored one, who must pursue and slay the
Black Phantom. The responsibility will be great, for upon the success
or failure of the chosen one will depend not only the survival of the
race but of all life on earth."

Once again the group dissolved itself. And as the frightened people
huddled in their huts the voice of Choflo, raised in incantations and
accompanied by the rattle of charms floated out over the still night
air. After a time the sounds were hushed.

The silence was ominous. The suspense was awful. Now as never before did
terror enter the hearts of the Indians cowering and trembling in their
dark hovels. The white feather was on its way to announce the fateful
selection of the Great Spirit as interpreted by Choflo, headman,
sorcerer and oracle of the simple-minded Cantanas.



CHAPTER VII

THE WHITE FEATHER


Scarcely had the sun risen on the morning following the appearance of
the Black Phantom when the encampment was astir, for each was eager to
discover whether or not he had been selected for the perilous task of
slaying the mysterious visitor. The men stole out of their shelters just
as the rays of the brilliant orb bathed the level sea of green treetops
of the Amazonian jungle with a flood of roseate light, and scanned the
sand in front of their doorways.

Oomah found the symbol, a tuft of snowy, drooping aigrettes that
quivered and glistened at the slightest touch. And he stood reverently
gazing at the sacred object until Choflo's drum, followed by the sound
of his voice bade the men gather in solemn conclave.

"Upon Oomah has fallen the mission of saving the earth from a terrible
end," the sorcerer said gravely, "and the selection of the Great Spirit
has been a wise one."

"But, am I worthy to be entrusted with such a holy undertaking?" Oomah
asked incredulously, holding the plumes in his hand.

"The decision of the Great Spirit has answered that. You must prove
yourself worthy or pay the penalty. Either you will slay the Black
Phantom and bring back evidence of the deed, or you will not return at
all."

"I question not the wisdom of Choflo who understands the mystic things
that are withheld from the rest of us," old Yaro meekly protested, "but,
had it not been decided that Oomah was next to be leader of the tribe?
As the coming headman, should not his life be guarded? Should not he be
shielded from peril? If he perish in the attempt to slay the Black
Phantom; or, if he should fail and thus become an exile, we should lose
him forever."

"If Oomah be lost another will be found to take his place. Wana, son of
my sister, is a promising youth. And besides, there is another reason
why Oomah has been chosen."

"What is that reason?" Yaro persisted.

"Do you not recall your own words, Yaro, uttered during the last hours
of darkness? 'He who slays a tiger, possessed of an evil spirit though
it be, shall lose his next of kin by another tiger appearing suddenly in
the role of avenger?"

"Yes, it is true."

"Oomah has no next of kin. He is alone in the world. He has neither
father, mother, sister, brother, wife nor child. Therefore the spirit of
vengeance will be cheated for there is no one to slay. There is no other
man in the tribe without family upon which revenge could fall."

"As I said before," Yaro admitted, "Choflo knows all things. He speaks
truly and wisely." Then turning, he muttered to himself, "But he is
determined to be rid of Oomah so that Wana, son of his sister may become
leader of the people."

"The magic arrow shall be prepared at once, for only by it can the
Black Phantom be slain; heed well my words, Oomah, and use no other. You
will depart at nightfall. A long trail and a hard one lies before you
with death waiting at the end for the loser."

All through the day Oomah moved as in a trance. The enormity of the
undertaking dazed him. Not that he feared the jungle or the hardships of
long wandering, for to pursue and to slay the beasts of the wilderness
was a part of his life. But, this was a mission of a different
character. The very existence of the whole tribe depended on him; and
more than that. If he failed, the whole earth, as he knew it, would be
laid waste; Tumwah would never stop his fiery onslaught until the Black
Phantom had been slain. Had not Choflo, who knew all things, said so?
Still, he could not but feel that the sorcerer had been at least to some
extent influenced by personal motives in interpreting the wishes of the
Great Spirit. Did Choflo hope that the quarry would kill him, or at
least elude him? In either event he would be out of the way. The whole
thing seemed very mysterious but he had no alternative but to obey.

Oomah was young, tall and strong. As he walked there was the rippling
play of well-formed muscle under his brown skin. His black eyes, set at
a slight angle somewhat like an Oriental's, glowed with the fire of
determination from under the heavy shock of hair that covered his head.

