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Title: In Far Bolivia - A Story of a Strange Wild Land
Author: Stables, Gordon, 1840-1910
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In Far Bolivia - A Story of a Strange Wild Land" ***

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[Illustration: Cover]



[Illustration: "BRAWN ... DASHED ON TO THE RESCUE"]



                             In Far Bolivia

                     A Story of a Strange Wild Land


                                   BY

                        DR. GORDON STABLES, R.N.

 Author of "’Twixt School and College" "The Hermit Hunter of the Wilds"

             "The Naval Cadet" "Kidnapped by Cannibals" &c.



               _WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY J. FINNEMORE, R.I._



                        BLACKIE AND SON LIMITED

                      LONDON GLASGOW DUBLIN BOMBAY

                                  1901



                                   TO

                         MARIE CONNOR LEIGHTON

                         (NOVELIST AND CRITIC)

                         THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED

                           EVERY KINDLY WISH

                                   BY

                               THE AUTHOR



                                PREFACE


Every book should tell its own story without the aid of "preface" or
"introduction".  But as in this tale I have broken fresh ground, it is
but right and just to my reader, as well as to myself, to mention
prefatorially that, as far as descriptions go, both of the natives and
the scenery of Bolivia and the mighty Amazon, my story is strictly
accurate.

I trust that Chapter XXIII, giving facts about social life in La Paz and
Bolivia, with an account of that most marvellous of all sheets of fresh
water in the known world, Lake Titicaca, will be found of general
interest.

But vast stretches of this strange wild land of Bolivia are a closed
book to the world, for they have never yet been explored; nor do we know
aught of the tribes of savages who dwell therein, as far removed from
civilization and from the benign influence of Christianity as if they
were inhabitants of another planet.  I have ventured to send my heroes
to this land of the great unknown, and have at the same time endeavoured
to avoid everything that might border on sensationalism.

In conclusion, my boys, if spared I hope to take you out with me again
to Bolivia in another book, and together we may have stranger adventures
than any I have yet told.

THE AUTHOR.



                                  ――――



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER I--ON THE BANKS OF THE GREAT AMAZON
    CHAPTER II--STRANGE ADVENTURES IN THE FOREST--LOST!
    CHAPTER III--BURNLEY HALL, OLD AND NEW
    CHAPTER IV--AWAY DOWN THE RIVER
    CHAPTER V--A DAY IN THE FOREST WILDS
    CHAPTER VI--"NOT ONE SINGLE DROP OF BLOOD SHED"
    CHAPTER VII--"A COLD HAND SEEMED TO CLUTCH HER HEART"
    CHAPTER VIII--FIERCELY AND WILDLY BOTH SIDES FOUGHT
    CHAPTER IX--THAT TREE IN THE FOREST GLADE
    CHAPTER X--BENEE MAKES A STRANGE DISCOVERY
    CHAPTER XI--ALL ALONE IN THE WILDERNESS
    CHAPTER XII--BENEE ENTRENCHED--SAVAGE REVELS IN THE FOREST
    CHAPTER XIII--THE MARCH TO THE LOVELESS LAND
    CHAPTER XIV--THE HOME OF THE CANNIBAL--BENEE’S ROMANCE
    CHAPTER XV--SHOOKS-GEE’S STORY--A CANNIBAL QUEEN
    CHAPTER XVI--ON THE BANKS OF A BEAUTIFUL RIVER
    CHAPTER XVII--BILL AND HIS BOATS
    CHAPTER XVIII--AS IF STRUCK BY A DUM-DUM BULLET
    CHAPTER XIX--STRUGGLING ONWARDS UP-STREAM
    CHAPTER XX--THE PAGAN PAYNEES WERE THIRSTING FOR BLOOD
    CHAPTER XXI--THE FOREST IS SHEETED IN FLAMES
    CHAPTER XXII--EVENINGS BY THE CAMP FIRE
    CHAPTER XXIII--A MARVELLOUS LAKE IN A MARVELLOUS LAND--LA PAZ
    CHAPTER XXIV--BENEE’S STORY--THE YOUNG CANNIBAL QUEEN
    CHAPTER XXV--BENEE’S MOTHER TO THE FRONT
    CHAPTER XXVI--THE PALE-FACE QUEEN HAS FLED
    CHAPTER XXVII--THE FIGHT AT THE FORT
    CHAPTER XXVIII--THE DREAM AND THE TERROR!
    CHAPTER XXIX--EASTWARD HO!  FOR MERRIE ENGLAND

                                  ――――



                             ILLUSTRATIONS

"Brawn ... dashed on to the rescue" . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

"Brawn sprang at once upon his man"

"She ... held her at arm’s-length"

"Fire low, lads ... don’t waste a shot!"



                             IN FAR BOLIVIA



CHAPTER I--ON THE BANKS OF THE GREAT AMAZON


Miles upon miles from the banks of the mighty river, had you wandered
far away in the shade of the dark forest that clothed the valleys and
struggled high over the mountain-tops themselves, you would have heard
the roar and the boom of that great buzz-saw.

As early as six of a morning it would start, or soon after the sun, like
a huge red-hot shot, had leapt up from his bed in the glowing east
behind the greenery of the hills and woods primeval.

To a stranger coming from the south towards the Amazon--great queen of
all the rivers on earth--and not knowing he was on the borders of
civilization, the sound that the huge saw made would have been decidedly
alarming.

He would have stopped and listened, and listening, wondered.  No
menagerie of wild beasts could have sent forth a noise so loud, so
strange, so persistent! Harsh and low at times, as its great teeth tore
through the planks of timber, it would change presently into a dull but
dreadful _basso profundo_, such as might have been emitted by
antediluvian monsters in the agonies of death or torture, rising anon
into a shrill howl or shriek, then subsiding once again into a steady
grating roar, that seemed to shake the very earth.

Wild beasts in this black forest heard the sounds, and crept stealthily
away to hide themselves in their caves and dens; caymans or alligators
heard them too, as they basked in the morning sunshine by lakelet or
stream--heard them and crawled away into caves, or took to the water
with a sullen plunge that caused the finny inhabitants to dart away in
terror to every point of the compass.

"Up with the tree, lads.  Feed him home," cried Jake Solomons loudly but
cheerily.  "Our pet is hungry this morning.  I say, Bill, doesn’t she
look a beauty.  Ever see such teeth, and how they shine, too, in the red
sunlight.  Guess you never did, Bill. I say, what chance would the
biggest ’gator that ever crawled have with Betsy here.  Why, if Betsy
got one tooth in his hide she’d have fifty before you could say
’Jerusalem’, and that ’gator’d be cut in two. Tear away, Betsy!  Grind
and groan and growl, my lass!  Have your breakfast, my little pet; why,
your voice is sweetest music to my ear.  I say, Bill, don’t the saw-dust
fly a few?  I should smile!

"But see," he continued, "yonder come the darkies with our matutinal.
Girls and boys with baskets, and I can see the steam curling up under
Chloe’s arm from the great flagon she is carrying!  Look how her white
eyes roll, and her white teeth shine as she smiles her six-inch smile!
Good girl is Chloe.  She knows we’re hungry, and that we’ll welcome her.
Wo, now, Betsy!  Let the water off, Bill.  Betsy has had her snack, and
so we’ll have ours."

There was quietness now o’er hill and dell and forest-land.

And this tall Yankee, Jake Solomons, who was fully arrayed in cotton
shirt and trousers, his brown arms bare to the shoulder, stretched his
splendidly knit but spare form with a sort of a yawn.

"Heigho, Bill!" he said.  "I’m pining for breakfast.  Aren’t you?"

"That I am," replied Burly Bill with his broadest grin.

Jake ran to the open side of the great saw-mill. Three or four strides
took him there.

"Ah!  Good-morning, Chloe, darling!  Morning, Keemo!  Morning, Kimo!"

"Mawning, sah!"  This was a chorus.

"All along dey blessed good-foh-nuffin boys I no come so queeck," said
Chloe.

"Stay, stay, Chloe," cried Jake, "never let your angry passions rise.
’Sides, Chloe, I calculate such language ain’t half-proper.  But how
glittering your cheeks are, Chloe, how white your teeth!  There! you
smile again.  And that vermilion blouse sets off your dark complexion to
a nicety, and seems just made for it.  Chloe, I would kiss you, but the
fear of making Bill jealous holds me back."

Burly Bill shook with laughter.  Bill was well named the Burly.  Though
not so tall as Jake, his frame was immense, though perhaps there was a
little more adipose tissue about it than was necessary in a climate like
this.  But Bill’s strength was wonderful. See him, axe in hand, at the
foot of a tree!  How the chips fly!  How set and determined the man’s
face, while the great beads of sweat stand like pearls on his brow!

Burly Bill was a white man turned black.  You couldn’t easily have
guessed his age.  Perhaps he was forty, but at twenty, when still in
England, Bill was supple and lithe, and had a skin as white as a
schoolboy’s. But he had got stouter as the years rolled on, and his face
tanned and tanned till it tired of tanning, and first grew purple, and
latterly almost black.  The same with those hirsute bare arms of his.

There was none of the wild "Ha! ha!" about Bill’s laughter.  It was a
sort of suppressed chuckle, that agitated all his anatomy, the while his
merry good-natured eyes sought shelter behind his cheeks’ rotundity.

Under a great spreading tree the two men laid themselves down, and Chloe
spread their breakfast on a white cloth between them, Jake keeping up
his fire of chaff and sweet nothings while she did so. Keemo and Kimo,
and the other "good-foh-nuffin boys" had brought their morning meal to
the men who fed the great buzz-saw.

"Ah, Chloe!" said Jake, "the odour of that coffee would bring the dead
to life, and the fish and the beef and the butter, Chloe!  Did you do
all this yourself?"

"All, sah, I do all.  De boys jes’ kick about de kitchen and do nuffin."

"Dear tender-eyed Chloe!  How clever you are! Guess you won’t be so kind
to me when you and I get spliced, eh?"

"Ah sah! you no care to marry a poor black gal like Chloe!  Dere is a
sweet little white missie waiting somew’eres foh Massa Jake.  I be your
maid, and shine yo’ boots till all de samee’s Massa Bill’s cheek foh
true."

As soon as Chloe with her "good-foh-nuffin boys" had cleared away the
breakfast things, and retired with a smile and saucy toss of her curly
poll, the men lay back and lit their pipes.

"She’s a bright intelligent girl that," said Jake. "I don’t want a wife
or--but I say, Bill, why don’t you marry her?  I guess she’d make ye a
tip-topper."

"Me!  Is it marry?"

Burly Bill held back his head and chuckled till he well-nigh choked.

Honest Bill’s ordinary English showed that he came from the old country,
and more particularly from the Midlands.  But Bill could talk properly
enough when he pleased, as will soon be seen.

He smoked quietly enough for a time, but every now and then he felt
constrained to take his meerschaum from his mouth and give another
chuckle or two.

"Tchoo-hoo-hoo!" he laughed.  "Me marry!  And marry Chloe!
Tchoo-hoo-hoo!"

"To change the subject, William," said Jake, "seein’ as how you’ve
pretty nearly chuckled yourself silly, or darned near it, how long have
you left England?"

"W’y, I coom over with Mr. St. Clair hisse’f, and Roland w’y he weren’t
more’n seven.  Look at ’e now, and dear little Peggy, ’is sister by
adoption as ever was, weren’t a month over four.  Now Rolly ’e bees nigh
onto fifteen, and Peggy--the jewel o’ the plantation--she’s goin’ on for
twelve, and main tall for that.  W’y time do fly!  Don’t she, Jake?"

"Well, I guess I’ve been here five years, and durn me if I want to
leave.  Could we have a better home? I’d like to see it.  I’d smile a
few odd ones.  But listen, why here comes the young ’uns!"

There was the clatter of ponies’ feet, and next minute as handsome a boy
as ever sat in saddle, and as pretty and bright a lassie as you could
wish to meet, galloped into the clearing, and reined up their spirited
little steeds close to the spot where the men were lounging.

Burly Bill stuck his thumb into the bowl of his meerschaum to put it
out, and Jake threw his pipe on the bank.

Roland was tall for his age, like Peggy.  But while a mass of fair and
irrepressible hair curled around the boy’s sun-burned brow, Peggy’s hair
was straight and black.  When she rode fast it streamed out behind her
like pennons in the breeze.  What a bright and sunny face was hers too!
There was ever a happy smile about her red lips and dark eyes.

"You’ve got to begin to smoke again immediately," said the boy.

"No, no, Master Roland, not in the presence of your sister."

"But," cried Peggy, with a pretty show of pomposity, "I command you!"

"Ah, then, indeed!" said Jake; and soon both men were blowing clouds
that made the very mosquitoes change their quarters.

"Father’ll be up soon, riding on Glancer.  This nag threw Father, coming
home last night.  Mind, Glancer is seventeen hands and over."

"He threw him?"

"That he did, in the moonlight.  Scared at a ’gator. Father says he
heard the ’gator’s great teeth snapping and thought he was booked.  But
lo!  Jake, at that very moment Glancer struck out with both
hind-legs--you know how he is shod.  He smashed the ’gator’s skull, and
the beast turned up his yellow belly to the moon."

"Bravo!"

"Then Father mounted mighty Glancer and rode quietly home.

"Peggy and I," he continued, "have ridden along the bank to the
battlefield to hold a coroner’s inquest on the ’gator, but he’s been
hauled away by his relations.  I suppose they’ll make potato soup of
him."

Burly Bill chuckled.

"Well, Peggy and I are off.  See you in the evening, Jake.  By-by!"

And away they rode, like a couple of wild Indians, followed by a huge
Irish wolf-hound, as faithful a dog to his mistress--for he was Peggy’s
own pet--as ever dog could be.

They were going to have a day in the forest, and each carried a short
six-chambered rifle at the saddle.

A country like the wild one in which they dwelt soon makes anyone brave
and fearless.  They meant to ride quite a long way to-day and not return
till the sun began to decline in the far and wooded west.  So, being
already quite an old campaigner, Roland had not forgotten to bring
luncheon with him, and some for bold Brawn also.

Into the forest they dashed, leaving the mighty river, which was there
about fifteen miles broad probably, in their rear.

They knew every pathway of that primeval woodland, and it mattered but
little to them that most of these had been worn by the feet of wild
beasts.  Such tracks wind out and in, and in and out, and meet others in
the most puzzling and labyrinthine manner.

Roland carried a compass, and knew how to use it, but the day was
unusually fine and sunny, so there was little chance of their getting
lost.

The country in which they lived might well have been called the land of
perpetual summer.

But at some spots the forest was so pitchy dark, owing to the
overhanging trees and wild flowering creepers, that they had to rein up
and allow Coz and Boz, as their ponies were named, to cautiously feel
the way for themselves.

How far away they might have ridden they could not themselves tell, had
they not suddenly entered a kind of fairy glade.  At one side it was
bounded by a crescentic formation of rock, from the very centre of which
spouted a tiny clear crystal waterfall. Beneath was a deep pool, the
bottom of which was sand and yellow shingle, with here and there a patch
of snow-white quartz.  And away from this a little stream went
meandering slowly through the glade, keeping it green.

On the other side were the lordly forest trees, bedraped with flowering
orchids and ferns.

Flowers and ferns grew here and there in the rockface itself.  No wonder
the young folks gazed around them in delighted wonder.

Brawn was more practical.  He cared nothing for the flowers, but enjoyed
to the fullest extent the clear cool water of the crystal pool.

"Oh, isn’t it lovely?" said Roland.

"And oh, I am so hungry, Rolly!"

Rolly took the hint.

The ponies were let loose to graze, Brawn being told to head them off if
they attempted to take to the woods.

"I understand," said Brawn, with an intelligent glance of his brown eyes
and wag of his tail.

Then down the boy and girl squatted with the noble wolf-hound beside
them, and Roland speedily spread the banquet on the moss.

I dare say that hunger and romance seldom tread the same platform--at
the same time, that is.  It is usually one down, the other up; and
notwithstanding the extraordinary beauty of their surroundings, for some
time both boy and girl applied themselves assiduously to the discussion
of the good things before them; that meat-pie disappearing as if by
magic.  Then the hard-boiled eggs, the well-buttered and flouriest of
floury scones, received their attention, and the whole was washed down
with _vinum bovis_, as Roland called it, cow’s wine, or good milk.

Needless to say, Brawn, whose eyes sparkled like diamonds, and whose
ears were conveniently erect, came in for a good share.

Well, but the ponies, Boz and Coz, had not the remotest idea of running
away.  In fact they soon drew near to the banqueting-table.  Coz laid
his nose affectionately on his little mistress’s shoulder and heaved an
equine sigh, and Boz began to nibble at Roland’s ears in a very winning
way.

And the nibbling and the sigh brought them cakes galore.

Roland offered Boz a bit of pie.

The pony drew back, as if to say, "Vegetarians, weren’t you aware?"

But Brawn cocked his bonnie head to one side, knowingly.

"Pitch it this way, master," he said.  "I’ve got a crop for any kind of
corn, and a bag for peas."

A strange little rodent creature, much bigger than any rat, however,
with beautiful sad-looking eyes, came from the bush, and stood on its
hind-legs begging, not a yard away.  Its breast was as white as snow.

Probably it had no experience of the genus _homo_, and all the cruelties
he is guilty of, under the title of sport.

Roland pitched several pieces of pie towards the innocent.  It just
tasted a morsel, then back it ran towards the wood with wondrous speed.

If they thought they had seen the last of it, they were much mistaken,
for the innocent returned in two minutes time, accompanied not only by
another of his own size, but by half a dozen of the funniest little
fairies ever seen inside a forest.

"My wife and children," said innocent No. 1.

"My services to you," bobbed innocent No. 2.

But the young ones squawked and squealed, and tumbled and leapt over
each other as they fed in a manner so droll that boy and girl had to
laugh till the woods rang.

Innocent No. 1 looked on most lovingly, but took not a morsel to
himself.

Then all disappeared as suddenly as they had come.

Truly the student of Nature who betakes himself to lonely woods sees
many wonders!

It was time now to lie back in the moss and enjoy the _dolce far
niente_.

The sky was as blue as blue could be, all between the rifts of
slowly-moving clouds.  The whisper of the wind among the forest trees,
and the murmur of the falling water, came like softest music to Roland’s
ears. Small wonder, therefore, that his eyes closed, and he was soon in
the land of sweet forgetfulness.

But Peggy had a tiny book, from which she read passages to Brawn, who
seemed all attention, but kept one eye on the ponies at the same time.

It was a copy of the "Song of Hiawatha", a poem which Peggy thought
ineffably lovely.  Hark to her sweet girl voice as she reads:

    "These songs so wild and wayward,
    These legends and traditions".


They appealed to her simple soul, for dearly did she love the haunts of
Nature.

    "Loved the sunshine of the meadow,
    Loved the shadow of the forest,
    Loved the wind among the branches,
      The rushing of great rivers
    Through their palisades of pine-trees."


She believed, too:

    "That even in savage bosoms
    There are longings, yearnings, strivings
    For the good they comprehend not;
    That feeble hands and helpless,
    Groping blindly in the darkness,
    Touch God’s right hand...
    And are lifted up and strengthened".

                                  ――――

Roland slumbered quietly, and the day went on apace.

He slept so peacefully that she hardly liked to arouse him.

The little red book dropped from her hand and fell on the moss, and her
thoughts now went far, far away adown the mighty river that flows so
sadly, so solemnly onwards to the great Atlantic Ocean, fed on its way
by a hundred rapid streams that melt in its dark bosom and are seen
nevermore.

But it was not the river itself the little maiden’s thoughts were
dwelling on; not the strange wild birds that sailed along its surface on
snow-white wings; not the birds of prey--the eagle and the hawk--that
hovered high in air, or with eldritch screams darted on their prey like
bolts from the blue, and bore their bleeding quarries away to the silent
forest; not even the wealth of wild flowers that nodded over the banks
of the mighty stream.

Her thoughts were on board a tall and darksome raft that was slowly
making its way seaward to distant Pará, or in the boats that towed it.
For there was someone on the raft or in those boats who even then might
be fondly thinking of the dark-haired maiden he had left behind.

But Peggy’s awakening from her dream of romance, and Roland’s from his
slumber, was indeed a terrible one.



CHAPTER II--STRANGE ADVENTURES IN THE FOREST--LOST!


Fierce eyes had been watching the little camp for an hour and more,
glaring out on the sunny glade from the dark depths of a forest tree not
far off; out from under a cloudland of waving foliage that rustled in
the balmy wind.  Watching, and watching unwaveringly, Peggy, while she
read; watching the sleeping Roland; the great wolf-hound, Brawn; and
watching the ponies too.

Ever and anon these last would come closer to the tree, as they nibbled
grass or moss, then those fierce eyes burned more fiercely, and the
cat-like tail of a monster jaguar moved uneasily as if the wild beast
meditated a spring.

But the ponies, sniffing danger in the air, perhaps--who can
tell?--would toss their manes and retreat to the shadow of the rocks.

Had the dog not been there the beast would have dared all, and sprung at
once on one of those nimble steeds.

But he waited and watched, watched and waited, and at long last his time
came.  With a coughing roar he now launched himself into the air, the
elasticity of the branch giving greater force to his spring.

Straight on the shoulders or back of poor Boz he alighted.  His talons
were well driven home, his white teeth were preparing to tear the flesh
from the pony’s neck.

Both little steeds yelled wildly, and in nightmarish terror.

Up sprang Brawn, the wolf-hound, and dashed on to the rescue.

Peggy seized her loaded rifle and hurried after him.

Thoroughly awake now, and fully cognizant of the terrible danger, Roland
too was quickly on the scene of action.

To fire at a distance were madness.  He might have missed the struggling
lion and shot poor Boz, or even faithful Brawn.

This enormous dog had seized the beast by one hock, and with his paws
against the pony was endeavouring to tear the monster off.

The noise, the movement, the terror, caused poor Roland’s head to whirl.

He felt dazed, and almost stupid.

Ah! but Peggy was clear-headed, and a brave and fearless child was she.

Her feet seemed hardly to touch the moss, so lightly did she spring
along.

Her little rifle was cocked and ready, and, taking advantage of a few
seconds’ lull in the fearful scrimmage, she fired at five yards’
distance.

The bullet found billet behind the monster’s ear, his grip relaxed, and
now Brawn tore him easily from his perch and finished him off on the
ground, with awful din and habbering.

Then, with blood-dripping jaws he came with his ears lower, half
apologetically, to receive the praise and caresses of his master and
mistress.

But though the adventure ended thus happily, frightened beyond measure,
the ponies, Coz and Boz, had taken to the bush and disappeared.

Knowing well the danger of the situation, Roland and Peggy, with Brawn,
tried to follow them.  But Irish wolf-hounds have but little scent, and
so they searched and searched in vain, and returned at last to the
sun-kissed glade.

It was now well on towards three o’clock, and as they had a long forest
stretch of at least ten miles before them ere they could touch the banks
of the great queen of waters, Roland determined, with the aid of his
compass, to strike at once into the beast-trodden pathway by which they
had come, and make all haste homewards before the sun should set and
darkness envelop the gloomy forest.

"Keep up your heart, Peggy; if your courage and your feet hold out we
shall reach the river before dusk."

"I’m not so frightened now," said Peggy; but her lips were very
tremulous, and tears stood in her eyes.

"Come, come," she cried, "let us hurry on!  Come, Brawn, good dog!"

Brawn leapt up to lick her ear, and taking no thought for the skin of
the jaguar, which in more favourable circumstances would have been borne
away as a trophy, and proof of Peggy’s valour, they now took to the bush
in earnest.

Roland looked at his watch.

"Three hours of light and more.  Ah! we can do it, if we do not lose our
way."

So off they set.

Roland took the lead, rifle in hand, Peggy came next, and brave Brawn
brought up the rear.

They were compelled to walk in single file, for the pathways were so
narrow in places that two could not have gone abreast.

Roland made constant reference to his little compass, always assuring
his companion that they were still heading directly for the river.

They had hurried on for nearly an hour, when Roland suddenly paused.

A huge dark monster had leapt clear and clean across the pathway some
distance ahead, and taken refuge in a tree.

It was, no doubt, another jaguar, and to advance unannounced might mean
certain death to one of the three.

"Are you all loaded, Peggy?" said Roland.

"Every chamber!" replied the girl.

There was no tremor about her now; and no backwoods Indian could have
acted more coolly and courageously.

"Blaze away at that tree then, Peg."

Peggy opened fire, throwing in three or four shots in rapid succession.

The beast, with a terrible cry, darted out of the tree and came rushing
along to meet and fight the little party.

"Down, Brawn, down!  To heel, sir!"

Next moment Roland fired, and with a terrible shriek the jaguar took to
the bush, wounded and bleeding, and was seen no more.

But his yells had awakened the echoes of the forest, and for more than
five minutes the din of roaring, growling, and shrieking was fearful.

Wild birds, no doubt, helped to swell the pandemonium.

After a time, however, all was still once more, and the journey was
continued in silence.

Even Peggy, usually the first to commence a conversation, felt in no
mood for talking now.

She was very tired.  Her feet ached, her brow was hot, and her eyes felt
as if boiling in their sockets.

Roland had filled his large flask at the little waterfall before leaving
the glade, and he now made her drink.

The draught seemed to renew her strength, and she struggled on as
bravely as ever.

                                  ――――

Just two and a half hours after they had left the forest clearing, and
when Roland was holding out hopes that they should soon reach the road
by the banks of the river, much to their astonishment they found
themselves in a strange clearing which they had never seen before.

The very pathway ended here, and though the boy went round and round the
circle, he could find no exit.

To retrace his steps and try to find out the right path was the first
thought that occurred to Roland.

This plan was tried, but tried in vain, and so--weary and hopeless now
beyond measure--they returned to the centre of the glade and threw
themselves down on the soft green moss.

Lost!  Lost!

The words kept repeating themselves in poor Roland’s brain, but Peggy’s
fatigue was so complete that she preferred rest even in the midst of
danger to going farther.

Brawn, heaving a great sigh, laid himself down beside them.

The warm day wore rapidly to a close, and at last the sun shimmered red
through the forest trees.

Then it sank.

The briefest of twilight, and the stars shone out.

Two hours of starlight, then solemnly uprose the round moon and flooded
all the glade, draping the whispering trees in a blue glare, beautifully
etherealizing them.

Sorrow bringeth sleep.

"Good-night, Rolly!  Say your prayers," murmured Peggy.

There were stars in the sky.  There were stars too that flitted from
bush to bush, while the winds made murmuring music among the lofty
branches.

Peggy was repeating to herself lines that she had read that very day:

    ..."the firefly Wah-wah-tay-see,
    Flitting through the dusk of evening,
    With the twinkle of its candle,
    Lighting up the brakes and bushes.
      *    *    *    *    *
    Wah-wah-tay-see, little firefly,
    Little, flitting, white-fire insect,
    Little dancing, white-fire creature,
    Light me with your little candle.
    Ere upon my bed I lay me,
    Ere in sleep I close my eyelids."

                                  ――――

The forest was unusually silent to-night, but ever and anon might be
heard some distant growl showing that the woods sheltered the wildest
beasts.  Or an owl with mournful cry would flap its silent wings as it
flew across the clearing.

But nothing waked those tired and weary sleepers.

So the night wore on and on.  The moon had reached the zenith, and was
shining now with a lustre that almost rivalled daylight itself.

It must have been well on towards two o’clock in the morning when Brawn
emitted a low and threatening growl.

This aroused both Roland and Peggy, and the former at once seized his
rifle.

Standing there in the pale moonlight, not twenty yards away, was a tall,
dark-skinned, and powerful-looking Indian.  In his right hand he held a
spear or something resembling one; in his left a huge catapult or sling.
He was dressed for comfort--certainly not for ornament.  Leggings or
galligaskins covered his lower extremities, while his body was wrapped
in a blanket.  He had no head-covering, save a matted mass of hair, in
which were stuck a few feathers.

Roland took all this in at a glance as he seized his rifle and prepared
for eventualities.  According to the traditional painter of Indian life
and customs the proper thing for this savage to have said is "Ugh!" He
said nothing of the sort.  Nor did he give vent to a whoop and yell that
would have awakened the wild birds and beasts of the forest and every
echo far and near.

"Who goes there?" cried Roland, raising his gun.

"No shootee.  No shootee poor Indian man.  I friendee you.  Plenty
friendee."

Probably there was a little romance about Roland, for, instead of
saying: "Come this way then, old chap, squat down and give us the news,"
he said sternly:

"Advance, friend!"

But the Indian stood like a statue.

"No undahstandee foh true."

And Roland had to climb down and say simply:

"Come here, friend, and speak."

Brawn rushed forward now, but he looked a terror, for his hair was all
on end like a hyena’s, and he growled low but fiercely.

"Down, Brawn!  It’s a good man, Brawn."

Brawn smelt the Indian’s hand, and, seeming satisfied, went back to the
spot where Peggy sat wondering and frightened.

She gathered the great dog to her breast and hugged and kissed him.

"What foh you poh chillun sleepee all in de wood so?  S’pose wild beas’
come eatee you, w’at den you do?"

"But, friend," replied Roland, "we are far from Burnley Hall, our home,
and we have lost everything. We have lost our ponies, lost our way, and
lost ourselves."

"Poh chillun!" said this strange being.  "But now go sleepee foh true.
De Indian he lie on blanket.  He watchee till de big sun rise."

"Can we trust him, Peggy?"

"Oh yes, yes!" returned Peggy.  "He is a dear, good man; I know by his
voice."

In ten minutes more the boy and girl were fast asleep.

The Indian watched.

And Brawn watched the Indian.

                                  ――――

When the sun went down on the previous evening, and there were no signs
of the young folks returning, both Mr. St. Clair and his wife became
very uneasy indeed.

Then two long hours of darkness ensued before the moon sailed up, first
reddening, then silvering, the wavelets and ripples on the great river.

"Surely some evil must have befallen them," moaned Mrs. St. Clair.  "Oh,
my Roland! my son!  I may never see you more.  Is there nothing can be
done?  Tell me!  Tell me!"

"We must trust in Providence, Mary; and it is wrong to mourn.  I doubt
not the children are safe, although perhaps they have lost their way in
the woods."

Hours of anxious waiting went by, and it was nearly midnight.  The house
was very quiet and still, for the servants were asleep.

Burly Bill and Jake had mounted strong horses at moonrise, and gone off
to try to find a clue.  But they knew it was in vain, nay, ’twould have
been sheer madness to enter the forest now.  They coo-eed over and over
again, but their only answer was the echoing shriek of the wild birds.

They were just about to return after giving their last shrill coo-ee-ee,
when out from the moonlit forest, with a fond whinny, sprang Coz and
Boz.

Jake sprang out of his saddle, throwing his bridle to Bill.

In the bright moonlight, Jake could see at once that there was something
wrong.  He placed his hand on Boz’s shoulder.  He staggered back as he
withdrew it.

"Oh, Bill," he cried, "here is blood, and the pony is torn and bleeding!
Only a jaguar could have done this.  This is terrible."

"Let us return at once," said Bill, who had a right soft heart of his
own behind his burly chest.

"But oh!" he added, "how can we break the news to Roland’s parents?"

"We’ll give them hope.  Mrs. St. Clair must know nothing yet, but at
early dawn all the ranch must be aroused, and we shall search the forest
for miles and miles."

                                  ――――

Jake, after seeing the ponies safe in their stable, left Bill to look to
Boz’s wounds, while with St. Clair’s leave he himself set off at a round
gallop to get assistance from a neighbouring ranch.

Day had not yet broken ere forty good men and true were on the
bridle-path and tearing along the river’s banks.  St. Clair himself was
at their head.

I must leave the reader to imagine the joy of all the party when soon
after sunrise there emerged from the forest, guided by the strange
Indian, Roland, Peggy, and noble Brawn, all looking as fresh as the dew
on the tender-eyed hibiscus bloom or the wild flowers that nodded by the
river’s brim.

"Wirr--rr--r--wouff, wouff, wouff!" barked Brawn, as he bounded forward
with joy in every feature of his noble face, and I declare to you there
seemed to be a lump in his throat, and the sound of his barking was
half-hysterical.

St. Clair could not utter a word as he fondly embraced the children.  He
pretended to scold a little, but this was all bluff, and simply a ruse
to keep back the tears.

But soft-hearted Burly Bill was less successful. He just managed to drop
a little to the rear, and it was not once only that he was fain to draw
the sleeve of his rough jacket across his eyes.

                                  ――――

But now they are mounted, and the horses’ heads are turned homewards.
Peggy is seated in front of Burly Bill, of whom she is very fond, and
Roland is saddled with Jake.  The Indian and Brawn ran.

Poor Mrs. St. Clair, at the big lawn gate, gazing westward, sees the
cavalcade far away on the horizon.

Presently, borne along on the morning breeze come voices raised in a
brave and joyous song:

    "Down with them, down with the lords of the forest".


And she knows her boy and Peggy are safe.

"Thank God for all his mercies!" she says fervently, then, woman-like,
bursts into tears.



CHAPTER III--BURNLEY HALL, OLD AND NEW


I have noticed more than once that although the life-story of some good
old families in England may run long stagnant, still, when one important
event does take place, strange thing after strange thing may happen, and
the story rushes on with heedless speed, like rippling brooklets to the
sea.

The St. Clairs may have been originally a Scottish family, or branch of
some Highland clan, but they had been settled on a beautiful estate, far
away in the wilds of Cornwall, for over one hundred and fifty years.

Stay, though, we are not going back so far as that. Old history, like
old parchment, has a musty odour. Let us come down to more modern times.

When, then, young Roland’s grandfather died, and died intestate, the
whole of the large estate devolved upon his eldest son, with its fat
rentals of fully four thousand a-year.  Peggy St. Clair, our little
heroine, was his only child, and said to be, even in her infancy, the
very image of her dead-and-gone mother.

No wonder her father loved her.

But soon the first great event happened in the life-story of the St.
Clairs.  For, one sad day Peggy’s father was borne home from the
hunting-field grievously wounded.

All hope of recovery was abandoned by the doctor shortly after he had
examined his patient.

Were Herbert to die intestate, as his father had done, his second
brother John, according to the old law, could have stepped into his
shoes and become lord of Burnley Hall and all its broad acres.

But, alive to the peril of his situation, which the surgeon with tears
in his eyes pointed out to him, the dying man sent at once for his
solicitor, and a will was drawn up and placed in this lawyer’s hands,
and moreover he was appointed one of the executors. This will was to be
kept in a safe until Peggy should be seventeen years of age, when it was
to be opened and read.

I must tell you that between the brothers Herbert and John there had
long existed a sort of blood-feud, and it was as well they never met.

Thomas, however, was quickly at his wounded brother’s bedside, and never
left it until--

    "Clay-cold Death had closed his eye".


The surgeon had never given any hopes, yet during the week that
intervened between the terrible accident and Herbert’s death there were
many hours in which the doomed man appeared as well as ever, though
scarce able to move hand or foot.  His mind was clear at such times, and
he talked much with Thomas about the dear old times when all were young.

Up till now this youngest son and brother, Thomas, had led rather an
uneasy and eventful life.  Nothing prospered with him, though he had
tried most things.

He was married, and had the one child, Roland, to whom the reader has
already been introduced.

"Now, dear Tom," said Herbert, one evening after he had lain still with
closed eyes for quite a long time, and he placed a white cold hand in
that of his brother as he spoke, "I am going to leave you.  We have
always been good friends and loved each other well.  All I need tell you
now, and I tell you in confidence, is that Peggy, at the age of
seventeen, will be my heir, with you, dear Tom, as her guardian."

Tom could not reply for the gathering tears.  He just pressed Herbert’s
hand in silence.

"Well," continued the latter, "things have not gone over well with you,
I know, but I have often heard you say you could do capitally if you
emigrated to an almost new land--a land you said figuratively ’flowing
with milk and honey’.  I confess I made no attempt to assist you to go
to the great valley of the Amazon. It was for a selfish reason I
detained you.  My brother John being nobody to me, my desire was to have
you near."

He paused, almost exhausted, and Tom held a little cup of wine to his
lips.

Presently he spoke again.

"My little Peggy!" he moaned.  "Oh, it is hard, hard to leave my
darling!

"Tom, listen.  You are to take Peggy to your home.  You are to care for
her as the apple of your eye.  You must be her father, your wife her
mother."

"I will!  I will!  Oh, brother, can you doubt me!"

"No, no, Tom.  And now you may emigrate.  I leave you thirty thousand
pounds, all my deposit account at Messrs. Bullion & Co.’s bank.  This is
for Peggy and you.  My real will is a secret at present, and that which
will be read after--I go, is a mere epitome.  But in future it will be
found that I have not forgotten even John."

Poor Peggy had run in just then, and perched upon the bed, wondering
much that her father should lie there so pale and still, and make no
attempt to romp with her.  At this time her hair was as yellow as the
first approach of dawn in the eastern sky.

                                  ――――

That very week poor Squire St. Clair breathed his last.

John came to the funeral with a long face and a crape-covered hat,
looking more like a mute than anything else.

He sipped his wine while the epitomized will was read; but a wicked
light flashed from his eyes, and he ground out an oath at its
conclusion.

All the information anyone received was that though sums varying from
five hundred pounds to a thousand were left as little legacies to
distant relations and to John, as well as _douceurs_ to the servants,
the whole of the estates were willed in a way that could not be divulged
for many a long year.

John seized his hat, tore from it the crape, and dashed it on the floor.
The crape on his arm followed suit.  He trampled on both and strode away
slamming the door behind him.

Years had flown away.

Tom and his wife had emigrated to the banks of the Amazon.  They settled
but a short time at or near one of its mouths, and then Tom, who had no
lack of enterprise, determined to journey far, far into the interior,
where the land was not so level, where mountains nodded to the moon, and
giant forests stretched illimitably to the southward and west.

At first Tom and his men, with faithful Bill as overseer, were mere
squatters, but squatters by the banks of the queen of waters, and in a
far more lovely place than dreams of elfinland.  Labour was very cheap
here, and the Indians soon learned from the white men how to work.

Tom St. Clair had imported carpenters and artificers of many sorts from
the old country, to say nothing of steam plant and machinery, and that
great resounding steel buzz-saw.

Now, although not really extravagant, he had an eye for the beautiful,
and determined to build himself a house and home that, although not
costing a deal, would be in reality a miniature Burnley Hall.  And what
a truly joyous time Peggy and her cousin, or adopted brother, had of it
while the house was gradually being built by the busy hands of the
trained Indians and their white brethren!

Not they alone, but also a boy called Dick Temple, whose uncle was Tom
St. Clair’s nearest neighbour, That is, he lived a trifle over seven
miles higher up the river.  Dick was about the same age and build as
Roland.

There was a good road between Temple’s ranch and Tom St. Clair’s place,
and when, after a time, Tom and Peggy had a tutor imported for their own
especial benefit, the two families became very friendly indeed.

Dick Temple was a well-set-up and really brave and good-looking lad.
Little Peggy averred that there never had been, or never could be,
another boy half so nice as Dick.

But I may as well state here at once and be done with it--Dick was
simply a reckless, wild dare-devil. Nothing else would suffice to
describe young Dick’s character even at this early age.  And he soon
taught Roland to be as reckless as himself.

                                  ――――

Time rolled on, and the new Burnley Hall was a _fait accompli_.

The site chosen by Tom for his home by the river was a rounded and
wooded hill about a quarter of a mile back from the immediate bank of
the stream. But all the land between the hill and the Amazon was
cultivated, and not only this, but up and down the river as well for
over a mile, for St. Clair wanted to avoid too close contact with
unfriendly alligators, and these scaly reptiles avoid land on which
crops are growing.

The tall trees were first and foremost cleared off the hill; not all
though.  Many of the most beautiful were left for effect, not to say
shade, and it was pleasant indeed to hear the wind whispering through
their foliage, and the bees murmuring in their branches, in this flowery
land of eternal summer.

Nor was the undergrowth of splendid shrubs and bushes and fruit-trees
cleared away.  They were thinned, however, and beautiful broad winding
walks led up through them towards the mansion.

The house was one of many gables; altogether English, built of quartz
for the most part, and having a tower to it of great height.

From this tower one could catch glimpses of the most charming scenery,
up and down the river, and far away on the other shore, where forests
swam in the liquid air and giant hills raised their blue tops far into
the sky.

So well had Tom St. Clair flourished since taking up his quarters here
that his capital was returning him at least one hundred per cent, after
allowing for wear and tear of plant.

I could not say for certain how many white men he had with him.  The
number must have been close on fifty, to say nothing of the scores and
scores of Indians.

Jake Solomons and Burly Bill were his overseers, but they delighted in
hard work themselves, as we have already seen.  So, too, did Roland’s
father himself, and as visitors to the district were few, you may be
certain he never wore a London hat nor evening dress.

Like those of Jake and Bill, his sleeves were always rolled up, and his
muscular arms and brave square face showed that he was fit for anything.
No, a London hat would have been sadly out of place; but the
broad-brimmed Buffalo Bill he wore became him admirably.

That big buzz-saw was a triumph.  The clearing of the forest commenced
from close under the hill where stood the mansion, and strong horses and
bullocks were used to drag the gigantic trees towards the mill.

Splendid timber it was!

No one could have guessed the age of these trees until they were cut
down and sawn into lengths, when their concentric rings might be
counted.

The saw-mill itself was a long way from the mansion-house, with the
villages for the whites and Indians between, but quite separate from
each other.

The habitations of the whites were raised on piles well above the
somewhat damp ground, and steps led up to them.  Two-roomed most of them
were, but that of Jake was of a more pretentious character.  So, too,
was Burly Bill’s hut.

It would have been difficult to say what the Indians lived on.  Cakes,
fruit, fish, and meat of any kind might form the best answer to the
question.  They ate roasted snakes with great relish, and many of these
were of the deadly-poisonous class.  The heads were cut off and buried
first, however, and thus all danger was prevented.  Young alligators
were frequently caught, too, and made into a stew.

The huts these faithful creatures lived in were chiefly composed of
bamboo, timber, and leaves.  Sometimes they caught fire.  That did not
trouble the savages much, and certainly did not keep them awake at
night.  For, had the whole village been burned down, they could have
built another in a surprisingly short time.

When our hero and heroine got lost in the great primeval forest, Burnley
Hall was in the most perfect and beautiful order, and its walks, its
flower-garden, and shrubberies were a most pleasing sight.  All was
under the superintendence of a Scotch gardener, whom St. Clair had
imported for the purpose.

By this time, too, a very large portion of the adjoining forest had been
cut down, and the land on which those lofty trees had grown was under
cultivation.

If the country which St. Clair had made his home was not in reality a
land flowing with milk and honey, it yielded many commodities equally
valuable. Every now and then--especially when the river was more or less
in flood--immense rafts were sent down stream to distant Pará, where the
valuable timber found ready market.

Several white men in boats always went in charge of these, and the boats
served to assist in steering, and towing as well.

These rafts used often to be built close to the river before an expected
rising of the stream, which, when it did come, floated them off and
away.

But timber was not the only commodity that St. Clair sent down from his
great estate.  There were splendid quinine-trees.  There was coca and
cocoa, too.

There was a sugar plantation which yielded the best results, to say
nothing of coffee and tobacco, Brazil-nuts and many other kinds of nuts,
and last, but not least, there was gold.

This latter was invariably sent in charge of a reliable white man, and
St. Clair lived in hope that he would yet manage to position a really
paying gold-mine.

More than once St. Clair had permitted Roland and Peggy to journey down
to Pará on a great raft.  But only at the season when no storms blew.
They had an old Indian servant to cook and "do" for them, and the centre
of the raft was hollowed out into a kind of cabin roofed over with
bamboo and leaves.  Steps led up from this on to a railed platform,
which was called the deck.

Burly Bill would be in charge of boats and all, and in the evenings he
would enter the children’s cabin to sing them songs and tell them
strange, weird tales of forest life.

He had a banjo, and right sweetly could he play. Old Beeboo the Indian,
would invariably light his meerschaum for him, smoking it herself for a
good five minutes first and foremost, under pretence of getting it well
alight.

Beeboo, indeed, was altogether a character.  Both Mr. and Mrs. St. Clair
liked her very much, however, for she had been in the family, and nursed
both Peggy and Roland, from the day they had first come to the country.
As for her age, she might have been any age between five-and-twenty and
one hundred and ten. She was dark in skin--oh, no! not black, but more
of copper colour, and showed a few wrinkles at early morn.  But when
Beeboo was figged out in her nicest white frock and her deep-blue or
crimson blouse, with her hair hanging down in two huge plaits, then,
with the smile that always hovered around her lips and went dancing away
up her face till it flickered about her eyes, she was very pleasant
indeed.  The wrinkles had all flown up to the moon or somewhere, and
Beeboo was five-and-twenty once again.

I must tell you something, however, regarding her, and that is the
worst.  Beeboo came from a race of cannibals who inhabit one of the
wildest and almost inaccessible regions of Bolivia, and her teeth had
been filed by flints into a triangular shape, the form best adapted for
tearing flesh.  She had been brought thence, along with a couple of
wonderful monkeys and several parrots, when only sixteen, by an English
traveller who had intended to make her a present to his wife.

Beeboo never got as far as England, however.  She had watched her
chance, and one day escaped to the woods, taking with her one of the
monkeys, who was an especial favourite with this strange, wild girl.

She was frequently seen for many years after this. It was supposed she
had lived on roots and rats--I’m not joking--and slept at night in
trees.  She managed to clothe herself, too, with the inner rind of the
bark of certain shrubs.  But how she had escaped death from the talons
of jaguars and other wild beasts no one could imagine.

Well, one day, shortly after the arrival of St. Clair, hunters found the
jaguar queen, as they called her, lying in the jungle at the foot of a
tree.

There was a jaguar not far off, and a huge piece of sodden flesh lay
near Beeboo’s cheek, undoubtedly placed there by this strange, wild pet,
while close beside her stood a tapir.

Beeboo was carried to the nearest village, and the tapir followed as
gently as a lamb.  My informant does not know what became of the tapir,
but Beeboo was tamed, turned a Christian too, and never evinced any
inclination to return to the woods.

Yet, strangely enough, no puma nor jaguar would ever even growl or snarl
at Beeboo.

These statements can all be verified.



CHAPTER IV--AWAY DOWN THE RIVER


Before we start on this adventurous cruise, let us take a peep at an
upland region to the south of the Amazon.  It was entirely surrounded by
caoutchouc or india-rubber trees, and it was while wandering through
this dense forest with Jake, and making arrangements for the tapping of
those trees, the juice of which was bound to bring the St. Clairs much
money, that they came upon the rocky table-land where they found the
gold.

This was some months after the strange Indian had found the "babes in
the wood", as Jake sometimes called Roland and Peggy.

"I say, sir, do you see the quartz showing white everywhere through the
bloom of those beautiful flowers?"

"Ugh!" cried St. Clair, as a splendidly-coloured but hideous large snake
hissed and glided away from between his feet.  "Ugh! had I tramped on
that fellow my prospecting would have been all ended."

"True, sir," said Jake; "but about the quartz?"

"Well, Jake."

"Well, Mr. St. Clair, there is gold here.  I do not say that we’ve
struck an El Dorado, but I am certain there is something worth digging
for in this region."

"Shall we try?  You’ve been in Australia.  What say you to a shaft?"

"Good!  But a horizontal shaft carried into the base of this hill or
hummock will, I think, do for the present.  It is only for samples, you
know."

And these samples had turned out so well that St. Clair, after claiming
the whole hill, determined to send Jake on a special message to Pará to
establish a company for working it.

He could take no more labour on his own head, for really he had more
than enough to do with his estate.

No white men were allowed to work at the shaft. Only Indians, and these
were housed on the spot. So that the secret was well kept.

And now the voyage down the river was to be undertaken, and a most
romantic cruise it turned out to be.

St. Clair had ordered a steamer to be built for him in England and sent
out in pieces.  She was called _The Peggy_, after our heroine.  Not very
large--but little over the dimensions of a large steam-launch, in
fact--but big enough for the purpose of towing along the immense raft
with the aid of the current.

Jake was to go with his samples of golden sand and his nuggets; Burly
Bill, also, who was captain of the _Peggy_; and Beeboo, to attend to the
youngsters in their raft saloon.  Brawn was not to be denied; and last,
but not least, went wild Dick Temple.

The latter was to sleep on board the steamer, but he would spend most of
his time by day on the raft.

All was ready at last.  The great raft was floated and towed out far
from the shore.  All the plantation hands, both whites and Indians, were
gathered on the banks, and gave many a lusty cheer as the steamer and
raft got under way.

The last thing that those on shore heard was the sonorous barking of the
great wolf-hound, Brawn.

There was a ring of joy in it, however, that brought hope to the heart
of both Tom St. Clair and his winsome wife.

Well, to our two heroes and to Peggy, not to mention Brawn and Burly
Bill, the cruise promised to be all one joyous picnic, and they set
themselves to make the most of it.

But to Jake Solomons it presented a more serious side.  He was St.
Clair’s representative and trusted man, and his business was of the
highest importance, and would need both tact and skill.

However, there was a long time to think about all this, for the river
does not run more than three miles an hour, and although the little
steamer could hurry the raft along at probably thrice that speed, still
long weeks must elapse before they could reach their destination.

As far as the raft was concerned, this would not be Pará.  She would be
grounded near to a town far higher up stream, and the timber, nuts,
spices, and rubber taken seaward by train.

In less than two days everyone had settled down to the voyage.

The river was very wide and getting wider, and soon scarcely could they
see the opposite shore, except as a long low green cloud on the northern
horizon.

Life on board the raft was for a whole week a most uneventful dreamy
sort of existence.  One day was remarkably like another.  There was the
blue of the sky above, the blue on the river’s great breast, broken,
however, by thousands of lines of rippling silver.

There were strangely beautiful birds flying tack and half-tack around
the steamer and raft, waving trees flower-bedraped--the flowers trailing
and creeping and climbing everywhere, and even dipping their sweet faces
in the water,--flowers of every hue of the rainbow.