The women peeped out of the doorways as he passed, with looks akin to
veneration. Liked by all, the sacred mission on which he was about to
depart enhanced the esteem in which he had been held. And while their
eyes were filled with admiration, their hearts were full of pity and
sadness. For, with the coming of night Oomah would pass from among them
like the fading of a shadow when the sun sets.

Preparations were at once started for the parting feast. Hunters had
gone in quest of game. The women ground yuca roots for fresh cassava
bread. And the children, with tear-stained faces, gathered wood that had
been stranded along the edge of the sandbar. But the youth wandered
about listlessly, barely conscious of the activities that were going on
all around him.

Choflo had gone to the forest early in the forenoon. At mid-day he
returned, carrying a bundle of slender stems in his hand. Looking
neither to right nor to left, he entered his hut and drew a curtain
woven of rushes across the doorway so that none might behold him plying
his sacred calling.

Safe in the seclusion of his abode, he dug a hole in the sandy floor and
buried the stems he had brought so ostentatiously from the forest; then
he took down a bundle of arrows from under the thatched roof and
selected one after a good deal of scrutiny of the lot. It was long--six
feet or more, with a slender, reed shaft and a needle-like point of
tough palmwood fitted and glued into the stem. A short thorn, fastened
to the point with fine twine, formed a barb so that the arrow could not
be withdrawn once it had entered the flesh. On each side of the base was
a split eagle's feather attached with colored thread. The feathers were
not fastened in a line parallel with the shaft, but curved slightly;
this gave the arrow a rotary motion in flight like that imparted to the
bullet by a rifled gun barrel and made for accuracy in shooting. He now
took a lump of resinous gum from his charm-bag and rubbed it on the point
of the arrow until the latter was covered with a thick, black coat,
resembling old beeswax. A cap of a joint of slender bamboo was fitted
over the end of the missile to prevent the rain from washing away the
supposed poison, and it was ready to be delivered to Oomah.

Choflo had been guilty of treachery of the vilest kind. Instead of the
deadly _pua_ poison contained in the stems of the creepers he had
brought from the forest he had used the harmless gum which so closely
resembled it that the eye could not distinguish between them.

Oomah started on his perilous mission that night, after the feast had
been eaten and all the members of the tribe had bade him a solemn
farewell.

It was a silent group that watched him depart, for they felt that he
would not return; and in their grief they entirely forgot Choflo's dire
predictions for themselves in the event that Oomah was unsuccessful in
his quest. In their hearts they rebelled at the dictum of their leader
but the long habit of obedience caused them to suppress their
resentment. So they merely looked sad and said nothing.

"Now go," Choflo said, ceremoniously presenting the magic arrow, "and
return when you have slain the Black Phantom. Bring back the ears, the
claws and the tail so that we may have the proof. And do not return
until your mission has been fulfilled."

Oomah gathered up his bow, a pack of arrows of various types to use in
procuring game, and a small bag of food, and without a word vanished
into the night. The last thing the watchers saw was the tuft of white
feathers which had been inserted in his head-band.

The youth did not go far. Entering the edge of the forest flanking the
sandbar, country of which he knew each square foot, he went straight to
a giant ceiba tree and took up his station between two of the buttressed
roots to await the coming of daylight. And while the long hours of
darkness dragged their way into eternity Oomah laid his plan of action.

The first thing he did after the sun appeared was to examine minutely
the arrow prepared by Choflo. Certain words whispered into his ear by
old Yaro had had the effect of making him cautious. Besides, there were
his own suspicions to verify or to disprove.

The subject for a test was not hard to find in the form of a spiny rat
that he dug out of a decayed stump and holding the rodent in one hand he
pricked the tender skin with the point of the arrow. The rat struggled
and squeaked, but when he released it a few minutes later it scurried to
cover. Choflo's treachery had been proven.

Oomah replaced the missile in his pack and started up the river. Two
hours later he halted, started a fire by rubbing together two dry sticks
and placed a forest partridge which he had shot on the way, to roast.
While the meat sputtered on the spit he collected the slender stems of
the same species of creeper that Choflo had gathered and buried in the
floor of his shelter, and prepared the poison of whose deadliness there
was no question.

The process was a simple one. First the stems were crushed to a pulp
between stones and the juice pressed out into a small bowl taken from
his food-bag. The container was placed over the fire; when it had boiled
half an hour its contents had been reduced to a thick, black liquid
which was ready for use. The point of the arrow was dipped into the
concoction and revolved until it was covered with a uniform, heavy
coating. There was now no doubt as to the efficacy of the missile.

Day after day Oomah roamed the forest and the sandbars for some sign of
his quarry, but there was not the slightest trace to be found. Either
the Black Phantom had departed to some distant place or had vanished
from the earth. At night he squatted with his back to some giant
tree-trunk and a blazing fire before him; and between naps he listened
for the roars that never came.

Food had been plentiful but was constantly becoming more difficult to
procure. The turtles had finished their laying and had returned to the
water; their eggs, buried in the hot sand, were now unfit to eat.
However, there was still an occasional partridge, a monkey or a
turkey-like curassow and when one of them was secured Oomah ate
sparingly so that the meat lasted several days.

After a while the long and fruitless tramps and the nightly vigils began
to show their effects on the youth. His stolid nature gave way to a
restlessness that caused him to start in his slumber, and to stop
suddenly in his tracks to listen for sounds that never came. At first he
could not understand the new feeling. And then the truth came upon him
in a flash. Unheard feet were treading in his own footsteps; unseen eyes
were watching his every movement. He was being followed and observed by
an invisible enemy.

Oomah was sure of it, so sure that he swerved out of the forest and
walked along the edge of the bar where the sand was softest and after he
had gone a distance of fifty paces returned to the forest. He continued
along in the deep shadows apparently without concern for the greater
part of an hour. Then he turned and retraced his steps. On the sandbar
he found the confirming evidence. Huge feet had left their imprints
besides those of his own. Some monstrous creature had dogged his every
step, was doubtless even now watching him from a place of concealment in
the dense cover. And of the identity of that creature there was little
question. It could be none other than the Black Phantom.

A thrill came over Oomah--not of fear but of the anticipation of
success. He had at last found his quarry and would lay a neat trap that
the shadowy one would all unsuspectingly enter. His victory was assured.

The youth entered the forest and continued on his way. He walked mile
after mile without turning to look back and then gradually altered his
course so that it took him to the river. Emerging from the wall of
trees he made a wide semi-circle in the sand and returned to the heavy
growth. But now he did not continue his journey; instead, he hurried
back, keeping just inside the fringe of trees until he reached a point
halfway between the tips of the semi-circle. He now crept to the very
border of the jungle where, though hidden from view he could
nevertheless have a clear sweep of his trail across the sand.

Oomah carefully removed the protecting cap from the poisoned arrow and
grasped the missile in his right hand while in his left he held the bow,
ready for instant use, and awaited the appearance of the Black Phantom.
He was trembling with emotion, for the great moment had arrived.

But the black form that he so confidently expected did not appear. The
hours slipped by and just as darkness spread its pall over river and
jungle alike a thunderous roar burst upon the still air from nearby. The
hunter turned quickly in the direction from which the sound came and his
eyes sought to penetrate the undergrowth; but while he gazed at the
mass of stems and leaves the roar was repeated in back of him, exactly
opposite to the direction from which it had come at first.

Oomah, reared in the wilderness though he had been and knowing the
traits of most wild things, for once knew not what to do; it was clear
that the pursued had divined his plan, had sensed his trap, and was
openly defying him. Would he charge next in an overwhelming rush too
swift to be stopped by the arrow's venomous thrust? Or wait until the
darkest hour of night for a silent stalk and lightning spring! The
latter seemed more probable so Oomah lost no time in seeking the
protection of a great tree-trunk to forestall attack from the rear, and
in building a fire to ward off the onslaught from in front. Between the
two, he felt reasonably secure.

After that it was impossible to tell which was pursuer and which was
pursued. If the man turned back on his trail he always found evidences
that the crafty foe had been shadowing his every move. And the roars
that reverberated through the forest both by day and by night reminded
him of the proximity of the elusive one. When the rumbling voice was
hushed for any length of time Oomah knew that the Black Phantom was on
the hunt for food, or was out to slay, and redoubled his vigilance. Like
his brethren of the more earthy, spotted color, the black monster never
roared while in quest of victims. To do so would be extremely foolish
for it would apprise the prey of his whereabouts and would give them
time to escape to the security of their hiding-places. So the youth was
on his guard during the periods of silence and slept when the roars were
most frequent, for then the danger was least.