Dreamy though the atmosphere was, I would not have you believe that our
young folks relapsed into a state of drowsy apathy.  Far from it.  They
were very happy indeed.  Dick told Peggy that their life, or his, felt
just like some beautiful song-waltz, and that he was altogether so happy
and jolly that he had sometimes to turn out in the middle watch to
laugh.

Peggy had not to do that.

In her little state-room on one side of the cabin, and in a hammock, she
slept as soundly as the traditional top, and on a grass mat on the deck,
with a footstool for a pillow, slumbered Beeboo.

Roland slept on the other side, and Brawn guarded the doorway at the
foot of the steps.

Long before Peggy was awake, and every morning of their aquatic lives,
the dinghy boat took the boys a little way out into mid-stream, and they
stripped and dived, enjoyed a two-minutes’ splash, and got quickly on
board again.

The men always stood by with rifles to shoot any alligator that might be
seen hovering nigh, and more than once reckless Dick had a narrow
escape.

"But," he said one day in his comical way, "one has only once to die,
you know, and you might as well die doing a good turn as any other way."

"Doing a good turn?" said Roland enquiringly.

"Certainly.  Do you not impart infinite joy to a cayman if you permit
him to eat you?"

The boys were always delightfully hungry half an hour before breakfast
was served.

And it was a breakfast too!

Beeboo would be dressed betimes, and have the cloth laid in the saloon.
The great raft rose and fell with a gentle motion, but there was nothing
to hurt, so that the dishes stuck on the cloth without any guard.

Beeboo could bake the most delicious of scones and cakes, and these,
served up hot in a clean white towel, were most tempting; the butter was
of the best and sweetest.  Ham there was, and eggs of the gull, with
fresh fried fish every morning, and fragrant coffee.

Was it not quite idyllic?

The forenoon would be spent on deck under the awning; there was plenty
to talk about, and books to read, and there was the ever-varying
panorama to gaze upon, as the raft went smoothly gliding on, and on, and
on.

Sometimes they were in very deep water close to the bank, for men were
always in the chains taking soundings from the steamer’s bows.

Close enough to admire the flowers that draped the forest trees; close
enough to hear the wild lilt of birds or the chattering of monkeys and
parrots; close enough to see tapirs moving among the trees, watched,
often enough, by the fierce sly eyes of ghastly alligators, that
flattened themselves against rocks or bits of clay soil, looking like a
portion of the ground, but warily waiting until they should see a chance
to attack.

There cannot be too many tapirs, and there cannot be too few alligators.
So our young heroes thought it no crime to shoot these squalid horrors
wherever seen.

But one forenoon clouds banked rapidly up in the southern sky, and soon
the sun was hidden in sulphurous rolling banks of cumulus.

No one who has ever witnessed a thunderstorm in these regions can live
long enough to forget it.

For some time before it came on the wind had gone down completely.  In
yonder great forest there could not have been breeze or breath enough to
stir the pollen on the trailing flowers.  The sun, too, seemed shorn of
its beams, the sky was no longer blue, but of a pale saffron or sulphur
colour.

It was then that giant clouds, like evil beasts bent on havoc and
destruction, began to show head above the horizon.  Rapidly they rose,
battalion on battalion, phalanx on phalanx.

There were low mutterings even now, and flashes of fire in the far
distance.  But it was not until the sky was entirely overcast that the
storm came on in dread and fearful earnest.  At this time it was so
dark, that down in the raft saloon an open book was barely visible.
Then peal after peal, and vivid flash after flash, of blue and crimson
fire lit up forest and stream, striking our heroes and heroine blind, or
causing their eyes for a time to overrun with purple light.

So terrific was the thunder that the raft seemed to rock and shiver in
the sound.

This lasted for fully half an hour, the whole world seeming to be in
flames.

Peggy stood by Dick on the little deck, and he held her arm in his; held
her hand too, for it was cold and trembling.

"Are you afraid?" he whispered, during a momentary lull.

"No, Dick, not afraid, only cold, so cold; take me below."

He did so.

He made her lie down on the little sofa, and covered her with a rug.

All just in time, for now down came the awful rain. It was as if a
water-spout had broken over the seemingly doomed raft, and was sinking
it below the dark waters of the river.

Luckily the boys managed to batten down in time, or the little saloon
would have been flooded.

They lit the lamp, too.

But with the rain the storm seemed to increase in violence, and a strong
wind had arisen and added greatly to the terror of the situation.  Hail
came down as large as marbles, and the roaring and din was now deafening
and terrible.

Then, the wind ceased to blow almost instantaneously.  It did not die
away.  It simply dropped all of a sudden.  Hail and rain ceased shortly
after.

Dick ventured to peep on deck.

It was still dark, but far away and low down on the horizon a streak of
the brightest blue sky that ever he had seen had made its appearance.
It broadened and broadened as the dark canopy of clouds, curtain-like,
was lifted.

"Come up, Peggy.  Come up, Rol.  The storm is going.  The storm has
almost gone," cried Dick; and soon all three stood once more on the
deck.

Away, far away over the northern woods rolled the last bank of clouds,
still giving voice, however, still spitting fire.

But now the sun was out and shining brightly down with a heat that was
fierce, and the raft was all enveloped in mist.

So dense, indeed, was the fog that rose from the rain-soaked raft, that
all the scenery was entirely obscured.  It was a hot vapour, too, and
far from pleasant, so no one was sorry when Burly Bill suddenly appeared
from the lower part of the raft.

"My dear boys," he said heartily, "why, you’ll be parboiled if you stop
here.  Come with me, Miss Peggy, and you, Brawn; I’ll come back for you,
lads. Don’t want to upset the dinghy all among the ’gators, see?"

Bill was back again in a quarter of an hour, and the boys were also
taken on board the boat.

"She’s a right smart little boat as ever was," said Bill; "but if we was
agoin’ to get ’er lip on to the water, blow me tight, boys, if the
’gators wouldn’t board us.  They’m mebbe very nice sociable kind o’
animals, but bust my buttons if I’d like to enter the next world down a
’gator’s gullet."

Beeboo did not mind the steam a bit, and by two o’clock she had as nice
a dinner laid in the raft saloon as ever boy or girl sat down to.

But by this time the timbers were dry once more, and although white
clouds of fog still lay over the low woods, all was now bright and
cheerful.  Yet not more so than the hearts of our brave youngsters.

Courage and sprightliness are all a matter of strength of heart, and you
cannot make yourself brave if your system is below par.  The coward is
really more to be pitied than blamed.

Well, it was very delightful, indeed, to sit on deck and talk, build
castles in the air, and dream daydreams.

The air was cool and bracing now, and the sun felt warm, but by no means
too hot.

The awning was prettily lined with green cloth, the work of Mrs. St.
Clair’s own hands, assisted by the indefatigable Beeboo, and there was
not anything worth doing that she could not put willing, artful hands
to.

The awning was scalloped, too, if that be the woman’s word for the flaps
that hung down a whole foot all round.  "Vandyked" is perhaps more
correct, but then, you see, the sharp corners of the vandyking were all
rounded off.  So I think scalloped must stand, though the word reminds
me strangely of oysters.

But peeping out from under the scalloped awning, and gazing northwards
across the sea-like river, boats under steam could be noticed.
Passengers on board too, both ladies and gentlemen, the former all
rigged out in summer attire.

"Would you like to be on board yonder?" said Dick to Peggy, as the girl
handed him back the lorgnettes.

"No, indeed, I shouldn’t," she replied, with a saucy toss of her pretty
head.

"Well," she added, "if you were there, little Dickie, I mightn’t mind it
so much."

"Little Dick!  Eh?"  Dick laughed right heartily now.

"Yes, little Dickie.  Mind, I am nearly twelve; and after I’m twelve I’m
in my teens, quite an old girl. A child no longer anyhow.  And after I’m
in my teens I’ll soon be sixteen, and then I suppose I shall marry."

"Who will marry you, Peggy?"

This was not very good grammar, but Dick was in downright earnest
anyhow, and his young voice had softened wonderfully.

"Me?" he added, as she remained silent, with her eyes seeming to follow
the rolling tide.

"You, Dick!  Why, you’re only a child!"

"Why, Peggy, I’m fifteen--nearly, and if I live I’m bound to get older
and bigger."

"No, no, Dick, you can marry Beeboo, and I shall get spliced, as the
sailors call it, to Burly Bill."

The afternoon wore away, and Beeboo came up to summon "the chillun" to
tea.

Up they started, forgetting all about budding love, flirtation, and
future marriages, and made a rush for the companion-ladder.

"Wowff--wowff!" barked Brawn, and the ’gators on shore and the tapirs in
the woods lifted heads to listen, while parrots shrieked and monkeys
chattered and scolded among the lordly forest trees.

"Wowff--wowff!" he barked.  "Who says cakes and butter?"

The night fell, and Burly Bill came on board with his banjo, and his
great bass voice, which was as sweet as the tone of a ’cello.

Bill was funnier than usual to-night, and when Beeboo brought him a big
tumbler of rosy rum punch, made by herself and sweetened with honey, he
was merrier still.

Then to complete his happiness Beeboo lit his pipe.

She puffed away at it for some time as usual, by way of getting it in
working order.

"’Spose," she said, "Beeboo not warm de bowl ob de big pipe plenty
proper, den de dear chile Bill take a chill."

"You’re a dear old soul, Beeb," said Bill.

Then the dear old soul carefully wiped the amber mouth-piece with her
apron, and handed Burly Bill his comforter.

The great raft swayed and swung gently to and fro, so Bill sang his pet
sea-song, "The Rose of Allandale". He was finishing that bonnie verse--

    "My life had been a wilderness,
      Unblest by fortune’s gale,
    Had fate not linked my lot to hers,
      The Rose of Allandale",

when all at once an ominous grating was heard coming from beneath the
raft, and motion ceased as suddenly as did Bill’s song.

"Save us from evil!" cried Bill.  "The raft is aground!"



CHAPTER V--A DAY IN THE FOREST WILDS


Burly Bill laid down his banjo.  Then he pushed his great extinguisher
of a thumb into the bowl of his big meerschaum, and arose.

"De good Lawd ha’ mussy on our souls, chillun!" cried Beeboo, twisting
her apron into a calico rope. "We soon be all at de bottom ob de deep,
and de ’gators a-pickin’ de bones ob us!"

"Keep quiet, Beeb, there’s a dear soul!  Never a ’gator’ll get near you.
W’y, look ’ow calm Miss Peggy is.  It be’ant much as’ll frighten she."

Burly Bill could speak good English when he took time, but invariably
reverted to Berkshire when in the least degree excited.

He was soon on board the little steamer.

"What cheer, Jake?" he said.

"Not much o’ that.  A deuced unlucky business. May lose the whole voyage
if it comes on to blow!"

"W’y, Jake, lad, let’s ’ope for the best.  No use givin’ up; be there?
I wouldn’t let the men go to prayers yet awhile, Jake.  Not to make a
bizness on’t like, I means."

Well, the night wore away, but the raft never budged, unless it was to
get a firmer hold of the mud and sand.

A low wind had sprung up too, and if it increased to a gale she would
soon begin to break up.

It was a dreary night and a long one, and few on board the steamer slept
a wink.

But day broke at last, and the sun’s crimson light changed the ripples
on the river from leaden gray to dazzling ruby.

Then the wind fell.

"There are plenty of river-boats, Bill," said Jake. "What say you to
intercept one and ask assistance?"

"Bust my buttons if I would cringe to ne’er a one on ’em!  They’d charge
salvage, and sponge enormous. I knows the beggars as sails these puffin’
Jimmies well."

"Guess you’re about right, Bill, and you know the river better’n I."

"Listen, Jake.  The bloomin’ river got low all at once, like, after the
storm, and so you got kind o’ befoozled, and struck.  I’d a-kept further
out.  But Burly Bill ain’t the man to bully his mate.  On’y listen
again.  The river’ll rise in a day or two, and if the wind keeps in its
sack, w’y we’ll float like a thousand o’ bricks on an old Thames lumper!
Bust my buttons, Jake, if we don’t!"

"Well, Bill, I don’t know anything about the bursting of your buttons,
but you give me hope.  So I’ll go to breakfast.  Tell the engineer to
keep the fires banked."

Two days went past, and never a move made the raft.

It was a wearisome time for all.  The "chillun", as Beeboo called them,
tried to beguile it in the best way they could with reading, talking,
and deck games.

Dick and Roland were "dons" at leap-frog, and it mattered not which of
them was giving the back, but as soon as the other leapt over Brawn
followed suit, greatly to the delight of Peggy.  He jumped in such a
business-like way that everybody was forced to laugh, especially when
the noble dog took a leap that would have cleared a five-barred gate.

But things were getting slow on the third morning, when up sprang Burly
Bill with his cartridge-belt on and his rifle under his arm.

"Cap’n Jake," he said, touching his cap in Royal Navy fashion, "presents
his compliments to the crew of this durned old stack o’ timber, and begs
to say that Master Rolly and Master Dick can come on shore with me for a
run among the ’gators, but that Miss Peggy had better stop on board with
Beeboo.  Her life is too precious to risk!"

"Precious or not precious," pouted the girl, "Miss Peggy’s going, and
Brawn too; so you may tell Captain Jake that."

"Bravo, Miss Peggy! you’re a real St. Clair.  Well, Beeboo, hurry up,
and get the nicest bit of cold luncheon ready for us ever you made in
your life."

"Beeboo do dat foh true.  Plenty quick, too; but oh, Massa Bill, ’spose
you let any ebil ting befall de poh chillun, I hopes de ’gators’ll eat
you up!"

"More likely, Beeb, that we’ll eat them; and really, come to think of
it, a slice off a young ’gator’s tail aint ’arf bad tackle, Beeboo."

An hour after this the boat was dancing over the rippling river.  It was
not the dinghy, but a gig. Burly Bill himself was stroke, and three
Indians handled the other bits of timber, while Roland took the tiller.

The redskins sang a curious but happy boat-lilt as they rowed, and Bill
joined in with his ’cello voice:

    "Ober de watter and ober de sea--ee--ee,
    De big black boat am rowing so free,
      Eee--Eee--O--ay--O!
    De big black boat, is it nuffin’ to me--ee--ee,
    We’re rowing so free?

    "Oh yes, de black boat am some-dings to me
    As she rolls o’er de watter and swings o’er de sea,
    Foh de light ob my life, she sits in de stern,
    An’ sweet am de glance o’ Peggy’s dark e’e,
      Ee--ee--O--ay--O--O!"


"Well steered!" said Burly Bill, as Roland ran the gig on the sandy
beach of a sweet little backwater.

Very soon all were landed.  Bill went first as guide, and the Indians
brought up the rear, carrying the basket and a spare gun or two.

Great caution and care were required in venturing far into this wild,
tropical forest, not so much on account of the beasts that infested it
as the fear of getting lost.

It was very still and quiet here, however, and Bill had taken the
precaution to leave a man in the boat, with orders to keep his weather
ear "lifting", and if he heard four shots fired in rapid succession late
in the afternoon to fire in reply at once.

It was now the heat of the day, however, and the hairy inhabitants of
this sylvan wilderness were all sound asleep, jaguars and pumas among
the trees, and the tapirs in small herds wherever the jungle was
densest.

There was no chance, therefore, of getting a shot at anything.
Nevertheless, the boys and Peggy were not idle.  They had brought
butterfly-nets with them, and the specimens they caught when about five
miles inland, where the forest opened out into a shrub-clad moorland,
were large and glorious in the extreme.

Indeed, some of them would fetch gold galore in the London markets.

But though these butterflies had an immense spread of quaintly-shaped
and exquisitely-coloured wings, the smaller ones were even more
brilliant.

Strange it is that Nature paints these creatures in colours which no
sunshine can fade.  All the tints that man ever invented grow pale in
the sun; these never do, and the same may be said concerning the
tropical birds that they saw so many of to-day.

But no one had the heart to shoot any of these. Why should they soil
such beautiful plumage with blood, and so bring grief and woe into this
love-lit wilderness?

This is not a book on natural history, else gladly would I describe the
beauties in shape and colour of the birds, and their strange manners,
the wary ways adopted in nest-building, and their songs and queer ways
of love-making.

Suffice it to say here that the boys were delighted with all the
tropical wonders and all the picturesque gorgeousness they saw
everywhere around them.

But their journey was not without a spice of real danger and at times of
discomfort.  The discomfort we may dismiss at once.  It was borne, as
Beeboo would say, with Christian "forty-tood", and was due partly to the
clouds of mosquitoes they encountered wherever the soil was damp and
marshy, and partly to the attacks of tiny, almost invisible, insects of
the jigger species that came from the grass and ferns and heaths to
attack their legs.

Burly Bill was an old forester, and carried with him an infallible
remedy for mosquito and jigger bites, which acted like a charm.

In the higher ground--where tropical heath and heather painted the
surface with hues of crimson, pink, and purple--snakes wriggled and
darted about everywhere.

One cannot help wondering why Nature has taken the pains to paint many
of the most deadly of these in colours that rival the hues of the
humming-birds that yonder flit from bush to bush, from flower to flower.

Perhaps it is that they may the more easily seek their prey, their gaudy
coats matching well with the shrubs and blossoms that they wriggle
amongst, while gliding on and up to seize helpless birds in their nests
or to devour the eggs.

Parrots here, and birds of that ilk, have an easy way of repelling such
invaders, for as soon as they see them they utter a scream that
paralyses the intruders, and causes them to fall helplessly to the
ground.

To all creatures Nature grants protection, and clothes them in a manner
that shall enable them to gain a subsistence; but, moreover, every
creature in the world has received from the same great power the means
of defending or protecting itself against the attacks of enemies.

On both sides, then, is Nature just, for though she does her best to
keep living species extant until evolved into higher forms of life, she
permits each species to prey on the overgrowth or overplus of others
that it may live.

Knocking over a heap of soft dry mould with the butt end of his rifle,
Dick started back in terror to see crawl out from the heap a score or
more of the most gigantic beetles anyone could imagine.  These were
mostly black, or of a beautiful bronze, with streaks of metallic blue
and crimson.

They are called harlequins, and live on carrion. Nothing that dies comes
wrong to these monsters, and a few of them will seize and carry away a
dead snake five or six hundred times their own weight. My readers will
see by this that it is not so much muscle that is needed for feats of
strength as indomitable will and nerve force.  But health must be at the
bottom of all.  Were a man, comparatively speaking, as strong as one of
these beetles, he could lift on his back and walk off with a weight of
thirty tons!

Our heroes had to stop every now and then to marvel at the huge working
ants, and all the wondrous proofs of reason they evinced.

It was well to stand off, however, if, with snapping horizontal
mandibles and on business intent, any of these fellows approached.  For
their bites are as poisonous as those of the green scorpions or
centipedes themselves.

What with one thing or another, all hands were attacked by healthy
hunger at last, and sought the shade of a great spreading tree to
satisfy Nature’s demands.

When the big basket was opened it was found that Beeboo had quite
excelled herself.  So glorious a luncheon made every eye sparkle to look
at it.  And the odour thereof caused Brawn’s mouth to water and his eyes
to sparkle with expectancy.

The Indians had disappeared for a time.  They were only just round the
shoulder of a hill, however, where they, too, were enjoying a good feed.

But just as Burly Bill was having a taste from a clear bottle, which, as
far as the look of it went, would have passed for cold tea, two Indian
boys appeared, bringing with them the most delicious of fruits as well
as fresh ripe nuts.

The luncheon after that merged into a banquet.

Burly Bill took many sips of his cold tea.  When I come to think over
it, however, I conclude there was more rum than cold tea in that brown
mixture, or Bill would hardly have smacked his lips and sighed with such
satisfaction after every taste.

The fruit done, and even Brawn satisfied, the whole crew gave themselves
up to rest and meditation.  The boys talked low, because Peggy’s
meditations had led to gentle slumber.  An Indian very thoughtfully
brought a huge plantain leaf which quite covered her, and protected her
from the chequered rays of sunshine that found their way through the
tree.  Brawn edged in below the leaf also, and enjoyed a good sleep
beside his little mistress.

Not a gun had been fired all day long, yet a more enjoyable picnic in a
tropical forest it would be difficult to imagine.

Perhaps the number of the Indians scared the jaguars away, for none
appeared.

Yet the day was not to end without an adventure.

Darkness in this country follows the short twilight so speedily, that
Burly Bill did well to get clear of the forest’s gloom while the sun was
still well above the horizon.

He trusted to the compass and his own good sense as a forester to come
out close to the spot where he had left the boat.  But he was deceived.
He struck the river a good mile and a half above the place where the
steamer lay at anchor and the raft aground on the shoals.

Lower and lower sank the sun.  The ground was wet and marshy, and the
’gators very much in evidence indeed.

Now the tapirs--and droll pig-bodied creatures they look, though in
South America nearly as big as donkeys--are of a very retiring
disposition, but not really solitary animals as cheap books on natural
history would have us believe.  They frequent low woods, where their
long snouts enable them to pull down the tender twigs and foliage on
which, with roots, which they can speedily unearth, they manage to
exist--yes, and to wax fat and happy.

But they are strict believers in the doctrine of cleanliness, and are
never found very far from water. They bathe every night.

Just when the returning picnic was within about half a mile of the boat,
Burly Bill carrying Peggy on his shoulder because the ground was damp, a
terrible scrimmage suddenly took place a few yards round a backwater.

There was grunting, squeaking, the splashing of water, and cries of
pain.

"Hurry on, boys; hurry on; two of you are enough! It’s your show, lads."

The boys needed no second bidding, and no sooner had they opened out the
curve than a strange sight met their gaze.



CHAPTER VI--"NOT ONE SINGLE DROP OF BLOOD SHED"


A gigantic and horribly fierce alligator had seized upon a strong young
tapir, and was trying to drag it into the water.

The poor creature had both its feet set well in front, and was resisting
with all its might, while two other larger animals, probably the
parents, were clawing the cayman desperately with their fore-feet.

But ill, indeed, would it have fared with all three had not our heroes
appeared just in the nick of time.

For several more of these scaly and fearsome reptiles were hurrying to
the scene of action.

Dick’s first shot was a splendid one.  It struck the offending cayman in
the eye, and went crashing through his brain.

The brute gasped, the blood flowed freely, and as he fell on his side,
turning up his yellow belly, the young tapir got free, and was hurried
speedily away to the woods.

Volley after volley was poured in on the enraged ’gators, but the boys
had to retreat as they fought. Had they not done so, my story would have
stopped short just here.

It was not altogether the sun’s parting rays that so encrimsoned the
water, but the blood of those old-world caymans.

Three in all were killed in addition to the one first shot.  So that it
is no wonder the boys felt elated.

Beeboo had supper waiting and there was nothing talked about that
evening except their strange adventures in the beautiful forest.

                                  ――――

Probably no one could sleep more soundly than did our heroes and heroine
that night.

Next day, and next, they went on shore again, and on the third a huge
jaguar, who fancied he would like to dine off Brawn’s shoulder, fell a
victim to Dick Temple’s unerring aim.

But the raft never stirred nor moved for a whole week.

Said Bill to Jake one morning, as he took his meerschaum from his mouth:

"I think, Jake, and w’at I thinks be’s this like. There ain’t ne’er a
morsel o’ good smokin’ and on’y just lookin’ at that fine and valuable
pile o’ timber. It strikes me conclusive like that something ’ad better
be done."

"And what would you propose, Bill?" said Jake.

"Well, Jake, you’re captain like, and my proposition is subject to your
disposition as it were.  But I’d lighten her, and lighten her till she
floats; then tow her off, and build up the odd timbers again."

"Good!  You have a better head than I have, Bill; and it’s you that
should have been skipper, not me."

Nothing was done that day, however, except making a few more attempts
with the steamer at full speed to tow her off.  She did shift and slue
round a little, but that was all.

Next morning dawned as beautifully as any that had gone before it.

There were fleecy clouds, however, hurrying across the sky as if on
business bent, and the blue between them was bluer than ever our young
folks had seen it.

Dick Temple, with Roland and Peggy, had made up their minds to go on
shore for another day while the work of dismantling the raft went on.

But a fierce south wind began to blow, driving heavy black clouds before
it, and lashing the river into foam.

One of those terrible tropic storms was evidently on the cards, and come
it did right soon.

The darkest blackness was away to the west, and here, though no thunder
could be heard, the lightning was very vivid.  It was evident that this
was the vortex of the hurricane, for only a few drops of rain fell
around the raft.

The picnic scheme was of course abandoned, and all waited anxiously
enough for something to come.

That something did come in less than an hour--the descent of the mighty
Amazon in flood.  Its tributaries had no doubt been swollen by the awful
rain and water-spouts, and poured into the great queen of rivers double
their usual discharge.

A bore is a curling wave like a shore breaker that rushes down the
smaller rivers, and is terribly destructive to boating or to shipping.

The Amazon, however, did not rise like this.  It came rushing almost
silently down in a broad tall wave that appeared to stretch right across
it, from the forest-clad bank where the raft lay to the far-off green
horizon in the north.

But Burly Bill was quite prepared for eventualities.

Steam had been got up, the vessel’s bows were headed for up stream, and
the hawser betwixt raft and boat tautened.

On and on rushed the huge wave.  It towered above the raft, even when
fifty yards away, in the most threatening manner, as if about to sweep
all things to destruction.