With the passing days the drought grew more terrible. If Choflo's words
were true, and Oomah was to save the earth by slaying the Black Phantom,
he must act soon or Tumwah's work would be too far advanced for remedy.
He could do no more than he was doing. Yaro had even hinted, in furtive
whispers, that the combat between the Phantom and the God of Drought
was a fabrication of Choflo's mind, simply another explanation of
something the sorcerer did not understand added to the several he had
already given. Still, he did not know whose words were to be heeded; and
added to his doubt was the lack of understanding of why the Black
Phantom did not attack him. It seemed always to be following him in
accordance with some mysterious design, or to be luring him onward like
a will-o'-the-wisp, further and further into a strange and more hostile
wilderness.

The youth's disturbed state of mind, coupled with the meager amount of
food now obtainable and the fatigue of the long tramps so undermined his
strength that he fell an easy victim to the dread fever to which, in his
normal, robust condition he was immune.

With throbbing head and blurred eyes he moved painfully through the
forest and over the sandy riverbank. On those rare occasions when he saw
game his arms trembled so violently as he drew the bow that the arrow
went wide and fell far short of the mark.

Choflo had guessed well. He was sure that the Black Phantom would prove
too elusive or too savage for any human pursuer, and that he should
never see Oomah again. In both things he was right. Oomah was destined
to be robbed of his prize and the sorcerer had beheld the youth for the
last time. But despite these facts, the designing purveyor of magic had
been also totally mistaken in his calculations. For, while both of his
hopes were realized they, at the same time, strange as it may seem, were
doomed to failure.

The terrible fever fast gained on the unfortunate hunter, racking his
body and adding physical torture to his mental anguish. Still he
struggled to overcome the insurmountable obstacles in his way. But,
while a firm resolve may do many things there is also a limit to all
things, and there came a day when Oomah could go no further. He had
already wandered far from the country so well known to him. Around him
grew _castanha_ trees with nuts in shells like cannon-balls that hung
high over his head; palms with leaves so enormous that one could
shelter an entire encampment; and birds of species he had never seen
before fluttered among the branches. The air was saturated with the
heavy though not unpleasant odor of vanilla beans. It was indeed a
strange land but Oomah was too ill to take much heed of his
surroundings.

At noon he could go no further. The ground seemed to rise toward his
flushed face and then smote him such a blow that all grew black before
his eyes.

When he awoke the screeching of the cicadas warned him that the day's
end was at hand. The fever had relented and he felt somewhat refreshed.
His first thought was of fire. Dry wood was not hard to find in the
crackling forest and a few deft twirls of the fire-sticks produced the
spark needed to set a handful of dry leaves aflame. Food there was none
so, with his back to the thick butt of a castanha tree and the blaze in
front Oomah silently and gravely awaited the coming of night.

Hours passed. The moon had disappeared and the glimmer of the stars did
not penetrate the canopy of foliage overhead. Even the goatsuckers,
queer birds that looked like giant whip-poor-wills, had ceased their
wails and in the jungle reigned the darkest hours of night.

Oomah awoke with a start, as if in response to the prod of a rude hand,
and shivered. The blaze had died to a mere flickering tongue of flame
that leapt now and then from the bed of coals. Over the youth came that
nameless feeling that bespoke the proximity of some living thing; seeing
nothing, he nevertheless felt that hidden eyes were boring him through.
Minutes dragged by; the suspense was frightful but his knowledge of the
wilderness bade him feign sleep and he moved not a muscle. Then, with a
suddenness that was appalling, the insane cackle of a woodrail
shattered the silence with its demoniacal cries. The sound, enough to
drive the uninitiated into a frenzy caused even Oomah to turn his head
toward the direction from which it had come, and what he saw were two
points of greenish fire glaring at him out of the blackness not ten
paces away.

Terror lent strength to the faltering arms. The protecting cap was
dashed from the poisoned arrow and the notched base of the shaft flew to
its position in the string. There was the twang of the bow and the
deadly missile whined through the air. A hoarse scream rang out; the
points of greenish fire were gone; a heavy body tore its way through the
undergrowth. Then all was still again.

That effort had cost Oomah his last particle of strength. He shuddered,
swayed, and clapping his hands over his eyes as if to shut out a
frightful dream, sank to the ground.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Nechi, on her way to the fish-traps in the river found the unconscious
youth when the sun was two hours high in the heavens and claimed him for
her own by right of discovery. In other words, to the captor belonged
the choicer tidbits when the captive should be restored to fit condition
for eating.