But on its nearer approach it glided in under the raft, and steamer as
well--like some huge submarine monster such as we read of in fairy books
of the long-long-ago--glided in under them, and seemed to lift them
sky-high.

"Go ahead at full speed!"

It was the sonorous voice of Burly Bill shouting to the engineer.

"Ay, ay, sir!" came the cheery reply.

The screw went round with a rush.

It churned up a wake of foaming water as the _Peggy_ began to forge
ahead, and next minute, driven along on the breeze, the monster raft
began to follow and was soon out and away beyond danger from rock or
shoal.

Then arose to heaven a prayer of thankfulness, and a cheer so loud and
long that even the parrots and monkeys in the forest depths heard it,
and yelled and chattered till they frightened both ’gators and jaguars.

Just two weeks after these adventures, the little _Peggy_ was at anchor,
and the great raft safely beached.

Burly Bill was left in charge with his white men and his Indians, with
Dick Temple to act as supercargo, and Jake Solomons with Roland and
Peggy, not to mention the dog, started off for Pará.

In due course, but after many discomforts, they arrived there, and Jake,
after taking rooms in a hotel, hurried off to secure his despatches from
the post-office.

"No letters!" cried Jake, as his big brown fist came down with a bang on
the counter.  "Why, I see the very documents I came for in the
pigeon-hole behind you!"

The clerk, somewhat alarmed at the attitude of this tall Yankee
backwoodsman, pulled them out and looked at them.

"They cannot be delivered," he said.

"And why?" thundered Jake, "Inasmuch as to wherefore, you greasy-faced
little whipper-snapper!"

"Not sufficient postage."

Jake thrust one hand into a front pocket, and one behind him.  Then on
the counter he dashed down a bag of cash and a six-chambered revolver.

"I’m Jake Solomons," he said.  "There before you lies peace or war.
Hand over the letters, and you’ll have the rhino.  Refuse, and I guess
and calculate I’ll blow the whole top of your head off."

The clerk preferred peace, and Jake strode away triumphant.

When he returned to the hotel and told the boys the story, they laughed
heartily.  In their eyes, Jake was more a hero than ever.

"Ah!" said the giant quietly, "there’s nothing brings these long-shore
chaps sooner to their senses than letting ’em have a squint down the
barrel of a six-shooter."

The letters were all from Mr. St. Clair, and had been lying at the
post-office for over a week.  They all related to business, to the sale
of the timber and the other commodities, the best markets, and so on and
so forth, with hints as to the gold-mine.

But the last one was much more bulky than the others, and so soon as he
had glanced at the first lines, Jake lit his meerschaum, then threw
himself back in his rocker to quietly discuss it.

It was a plain, outspoken letter, such as one man of the world writes to
another.  Here is one extract:--

_Our business is increasing at a rapid rate, Jake Solomon.  I have too
much to do and so have you; therefore, although I did not think it
necessary to inform you before, I have been in communication with my
brother John, and he is sending me out a shrewd, splendid man of
business.  He will have arrived before your return._

_I can trust John thoroughly, and this Don Pedro Salvador, over and
above his excellent business capabilities, can talk Spanish, French, and
Portuguese._

_I do not quite like the name, Jake, so he must be content to be called
plain Mr. Peter._

                                  ――――

About the very time that Jake Solomons was reading this letter, there
sat close to the sky-light of an outward-bound steamer at Liverpool, two
men holding low but earnest conversation.  Their faces were partly
obscured, for it was night, and the only light a glimmer from the ship’s
lamp.

Steam was up and roaring through the pipes.

A casual observer might have noted that one was a slim, swarthy, but
wiry, smart-looking man of about thirty.  His companion was a man
considerably over forty.

"I shall go now," said the latter.  "You have my instructions, and I
believe I can trust you."

"Have I not already given you reason to?" was the rejoinder.  "At the
risk of penal servitude did I not steal my employer’s keys, break into
his room at night, and copy that will for you?  It was but a copy of a
copy, it is true, and I could not discover the original, else the
quickest and simplest plan would have been--fire:"

"True, you did so, but"--the older man laughed lightly--"you were well
paid for the duty you performed."

"Duty, eh?" sneered the other.  "Well," he added, "thank God nothing has
been discovered.  My employer has bidden me an almost affectionate
farewell, and given me excellent certificates."

The other started up as a loud voice hailed the deck:

"Any more for the shore!"

"I am going now," he said.  "Good-bye, old man, and remember my last
words: not one single drop of blood shed!"

"I understand, and will obey to the letter.  Obedience pays."

"True; and you shall find it so.  Good-bye!"

"_A Dios!_" said the other.

The last bell was struck, and the gangway was hauled on shore.

The great ship _Benedict_ was that night rolling and tossing about on
the waves of the Irish Channel.

                                  ――――

Jake Solomons acquainted Roland and Peggy with the contents of this last
letter, and greatly did the latter wonder what the new overseer would be
like, and if she should love him or not.

For Peggy had a soft little heart of her own, and was always prepared to
be friendly with anyone who, according to her idea, was nice.

Jake took his charges all round the city next day and showed them the
sights of what is now one of the most beautiful towns in South America.

The gardens, the fountains, the churches and palaces, the flowers and
fruit, and feathery palm-trees, all things indeed spoke of
delightfulness, and calm, and peace.

And far beyond and behind all this was the boundless forest primeval.

This was not their last drive through the city, and this good fellow
Jake, though his business took him from home most of the day, delighted
to take the children to every place of amusement he could think of.  But
despite all this, these children of the forest wilds began to long for
home, and very much rejoiced were they when one evening, after dinner,
Jake told them they should start on the morrow for Bona Vista, near to
which town the little steamer lay, and so up the great river and home.

Jake had done all his business, and done it satisfactorily, and could
return to the old plantation and Burnley Hall with a light and cheerful
heart.

He had even sold the mine, although it was not to be worked for some
time to come.



CHAPTER VII--"A COLD HAND SEEMED TO CLUTCH HER HEART"


Many months passed away pleasantly and happily enough on the old
plantation.  The children--Roland, by the way, would hardly have liked
to be called a child now--were, of course, under the able tuition of Mr.
Simons, but in addition Peggy had a governess, imported directly from
Pará.

This was a dark-eyed Spanish girl, very piquant and pretty, who talked
French well, and played on both the guitar and piano.

Tom St. Clair had not only his boy’s welfare, but his niece’s, or
adopted daughter’s, also at heart.

It would be some years yet before she arrived at the age of sweet
seventeen, but when she did, her uncle determined to sell off or realize
on his plantation, his goods and chattels, and sail across the seas once
more to dear old Cornwall and the real Burnley Hall.

He looked forward to that time as the weary worker in stuffy towns or
cities does to a summer holiday.

There is excitement enough in money-making, it is like an exhilarating
game of billiards or whist, but it is apt to become tiresome.

And Tom St. Clair was often overtired and weary. He was always glad when
he reached home at night to his rocking-chair and a good dinner, after
toiling all day in the recently-started india-rubber-forest works.

But Mr. Peter took a vast deal of labour off his hands.

Mr. Peter, or Don Pedro, ingratiated himself with nearly everyone from
the first, and seemed to take to the work as if to the manner born.

There were three individuals, however, who could not like him, strange
to say; these were Peggy herself, Benee the Indian who had guided them
through the forest when lost, and who had remained on the estate ever
since, while the third was Brawn, the Irish wolf-hound.

The dog showed his teeth if Peter tried even to caress him.

Both Roland and Dick--the latter was a very frequent visitor--got on
very well with Peter--trusted him thoroughly.

"How is it, Benee," said Roland one day to the Indian, "that you do not
love Don Pedro?"

Benee spat on the ground and stamped his foot.

"I watch he eye," the semi-savage replied.  "He one very bad man.  Some
day you know plenty moochee foh true."

"Well," said Tom one evening as he and his wife sat alone in the
verandah together, "I do long to get back to England.  I am tired, dear
wife--my heart is weak why should we remain here over two years more?
We are wealthy enough, and I promise myself and you, dear, many long
years of health and happiness yet in the old country."

He paused and smoked a little; then, after watching for a few moments
the fireflies that flitted from bush to bush, he stretched his left arm
out and rested his hand on his wife’s lap.

Some impulse seized her.  She took it and pressed it to her lips.  But a
tear trickled down her cheek as she did so.

Lovers still this couple were, though nearly twenty years had elapsed
since he led her, a bonnie, buxom, blushing lassie, to the altar.

But now in a sweet, low, but somewhat sad voice he sang a verse of that
dear old song--"We have lived and loved together":--

    "We have lived and loved together
      Through many changing years,
    We have shared each other’s gladness
      And dried each other’s tears.
    I have never known a sorrow
      That was long unsoothed by thee,
    For thy smile can make a summer
      Where darkness else would be.


Mrs. St. Clair would never forget that evening on the star-lit lawn, nor
the flitting, little fire-insects, nor her husband’s voice.

                                  ――――

Is it not just when we expect it least that sorrow sometimes falls
suddenly upon us, hiding or eclipsing all our promised happiness and
joy?

I have now to write a pitiful part of my too true story, but it must be
done.

Next evening St. Clair rode home an hour earlier.

He complained of feeling more tired than usual, and said he would lie
down on the drawing-room sofa until dinner was ready.

Peggy went singing along the hall to call him at the appointed time.

She went singing into the room.

"Pa, dear," she cried merrily; "Uncle-pa, dinner is all beautifully
ready!"

"Come, Unky-pa.  How sound you sleep!"

Then a terror crept up from the earth, as it were, and a cold hand
seemed to clutch her heart.

She ran out of the room.

"Oh, Auntie-ma!" she cried, "come, come quickly, pa won’t wake, nor
speak!"

Heigho! the summons had come, and dear "Uncle-pa" would never, never
wake again.

This is a short chapter, but it is too sad to continue.

So falls the curtain on the first act of this life-drama.



CHAPTER VIII--FIERCELY AND WILDLY BOTH SIDES FOUGHT


The gloomy event related in last chapter must not be allowed to cast a
damper over our story.

Of course death is always and everywhere hovering near, but why should
boys like you and me, reader, permit that truth to cloud our days or
stand between us and happiness?

Two years, then, have elapsed since poor, brave Tom St. Clair’s death.

He is buried near the edge of the forest in a beautiful enclosure where
rare shrubs grow, and where flowers trail and climb far more beautiful
than any we ever see in England.

At first Mrs. St. Clair had determined to sell all off and go back to
the old country, but her overseer Jake Solomons and Mr. Peter persuaded
her not to, or it seemed that it was their advice which kept her from
carrying out her first intentions.  But she had another reason, she
found she could not leave that lonesome grave yet awhile.

So the years passed on.

The estate continued to thrive.

Roland was now a handsome young fellow in his eighteenth year, and
Peggy, now beautiful beyond compare, was nearly fifteen.

Dick Temple, the bold and reckless huntsman and horseman, was quieter
now in his attentions towards her.  She was no longer the child that he
could lift on to his broad young shoulders and carry, neighing and
galloping like a frightened colt, round and round the lawn.

And Roland felt himself a man.  He was more sober and sedate, and had
taken over all his father’s work and his father’s responsibilities.  But
for all that, lightly enough lay the burden on his heart.

For he had youth on his side, and

    "In the lexicon of youth which fate reserves
    For a bright manhood there is no such word
    As fail".

                                  ――――

I do not, however, wish to be misunderstood.  It must not be supposed
that Roland had no difficulties to contend with, that all his business
life was as fair and serene as a bright summer’s day.  On the contrary,
he had many losses owing to the fluctuations of the markets and the
failures of great firms, owing to fearful storms, and more than once
owing to strikes or revolts among his Indians in the great india-rubber
forest.

But Roland was light-hearted and young, and difficulties in life, I have
often said, are just like nine-pins, they are put up to be bowled over.

Besides, be it remembered that if it were all plain sailing with us in
this world we should not be able to appreciate how really happy our
lives are.  The sky is always bluest ’twixt the darkest clouds.

On the whole, Roland, who took stock, and, with honest Bill and Jake
Solomons, went over the books every quarter, had but little reason to
complain. This stock-taking consumed most of their spare time for the
greater part of a week, and when it was finished Roland invariably gave
a dinner-party, at which I need hardly say his dear friend Dick Temple
was present.  And this was always the happiest of happy nights to Dick,
because the girl he loved more than all things on earth put together was
here, and looked so innocent and beautiful in her simple dresses of
white and blue.

There was no such thing as flirtation here, but Dick was fully and
completely in earnest when he told himself that if he lived till he was
three- or four-and-twenty he would ask Peggy to be his wife.

Ah! there is many a slip ’twixt the cup and the lip.

Dick, I might, could, would, or should have told you before, lived with
a bachelor uncle, who, being rather old and infirm, seldom came out.  He
had good earnest men under him, however, as overseers, and his
plantations were thriving, especially that in which tobacco was
cultivated.

The old man was exceedingly fond of Dick, and Dick would be his heir.

Probably it was for his uncle’s sake that Dick stayed in the
country--and of course for Peggy’s and Roland’s--for, despite its grand
field for sport and adventure, the lad had a strange longing to go to
England and play cricket or football.

He had been born in Britain just as Roland was, and had visited his
childhood’s home more than once during his short life.

Now just about this time Don Pedro, or Mr. Peter as all called him, had
asked for and obtained a holiday.  He was going to Pará for a change, he
said, and to meet a friend from England.

That he did meet a friend from England there was little doubt, but their
interview was a very short one. Where he spent the rest of his time was
best known to himself.

In three months or a little less he turned up smiling again, and most
effusive.

About a fortnight after his arrival he came to Jake one morning pretty
early.

Jake was preparing to start on horseback for the great forest.

"I’m on the horns of a dilemma, Mr. Solomons," he said, laughing his
best laugh.  "During the night about twenty Bolivian Indians have
encamped near to the forest.  They ask for work on the india-rubber
trees.  They are well armed, and all sturdy warriors. They look as if
fighting was more in their line than honest labour."

"Well, Mr. Peter, what is their excuse for being here anyhow?"

"They are bound for the sea-shore at the mouths of the river, and want
to earn a few dollars to help them on."

"Well, where is the other horn of the dilemma?"

"Oh! if I give them work they may corrupt our fellows."

"Then, Mr. Peter, I’d give the whole blessed lot the boot and the sack."

"Ah! now, Mr. Solomons, you’ve got to the other horn.  These savages,
for they are little else, are revengeful."

"We’re not afraid."

"No, we needn’t be were they to make war openly, but they are sly, and
as dangerous as sly.  They would in all probability burn us down some
dark night."

Jake mused for a minute.  Then he said abruptly:

"Let the poor devils earn a few dollars, Mr. Peter, if they are
stony-broke, and then send them on their way rejoicing."

"That’s what I say, too," said Burly Bill, who had just come up.  "I’ve
been over yonder in the starlight. They look deuced uncouth and nasty.
So does a bull-dog, Jake, but is there a softer-hearted, more kindly dog
in all creation?"

So that very day the Indians set to work with the other squads.

The labour connected with the collecting of india-rubber is by no means
very hard, but it requires a little skill, and is irksome to those not
used to such toil.

But labour is scarce and Indians are often lazy, so on the whole Jake
was not sorry to have the new hands, or "serinqueiros" as they are
called.

The india-rubber trees are indigenous and grow in greatest profusion on
that great tributary of the Amazon called the Madeira.  But when poor
Tom St. Clair came to the country he had an eye to business. He knew
that india-rubber would always command a good market, and so he visited
the distant forests, studied the growth and culture of the trees as
conducted by Nature, and ventured to believe that he could improve upon
her methods.

He was successful, and it was not a great many years before he had a
splendid plantation of young trees in his forest, to say nothing of the
older ones that had stood the brunt of many a wild tropical storm.

It will do no harm if I briefly describe the method of obtaining the
india-rubber.  Tiny pots of tin, holding about half a pint, are hung
under an incision in the bark of the tree, and these are filled and
emptied every day, the contents being delivered by the Indian labourers
at the house or hut of an under-overseer.

The sap is all emptied into larger utensils, and a large smoking fire,
made of the nuts of a curious kind of palm called the Motokoo, being
built, the operators dip wooden shovels into the sap, twirling these
round quickly and holding them in the smoke.  Coagulation takes place
very quickly.  Again the shovel is dipped in the sap, and the same
process is repeated until the coagulated rubber is about two inches
thick, when it is cooled, cut, or sliced off, and is ready for the
distant market.

Now, from the very day of their arrival, there was no love lost between
the old and steady hands and this new band of independent and flighty
ones.

The latter were willing enough to slice the bark and to hang up their
pannikins, and they would even empty them when filled, and condescend to
carry their contents to the preparing-house.  But they were lazy in the
extreme at gathering the nuts, and positively refused to smoke the sap
and coagulate it.

It made them weep, they explained, and it was much more comfortable to
lie and wait for the sap while they smoked and talked in their own
strange language.

After a few days the permanent hands refused to work at the same trees,
or even in the same part of the estrados or roads that led through the
plantation of rubber-trees.

A storm was brewing, that was evident.  Nor was it very long before it
burst.

All unconscious that anything was wrong, Peggy, with Brawn, was romping
about one day enjoying the busy scene, Peggy often entering into
conversation with some of her old favourites, when one of the strange
Indians, returning from the tub with an empty tin, happened to tread on
Brawn’s tail.

The dog snarled, but made no attempt to bite. Afraid, however, that he
would spring upon the fellow, Peggy threw herself on the ground,
encircling her arms around Brawn’s shoulders, and it was she who
received the blow that was meant for the dog.

It cut her across the arm, and she fainted with pain.

Brawn sprang at once upon his man and brought him down.

[Illustration: "BRAWN SPRANG AT ONCE UPON HIS MAN"]

He shook the wretch as if he had been but a rat, and blood flowed
freely.

Burly Bill was not far off, and just as the great hound had all but
fixed the savage by the windpipe, which he would undoubtedly have torn
out, Bill pulled him off by the collar and pacified him.

The blood-stained Indian started to his legs to make good his retreat,
but as his back was turned in flight, Bill rushed after him and dealt
him a kick that laid him prone on his face.

This was the signal for a general mêlée, and a terrible one it was!

Bill got Peggy pulled to one side, and gave her in charge to Dick, who
had come thundering across on his huge horse towards the scene of
conflict.

Under the shelter of a spreading tree Dick lifted his precious charge.
But she speedily revived when he laid her flat on the ground.  She
smiled feebly and held out her hand, which Dick took and kissed, the
tears positively trickling over his cheeks.

Perhaps it was a kind of boyish impulse that caused him to say what he
now said:

"Oh, Peggy, my darling, how I love you!  Whereever you are, dear,
wherever I am--oh, always think of me a little!"

That was all.

A faint colour suffused Peggy’s cheek for just a moment.  Then she sat
up, and the noble hound anxiously licked her face.

But she had made no reply.

Meanwhile the mêlée went merrily on, as a Donnybrook Irishman might
remark.

Fiercely and wildly both sides fought, using as weapons whatsoever came
handiest.

But soon the savages were beaten and discomfited with, sad to tell, the
loss of one life--that of a savage.

Not only Jake himself, but Roland and Mr. Peter were now on the scene of
the recent conflict.  Close to Peter’s side, watching every movement of
his lips and eyes, stood Benee, the Indian who had saved the children.

Several times Peter looked as if he felt uneasy, and once he turned
towards Benee as if about to speak.

He said nothing, and the man continued his watchful scrutiny.

After consulting for a short time together, Jake and Roland, with Burly
Bill, determined to hold a court of inquiry on the spot.

But, strange to say, Peter kept aloof.  He continued to walk to and fro,
and Benee still hung in his rear. But this ex-savage was soon called
upon to act as interpreter if his services should be needed, which they
presently were.

Every one of the civilized Indians had the same story to tell of the
laziness and insolence of the Bolivians, and now Jake ordered the chief
of the other party to come forward.

They sulked for a short time.

But Jake drew his pistols, and, one in each hand, stepped out and
ordered all to the front.

They made no verbal response to the questions put to them through Benee.
Their only reply was scowling.

"Well, Mr. St. Clair," said Jake, "my advice is to pay these rascals and
send them off."

"Good!" said Roland.  "I have money."

The chief was ordered to draw nearer, and the dollars were counted into
his claw-like fist.

The fellow drew up his men in a line and gave to each his pay, reserving
his own.

Then at a signal, given by the chief, there was raised a terrible
war-whoop and howl.

The chief spat on his dollars and dashed them into a neighbouring pool.
Every man did the same.

Roland was looking curiously on.  He was wondering what would happen
next.

He had not very long to wait, for with his foot the chief turned the
dead man on his back, and the blood from his death-stab poured out
afresh.

He dipped his palm in the red stream and held it up on high.  His men
followed his example.

Then all turned to the sun, and in one voice uttered just one word,
which, being interpreted by Benee, was understood to mean--REVENGE!

They licked the blood from their hands, and, turning round, marched in
silence and in single file out and away from the forest and were seen no
more.



CHAPTER IX--THAT TREE IN THE FOREST GLADE


The things, the happenings, I have now to tell you of in this chapter
form the turning-point in our story.

Weeks passed by after the departure of that mysterious band of savages,
and things went on in the same old groove on the plantation.

Whence the savages had come, or whither they had gone, none could tell.
But all were relieved at their exit, dramatic and threatening though it
had been.

The hands were all very busy now everywhere, and one day, it being the
quarter’s end, after taking stock Roland gave his usual dinner-party,
and a ball to his natives.  These were all dressed out as gaily as gaily
could be.  The ladies wore the most tawdry of finery, most of which they
had bought, or rather had had brought them by their brothers and lovers
from Pará, and nothing but the most pronounced evening dress did any
"lady of colour" deign to wear.

Why should they not ape the quality, and "poh deah Miss Peggy".

Peggy was very happy that evening, and so I need hardly say was Dick
Temple.  Though he never had dared to speak of love again, no one could
have looked at those dark daring eyes of his and said it was not there.

It must have been about eleven by the clock and a bright moonlight night
when Dick started to ride home.  He knew the track well, he said, and
could not be prevailed upon to stay all night.  Besides, his uncle
expected him.

The dinner and ball given to the plantation hands had commenced at
sunset, or six o’clock, and after singing hymns--a queer finish to a
most hilarious dance--all retired, and by twelve of the clock not a
sound was to be heard over all the plantation save now and then the
mournful cry of the shriek-owl or a plash in the river, showing that the
’gators preferred a moonshiny night to daylight itself.

The night wore on, one o’clock, two o’clock chimed from the turret on
Burnley Hall, and soon after this, had anyone been in the vicinity he
would have seen a tall figure, wrapped in cloak and hood, steal away
from the house adown the walks that led from the flowery lawns.  The
face was quite hidden, but several times the figure paused, as if to
listen and glance around, then hurried on once more, and finally
disappeared in the direction of the forest.

Peggy’s bedroom was probably the most tastefully-arranged and
daintily-draped in the house, and when she lay down to-night and fell
gently asleep, very sweet indeed were the dreams that visited her
pillow. The room was on a level with the river lawn, on to which it
opened by a French or casement window. Three o’clock!

The moon shone on the bed, and even on the girl’s face, but did not
awaken her.

A few minutes after this, and the casement window was quietly opened,
and the same cloaked figure, which stole away from the mansion an hour
before, softly entered.

It stood for more than half a minute erect and listening, then, bending
low beside the bed, listened a moment there.

Did no spectral dream cross the sleeping girl’s vision to warn her of
the dreadful fate in store for her?

Had she shrieked even now, assistance would have been speedily
forthcoming, and she might have been saved!

But she quietly slumbered on.

Then the dark figure retreated as it had come, and presently another and
more terrible took its place--a burly savage carrying a blanket or rug.

First the girl’s clothing and shoes, her watch and all her trinkets,
were gathered up and handed to someone on the lawn.

Then the savage, approaching the bed with stealthy footsteps, at once
enveloped poor Peggy in the rug and bore her off.

For a moment she uttered a muffled moan or two, like a nightmare scream,
then all was still as the grave.

                                  ――――

"Missie Peggy!  Missie Peggy," cried Beeboo next morning at eight as she
entered the room.  "What for you sleep so long?  Ah!" she added
sympathizingly, still holding the door-knob in her hand.  "Ah! but den
the poh chile very tired.  Dance plenty mooch las’ night, and--"

She stopped suddenly.

Something unusual in the appearance of the bed attire attracted her
attention and she speedily rushed towards it.

She gave vent at once to a loud yell, and Roland himself, who was
passing near, ran in immediately.

He stood like one in a state of catalepsy, with his eyes fixed on the
empty bed.  But he recovered shortly.

"Oh, this is a fearful day!" he cried, and hastened out to acquaint Jake
and Bill, both of whom, as well as Mr. Peter, slept in the east wing of
the mansion.

He ran from door to door knocking very loud and shouting: "Awake, awake,
Peggy has gone!  She has been kidnapped, and the accursed savages have
had their revenge!"

In their pyjamas only, Jake and Bill appeared, and after a while Mr.
Peter, fully dressed.

He looked sleepy.

"I had too much wine last night," he said, with a yawn, "and slept very
heavily all night.  But what is the matter?"

He was quietly and quickly informed.

"This is indeed a fearful blow, but surely we can trace the scoundrels!"