[Illustration: There was the twang of the bow and the deadly missile
whined through the air]

As she exultantly viewed the prostrate form a pang of fear shot through
her heart. What if he should be dead? She would be cheated out of the
delicacies and also the laurels to which the victor was always entitled.
In haste she knelt by his side and placed one hand over his heart; it
was fluttering weakly. She rushed to the river and brought water in a
folded plantain leaf and dashed it into his face. After that she pried
open his eyelids with her fingers.

Oomah regained his senses with a start and his eyes met the grimaces of
the delighted Nechi.

"_Sabana_ is not dead!" she exclaimed.

"No, the stranger is not dead--not quite dead."

"You are mine. I will take you to the village; it is less than half a
rest away. I will feed you and cure you of the fever. You are mine."

Oomah looked again at his discoverer, and closed his eyes.

"I know you," he said feebly. "You are of the Patocos who have eaten
many of my people."

"Yes, I am of the Patocos and we have eaten many of the Cantanas. When
you are well and fat again we will eat you too."

The youth showed no emotion. What mattered it if the girl should make
good her threat, now that his mission had failed?

"I will take you to the village," Nechi repeated. She left the baskets
she had been carrying on the ground and picking up the youth threw him
over her back. Accustomed as she was to carrying heavy burdens, the
weight was not too great for her strength. A half hour later she reached
the village, a collection of dilapidated shelters nestling under the
protection of the giant palm trees.

The arrival of the girl with her find created great excitement. The men
rushed up with spears and clubs ready to deliver the deathblow but the
girl was not inclined to give up her prisoner so easily.

"He is mine," she protested; "I found him. You shall not take him from
me. I will feed him and give him _chinca_ bark to cure his fever and
when he is well again and fat--"

"No! No! We must not wait. The prisoner might die and then we should be
cheated out of our feast."

Nechi had not thought of that.

"Tomorrow," she relented. "If he shows no signs of improvement by
tomorrow you can prepare for the feast."

Oomah opened his eyes.

"I came on a sacred mission," he faltered. "Get me the white feather so
that I may die like a hunter who has not given up the chase. With the
white feather in my hair I can take up the trail of the Black Phantom in
the other world."

The group that surrounded him hushed their chatter.

"Where is the white feather?" asked one of the older men who seemed to
be in authority.

"There where the woman found me. It must be there for I had it when
sleep overcame me."

One of the young men was sent immediately to fetch the emblem while the
girl prepared food which Oomah ate with ravenous appetite. Presently the
runner returned; in his hand was the tuft of plumes, now soiled and
frayed from hard usage.

The sight of the sacred object had a telling effect, for among the
savages of the Upper Amazon it was the one inter-tribal flag of truce
likely to be respected, provided the bearer of it could prove his right
to its possession. They stared in silence at the feverish youth as, with
great effort he told them the story of the Black Phantom and of the
heartbreaking weeks he had spent in pursuit of the elusive quarry.

"I shot the magic arrow into the night where the points of green fire
burned, and I know no more. Perhaps it was only a dream or a vision, for
my head was throbbing with fever; I do not know! I do not know!" he
ended wearily and sadly. "Therefore I am an outcast among my people; I
cannot return to them. I have no proof that the Black Phantom is dead or
that I did not fire the arrow at some picture of my reeling brain."

The leader of the Patocos turned to some of his young hunters.

"Go! Search the forest and the riverbank," he commanded. "Let nothing
escape your eyes. The words of this youth are queer. How do we know that
he speaks the truth? If there was a phantom the magic arrow could not
fail to strike it dead. And when you find it bring back the evidence of
your eyes so that the name of this man may be honored; but if you find
nothing we shall know that he lied and he shall pay the penalty without
delay."

Not long after, the hunters filed into the forest and Oomah watched them
go with yearning eyes. A whole week passed before the hunting party
returned. But their hands were empty; they bore no evidence that their
mission had been successful.

                 *       *       *       *       *

As for Warruk, the Jaguar, he had considered his score with Mata
settled. She had been punished for the injury she had inflicted on him.
But the others; they had hurled flaming brands at him and had wounded
him with spears. The day would surely come when they too should pay.