"Boys, hurry through with your breakfast," said Roland.  "Jake, I will
be back in a few minutes."

He whistled shrilly and Brawn came rushing to his side.

"Follow me, Brawn."

His object was to find out in which direction the savages had gone.

Had Brawn been a blood-hound he could soon have picked up the scent.

As it was, however, his keen eyes discovered the trail on the lawn, and
led him to the gate.  He howled impatiently to have it opened, then
bounded out and away towards the forest in a westerly and southerly
direction, which, if pursued far enough, would lead towards Bolivia,
along the wild rocky banks of the Madeira River.

It was a whole hour before Brawn returned.  He carried something in his
mouth.  He soon found his master, and laid the something gently down at
his feet, stretching himself--grief-stricken--beside it.

It was one of Peggy’s boots, with a white silk stocking in it, drenched
in blood.

The white men and Indians were now fully aroused, and, leaving Jake in
charge of the estate, Roland picked out thirty of the best men, armed
them with guns, and placed them under the command of Burly Bill.  Then
they started off in silence, Roland and Burly mounted, the armed whites
and Indians on foot.

Brawn went galloping on in front in a very excited manner, often
returning and barking wildly at the horses as if to hurry them on.

Throughout that forenoon they journeyed by the trail, which was now
distinct enough, and led through the jungle and forest.

They came out on to a clearing about one o’clock. Here was water in
abundance, and as they were all thoroughly exhausted, they threw
themselves down by the spring to quench their thirst and rest.

Bill made haste now to deal out the provisions, and after an hour,
during which time most of them slept, they resumed their journey.

A mile or two farther on they came to a sight which almost froze their
blood.

In the middle of a clearing or glade stood a great tree.  It was
hollowed out at one side, and against this was still a heap of
half-charred wood, evidently the remains of a fierce fire, though every
ember had died black out.

Here was poor Peggy’s other shoe.  That too was bloody.

And here was a pool of coagulated blood, with huge rhinoceros beetles
busy at their work of excavation.  Portions or rags of dress also!

It was truly an awful sight!

Roland reined up his horse, and placed his right hand over his eyes.

"Bill," he managed to articulate, "can you have the branches removed,
and let us know the fearful worst?"

Burly Bill gave the order, and the Indians tossed the half-burned wood
aside.

Then they pulled out bone after bone of limbs, of arms, of ribs.  But
all were charred almost into cinders!

Roland now seemed to rise to the occasion.

He held his right arm on high.

"Bill," he cried; "here, under the blazing sun and above the remains,
the dust of my dead sister, I register a vow to follow up these fiends
to their distant homes, if Providence shall but lead us aright, and to
slay and burn every wretch who has aided or abetted this terrible deed!"

"I too register that vow," said Bill solemnly.

"And I, and I!" shouted the white men, and even the Indians.

They went on again once more, after burying the charred bones and dust.

But the trail took them to a ford, and beyond the stream there was not
the imprint of even a single footstep.

The retiring savages must either have doubled back on their tracks or
waded for miles up or down the rocky stream before landing.

Nothing more could be done to-day, for the sun was already declining,
and they must find their way out of the gloom of the forest before
darkness.  So the return journey was made, and just as the sun’s red
beams were crimsoning the waters of the western river, they arrived once
more at the plantation and Burnley Hall.

The first to meet them was Peter himself.  He seemed all anxiety.

"What have you found?" he gasped.

It was a moment or two before Roland could reply.

"Only the charred remains of my poor sister!" he said at last, then
compressed his mouth in an effort to keep back the tears.

The Indian who took so lively an interest in Mr. Peter was not far away,
and was watching his man as usual.

None noticed, save Benee himself, that Mr. Peter heaved something very
like a sigh of relief as Roland’s words fell on his ears.

Burnley Hall was now indeed a castle of gloom; but although poor Mrs.
St. Clair was greatly cast down, the eager way in which Roland and Dick
were making their preparations to follow up the savage Indians, even to
the confines or interior, if necessary, of their own domains, gave her
hope.

Luckily they had already found a clue to their whereabouts, for one of
the civilized Bolivians knew that very chief, and indeed had come from
the same far-off country.  He described the people as a race of
implacable savages and cannibals, into whose territory no white man had
ever ventured and returned alive.

Were they a large tribe?  No, not large, not over three or four
thousand, counting women and children. Their arms?  These were spears
and broad two-bladed knives, with great slings, from which they could
hurl large stones and pieces of flint with unerring accuracy, and bows
and arrows.  And no number of white men could stand against these unless
they sheltered themselves in trenches or behind rocks and trees.

This ex-cannibal told them also that the land of this terrible tribe
abounded in mineral wealth, in silver ore and even in gold.

For this information Roland cared little; all he wished to do was to
avenge poor Peggy’s death.  If his men, after the fighting, chose to lay
out claims he would permit a certain number of them to do so, their
names to be drawn by ballot.  The rest must accompany the expedition
back.

Dick’s uncle needed but little persuasion to give forty white men, fully
armed and equipped, to swell Roland’s little army of sixty whites.
Besides these, they would have with them carriers and
ammunition-bearers--Indians from the plantations.

Dick was all life and fire.  If they were successful, he himself, he
said, would shoot the murderous chief, or stab him to the heart.

A brave show indeed did the little army make, when all mustered and
drilled, and every man there was most enthusiastic, for all had loved
poor lost Peggy.

"I shall remain at my post here, I suppose," said Mr. Peter.

"If I do not alter my mind I shall leave you and Jake, with Mr. Roberts,
the tutor, to manage the estate in my absence," said Roland.

He did alter his mind, and, as the following will show, he had good
occasion to do so.

One evening the strange Indian Benee, between whom and Peter there
existed so much hatred, sought Roland out when alone.

"Can I speakee you, all quiet foh true?"

"Certainly, my good fellow.  Come into my study. Now, what is it you
would say?"

"Dat Don Pedro no true man!  I tinkee much, and I tinkee dat."

"Well, I know you don’t love each other, Benee; but can you give me any
proofs of his villainy?"

"You letee me go to-night all myse’f alone to de bush.  I tinkee I bring
you someding strange.  Some good news.  Ha! it may be so!"

"I give you leave, and believe you to be a faithful fellow."

Benee seized his master’s hand and bent down his head till his brow
touched it.

Next moment he was gone.

Next morning he was missed.

"Your pretty Indian," said Mr. Peter, with an ill-concealed sneer, "is a
traitor, then, after all, and a spy, and it was no doubt he who
instigated the abduction and the murder, for the sake of revenge, of
your poor little sister."

"That remains to be seen, Mr. Peter.  If he, or anyone else on the
plantation, is a traitor, he shall hang as high as Haman."

Peter cowered visibly, but smiled his agitation off.

And that same night about twelve, while Roland sat smoking on the lawn
with Dick, all in the moonlight, everyone else having retired--smoking
and talking of the happy past--suddenly the gate hinges creaked, and
with a low growl Brawn sprang forward. But he returned almost
immediately, wagging his tail and being caressed by Benee himself.

Silently stood the Indian before them, silently as a statue, but in his
left hand he carried a small bundle bound up in grass.  It was not his
place to speak first, and both young men were a little startled at his
sudden appearance.

"What, Benee! and back so soon from the forest?"

"Benee did run plenty quickee.  Plenty jaguar want eat Benee, but no can
catchee."

"Well?"

"I would speekee you bof boys in de room."

The two started up together.

Here was some mystery that must be unravelled.



CHAPTER X--BENEE MAKES A STRANGE DISCOVERY


Benee followed them into Roland’s quiet study, and placed his strange
grass-girt bundle on a cane chair.

Roland gave him a goblet of wine-and-water, which he drank eagerly, for
he was faint and tired.

"Now, let us hear quickly what you have to say, Benee."

The Indian came forward, and his words, though uttered with some
vehemence, and accompanied by much gesticulation, were delivered in
almost a whisper.

It would have been impossible for any eavesdropper in the hall to have
heard.

"Wat I tellee you ’bout dat Peter?" he began.

"My good friend," said Roland, "Peter accuses you of being a spy and
traitor."

"I killee he!"

"No, you will not; if Peter is guilty, I will see that justice overtakes
him."

"Well, ’fore I go, sah, I speakee you and say I bringee you de good
news."

"Tell us quickly!" said Dick in a state of great excitement.

"Dis, den, is de good news: Missie Peggy not dead! No, no!"

"Explain, Benee, and do not raise false hopes in our breasts."

"De cannibals make believe she murder; dat all is."

"But have we not found portions of her raiment, her blood-dripping
stockings, and also her charred remains?"

"Listen, sah.  Dese cannibals not fools.  Dey beat you plenty of trail,
so you can easily find de clearing where de fire was.  Dey wis’ you to
go to dat tree to see de blood, de shoe, and all.  But when you seekee
de trail after, where is she?  Tellee me dat.  Missie Peggy no murder.
No, no.  She am carried away, far away, as one prisint to de queen ob de
cannibals."

"What were the bones, my good Benee?"

Then Benee opened his strange bundle, and there fell on the floor the
half-burned skull and jaws of a gigantic baboon.

"I find dat hid beside de tree.  Ha, ha!"

"It is all clear now," said Roland.  "My dear, faithful Benee," he
continued, "can you guide us to the country of the cannibals?  You will
meet your reward, both here and hereafter."

"I not care.  I lub Missie Peggy.  Ah, she come backee once moh, foh
true!"

And now Dick Temple, the impulsive, must step forward and seize Benee by
the hand.  "God bless you!" he said; and indeed it was all he could say.

When the Indian had gone, Roland and Dick drew closer together.

"The mystery," said the former, "seems to me, Dick, to be as dark and
intricate as ever.  I can understand the savages carrying poor Peggy
away, but why the tricky deceit, the dropped shoe that poor, noble Brawn
picked up, the pool of blood, the rent and torn garments, and the
half-charred bones?"

"Well, I think I can see through that, Roland.  I believe it was done to
prevent your further pursuit; for, as Benee observes, the trail is left
plainly enough for even a white man to see as far as the ’fire-tree’ and
on to the brook.  But farther there is none."

"Well, granting all this; think you, Dick, that no one instigated them,
probably even suggested the crime and the infernal deceit they have
practised?"

"Now you are thinking of, if not actually accusing, Mr. Peter?"

"I am, Dick.  I have had my suspicions of him ever since a month after
he came.  It was strange how Benee hated him from the beginning, to say
nothing of Brawn, the dog, and our dear lost Peggy."

"Cheer up!" said Dick.  "Give Peter a show, though things look dark
against him."

"Yes," said Roland sternly, "and with us and our expedition he must and
shall go.  We can watch his every move, and if I find that he is a
villain, may God have mercy on his soul!  His body shall feed the
eagles."

Dick Temple was a wild and reckless boy, it is true, and always first,
if possible, in any adventure which included a spice of danger, but he
had a good deal of common sense notwithstanding.

He mused a little, and rolled himself a fresh cigarette before he
replied.

"Your Mr. Peter," he said, "may or may not be guilty of duplicity,
though I do not see the _raison d’être_ for any such conduct, and I
confess to you that I look upon lynching as a wild kind of justice.  At
the same time I must again beg of you, Roland, to give the man a decent
show."

"Here is my hand on that, Dick.  He shall have justice, even should that
just finish with his dangling at a rope’s end."

The two shortly after this parted for the night, each going to his own
room, but I do not think that either of them slept till long past
midnight.

They were up in good time, however, for the bath, and felt invigorated
and hungry after the dip.

They were not over-merry certainly, but Mrs. St. Clair was quite
changed, and just a little hysterically hilarious.  For as soon as he
had tubbed, Roland had gone to her bedroom and broken the news to her
which Benee had brought.

That same forenoon Dick and Roland rode out to the forest.

They could hear the boom and shriek and roar of the great buzz-saw long
before they came near the white-men’s quarters.

They saw Jake,--and busy enough he was too,--and told him that they had
some reason to doubt the honesty or sincerity of Mr. Peter, and that
they would take him along with them.

"Thank God!" said Jake most fervently.  "I myself cannot trust a man
whom a dog like Brawn and a savage like Benee have come to hate."

By themselves that day the young fellows completed their plans, and all
would now be ready to advance in a week’s time.

That same day, however, on parade and in presence of Mr. Peter, Roland
made a little speech.

"We are going," he said, "my good fellows, on a very long and
adventurous journey.  Poor Miss Peggy is, as we all know" (this was
surely a fib that would be forgiven) "dead and gone, but we mean to
follow these savages up to their own country, and deal them such a blow
as will paralyse them for years.  Yellow Charlie yonder is himself one
of their number, but he has proved himself faithful, and has offered to
be our guide as soon as we enter unknown regions.

"I have," he added, "perfect faith in my white men, faith in Mr. Peter,
whom I am taking with me--"

Peter took a step forward as if to speak, but Roland waved him back.

"And I know my working Indians will prove themselves good men and true.

"After saying this, it is hardly necessary to add that if anyone is
found attempting to desert our column, even should it be Burly Bill
himself" (Burly Bill laughed outright), "he will be shot down as we
would shoot a puma or alligator."

There was a wild cheer after Roland stepped down from the balcony, and
in this Mr. Peter seemed to join so heartily that Roland’s heart smote
him.

For perhaps, after all, he had been unkind in thought to this man.

Time alone would tell.

The boys determined to leave nothing to chance, but ammunition was of
even more importance than food.  They hoped to find water everywhere,
and the biscuits carried, with the roots they should dig, would serve to
keep the expedition alive and healthy, with the aid of their good guns.

Medicine was not forgotten, nor medical comforts.

For three whole days Roland trained fast-running Indians to pick up a
trail.  A man would be allowed to have three miles’ start, and then,
when he was quite invisible, those human sleuth-hounds would be let
loose, and they never failed to bring back their prisoner after a time.

One man at least was much impressed by these trials of skill.

Just a week before the start, and late in the evening, Benee once more
presented himself before our young heroes.

"I would speakee you!"

"Well, Benee, say what you please, but all have not yet retired.  Dick,
get out into the hall, and warn us if anyone approaches."

Dick jumped up, threw his cigarette away, and did as he was told.

"Thus I speakee you and say," said Benee.  "You trustee I?"

"Assuredly!"

"Den you let me go?"

"How and where?"

"I go fast as de wind, fleeter dan de rain-squall, far ober de mountains
ob Madeira, far froo’ de wild, dark forest.  I heed noting, I fear
noting.  No wil’ beas’ makee Benee ’fraid.  I follow de cannibals.  I
reach de country longee time ’foh you.  I creepee like one snake to de
hut ob poh deah Peggy.  She no can fly wid me, but I ’sure her dat you
come soon, in two moon p’laps, or free.  I make de chile happy.  Den I
creep and glide away again all samee one black snake, and come back to
find you.  I go?"

Roland took the man’s hand.  Savage though he was, there was kindness
and there was undoubted sincerity in those dark, expressive eyes, and
our hero at once gave the permission asked.

"But," he said, "the way is long and dangerous, my good Benee, so here I
give you two long-range six-shooters, a repeating-rifle, and a box of
cartridges. May God speed your journey, and bring you safely back with
news that shall inspire our hearts!  Go!"

Benee glided away as silently as he had come, and next morning his place
was found empty.  But would their trust in this man reap its reward,
or--awful doubt--was Benee false?

Next night but one something very strange happened.

All was silent in and around Burnley Hall, and the silvery tones of the
great tower clock had chimed the hour of three, when the window of Mr.
Peter’s room was silently opened, and out into the moonlight glided the
man himself.

He carried in his hand a heavy grip-sack, and commenced at once taking
the path that led downwards to the river.

Here lay the dinghy boat drawn up on the beach. She was secured with
padlock and chain, but all Roland’s officers carried keys.

It was about a quarter of a mile to the river-side, and Peter was
proceeding at a fairly rapid rate, considering the weight of his
grip-sack.

He had a habit of talking to himself.  He was doing so now.

"I have only to drop well down the river and intercept a steamer.  It is
this very day they pass, and--"

Two figures suddenly glided from the bush and stood before him.

One sprang up behind, whom he could not see.

"Good-morning, Mr. Peter!  Going for a walk early, aren’t you?  It’s
going to turn out a delightful day, I think."

They were white men.

"Here!" cried Peter, "advance but one step, or dare to impede my
progress, and you are both dead men! I am a good shot, and happen, as
you see, to have the draw on you."

Next moment his right arm was seized from behind, the men in front
ducked, and the first shot went off in the air.

"Here, none o’ that, guv’nor!" said a set, determined voice.

The revolver was wrenched from his grasp, and he found himself on his
back in the pathway.

"It is murder you’d be after!  Eh?"

"Not so, my good fellow," said Peter.  "I will explain."

"Explain, then."

"My duties are ended with Mr. Roland St. Clair. He owes me one month’s
wages.  I have forfeited that and given warning, and am going.  That is
all."

"You are going, are you?  Well, we shall see about that."

"Yes, you may, and now let me pass on my peaceful way."

"He! he! he!  But tell us, Mr. Peter, why this speedy departure?  Hast
aught upon thy conscience, or hast got a conscience?"

Peter had risen to his feet.

"Merely this.  I claim the privilege of every working man, that of
giving leave.  I am not strong, and I dread the long journey Mr. St.
Clair and his little band are to take."

"But," said the other, "you came in such a questionable shape, and we
were here to watch for stragglers, not of course thinking for a moment,
Mr. Peter, that your French window would be opened, and that you
yourself would attempt to take French leave.

"Now you really must get back to your bedroom, guv’nor, and see Mr. St.
Clair in the morning.  My mates will do sentry-go at your window, and I
shall be by your door in case you need anything.  It is a mere matter of
form, Mr. Peter, but of course we have to obey orders.  Got ere a drop
of brandy in your flask?"

Peter quickly produced quite a large bottle.  He drank heavily himself
first, and then passed it round.

But the men took but little, and Mr. Peter, half-intoxicated, allowed
himself to be conducted to bed.

When these sentries gave in their report next morning to Roland, Mr.
Peter did not rise a deal in the young fellow’s estimation.

"It only proves one thing," he said to Dick.  "If Peter is so anxious to
give us the slip, we must watch him well until we are far on the road
towards the cannibals’ land."

"That’s so," returned Dick Temple.

Not a word was said to Peter regarding his attempted flight when he sat
down to breakfast with the boys, and naturally enough he believed it had
not been reported.  Indeed he had some hazy remembrance of having
offered the sentries a bribe to keep dark.

Mr. Peter ate very sparingly, and looked sadly fishy about the eyes.

But he made no more attempts to escape just then.



CHAPTER XI--ALL ALONE IN THE WILDERNESS


That Benee was a good man and true we have little reason to doubt, up to
the present time at all events.

Yet Dick Temple was, curiously enough, loth to believe that Mr. Peter
was other than a friend.  And nothing yet had been proved against him.

"Is it not natural enough," said he to Roland, "that he should funk--to
put it in fine English--the terrible expedition you and I are about to
embark upon?  And knowing that you have commanded him to accompany us
would, in my opinion, be sufficient to account for his attempt to escape
and drop down the river to Pará, and so home to his own country.
Roland, I repeat, we must give the man a show."

"True," said Roland, "and poor Benee is having his show.  Time alone can
prove who the traitor is.  If it be Benee he will not return.  On the
contrary, he will join the savage captors of poor Peggy, and do all in
his power to frustrate our schemes."

No more was said.

But the preparations were soon almost completed, and in a day or two
after this, farewells being said, the brave little army began by forced
marches to find its way across country and through dense forests and
damp marshes, and over rocks and plains, to the Madeira river, high
above its junction with the great Amazon.

                                  ――――

Meanwhile let us follow the lonely Indian in his terrible journey to the
distant and unexplored lands of Bolivia.

Like all true savages, he despised the ordinary routes of traffic or
trade; his track must be a bee-line, guiding himself by the sun by day,
but more particularly by the stars by night.

Benee knew the difference betwixt stars and planets. The latter were
always shifting, but certain stars--most to him were like lighthouses to
mariners who are approaching land--shone over the country of the
cannibals, and he could tell from their very altitude how much progress
he was making night after night.

So lonesome, so long, was his thrice dreary journey, that had it been
undertaken by a white man, in all probability he would soon have been a
raving maniac.

But Benee had all the cunning, all the daring, and all the wisdom of a
true savage, and for weeks he felt a proud exhilaration, a glorious
sense of freedom and happiness, at being once more his own master, no
work to do, and hope ever pointing him onwards to his goal.

What was that goal? it may well be asked.  Was Benee disinterested?  Did
he really feel love for the white man and the white man’s children?  Can
aught save selfishness dwell in the breast of a savage?  In brief, was
it he who had been the spy, he who was the guilty man; or was it Peter
who was the villain? Look at it in any light we please, one thing is
certain, this strange Indian was making his way back to his own country
and to his own friends, and Indians are surely not less fond of each
other than are the wild beasts who herd together in the forest, on the
mountain-side, or on the ice in the far-off land of the frozen north.
And well we know that these creatures will die for each other.

If there was a mystery about Peter, there was something approaching to
one about Benee also.

But then it must be remembered that since his residence on the St. Clair
plantation, Benee had been taught the truths of that glorious religion
of ours, the religion of love that smoothes the rugged paths of life for
us, that gives a silver lining to every cloud of grief and sorrow, and
gilds even the dark portals of death itself.

Benee believed even as little children do.  And little Peggy in her
quiet moods used to tell him the story of life by redemption in her
almost infantile way.

For all that, it is hard and difficult to vanquish old superstitions,
and this man was only a savage at heart after all, though, nevertheless,
there seemed to be much good in his rough, rude nature, and you may
ofttimes see the sweetest and most lovely little flowers growing on the
blackest and ruggedest of rocks.

Well, this journey of Benee’s was certainly no sinecure.  Apart even
from all the dangers attached to it, from wild beasts and wilder men, it
was one that would have tried the hardest constitution, if only for the
simple reason that it was all a series of forced marches.

There was something in him that was hurrying him on and encouraging him
to greater and greater exertions every hour.  His daily record depended
to a great extent on the kind of country he had to negotiate.  He began
with forty miles, but after a time, when he grew harder, he increased
this to fifty and often to sixty.  It was at times difficult for him to
force his way through deep, dark forest and jungle, along the winding
wild-beast tracks, past the beasts themselves, who hid in trees ready to
spring had he paused but a second; through marshes and bogs, with here
and there a reedy lake, on which aquatic birds of brightest colours
slept as they floated in the sunshine, but among the long reeds of which
lay the ever-watchful and awful cayman.

In such places as these, I think Benee owed his safety to his utter
fearlessness and sang-froid, and to the speed at which he travelled.

It was not a walk by any means, but a strange kind of swinging trot.
Such a gait may still be seen in far-off outlying districts of the
Scottish Highlands, where it is adopted by postal "runners", who
consider it not only faster but less tiresome than walking.

For the first hundred miles, or more, the lonely traveller found himself
in a comparatively civilized country.  This was not very much to his
liking, and as a rule he endeavoured to give towns and villages, and
even rubber forests, where Indians worked under white men overseers, a
wide berth.

Yet sometimes, hidden in a tree, he would watch the work going on; watch
the men walking hither and thither with their pannikins, or deftly
whirling the shovels they had dipped in the sap-tub and holding them in
the dark smoke of the palm-tree nuts, or he would listen to their songs.
But it was with no feeling of envy; it was quite the reverse.

For Benee was free!  Oh what a halo of happiness and glory surrounds
that one little word "Free"!

Then this lonely wanderer would hug himself, as it were, and, dropping
down from his perch, start off once more at his swinging trot.

Even as the crow flies, or the bee wings its flight, the length of
Benee’s journey would be over six hundred miles.  But it was impossible
for anyone to keep a bee-line, owing to the roughness of the country and
the difficulties of every kind to be overcome, so that it is indeed
impossible to estimate the magnitude of this lone Indian’s exploit.

His way, roughly speaking, lay between the Madeira River and the Great
Snake River called Puras (_vide_ map); latterly it would lead him to the
lofty regions and plateaux of the head-waters of Maya-tata, called by
the Peruvians the Madre de Dios, or Holy Virgin River.

But hardly a day now passed that he had not a stream of some kind to
cross, and wandering by its banks seeking for a ford delayed him
considerably.

He was journeying thus one morning when the sound of human voices not
far off made him creep quickly into the jungle.

The men did not take long to put in an appearance.

A portion of some wandering, hunting, or looting tribe they were, and
cut-throat looking scoundrels everyone of them--five in all.

They were armed with bows and arrows and with spears.  Their arrows,
Benee could see, were tipped with flint, and the flint was doubtless
poisoned.  They carried also slings and broad knives in their belts of
skin.  The slings are used in warfare, but they are also used by
shepherds--monsters who, like many in this country, know not the meaning
of the words "mercy to dumb animals"--on their poor sheep.

These fellows, who now lay down to rest and to eat, much to Benee’s
disgust, not to say dismay, were probably a party of llama (pronounced
yahmah) herds or shepherds who had, after cutting their master’s throat,
banded together and taken to this roving life.

So thought Benee, at all events, for he could see many articles of
European dress, such as dainty scarves of silk, lace handkerchiefs, &c.,
as well as brooches, huddled over their own clothing, and one
fierce-looking fellow pulled out a gold watch and pretended to look at
the time.