As he lingered in the heavy growth bordering the riverbank he became
aware of the fact that one of the man-creatures was roving in the
forest, detached from the group on the sandbar, and he straightway began
to follow and to watch his actions, being careful, however, always to
remain in the dense cover where he could not be seen. By following and
by watching he could learn many things that would be of value in dealing
with these new enemies when the proper time arrived.

The game continued day after day. It was only when the man laid a trap
for him by making a wide detour on the sandbar that Warruk discovered
that it was he who was being sought by the lone wanderer. After that he
was more cautious than before. He followed the scent only when it was
several hours old. But at night, when his pursuer was asleep, he stole
up noiselessly to look upon him and to ponder, for the blazing fire
prevented an attack; he had not forgotten the stinging brands with which
he had been showered not so long before.

There came the night, however, when the fire died down. The opportunity
had arrived and he crept up for the fatal spring.

It was then that Oomah, awakened by the hideous cackle of the woodrail,
saw the blazing eyes. And before the Jaguar had time to realize that the
man-creature had been aroused from his slumber, he heard a sharp twang
and a fiery pain darted through his shoulder taking him so completely by
surprise that he turned and fled with a scream of terror. Truly, this
new enemy was beyond all understanding. His deadly sting reached out
far, even into the blackness of night. Against it he, the king of the
untrodden wilderness, could not hope to contend.

As he rushed madly through the undergrowth the pain in his shoulder
spread rapidly and a heaviness made itself felt in his limbs. What if
the creature hurling shafts of fire that could wound him so sorely
should pursue? With the intense agony of his hurt, and the first signs
of a coming numbness, he could not hope to give battle or even to escape
further injury. No! At least not until he had had time to recover from
the surprise and the confusion of the onslaught; until he had quenched
his burning thirst, and until the pain had subsided. Then he would even
up the score. No more watching, no more stalking! Hereafter, the mere
sight of man would be the signal for his own destruction.

Warruk reached the river's edge near the rapids where the water rushed
with a seething fury through a narrow channel between the sandy banks.
In the center of the roaring flood was a rock, his rock, where many an
hour had been spent basking in the hot sunshine. It was his only abode,
his one place of safety and to it he would go.

Without hesitation he plunged into the maelstrom. The rushing water
swept him back, again and again, but each time the struggle was renewed
with increased determination; and each effort carried him a few yards
nearer the goal. Just as it seemed the coveted spot had been attained,
the breakers sought with increased fury to drag him down; but he fought
back, inch by inch, and at last one massive foot touched the rough
surface of the stronghold.

With a frantic tenacity that sapped the last vestige of his fast
vanishing strength he dragged his weary body onto the rock and lay down,
cushioning his great head upon his forepaws. Tremor after tremor passed
over him, but they were not from the chill of the night nor from the
drenching of the water. The pain had gone and a drowsiness had taken its
place. Here, where he had rested before, he would sleep again. The
bright stars shimmered overhead; a gentle, lulling breeze fanned his
face; below, the water roared and hissed in impotent rage for he had
conquered it and was out of its reach.

It all spoke of the freedom of the wilderness, and of the joyousness of
life. Not knowing death, Warruk did not fear it. But, knowing sleep as a
reviver of spent energy, he welcomed its coming to relieve the heavy
numbness that was penetrating to his very bones. It came, swiftly; the
deadly poison prepared by Oomah was completing its ghastly work, was
inducing the sleep; but not the normal, restful slumber that comes
between sunset and sunrise but the sleep that is everlasting and without
awakening.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Agoo reached the village of the Patocos after a week's rapid journey
through the forest. He had been sent by the Cantanas to look for Oomah.
The twigs snapped from the undergrowth by the hunter as he walked along
guided him unfailingly to the last camping site and from there a beaten
trail led to the village.

And Agoo was promptly made prisoner by the fierce enemies of the
Cantanas. There would be a feast indeed, with two captives instead of
one.

The newcomer also carried the flag of truce--the tuft of white
feathers; but the emblem would be of no avail if the report of the
hunters would be unfavorable.

"I would speak to my tribesman," he said, "here, where all may hear."

They brought Oomah and formed a circle around the two.

"I am the bearer of a message," the newcomer greeted the emaciated
youth, "from the fathers of the tribe."

Oomah grunted. "Why have you come to add to my suffering? I know that I
am an outcast, and I am ready to die."

"No! You must come back with me. Your work is finished. Your reward will
be great. Choflo's place shall be yours. That is the message I bear."

Oomah stared blankly at the speaker.

"How can I return without the evidence? I do not even know that the
Black Phantom is dead. And besides, we are both captives," he replied.

"We have proof that the sacred mission has been fulfilled. By signs
that cannot be doubted has it been shown that the spectre that brought
desolation to the earth was slain by the magic arrow just seven settings
of the sun past."

"Seven settings of the sun ago the arrow was sent on its flight into the
darkness; but where it struck I cannot tell."

"On that night Choflo, who sent you, was slain by a great, spotted
she-tiger which burst into his shelter and fought savagely to retain her
prize even when assailed with spears and firebrands in the hands of
those who would have rescued him. The monster had battled with men
before, and knew their ways, for one ear was lacking, lost in a previous
encounter. The law has been fulfilled. You have no next of kin upon
which vengeance could fall for your deed in slaying the Black Phantom;
therefore, Choflo, who sent you, paid the penalty."

Agoo did not know it but it was Suma who had avenged her Warruk.

"Speak, Agoo, are these tidings true?" Oomah asked.

"There is even more. Scarcely had Choflo died than a blanket of dark
clouds rolled across the heavens and rain fell throughout the night.
Tumwah had been appeased. We are saved. The earth is saved. And you,
Oomah, shall be rewarded and honored above all men."

The Patocos stood about in a spell-bound group.

"If this youth speaks truly, why has not the rain fallen here?" one
asked. "Our yuca fields are parched and the animals of the forest are
disappearing. Soon we will die of starvation."

"I have spoken the truth," Agoo persisted. Then, pointing to the sky
with both hands, he begged "Tumwah, send the rain-clouds here too. They
do not believe that the Black Phantom has been slain. Why, see," he
exclaimed suddenly, pointing to the East "even now the sky is overcast
where the sun rises and soon the rain will fall upon you. Look, Oomah!
They can ask for no other proof. Tumwah has come to save you."

Just then shouts from the forest announced the coming of the hunters and
before long the excited youths had filed into the village and joined the
circle.

"Now tell us what you found," the headman demanded. "Let your voice be
clear and loud so that all may hear and understand. Did you find
evidence that the first captive spoke the truth? His companion too says
strange things. Either the one is a great hunter who has fulfilled a
sacred mission, or both are spies and shall be dealt with before the
setting of another sun."

One of the youths who had just returned stepped into the circle.

"These many days we searched the forest and the sandbars, but found
nothing," he said impressively. "So we returned."

A hush had fallen upon all. Even the women and children peeping out of
the palm-leaf hovels stopped their chatter and looked with wide-open
eyes.

[Illustration: "Tumwah, send the rain-clouds here"]

"Build the fires!" the headman ordered. "I suspected treachery from the
very beginning."

"Wait!" the hunter, continued. "This morning as we rounded the bend in
the river where the banks are set close together and where the water
roars and boils in its haste to pass the terrible place so it may join
the peaceful stretches below, Tupi's sharp eyes saw the form of a
vulture in the sky. We watched the evil bird and soon discovered other
black specks circling above the gorge. It was there we found the proof,
on a rock in the midst of the raging water; a black tiger of such great
size that it could be none other than the Black Phantom. The broken
shaft of an arrow was still in its shoulder. We could not swim to the
rock; no creature of earth could conquer that angry flood. But there it
is so that all may see yet none may reach except only the loathsome
vultures."

That night there was a feast in the Patocos' village. Turtles had been
brought from the corrals and the women made fresh cassava bread. And
long into the night the sound of the celebration rang through the black
forest as war drums boomed and the voices of singers chanted the praises
of the mighty hunter who was among them.

Not until the sharp report of thunder followed by a drenching rain drove
the revellers to shelter did the festivities end.

"Nechi shall go with me," Oomah said the next morning as he prepared to
depart. "Nechi, who found me dying and whose medicine drove away the
fever. And send one of your hunters also to select a wife from among the
Cantanas. It is my wish that there be blood relationship between us.
Then there will be peace between the Patocos and Cantanas. No more
fighting, no more killing. I speak as headman of my people."

The older men drew together for a serious discussion that ended in
granting Oomah's request, and Tupi was selected to go back to the
encampment on the sandbar to be an honored guest and to select a wife.

After that came the leave taking; then the party started on its journey.
The three men, carrying only their bows and arrows, filed into the forest
and Nechi, carrying a heavy basket of food trotted happily after them.





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