So angry was Benee that his savage nature got uppermost, and he handled
his huge revolvers in a nervous way that showed his anxiety to open fire
and spoil the cut-throats’ dinner.  But he restrained himself for the
time being.

In addition to the two revolvers, Benee carried the repeating rifle.  It
was the fear of spoiling his ammunition that led to his being in this
dreadful fix.  But for his cartridges he could have swum the river with
the speed of a gar-fish.

What a long, long time they stayed, and how very leisurely they munched
and fed!

A slight sound on his left flank caused Benee to gaze hastily round.  To
his horror, he found himself face to face with a puma.

Here was indeed a dilemma!

If he fired he would make his presence known, and small mercy could he
expect from the cut-throats. At all hazards he determined to keep still.

The yellow eyes of this American lion flared and glanced in a streak of
sunshine shot downwards through the bush, and it was this probably which
dimmed his vision, for he made no attempt to spring forward.

Benee dared scarcely to breathe; he could hear the beating of his own
heart, and could not help wondering if the puma heard it too.

At last the brute backed slowly astern, with a wriggling motion.

But Benee gained courage now.

During the long hours that followed, several great snakes passed him so
closely that he could have touched their scaly backs.  Some of these
were lithe and long, others very thick and slow in motion, but nearly
all were beautifully coloured in metallic tints of crimson, orange,
green, and bronze, and all were poisonous.

The true Bolivian, however, has but little fear of snakes, knowing that
unless trodden upon, or otherwise actively interfered with, they care
not to waste their venom by striking.

At long, long last the cut-throats got up to leave. They would before
midnight no doubt reach some lonely outpost and demand entertainment at
the point of the knife, and if strange travellers were there, sad indeed
would be their fate.

Benee now crawled, stiff and cramped, out from his damp and dangerous
hiding-place.  He found a ford not far off, and after crossing, he set
off once more at his swinging trot, and was soon supple and happy
enough.

On and on he went all that day, to make up for lost time, and far into
the starry night.

The hills were getting higher now, the valleys deeper and damper
between, and stream after stream had to be forded.

It must have been long past eight o’clock when, just as Benee was
beginning to long for food and rest, his eyes fell on a glimmering light
at the foot of a high and dark precipice.

He warily ventured forward and found it proceeded from a shepherd’s hut;
inside sat the man himself, quietly eating a kind of thick soup, the
basin flanked by a huge flagon of milk, with roasted yams.  Great,
indeed, was the innocent fellow’s surprise when Benee presented himself
in the doorway.  A few words in Bolivian, kindly uttered by our
wayfarer, immediately put the man at ease, however, and before long
Benee was enjoying a hearty supper, followed by a brew of excellent
maté.

He was a very simple son of the desert, this shepherd, but a desultory
kind of conversation was maintained, nevertheless, until far into the
night.

For months and months, he told Benee, he had lived all alone with his
sheep in these grassy uplands, having only the companionship of his
half-wild, but faithful dog.  But he was contented and happy, and had
plenty to eat and drink.

It was just sunrise when Benee awoke from a long refreshing sleep on his
bed of skins.  There was the odour of smoke all about, and presently the
shepherd himself bustled in and bade him "Good-morning!", or "Heaven’s
blessing!" which is much the same.

A breakfast of rough, black cake, with butter, fried fish, and maté,
made Benee as happy as a king and as fresh as a mountain trout, and soon
after he said farewell and started once more on his weary road. The only
regret he experienced rose from the fact that he had nothing wherewith
to reward this kindly shepherd for his hospitality.

Much against his will, our wanderer had now to make a long detour, for
not even a goat could have scaled the ramparts of rock in front of him.

In another week he found himself in one of the bleakest and barrenest
stretches of country that it is possible to imagine.  It was a high
plateau, and covered for the most part with stunted bushes and with
crimson heath and heather.

Benee climbed a high hill that rose near him, and as he stood on the top
thereof, just as the sun in a glory of orange clouds and crimson rose
slowly and majestically over the far-off eastern forest, a scene
presented itself to him that, savage though he was, caused him for a
time to stand mute with admiration and wonder.

Then he remembered what little Peggy told him once in her sweet and
serious voice: "Always pray at sunrise".

    "Always pray at sunrise,
      For ’tis God who makes the day;
    When shades of evening gather round
      Kneel down again and pray.
    And He, who loves His children dear,
      Will send some angel bright
    To guard you while you’re sleeping sound
      And watch you all the night."


And on this lonely hill-top Benee did kneel down to pray a simple
prayer, while golden clouds were changing to bronze and snowy white, and
far off on the forest lands hazy vapours were still stretched across
glens and valleys.

As he rose from his knees he could hear, away down beneath him, a wild
shout, and gazing in the direction from which it came, he saw seven
semi-nude savages hurrying towards the mountain with the evident
intention of making him prisoner.

It was terrible odds; but as there was no escape, Benee determined to
fight.

As usual, they were armed with bow and arrow and sling.

Indeed, they commenced throwing stones with great precision before they
reached the hill-foot, and one of these fell at Benee’s feet.

Glad, indeed, was he next minute to find himself in a kind of natural
trench which could have been held by twenty men against a hundred.

On and up, crawling on hands and knees, came the savages.

But Benee stood firm, rifle in hand, and waiting his chance.



CHAPTER XII--BENEE ENTRENCHED--SAVAGE REVELS IN THE FOREST


The trench in which he found himself was far higher than was necessary,
and fronted by huge stones.  It was evidently the work of human hands,
but by what class of people erected Benee could not imagine.

He could spare a few boulders anyhow, so, while the enemy was still far
below, he started first one, then another, and still another, on a
cruise down the mountain-side and on a mission of death.

These boulders broke into scores of large fragments long before they
reached the savages, two of whom were struck, one being killed outright.

And Benee knew his advantage right well, and, taking careful aim now
with his repeating-rifle--a sixteen-shooter it was,--he fired.

He saw the bullet raise the dust some yards ahead of the foe, who paused
to gaze upwards in great amazement.

But next shot went home, for Benee had got the range, and one of the
five threw up his hands with a shriek, and fell on his face, to rise no
more.

Rendered wild by the loss of their companions, the others drew their
knives and made a brave start for Benee’s trench.

But what could poor savages do against the deadly fire of civilized
warfare.  When another of their number paid the penalty of his rashness,
the other three took fright and went racing and tumbling down the hill
so quickly that no more of Benee’s shots took effect.

Roland had given Benee a field-glass before he started, and through this
he watched the flying figures for many a mile, noting exactly the way
they took, and determining in his own mind to choose a somewhat
different route, even though he should have to make a wide detour.

He started downhill almost immediately, well-knowing that these
dark-skinned devils would return reinforced to seek revenge.

He knew, moreover, that they could follow up a trail, so he did all in
his power to pick out the hardest parts of this great moorland on which
to walk.

He came at last to a stream.  It was very shallow, and he plunged in at
once.

This was indeed good luck, and Benee thought now that Peggy’s God, who
paints the sky at sunrise, was really looking after him.  He could baulk
his pursuers now, or, at least, delay them.  For they would not be able
to tell in which direction he had gone.

So Benee walked in the water for three miles. This walk was really a
leaping run.  He would have gone farther, but all at once the stream
became very rapid indeed, and on his ears fell the boom of a waterfall.

So he got on shore with all haste.

But for five miles on from the foot of the leaping, dashing, foaming
linn, the stream was flanked by acres of round, smooth boulders.

These could tell no tale.  On these Benee would leave no trail.  He
leapt from one to the other, and was rejoiced at last to find that they
led him to a forest.

This was indeed a grateful surprise, so he entered the shade at once.

Benee, after his exciting fight and his very long run, greatly needed
rest, so he gathered some splendid fruit and nuts, despite the
chattering and threatened attacks of a whole band of hideous baboons,
and then threw himself down under the shade of a tree in a small glade
and made a hearty meal.

He felt thirsty now.  But as soon as there was silence once more in the
forest, and even the parrots had gone to sleep in the drowsy noontide
heat, he could hear the rush of water some distance ahead.

He got up immediately and marched in the direction from which the sound
came, and was soon on the pebbled shore of another burn.

He drank a long, sweet draught of the cool, delicious water, and felt
wondrously refreshed.

And now a happy thought occurred to him.

Sooner or later he felt certain the savages would find his trail.  They
would track him to this stream and believe he had once again tried to
break the pursuit by wading either up or down stream.

His plan was, therefore, to go carefully back on his tracks and rest
hidden all day until, foiled in their attempt to make him prisoner, they
should return homeward.

This plan he carried into immediate execution, and in a thicket, quite
screened from all observation, he laid him down.

He was soon fast asleep.

But in probably a couple of hours’ time he sat cautiously up, and,
gently lifting a branch, looked forth.

For voices had fallen on his ear, and next minute there went filing past
on his trail no fewer than fifteen well-armed warriors.

They stopped dancing and shouting at the tree where Benee had sat down
to feed, then, brandishing their broad knives, dashed forward to the
stream.

They had evidently gone up the river for miles, but finding no trail on
the other bank returned to search the down-stream.

In his hiding-place Benee could hear their wild shouts of
vengeance-deferred, and though he feared not death, right well he knew
that neither his rifle nor revolvers could long protect him against such
desperate odds as this.

There was now peace once more, and the shades of evening--the short
tropical gloaming--were falling when he heard the savages returning.

He knew their language well.

It was soon evident that they did not mean to go any farther that night,
for they were quite tired out.

They were not unprovided with food and drink such as it was, and
evidently meant to make themselves happy.

A fire was soon lit in the glade, and by its glare poor Benee, lying low
there and hardly daring to move a limb, could see the sort of savages he
would have to deal with if they found him.

They were fierce-looking beyond conception.  Most of them had long
matted hair, and the ears of some carried the hideous pelele.  The lobe
of each ear is pierced when the individual is but a boy, and is
gradually stretched until it is a mere strip of skin capable of
supporting a bone or wooden, grooved little wheel twice as large as a
dollar.  The stretched lobe of the ear fits round this like the tyre
round a bicycle wheel.

The faces of these men, although wild-looking, were not positively
ill-favoured, though the mouths were large and sensual.  But if ever
devil lurked in human eyes it lurked in theirs.

They wore blankets, and some had huge chains of gold and silver nuggets
round their necks.

Their arms were now piled, or, more correctly speaking, they were
trundled down in a heap by the tree.

While most of them lay with their feet to the now roaring fire, a space
was left for the cook, who cleverly arranged a kind of gipsy
double-trident over the clear embers and commenced to get ready the
meal.

The uprights carried cross pieces of wood, and on these both fish and
flesh were laid to broil, while large yams and sweet-potatoes were
placed in the ashes to roast.

By the time dinner was cooked the night was dark enough, but the glimmer
of the firelight lit up the savages’ faces and cast Rembrandtesque
shadows far behind.

It was a weird and terrible scene, but it had little effect on Benee,
who had often witnessed tableaux far more terrifying than this.

Then the orgie commenced.  They helped themselves with their fingers and
tore the fish and flesh off with their splendid teeth.

Huge chattees of chicaga, a most filthy but intoxicating beer, now made
their appearance.  It was evident enough that these men were used to
being on the war-path and hunting-field.

The wine or beer is made in a very disgusting manner, but its
manufacture, strangely enough, is not confined to Bolivia.  I have seen
much the same liquor in tropical Africa, made by the Somali Indians, and
in precisely the same way.

The old women or hags of the village are assembled at, say, a chief’s
house, and large quantities of cocoanuts and various other fruits are
heaped together in the centre of a hut, as well as large, tub-like
vessels and chattees of water.

Down the old and almost toothless hags squat, and, helping themselves to
lumps of cocoa-nut, &c., they commence to mumble and chew these, now and
then moistening their mouths with a little water, the juice is spit out
into calabashes, and when these are full of the awful mess they are
emptied into the big bin.

It is a great gala-day with these hideous old hags, a meeting that they
take advantage of not only for making wine but for abusing their
neighbours.

How they cackle and grin, to be sure, as their mouths work to and fro!
How they talk and chatter, and how they chew!  It is chatter and chew,
chew and chatter, all the time, and the din they make with teeth and
tongues would deafen a miller.

When all is finished, the bins are left to settle and ferment, and in
three days’ time, the supernatant liquor is poured off and forms the
wine called chicaga.

Had anyone doubted the intoxicating power of this vilest of all vile
drinks, a glance at the scene which soon ensued around the fire would
speedily have convinced him.

Benee lay there watching these fiends as they gradually merged from one
phase of drunkenness to another, and fain would he have sent half a
dozen revolver bullets into the centre of the group, but his life
depended on his keeping still.

The savages first confined themselves to merry talking, with coarse
jokes and ribaldry, and frequent outbursts of laughter.  But when they
had quaffed still more, they must seize their knives and get up to
dance.  Round and round the blazing fire they whirled and staggered
through the smoke and through it again, with demoniacal shouts and awful
yells, that awakened echoes among the forest wild beasts far and near.

Then they pricked their bodies with their knives till the blood ran, and
with this they splashed each other in hideous wantonness till faces and
clothes were smeared in gore.

All this could but have one ending--a fight.

Benee saw one savage stabbed to the heart, and then the orgie became a
fierce battle.

Now was Benee’s time to escape.

Yet well he knew how acute the power of hearing is among the Bolivian
savages.  One strange noise, even the crackle of a bush, and the
fighting would end in a hunt, and he would undoubtedly lose his life.

But he wriggled and crawled like a snake in the grass until twenty yards
away, and now he moved cautiously, slowly off.

Soon the glare of the fire among the high trees was seen no more, and
the yelling and cries were far behind and getting more and more
indistinct every minute.

Benee refreshed himself at the stream, pulled some food from his pocket,
and ate it while he ran.

He knew, however, that after fighting would come drowsiness, and that
his late entertainers would soon be fast asleep, some of their heads
pillowed, perhaps, on the dead body of their murdered comrade.

If there be in all this world a more demonish wretch than man is in a
state of nature, or when--even among Christians--demoralized by drink, I
wish to get hold of a specimen for my private menagerie.  But the
creature should be kept in a cage by itself.  I would not insult my
monkeys with the companionship of such a wretch, should it be man or
beast.



CHAPTER XIII--THE MARCH TO THE LOVELESS LAND


On and on hurried Benee now, at his old swinging trot.

On and on beneath the splendid stars, his only companions, that looked
so calmly sweet and appeared so near.  God’s angels surely they,
speaking, as they gazed down, words from their home on high, peace and
good-will to men, and happiness to all that lived and breathed.

On and on over plains, through moor and marsh, by lake and stream, by
forest dark and jungle wild. It was evident that Benee meant to put
leagues between himself and the camp of his recent enemies before each
star grew beautiful and died; before the fiery sun leapt red above the
eastern hills, and turned the darkness into day.

Benee had come onwards with such a rush that even the slimy alligators,
by pond or brown lake, left their lairs among the tall nodding reeds and
dashed in terror into the water.

Prowling wild beasts, the jaguar and puma, also hurried off at his
approach, and many a scared bird flew screaming up into the darkling
air.

But Benee heeded nothing.  His way lay yonder. That bright particular
star away down on the southwestern horizon shone over the great
unexplored region of Bolivia.

Morning after morning it would be higher and higher above him, and when
it shone at an angle of forty-five degrees he would be approaching the
land of the cannibals.

Yes, but it was still a far cry to that country.  By the time the sun
did rise, and the mists gathered themselves off the valleys and glens
that lay low beneath him, Benee felt sadly in want of rest.

He found a tree that would make him a good sleeping place, for the
country he was now traversing abounded in hideous snakes and gigantic
lizards, and he courted not the companionship of either.

The tree was an Abies of some undefined species.

Up and up crawled Benee, somewhat encumbered by his arms.

He got through a kind of "lubbers’ hole" at last, though with much
difficulty, and, safe enough here, he curled up with his face to the
stem, and was soon so fast asleep that cannons could not have awakened
him.

But satisfied Nature got uneasy at last, and far on towards evening he
opened his eyes and wondered where he was.

Still only half-awake, he staggered to his feet and made a step forward.
It was only to fall over the end of a huge matted branch, but this
branch lowered him gently on to the one immediately beneath it, and this
down to the next, and so on.  A strange mode of progression certainly,
but Benee found himself sitting on the ground at last, as safe and sound
as if he had come down in a parachute.

Then his recollection came back to him.  He sought out some fruit-trees
now and made a hearty meal, quenched his thirst at a spring, and once
more resumed his journey.

For three days he marched onwards, but always by night.  The country was
not safe by day, and he preferred the companionship of wild beasts to
that of wilder men.  In this Benee was wise.

But awaking somewhat earlier one afternoon, he saw far beneath him, a
town, and in Benee’s eyes it was a very large one.

And now a happy idea struck him.  He had money, and here was
civilization.  By and by he would be in the wilds once more, and among
savages who knew nothing of cash.  Why should he not descend, mix with
the giddy throng, and make purchases of red cloth, of curios, and of
beads.  He determined to do so.

But it would not do to go armed.  So he hid his rifle and pistols in the
bush, covering them carefully up with dried grass.  Then he commenced
the descent. Yes, the little town, the greater part of which was built
of mud hovels, was full, and the streets crowded, many in the throng
being Spaniards, Peruvians, and Portuguese.

Benee sauntered carelessly on and presently came to the bazaar.

Many of the police eyed him curiously, and one or two followed him.

But he had no intention of being baulked in his purpose.

So he entered a likely shop, and quickly made his purchases.

Wrapping these carefully up, he slung the bundle over his shoulder and
left.

He stumbled over a lanky Portuguese policeman a few yards off.

The man would have fallen had not Benee seized him in his iron grasp and
brought him again to his equilibrium.

Then he spoke a few words in Bolivian, and made signs that he wished to
eat and drink.

"Aguardiente!" said the officer, his eyes sparkling with joy.

He had really harboured some intentions of throwing Benee into the
tumble-down old prison, but a drink would be a far better solution of
the difficulty, and he cheerfully led the way to a sort of hotel.

And in twenty minutes’ time this truly intelligent member of the force
and Benee were lying on skin mats with apparently all the good things in
this life spread out before them.

The officer was curious, as all such men are, whether heathens or not,
to know all about Benee, and put to him a score of questions at least,
part of which Benee replied to with a delicate and forgivable fib.

So the policeman was but little wiser at the end of the conversation
than he was at the beginning.

About half an hour before sunset, Benee was once more far up on the
moorlands, and making straight for the place where he had hidden his
guns and ammunition.

But he stopped short and stared with astonishment when, before rounding
the corner of the wood, a pistol shot rang out in the quiet air,
followed by the most terrible shrieking and howling he had ever listened
to.

He hurried on quickly enough now, and as he did so, a whole herd of huge
monkeys, apparently scared out of their senses, rushed madly past him.

Close to the jungle he found one of his revolvers. One chamber had been
emptied, and not far off lay a baboon in the agonies of death.  Benee,
who, savage though he was, evidently felt for the creature, mercifully
expended another shot on it, and placed it beyond the reach of woe.

He was glad to find his rifle and other revolver intact, but the
cartridges from his belt were scattered about in all directions, and
strenuous efforts had evidently been made to tear open his leathern
ammunition-box.

It took some time to make everything straight again.

Now down went the sun, and very soon, after a short twilight, out came
the stars once more.

Benee now resumed his journey as straight as he could across the
plateau.

He had not travelled many hours, however, before clouds began to bank up
and obscure the sky, and it became very dark.

A storm was brewing, and, ushered in by low muttering thunder in the far
distance, it soon came on in earnest.

As the big drops of rain began to fall, shining in the flashes of the
lightning like a shower of molten gold, Benee sought the shelter of a
rocky cave which was near to him.

He laid him down on the rough dry grass to wait until the storm should
clear away.

He felt drowsy, however.  Perhaps the unusually good fare he had
partaken of in the village had something to do with this; but of late
his hardships had been very great indeed, so it is no wonder that now
exhausted Nature claimed repose.

The last thing he was conscious of was a long, low, mournful cry that
seemed to come from the far interior of the cave.

It was broad daylight when he again awoke, and such an awakening!

Great snowy-breasted owls sat blinking at the light, but all the rocks
around, or the shelves thereof, were alive with coiling, wriggling
snakes of huge size.

One had twined round his leg, and he knew that if he but moved a muscle,
it would send its terrible fangs deep into his flesh, and his journey
would be at an end.

Gradually, however, the awful creature unwound itself and wriggled away.

The sight of this snake-haunted cave was too much for even Benee’s
nerves, and he sprang up and speedily dashed, all intact, into the open
air.

                                  ――――

Notwithstanding his extraordinary adventure in the cave of serpents, the
wandering Indian felt in fine form that day.

The air was now much cooler after the storm, all the more so, no doubt,
that Benee was now travelling on a high table-land which stretched
southwards and west in one long, dreary expanse till bounded on the
horizon by ridges of lofty serrated mountains, in the hollow of which,
high in air, patches of snow rested, and probably had so rested for
millions of years.

The sky was very bright.  The trees at this elevation, as well as the
fruit, the flowers, and stunted shrubs, were just such as one finds at
the Cape of Good Hope and other semi-tropical regions.  The ground on
which he walked or trotted along was a mass of beauty and perfume, rich
pink or crimson heaths, heather and geraniums everywhere, with patches
of pine-wood having little or no undergrowth.  Many rare and beautiful
birds lilted and sang their songs of love on every side, strange larks
were high in air, some lighting every now and then on the ground, the
music of their voices drawn out as they glided downwards into one long
and beautiful cadence.

There seemed to be a sadness in these last notes, as if the birds would
fain have warbled for ever and for aye at heaven’s high gate, though
duty drew them back to this dull earth of ours.

But dangers to these feathered wildlings hovered even in the sunlit sky,
and sometimes turned the songs of those speckled-breasted laverocks into
wails of despair.

Behold yonder hawk silently darting from the pine-wood!  High, high he
darts into the air; he has positioned his quarry, and downwards now he
swoops like Indian arrow from a bow, and the lark’s bright and happy
song is hushed for ever.  His beautiful mate sitting on her cosy nest
with its five brown eggs looks up astonished and frightened.  Down fall
a few drops of red blood, as if the sky had wept them.  Down flutter a
few feathers, and her dream of happiness is a thing of the past.

And that poor widowed lark will forsake her eggs now, and wander through
the heath and the scrub till she dies.

                                  ――――

Benee had no adventures to-day, but, seeing far off a band of
travellers, he hid himself in the afternoon. For our Indian wanted no
company.

He watched them as they came rapidly on towards his hiding-place, but
they struck off to the east long before reaching it, and made for the
plains and village far below.

Then Benee had his dinner and slept soundly enough till moonrise, for
bracing and clear was heaven’s ozonic breath in these almost Alpine
regions.

Only a scimitar of a moon.  Not more than three days old was it, yet
somehow it gave hope and heart to the lonely traveller.  He remembered
when a boy he had been taught to look upon the moon as a good angel, but
Christianity had banished superstition, and he was indeed a new man.

After once more refreshing himself, he started on his night march,
hoping to put forty miles behind him ere the sun rose.

Low lay the white haze over the woods a sheer seven thousand feet
beneath him.

It looked like snow-drifts on the darkling green.

Yet here and there, near to places where the river glistened in the
young moon’s rays were bunches of lights, and Benee knew he was not far
from towns and civilization.  Much too near to be agreeable.

He knew, however, that a few days more of his long weary march would
bring him far away from these to regions unknown to the pale-face, to a
land on which Christian feet had never trodden, a loveless land, a
country that reeked with murder, a country that seemed unblessed by
heaven, where all was moral darkness, as if indeed it were ruled by
demons and fiends, who rejoiced only in the spilling of blood.

But, nevertheless, it was Benee’s own land, and he could smile while he
gazed upwards at the now descending moon.

Benee never felt stronger or happier than he did this evening, and he
sang a strange wild song to himself, as he journeyed onwards, a kind of
chant to which he kept step.

A huge snake, black as a winter’s night, uncoiled itself, hissed, and
darted into the heath to hide.  Benee heeded it not.  A wild beast of
some sort sprang past him with furious growl.  Benee never even raised
his rifle.  And when he came to the banks of a reed-girt lake, and saw
his chance of shooting a huge cayman, he cared not to draw a bead
thereon.  He just went on with his chant and on with his walk. Benee was
truly happy and hopeful for once in his life.

And amid such scenery, beneath such a galaxy of resplendent stars, who
could have been aught else?

        "How beautiful is night!
    A dewy freshness fills the silent air;
    No mist obscures, nor cloud, nor speck, nor stain,
        Breaks the serene of heaven.
    In glory yonder moon divine
      Rolls through the dark-blue depths,
    Beneath her steely ray
      The desert circle spreads,
    Like the round ocean girdled with the sky.
        How beautiful the night!"


But almost before he could have believed it possible, so quickly do
health and happiness cause time to fly, a long line of crimson cloud,
high in the east, betokened the return of another day.

The night-owls and the great flitting vampire bats saw it and retreated
to darksome caves.  There was heard no longer far over the plain the
melancholy howl of the tiger-cat or snarl of puma or jaguar.

Day was coming!

Day was come!



CHAPTER XIV--THE HOME OF THE CANNIBAL--BENEE’S ROMANCE


Like the bats and the night-birds Benee now crept into concealment.

He sought once more the shelter of a tall pine-tree of the spruce
species.  Here he could be safe and here he could sleep.

But after a hearty meal he took the precaution to lash himself to the
stem, high, high up.

His descent from the last tree had been accomplished with safety
certainly, but it was of rather a peculiar nature, and Benee had no
desire to risk his neck again.

The wind softly sighed in the branches.

A bird of the thrush species alighted about a yard above him, and burst
into shrill sweet melody to welcome the rising sun.

With half-closed eyes Benee could see from under the branches a
deep-orange horizon, fading into pure sea-green zenithwards, then to
deepest purple and blue where rested the crimson clouds.

And now there was a glare of brighter and more silvery light, and the
red streaks were turned into wreaths of snow.

The sun was up, and Benee slept.  But he carried that sweet bird’s song
into dreamland.

                                  ――――

About three days after this Benee was rejoiced to find himself in a new
land, but it was a land he knew well--too well.

Though very high above the sea-level it was in reality a

    "Land of the mountain and the flood".


Hills on hills rose on all sides of him.  There were straths or valleys
of such exceeding beauty that they gladdened the eye to behold.  The
grass grew green here by the banks of many a brown roaring stream, and
here, too, cattle roamed wild and free, knee-deep in flowery verdure,
and many a beautiful guanaco and herds of llamas everywhere.  The
streams that meandered through these highland straths were sometimes
very tortuous, but perhaps a mile distant they would seem to lose all
control of themselves and go madly rushing over their pebbly beds, till
they dashed over high cliffs at last, forming splendid cascades that
fell into deep, dark, agitated pools, the mist that rose above forming
rainbows which were never absent when the sun shone.

And the hillsides that bounded these valleys were clad in Alpine
verdure, with Alpine trees and flowers, strangely intermingled with
beautiful heaths, and in the open glades with gorgeous geraniums, and
many a lovely flower never seen even in greenhouses in our "tame
domestic England".

These were valleys, but there were glens and narrow gorges also, where
dark beetling rocks frowned over the brown waters of streams that rushed
fiercely onwards round rocks and boulders, against which they lashed
themselves into foam.

On these rocks strange fantastic trees clung, sometimes attached but by
the rootlets, sometimes with their heads hanging almost sheer downwards;
trees that the next storm of wind would hurl, with crash and roar, into
the water far beneath.

Yet such rivers or big burns were the home _par excellence_ of fish of
the salmon tribe, and gazing below you might see here and there some
huge otter, warily watching to spring on his finny prey.

Nor were the otters alone on the _qui vive_, for, strange as it may
seem, even pumas and tiger-cats often made a sullen dive into dark-brown
pools, and emerged bearing on high some lordly red-bellied fish. With
this they would "speel" the flowery, ferny rocks, and dart silently away
into the depths of the forest.

And this wild and beautiful country, at present inhabited by as wild a
race of Indians as ever twanged the bow, but bound at no very distant
date to come under the influence of Christianity and civilization, was
Benee’s real home.  ’Twas here he roamed when a boy, for he had been a
wanderer all his life, a nomad, and an inhabitant of the woods and
wilds.

Not a scene was unfamiliar to him.  He could name every mountain and
hill he gazed upon in his own strangely musical Indian tongue.  Every
bird, every creature that crept, or glided, or walked, all were his old
friends; yes, and every tree and every flower, from the splendid
parasitic plants that wound around the trees wherever the sun shone the
brightest, and draped them in such a wealth of beauty as would have made
all the richness and gaudiness of white kings and queens seem but a
caricature.

There was something of romance even in Benee. As he stood with folded
arms on the brink of a cliff, and gazed downward into a charming glen,
something very like tears stood in his eyes.

He loved his country.  It was his own, his native land.  But the savages
therein he had ceased to love. Because when but a boy--ah, how well he
remembered that day,--he was sent one day by his father and mother to
gather the berries of a deadly kind of thorn-bush, with the juice of
which the flints in the points of the arrows were poisoned.  Coming back
to his parents’ hut in the evening, as happy as boys only can be, he
found the place in flames, and saw his father, mother, and a sister whom
he loved, being hurried away by the savages, because the queen had need
of them.  The lot of death had fallen on them. Their flesh was wanted to
make part of a great feast her majesty was about to give to a
neighbouring potentate.  Benee, who had ever been used to hunt for his
food as a boy, or fish in the lakes and the brown roaring streams, that
he and his parents might live, had always abhorred human sacrifice and
human flesh.  The latter he had seldom been prevailed upon even to
taste.

So from that terrible day he resolved to be a wanderer, and he
registered a vow--if I may speak so concerning the thoughts of a poor
boy-Indian--to take revenge when he became a man on this very tribe that
had brought such grief and woe on him and his.

Benee was still a young man, but little over two-and-twenty, and as he
stood there thoughts came into his mind about a little sweetheart he had
when a boy.

Wee Weenah was she called; only a child of six when he was good sixteen.
But in all his adventures, in forest or by the streams, Weenah used to
accompany him.  They used to be away together all day long, and lived on
the nuts and the wild fruit that grew everywhere so plentifully about
them, on trees, on bushes, or on the flowery banks.

Where was Weenah now?  Dead, perhaps, or taken away to the queen’s
blood-stained court.  As a child Weenah was very beautiful, for many of
these Indians are very far indeed from being repulsive.

And Benee used to delight to dress his tiny lady-love in feathers of the
wild birds, crimson and green and blue, and weave her rude garlands of
the gaudiest flowers, to hang around her neck, or entwine in her long
dark hair.

He had gone to see Weenah--though he was then in grief and tears--after
he had left his father’s burnt shealing.  He had told her that he was
going away far to the north, that he was to become a hunter of the
wilds, that he might even visit the homes of the white men, but that
some day he would return and Weenah should be his wife.

So they had parted thus, in childish grief and tears, and he had never
seen her since.

He might see her nevermore.

While musing thus to himself, he stretched his weary limbs and body on
the sweet-scented mossy cliff-top.

It was day certainly, but was he not now at home, in his own, his native
land?

He seemed to be afraid of nothing, therefore, and so--he fell asleep.

The bank on which he slept adjoined a darkling forest.

A forest of strange dark pines, with red-brown stems, which, owing to
the absence of all undergrowth save heather and moss and fern, looked
like the pillars of some vast cavern.

But there was bird music in this forest, and Benee had gone to sleep
with the flute-like and mellow notes of the soo-soo falling on his ear.

The soo-soo’s song had accompanied him to the land of forgetfulness, and
was mingling even now with his dreams--happy dreams of long ago.

But list!  Was that really the song of the bronze-necked soo-soo?

He was half-awake now, but apparently dreaming still.

He thought he was dreaming at all events, and would not have opened his
eyes and so dispelled the dream for all the world.

It was a sweet girlish voice that seemed to be singing--singing about
him, about Benee the wanderer in sylvan wilds; the man who for long
years had been alone because he loved being alone, whose hand--until he
reached the white man’s home--had been against everyone, and against
every beast as well.

And the song was a kind of sweet little ballad, which I should try in
vain to translate.

But Benee opened his eyes at last, and his astonishment knew no bounds
as he saw, kneeling by his mossy couch, the self-same Weenah that he had
been thinking and dreaming about.

Though still a girl in years, being but thirteen, she seemed a woman in
all her sympathies.

Beautiful?  Yes; scarcely changed as to face from the child of six he
used to roam in the woods with in the long, long ago.  Her dark hair
hung to her waist and farther in two broad plaits.  Her black eyes
brimmed over with joy, and there was a flush of excitement on her
sun-kissed cheeks.

"Weenah!  Oh, Weenah!  Can it be you?" he exclaimed in the Indian
tongue.

"It is your own little child-love, your Weenah; and ah! how I have
longed for you, and searched for you far and near.  See, I am clad in
the skins of the puma and the otter; I have killed the jaguar, too, and
I have been far north and fought with terrible men. They fell before the
poison of my arrows.  They tried to catch me; but fleet of foot is
Weenah, and they never can see me when I fly.  In trees I have slept, on
the open heather, in caves of rocks, and in jungle.  But never, never
could I find my Benee. Ah! life of mine, you will never go and leave us
again.

"Yes," she added, "Mother and Father live, and are well.  Our home have
we enlarged.  ’Tis big now, and there is room in it for Benee.

"Come; come--shall we go?  But what strange, strange war-weapons you
carry.  Ah! they are the fire-spears of the white man."

"Yes, Weenah mine! and deadly are they as the lightning’s bolt that
flashes downward from the storm-sky and lays dead the llama and the ox.

"See yonder eagle, Weenah?  Benee’s aim is unerring; his hand is the
hand of the rock, his eye the eye of the kron-dah" (a kind of hawk),
"yet his touch on the trigger light as the moss-flax.  Behold!"

He raised the rifle as he spoke, and without even appearing to take aim
he fired.

Next moment the bird of Jove turned a somersault. It was a death-spasm.
Down, down he fell earthwards, his breast-feathers following more
slowly, like a shower of snow sparkling in the sunshine.

Weenah was almost paralysed with terror, but Benee took her gently in
his arms, and, kissing her brow and bonnie raven hair, soothed her and
stilled her alarms.

Hand in hand now through the forest, as in the days of yore!  Both
almost too happy to speak, Benee and his little Indian maiden!  Hand in
hand over the plain, through the crimson heath and the heather, heeding
nothing, seeing nothing, knowing nothing save their own great happiness!
Hand in hand until they stood beside Weenah’s mother’s cottage; and her
parents soon ran out to welcome and to bless them!

Theirs was no ordinary hut, for the father had been far to the east and
had dwelt among white men on the banks of the rapid-rolling Madeira.

When he had returned, slaves had come with him--young men whom he had
bought, for the aborigines barter their children for cloth or schnapps.
And these slaves brought with them tools of the white men--axes, saws,
adzes, hammers, spades, and shovels.

Then Shooks-gee (swift of foot) had cut himself timber from the forest,
and, aided by his slaves, had set to work; and lo! in three moons this
cottage by the wood arose, and the queen of the cannibals herself had
none better.

But Benee was welcomed and food set before him, milk of the llama,
corn-cakes, and eggs of the heron and treel-ba (a kind of plover).

Then warm drinks of coca (not cocoa) were given him, and the child
Weenah’s eyes were never turned away while he ate and drank.

He smoked then, the girl sitting close by him on the bench and watching
the strange, curling rings of reek rolling upwards towards the black and
glittering rafters.

"But," said Weenah’s mother, "poor Benee has walked far and is much
tired.  Would not Benee like to cover his feet?"

"Yes, our mother, Benee would sleep."

"And I will watch and sing," said Weenah.

"Sing the song of the forest," murmured Benee.

Then Weenah sang low beside him while Benee slept.



CHAPTER XV--SHOOKS-GEE’S STORY--A CANNIBAL QUEEN


What is called "natural curiosity" in our country, where almost every
man is a Paul Pry, is no trait of the Indian’s character.  Or if he ever
does feel such an impulse, it is instantly checked.  Curiosity is but
the attribute of a squaw, a savage would tell you, but even squaws will
try to prevent such a weed from flourishing in their hearts.

That was the reason why neither the father nor the mother of Benee’s
little lady-love thought of asking him a single question concerning his
adventures until he had eaten a hearty meal and had enjoyed a refreshing
sleep.

But when Benee sat up at last and quaffed the maté that Weenah had made
haste to get him, and just as the day was beginning to merge into the
twilight of summer, he began to tell his friends and his love some
portion of his wonderful adventures, even from the day when he had
bidden the child Weenah a tearful farewell and betaken himself to a
wandering life in the woods.

His young life’s story was indeed a strange one,

      "Wherein he spake of most disastrous chances,
      Of moving accidents by flood and field;
      ... of antres vast and deserts idle,
    Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven.

                                  ――――

The while Weenah

    "... gave him for his pains a world of sighs.
      ’T was strange, ’t was passing strange,
    ’T was pitiful, ’t was wondrous pitiful:
    She wished she had not heard it; yet she wished
    That heaven had made her such a man."

Then when Benee came down to that portion of his long story when first
he found the children and their mighty wolf-hound lost in the forest,
Weenah and her parents listened with greater interest and intensity than
ever.

There was a fire on the rude, low hearth--a fire of wood, of peat, and
of moss; for at the great elevation at which this cannibal land is
situated the nights are chilly.

It was a fire that gave fitful light as well as heat.  It fell on the
faces of Benee’s listeners, and cast shadows grotesque behind them.  It
beautified Weenah’s face till Benee thought she looked like one of the
angels that poor Peggy used to tell him about.

Then he related to them all his suspicions of Peter, but did not
actually accuse him of bringing about the abduction of Peggy, to serve
some vile and unknown purpose of his own.  Next he spoke, yet spoke but
lightly, of his long, long march, and the incidents and adventures
therewith connected.

There was much, therefore, that Benee had to tell, but there was also
much that he had to learn or to be told; and now that he had finished,
it was Shooks-gee’s turn to take up the story.

I wish I could do justice to this man’s language, which was grandly
figurative, or to his dramatic way of talking, accompanied as it was
with look and gesture that would have elicited applause on any European
stage.  I cannot do so, therefore shall not try; but the following is
the pith of his story.

This Indian’s house was on the very outside and most northerly end of
the great wild plateau which was the home of these savages and
cannibals.

The queen, a terrible monarch, and bloodthirsty in the extreme, used to
hold her court and lived on a strange mountain or hill, in the very
centre of the rough tree and bush clad plain.

For many, many a long year she had lived here, and to her court Indians
came from afar to do her homage, bringing with them cloth of crimson,
wine and oil, which they had stolen or captured in warfare from the
white men of Madeira valley.

When these presents came, the coca which her courtiers used to chew all
day long, and the maté they drank, were for a time--for weeks
indeed--discarded for the wine and fire-water of the pale-face.

Fearful were the revels then held on that lone mountain.

The queen was dainty, so too were her fierce courtiers.

When the revels first began she and they could eat the raw or
half-roasted flesh of calves and baby-llamas, but when their potations
waxed deeper, and appetite began to fail, then the orgies commenced in
earnest. Nothing would her majesty eat now--horrible to say--but
children, and her courtiers, armed to the teeth, would be sent to scour
the plains, to visit the mud huts of her people, and drag therefrom the
most beautiful and plump boys or girls procurable.

I will not tell of the fearful and awfully unnatural human
sacrifice--the murder of the innocents--that now took place.

Demons could not have been more revolting in their cruelties than were
those savage courtiers as they obeyed the queen’s behests.

Let me drop the curtain over this portion of the tale. Well, this
particular cottage or hut, being on the confines of the country, had not
been visited by the queen’s fearsome soldiers.  But even had they come
they would have found that Weenah was far away in the woods, for her
father Shooks-gee loved her much. But one evening there came up out of
the dark pinewood forest, that lay to the north, a great band of
wandering natives.

They were all armed and under the command of one of her majesty’s most
bloodthirsty and daring chiefs.

Hand to claw this man had fought pumas and jaguars, and slain them,
armed only with his two-edged knife.

This savage Rob Roy M’Gregor despised both bow-and-arrow and sling.
Only at close quarters would he fight with man or beast, and although he
bore the scars and slashes of many a fearful encounter, he had always
come off victorious.

Six feet four inches in height was this war-Indian if an inch, and his
dress was a picturesque costume of skins with the tails attached.  A
huge mat of hair, his own, with emu’s feathers drooping therefrom, was
his only head-gear, but round his neck he wore a chain of polished
pebbles, with heavy gold rings, in many of which rubies and diamonds
sparkled and shone.

But, ghastly to relate, between each pebble and between the rings of
gold and precious stones, was threaded a tanned human ear.  More than
twenty of these were there.

They had been cut from the heads of white men whom this chief--Kaloomah
was his name--had slain, and the rings had been torn from their dead
fingers.

This was the band then that had arrived as the sun was going down at the
hut of Shooks-gee, and this was their chief.

The latter demanded food for his men, and Shooks-gee, with his trembling
wife--Weenah was hidden--made haste to obey, and a great fire was lit
out of doors, and flesh of the llama hung over it to roast.

But the strangest thing was this.  Seated on a hardy little mule was a
sad but beautiful girl--white she was, and unmistakably English.  Her
eyes were very large and wistful, and she looked at Kaloomah and his
band in evident fear and dread, starting and shrinking from the chief
whenever he came near her or spoke.

But the daintiest portion of the food was handed to her, and she ate in
silence, as one will who eats in fear.

The wild band slept in the bush, a special bed of dry grass being made
for the little white queen, as Kaloomah called her, and a savage set to
watch her while she slept.

Next morning, when the wild chief and his braves started onwards,
Shooks-gee was obliged to march along with them.

Kaloomah had need of him.  That was all the explanation vouchsafed.

But this visit to the queen’s home had given Weenah’s father an insight
into court life and usages that he could not otherwise have possessed.

Kaloomah’s band bore along with them huge bales of cloth and large boxes
of beads.  How they had become possessed of these Shooks-gee never knew,
and could not guess.

The grim and haughty queen, surrounded by her body-guard of grotesque
and hideous warriors with their slashed and fearful faces, and the
peleles hanging in the lobes of their ears, was seated at the farther
end of a great wall, and on a throne covered with the skins of wild
beasts.

All in front the floor was carpeted with crimson, and her majesty
sparkled with gold ornaments.  A tiara of jewels encircled her brow, and
a living snake of immense size, with gray eyes that never closed, formed
a girdle round her waist.

In her hand she held a poisoned spear, and at her feet crouched a huge
jaguar.

She was a tyrant queen, reigning over a people who, though savage, and
cannibals to boot, had never dared to gainsay a word or order she
uttered.

Passionate in the extreme, too, she was, and if a slave or subject dared
to disobey, a prick from the poisoned spear was the reward, and he or
she was dragged out into the bush to writhe and die in terrible agony.

Probably a more frightful woman never reigned as queen, even in cannibal
lands.

Kaloomah, on his arrival, bent himself down--nay, but threw himself on
his knees and face abjectly before her, as if he were scarcely worthy to
be her footstool.

But she greeted his arrival with a smile, and bade him arise.

"Many presents have we brought," he said in the figurative language of
the Indian.  "Many presents to the beautiful mother of the sun.  Cloth
of scarlet, of blue, and of green, cloth of rainbow colours, jewels and
beads, and the fire-water of the pale-faces."

"Produce me the fire-water of the pale-faces," she returned.  "I would
drink."

Her voice was husky, hoarse, and horrible.

Kaloomah beckoned to a slave, and in a few minutes a cocoa-nut shell,
filled with rum, was held to her lips.

The queen drank, and seemed happier after this. Kaloomah thought he
might now venture to broach another subject.

"We have brought your majesty also a little daughter of the pale-faces!"

Then Peggy--for the reader will have guessed it was she--was led
trembling in before her, and made to kneel.

But the queen’s brows had lowered when she beheld the child’s great
beauty.  She made her advance, and seizing her by the hand, held her at
arm’s-length.

[Illustration: "SHE ... HELD HER AT ARM’S LENGTH"]

"Take her away!" she cried.  "I can love her not.  Put her in prison
below ground!"

And the beautiful girl was hurried away.

To be put in prison below the ground meant to be buried alive.  But
Kaloomah had no intention of obeying the queen on this occasion, and the
girl pale-face was conducted to a well-lighted bamboo hut and placed in
charge of a woman slave.

This slave looked a heart-broken creature, but seemed kind and good, and
now made haste to spread the girl’s bed of leaves on a bamboo bench, and
to place before her milk of the llama, with much luscious fruit and
nuts.  She needed little pressing to eat, or drink, or sleep.  The poor
child had almost ceased to wonder, or even to be afraid of anything.

But now comes the last act in Shooks-gee’s strange story.

Two days after the arrival of the warlike band from the far north,
Kaloomah had once more presented himself before the queen.  He came
unannounced this time, and with him were seven fierce-looking soldiers,
armed to the teeth with slings and stones, with bows and arrows, and
with spears.

The conversation that had ensued was somewhat as follows, being
interpreted into our plain and humdrum English:--

_The Queen_.  "Why advances my general and slave except on his knees,
even as come the frogs?"

_Kaloomah_.  "My queen will pardon me.  I will not so offend again.
Your majesty has reigned long and happily."

_Q_.  "True, slave."

She seized the poisoned spear as she spoke, and would have used it
freely; but at a word from Kaloomah it was wrenched from her grasp.

_K_.  "Your majesty’s reign has ended!  The old queen must make room for
the beautiful daughter of the pale-faces.  Yet will your beneficence
live in the person of the new queen, and in our hearts--the hearts of
those who have fought for you.  For we each and all shall taste of your
roasted flesh!"

Then, turning quickly to the soldiers, "Seize her and drag her forth!"
he cried, "and do your duty speedily."

I must not be too graphic in my description of the scene that followed.
But the ex-queen was led to a darksome hut, and there she was speedily
despatched.

That night high revelry was held in the royal camp of the cannibals.
Many prisoners were killed and roasted, and the feast was a fearful and
awful one.

But not a chief was there in all that crowd who did not partake of the
flesh of his late queen, while horn trumpets blared and war tom-toms
were wildly beaten.

A piece of the fearful flesh was even given to the pale-face girl’s
attendant, with orders that she must make her charge partake thereof.

The girl was spared this terrible ordeal, however.

But long after midnight the revelry and the wild music went on, then
ceased, and all was still.

The unhappy prisoner lay listening till sleep stole down on a star-ray
and wafted her off to the land of sweet forgetfulness.

                                  ――――

Next day, amidst wild unearthly clamour and music, she was led from the
tent and seated on the throne. Garments of otter skins and crimson cloth
were cast on the throne and draped over the beautiful child.  She was
encircled with flowers of rarest hue, and emu’s feathers were stuck,
plume-like, in her bonnie hair.

Meanwhile the trumpets blared more loudly, and the tom-toms were struck
with treble force, then all ceased at once, and there was a silence deep
as death, as everyone prostrated himself or herself before the
newly-made young queen.

Kaloomah rose at last, and advanced with bended back and head towards
her, and with an intuitive sense of her new-born dignity she touched him
gently on the shoulder and bade him stand erect.

He did so, and then placed in her hand the sceptre of the dead
queen--the poison-tipped spear.

Whatever might happen now, the girl knew that she was safe for a time,
and her spirits rose in consequence.

This, then, was the story told by Shooks-gee, the father of Benee’s
child-love.

                                  ――――

Had Dick Temple himself been there he could no longer have doubted the
fidelity of poor Benee.

But there was much to be done, and it would need all the tact and skill
of this wily Indian to carry out his plans.

He could trust his father and mother, as he called Weenah’s parents, and
he now told them that he had come, if possible, to deliver Peggy, or if
that were impossible, to hand her a letter that should give her both
comfort and hope.

Queen Peggy’s apartments on the mountain were cannibalistically regal in
their splendour.  The principal entrance to her private room was
approached by a long avenue of bamboo rails, completely lined with
skulls and bones, and the door thereof was also surrounded by the same
kind of horrors.

But every one of her subjects was deferential to her, and appeared
awe-struck with her beauty.

And now Benee consulted with his parents as to what had best be done.



CHAPTER XVI--ON THE BANKS OF A BEAUTIFUL RIVER


They would not allow Benee to harbour for a single moment the idea of
stealing the queen and escaping with her into the forest.

Two thousand armed men were stationed within a mile of the camp, so
Benee would speedily be killed, and in all likelihood Queen Peggy also.

No; and he must go no farther into the land of the cannibals.

But he, Shooks-gee, undertook to give the queen a little note-book, in
which a letter was written from her "brother", stating that all haste
was being made to come to her deliverance.  He would receive back the
note-book, and therein would doubtless be written poor Peggy’s letter.
Meanwhile Benee must wait.

Shooks-gee started on his mission next day.

He was away for a whole week, but it seemed but a few hours to Benee.
He had divested himself of his arms, and given the cloth and beads to
Weenah’s mother.  Then all the dear old life of his boyhood seemed to be
renewed.  Weenah and he wandered wild and free once more in the forest
and over the heath-clad plains; they fished in lake and stream; they ate
and drank together under the shade of the pine-tree, and listened to the
love-song of the sweet soo-soo.

It was all like a happy, happy dream.  And is not the love-life of the
young always a dream of bliss? Ah! but it is one from which there is
ever an awakening.

And with the return of Shooks-gee, Benee’s dream came to an end.

Peggy had written her long, sad story in the notebook.

Benee knew it was long, but he could not read it.

Then farewells were said.

The child Weenah clung to Benee’s neck and wept. She thought she could
not let him go, and at last he had to gently tear himself away and
disappear speedily in the forest.

Just one glance back at Weenah’s sad and wistful face, then the jungle
swallowed him up, and he would be seen by Weenah, mayhap, never again.

                                  ――――

It was not without considerable misgivings that Roland and Dick Temple
made a start for the country of the cannibals.

The relief party consisted but of one hundred white men all told, with
about double that number of carriers.  It was, of course, the first real
experience of these boys on the war-path, and difficulty after
difficulty presented itself, but was bravely met and overcome.

"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

Probably the general of an army, be it of what size it may, is more to
be pitied than even a king. The latter has his courtiers and his
parliament to advise him; the general is _princeps_, he is chief, and
has only his own skill and judgment to fall back upon.

It had been suggested by Burly Bill that instead of journeying overland
as a first start, and having to cross the whirling river Purus and many
lesser streams before striking the Madeira some distance above the
Amazon, they should drop down-stream in steamer-loads, and assemble at
the junction of the former with the latter.

Neither Roland nor Dick thought well of the plan, and herein lay their
first mistake.  Not only was it weeks before they were able to reach the
Madeira, but they had the grief of losing one white man and one Indian
with baggage in the crossing of the Purus.

We cannot put old heads on young shoulders; nevertheless the wise youth
never fails to profit by the experience of his elders.

Even when they reached the forest lands on the west side of the Madeira,
another long delay ensued. For here they had to encamp on somewhat damp
and unwholesome ground until Burly Bill should descend the stream to
hire canoes or boats suitable for passing the rapids.

Don Pedro or Peter was now doing his best to make himself agreeable.  He
was laughing and singing all day long, but this fact in no way deceived
Roland, and as a special precaution he told off several white men to act
as detectives and to be near him by day and by night.

If Peter were really the blood-guilty wretch that Roland, if not Dick,
believed him to be, he made one mistake now.  He tried his very utmost
to make friends with Brawn, the great Irish wolf-hound, but was, of
course, unsuccessful.

"I sha’n’t take bite nor sup from that evil man’s hand," Brawn seemed to
say to himself.  "He looks as if he would poison me.  But," he added,
"he shall have my undivided attention at night."

And so this huge hound guarded Peter, never being ten yards away from
the man’s sleeping-skin till up leapt the sun in the gold and crimson
east and shone on the waters of the beautiful river.

"That dog is getting very fond of you, I think," said Roland one day to
Peter, while Brawn was snuffing his hand.  "You see how well he protects
you by night.  He will never lie near to either Dick or me."

Peter replied in words that were hardly audible, but were understood to
mean that he was obliged to Brawn for his condescension.  But he
somewhat marred the beauty of his reply by adding a swear-word or two at
the end.

While they waited in camp here for the return of Bill and his crews,
they went in for sport of several sorts.

The fish in this river are somewhat remarkable--remarkable alike for
their numbers and for their appearance--but all are not edible.

"How are we to know, I wonder, which we should cook and which we
shouldn’t?" said Roland to his friend, Dick Temple.

"I think," replied Dick, "that we may safely cook any of them, but, as
to eating, why, I should only eat those that are nice in flavour."

"That’s right.  We’ll be guided by that rule."

The boys fished from canoes which they hired or requisitioned from the
Indian natives of the place. Clever these fellows are, and the manner in
which they watch for and harpoon or even spear a huge "boto"--which
looks like a long-snouted porpoise or "sea-pig"--astonished our heroes.

This fish is killed by whites only for its oil, but the Indians did not
hesitate to cut huge fourteen-pound pieces from the back to take home
for culinary purposes.

The "piraroocoo" is an immense fellow, and calculated to give good sport
for a long summer day if you do not know how to handle him.

This "’roocoo", as some of the natives call him, likes to hang around in
the back reaches of the river, and is often found ten feet in length.

He has the greatest objection in the world to being caught, and to being
killed after being dragged on shore.  Moreover, he has a neat and very
expert way of lifting a canoe on his back for a few seconds, and letting
it down bottom-upwards.

When he does so, you, the sportsman or piscador, find yourself
floundering in the water.  You probably gulp down about half a gallon of
river water, but you thank your stars you learned to swim when a boy,
and strike out for the bank.  But five to one you have a race to run
with an intelligent ’gator.  If he is hungry, you may as well think
about some short prayer to say; if he is not very ravenous, you may win
just by a neck.

This last was an experience of Dick’s one day; when a ’roocoo capsized
his frail canoe and his Indian and he got spilt.

Luckily Roland was on the beach, and just as a huge ’gator came
ploughing up behind poor Dick, with head and awful jaws above water,
Roland took steady aim and fired.  Then the creature turned on his back,
and the river was dyed with blood.

The natives salt the ’roocoo and eat it.  But Roland’s Indian carriers
managed to get through as many as could be caught, without any salt
worth speaking about.

Surely the fish in this beautiful river must have thought it strange,
that so many of their number were constantly disappearing heavenwards at
the end of a line.  But it did not trouble them very much after all, and
they learnt no lesson from what they saw, but took the bait as readily
as ever.

There were very many other species of fish, which not only gave good
sport but made a most delicious _addendum_ to the larder.

Boats and canoes were now in the river all day long, and with the fish
caught, and the turtle which were found in great abundance, not to
mention the wild animals killed in the woods, Roland managed to feed his
little army well.

There is one fish in this river which is sometimes called "diabolo".  He
is no relation at all, however, to the real octopus or devil-fish, for
this creature is flat.  It seems a species of ray, and has an immense
mouthful of the very sharpest of teeth.  He is not at all dainty as to
what he eats.  He can make a meal off fresh-water shell-fish; he can
swallow his smaller brothers of the deep; take a snack from a dead
’gator, and is quite at home while discussing a nice tender one-pound
steak from a native’s leg.

The young ’gator is neither fish, flesh, nor good red-herring.  Yet if
you catch one not over a yard long, and he doesn’t catch you--for he has
a wicked way of seizing a man by the hand and holding on till his mother
comes,--his tail, stewed or fried with a morsel of pork, will tide you
over a "hungry hillock" very pleasantly indeed.

If we turn to the pleasant reaches of the River Madeira, or the quiet
back-waters, and, gun on shoulder, creep warily through the bush and
scrub, we shall be rewarded with a sight that will well repay our
caution.

Here of an early morning we shall see water-fowl innumerable, and of the
greatest beauty imaginable.

Hidden from view, one is loth indeed to fire a shot and so disturb
Nature’s harmony, but prefers, for a time at all events, to crouch there
quietly and watch the strange antics of the male birds and the meek
docility of the female.

Here are teal, black ducks, strange wild geese, brown ducks, sheldrakes,
widgeons, and whatnot.

And yonder on the shore, in all sorts of droll attitudes with their
ridiculously long necks and legs, are storks and herons.  I think they
like to perform their toilet close to the calm pellucid water, because
it serves the same purpose to them as a bedroom mirror does to us.

Young tapirs form a welcome addition to the larder, and the woods all
round abound in game.

What a paradise! and yet this country is hardly yet known to us young
Britons.  We hear of ague. Bah!  Regularity of living, and a dust of
quinine, and camping in the open, can keep fever of all sorts at bay.

Some may be surprised that our heroes should have settled down, as it
were, so enthusiastically to fishing and sporting, although uncertain
all the while as to the fate of poor kidnapped Peggy.

True, but we must remember that activity and constant employment are the
only cure for grief. So long, then, as Roland and Dick were busy with
gun or fishing-rod, they were free from thought and care.

But after sunset, when the long dark night closed over the camp; when
the fire-flies danced from bush to bush, and all was still save the wind
that sighed among the trees, or the voices of night-birds and prowling
beasts, and the rush of the river fell on the ear in drowsy, dreamy
monotone, then the boys felt their anxiety acutely enough, but bravely
tried to give each other courage, and their conversation, oft-repeated,
was somewhat as follows:--

_Roland_.  "You’re a bit gloomy to-night, Dick, I think?"

_Dick_.  "Well, Roll, the night is so pitchy dark, never a moon, and
only a star peeping out now and then. Besides I am thinking of--"

_Roland_.  "Hush! hush! aren’t we both always thinking about her?
Though I won’t hesitate to say it is wrong not to be hopeful and
cheerful."

_Dick_.  "But do you believe--"

_Roland_.  "I believe this, Dick, that if those kidnapping revengeful
Indians had meant murder they would have slain the dear child in bed and
not have resorted to all that horrible trickery--instigated without
doubt by somebody.  She has been taken to the country of the cannibals,
but not to be tortured. She is a slave, let us hope, to some Indian
princess, and well-guarded too.  What we have got to do is to trust in
God.  I’m no preacher, but that is so. And we’ve got to do our duty and
rescue Peggy."

_Dick_.  "Dead or alive, Roland."

_Roland_.  "Dead or alive, Dick.  But Heaven have mercy on the souls of
those who harm a hair of her head!"

                                  ――――

Dick did his best to trust in Providence, but often in the middle
watches of the night he would lie in his tent thinking, thinking, and
unable to sleep; then, after perhaps an uneasy slumber towards morning,
awake somewhat wearily to resume the duties of the day.



CHAPTER XVII--BILL AND HIS BOATS


Roland, young and inexperienced as he was, proved himself a fairly good
general.

He certainly had not forgotten the salt, nor anything else that was
likely to add to the comfort of his people in this very long cruise by
river and by land.

They knew not what was before them, nor what trouble or dangers they
might have to encounter, so our young heroes were pretty well prepared
to fight or to rough it in every way.

Independent of very large quantities of ammunition for rifles and
revolvers, Roland had prepared a quantity of war-rockets, for nothing
strikes greater terror into the breasts of the ordinary savage than
these fire-devils, as they term them.

Roland, Dick, and Bill each had shot-guns, with sheath-knives, and a
sort of a portable bill-hook, which many of the men carried also, and
found extremely handy for making a clearance among reeds, rushes, or
lighter bush.

We have already seen that they had plenty of fishing-tackle.

Oil and pumice-stone were not forgotten, and Roland had a regular
inspection of his men every day, to make certain that their rifles and
revolvers were clean.

But this was not all, for, to the best of their ability, both Roland and
Dick drilled their men to the use of their arms at short and long
distances, and taught them to advance and retire in skirmishing order,
taking advantage of every morsel of cover which the ground might afford.

Plenty of maize and corn-flour were carried, and quite a large supply of
tinned provisions, from the plantation and from Burnley Hall.  These
included canned meat, sardines, and salmon.

Extra clothing was duly arranged for, because from the plains they would
have to ascend quite into the regions of cloud and storm, if not snow.

Medicine, too, but only a very little of this, Roland thought, would be
needed, although, on the other hand, he stowed away lint and bandages in
abundance, with a few surgical instruments.

Medical comforts?  Yes, and these were not to be considered as luxuries,
though they took the form of brandy and good wine.

Good tea, coffee, cocoa, and coca were, of course, carried, with sugar
to sweeten these luxuries.

But a small cask of fire-water--arrack--was included among the stores,
and this was meant as a treat for native Indians, if they should happen
to meet any civil and obliging enough to hobnob.

Money would be of no use in the extreme wilds. Salt, and cloth of gaudy
colours, to say nothing of beads, would be bartered for articles of
necessity.

                                  ――――

Everything was ready for the start, but still there were no signs of
Bill and the boats.

It was the first question Roland asked Dick of a morning, or Dick asked
Roland, according to who happened to be first up:

"Any signs of Bill and the boats?"

"None!"

On the top of a cliff at the bend of the beautiful river stood a very
tall tree, and right on top of this was an outlook--an Indian boy, who
stayed two hours on watch, and was then relieved.

He could command quite an extensive view downstream, and was frequently
hailed during the day and asked about Bill and his boats, but the answer
would come somewhat dolefully:

"Plenty boat, sah, but no Beel."

Yes, there were boats of many kinds, and a few steamers now and then
also, but Roland held no intercourse with any of these.  His little army
was encamped on an open clearing well back in the forest. He did not
wish to know anyone’s business, and he determined that his own should
not leak out.

But although Roland and Dick had plenty to do, and there was sport
enough to be had, still the time began to drag wearily on day by day,
and both young fellows were burning for action and movement and "go".

Peter, _alias_ Don Pedro, seemed as anxious as anyone else to get
forward.

He was most quiet and affable to everyone, although apt to drop into
dejected moods at times.

He saw that he was not wholly in bad favour with Dick Temple.

One day, when Roland was at the other side of the river, after smoking
in silence for some time by the banks of the stream, where, in company
with Dick and Brawn, he was sitting, a down-steamer hove in sight at the
bend of the river, and both waved their caps to those on board, a salute
which was cheerfully returned.

The vessel was some distance out in the broad river, but presently Dick
could see a huge black-board held over the port-quarter.  There was
writing in chalk on it, and Dick speedily put his lorgnettes up, and
read as follows:--

                       IF GOING UP RIVER--BEWARE!

               KARAPOONA SAVAGES ON WAR-PATH--TREACHERY!


"Forewarned is forearmed!" said Dick.

"What was the legend exposed to view on the telegraph board?" asked
Peter languidly.

"The Karapoona savages on the war-path," replied Dick.

"What!  The Karapoonas!  A fearful race, and cannibals to boot--"

"You know them then?"

"What, I?  I--I--no--no, only what I have heard."

He took three or four whiffs of his cigarette in quick succession, as if
afraid of its going dead.

But Dick’s eye was on him all the time.

He seemed not to care to meet it.

"Bound for Pará, no doubt," he said at last.  "I do wish I were on
board."

"No doubt, Mr. Peter, and really we seem to be taking you on this
expedition somewhat against your will?"

"True; and I am a man of the world, and have not failed to notice that I
am in some measure under the ban of suspicion.

"Yet, I think you are not unfriendly to me," he added.

"No, Mr. Peter, I am unfriendly to no one."

"Then, might you not use your influence with your friend, Mr. St. Clair,
to let me catch the first boat back to Pará?"

"I cannot interfere with Mr. Roland St. Clair’s private concerns.  If he
suspects you of anything in the shape of duplicity or treachery and you
are innocent, you have really nothing to fear.  As to letting you off
your engagement, that is his business.  I can only say that the tenure
of your office is not yet complete, and that you are his head-clerk for
still another year."

"True, true, but I came as governor of the estate, and not to accompany
a mad-cap expedition like this. Besides, Mr. Temple, I am far from
strong.  I am a man of peace, too, and have hardly ever fired a revolver
in my life.

"But I have another very urgent reason for getting back to England--"

"No doubt, Mr. Peter!"

This was almost a sneer.

"No doubt--but I interrupt you."

"My other reason may appeal to you in more ways than one.  I am in love,
Mr. Temple--"

"You!"

"I am in love, and engaged to be married to one of the sweetest girls in
Cornwall.  If I am detained here, and unable to write, she may think me
dead--and--and--well, anything might happen."

"Pah, Mr. Peter!  I won’t say I don’t believe you, but instead of your
little romance appealing to me, it simply disgusts me.  I tell you
straight, sir, you don’t look like a man to fall in love with anything
except gold; but if the young lady is really fond of you, she will lose
neither hope nor heart, even if she does not hear of you or from you for
a year or more."

Then, seeing that he seemed to wound this strange man’s feelings:

"Pardon my brusqueness, Mr. Peter," he added more kindly.  "I really do
not mean to hurt you.  Come, cheer up, and if I can help you--I will."

Peter held out his hand.

Dick simply touched it.

He could not get himself even to like the man.

                                  ――――

The signal-tree was but a few yards distant from the spot where they
sat.

And now there came a wild, excited hail therefrom.

"Golly foh true, Massa Dick!"

Brawn jumped up, and barked wildly.

His echo came from beyond the stream, and he barked still more wildly at
that.

"Well, boy," shouted Dick, "do you see anything?"

"Plenty moochee see.  Beel come.  Not very far off.  Beel and de boats!"

This was indeed joyful news for Dick.  He happened to glance at Peter
for a moment, however, and could not help being struck with the change
that seemed to have come over him.  He appeared to have aged suddenly.
His face was gray, his lips compressed, his brows lowered and stern.

Dick never forgot that look.

Dick Temple was really good-hearted, and he felt for this man, and
something kept telling him he was innocent and wronged.

But he had nothing to fear if innocent.  He would certainly be put to
inconvenience, but for that, if all went well, Roland would not fail to
recompense him handsomely, and he--Dick--had a duty to perform to his
friend.  So now in the bustle that followed--if Peter wanted to make a
rush for the woods--he might try.

Roland had heard the hail, and his canoe was now coming swiftly on
towards the bank.  Dick ran to meet him.

When he half-pulled his friend on shore and turned back with him,
behold!  Peter was gone.



CHAPTER XVIII--AS IF STRUCK BY A DUM-DUM BULLET


Roland and Dick walked quickly towards the camp.

It was all a scene of bustle and stir indescribable, for good news as
well as bad travels apace.

"Bill and the boats are coming!" Englishmen were shouting.

"Beel and de boats!" chorused the Indians.

But on the approach of "the young captains", as the boys were called,
comparative peace was restored.

"Had anyone seen Mr. Peter?" was the first question put by our heroes to
their white officers.  "No," from all.

"He had disappeared for a few moments in his tent," said an Indian,
"then der was no more Massa Peter."

Scouts and armed runners were now speedily got together, and Roland gave
them orders.  They were to search the bush and forest, making a long
detour or outflanking movement, then closing round a centre, as if in
battue, to allow not a tree to go unexamined.

This was all that could be done.

So our heroes retraced their steps towards the river bank, where, lo!
they beheld a whole fleet of strange canoes, big and small, being rowed
swiftly towards them.

In the bows of the biggest--a twelve-tonner--stood Burly Bill himself.

He was blacker with the sun than ever, and wildly waving the broadest
kind of Panama hat ever seen on the Madeira.  But in his left hand he
clutched his meerschaum, and such clouds was he blowing that one might
have mistaken the great canoe for a steam-launch.

He jumped on shore as soon as the prow touched the bank--the water here
being deep.

Black though Burly Bill was, his smile was so pleasant, and his face so
good-natured, that everybody who looked at him felt at once on excellent
terms with himself and with all created things.

"I suppose I ought to apologize, Mr. Roland, for the delay--I--"

"And I suppose," interrupted Roland, "you ought to do nothing of the
kind.  Dinner is all ready, Bill; come and eat first.  Put guards in
your boats, and march along.  Your boys will be fed immediately."

It was a splendid dinner.

Burly Bill, who was more emphatic than choice in English, called it a
tiptopper, and all hands in Roland’s spacious tent did ample justice to
it.

Roland even spliced the main-brace, as far as Bill was concerned, by
opening a bottle of choice port.

The boys themselves merely sipped a little.  What need have lads under
twenty for vinous stimulants?

Bill’s story was a long one, but I shall not repeat it. He had
encountered the greatest difficulty imaginable in procuring the sort of
boats he needed.

"But," he added, "all’s well that end’s well, I guess, and we’ll start
soon now, I suppose, for the rapids of Antonio."

"Yes," said Roland, "we’ll strike camp possibly to-morrow; but we must
do as much loading up as possible to-night."

"That’s the style," said Bill.  "We’ve got to make haste.  Only we’ve
got to think!  ’Haste but not hurry’, that’s my motto.

"But I say," he continued, "I miss two friends--where is Mr. Peter and
where is Brawn?"

"Peter has taken French leave, I fear, and Brawn, where is Brawn, Dick?"

"I really did not miss either till now," answered Dick, "but let us
continue to be fair to Mr. Peter--  Listen!"

At that moment shouting was heard far down the forest.

The noise came nearer and nearer, and our heroes waited patiently.

In five minutes’ time into the tent bounded the great wolf-hound,
gasping but laughing all down both sides, and with about a foot of pink
tongue--more or less--hanging out at one side, over his alabaster teeth.

He quickly licked Roland’s ears and Dick’s, then uttered one joyous bark
and made straight for Burly Bill.

Yes, Bill was burly, but Brawn fairly rolled him over and nearly
smothered him with canine caresses. Then he took a leap back to the boys
as much as to say:

"Why don’t you rejoice too?  Wouff--wouff!  Aren’t you glad that Bill
has returned?  Wouff!  What would life be worth anyhow without Bill?
Wouff--wouff--wow!"

But the last wow ended in a low growl, as Peter himself stood smiling at
the opening.

"Why, Mr. Peter, we thought you were lost!" cried Dick.

Mr. Peter walked up to Bill and shook hands.

"Glad indeed to see you back," he said nonchalantly, "and you’re not
looking a bit paler.  Any chance of a morsel to eat?"

"Sit down," cried Dick.  "Steward!"

"Yes, sah; to be surely, sah.  Dinner foh Massa Peter?  One moment,
sah."

Mr. Peter was laughing now, but he had seated himself on the withered
grass as far as possible from Brawn.

"I must say that three hours in a tree-top gives one the devil’s own
appetite," he began.  "I had gone to take a stroll in the forest, you
know--"

"Yes," said Roland, "we do know."

Mr. Peter looked a little crestfallen, but said pointedly enough: "If
you do know, there is no need for me to tell you."

"Oh, yes, go on!" cried Dick.

"Well then, I had not gone half a mile, and was just lighting up a
cigarette, when Brawn came down on me, and I had barely time to spring
into the tree before he reached the foot of it.  There I waited as
patiently as Job would have done--thank you, steward, what a splendid
Irish stew!--till by and by--a precious long by and by--your boys came
to look for Brawn, and in finding Brawn they found poor famishing me.
Thank you, Bill, I’ll be glad of a little wine."

"Looking for Brawn, they found you, eh!" said Roland.  "I should have
put it differ--"

But Dick punched Roland’s leg, and Roland laughed and said no more.

                                  ――――

Two days after the arrival of Burly Bill an order was given for general
embarkation.  All under their several officers were inspected on the
river bank, and to each group was allotted a station in boat or canoe.

The head men or captains from whom Bill had hired the transport were in
every instance retained, but a large number of Roland’s own Indians were
most expert rowers, and therefore to take others would only serve to
load the vessels uncomfortably, not to say dangerously.

But peons or paddlers to the number of two or four to each large canoe
their several captains insisted on having.

The inspection on the bank was a kind of "muster by open list", and
Roland was exceedingly pleased with the result, for not a man or boy was
missing.

It was a delightful day when the expedition was at last got under way.

Roland and Dick, with Peter, to say nothing of Brawn, occupied the
after-cabin in a canoe of very light draught, but really a
twelve-tonner.  The cabin was, of course, both dining-room and sleeping
berth--the lounges being skins of buffaloes and of wild beasts, but all
clean and sweet.

The cabin itself was built of bamboo and bamboo leaves lined with very
light skins, so overlapping as to make the cabin perfectly dry.

Our heroes had arranged about light, and candles were brought out as
soon as daylight began to fade.

Then the canoes were paddled towards the bank or into some beautiful
reach or back-water, and there made fast for the night with padlock and
chain.

Roland and Dick had their own reasons for taking such strict
precautions.

The first day passed without a single adventure worth relating.

The paddlers or peons, of whom there were seven on each side of our
hero’s huge canoe, worked together well.  They oftentimes sang or
chanted a wild indescribable kind of boat-lilt, to which the sound of
the paddles was an excellent accompaniment, but now and then the captain
would shout: "Choorka--choorka!" which, from the excitement the words
caused, evidently meant "Sweep her up!" and then the vessel seemed to
fly over the water and dance in the air.

Other canoe captains would take up the cry, and "Choorka--Choorka!"
would resound from every side.

A sort of race was on at such times, but the _Burnley Hall_, as Roland’s
boat was called, nearly always left the others astern.

Dinner was cooked on shore, and nearly everyone landed at night.  Only
our heroes stuck to their boat.

There were moon and stars at present, and very pleasant it was to sit,
or rather lie, at their open-sided cabin, and to watch these mirrored in
the calm water, while fire-flies danced and flitted from bush to bush.

But there was always the sorrow and the weight of grief lying deep down
in the hearts of both Roland and Dick; the ever-abiding anxiety, the one
question they kept asking themselves constantly, and which could not be
answered, "Shall we be in time to save poor Peggy?"

Mr. Peter slept on shore.

Brawn kept him company.  Kept untiring watch over him.  And two faithful
and well-armed Indians lay in the bush at a convenient distance.

In a previous chapter I have mentioned an ex-cannibal Bolivian, whom
Roland had made up his mind to take with him as a guide in the absence
of, or in addition to, faithful Benee.

He was called Charlie by the whites.

Charlie was as true to his master as the needle to the pole.

On the third evening of the voyage, just as Roland and Dick, with Bill,
were enjoying an after-dinner lounge in an open glade not far from the
river brink, the moon shining so brightly that the smallest of type
could easily have been read by young eyes, he suddenly appeared in their
midst.

"What cheer, Charlie?" said Roland kindly.  "Come, squat thee down, and
we will give you a tiny toothful of aguardiente."

"Touchee me he, no, no!" was the reply.  "He catchee de bref too muchee.
Smokee me, notwidstanding," he added.

It was one of Charlie’s peculiarities that if he could once get hold of
a big word or two, he planted them in his conversation whenever he
thought he had a favourable opening.

An ex-cannibal Charlie was, and he came from the great western
unexplored district of Bolivia.

He confessed that although fond of "de pig ob de forest (tapir), de tail
ob de ’gator, and de big haboo-snake when roast," there was nothing in
all the world so satisfactory as "de fles’ ob a small boy.  Yum, yum! it
was goodee, goodee notwidstanding, and make bof him ear crack and him
’tumack feel wa’m."

Charlie lit up his cigarette, and then commenced to explain the reason
of his visit.

"What you callee dat?" he said, handing Burly Bill a few large purple
berries of a species of thorny laurel.

"Why," said Bill, "these are the fruit of the lanton-tree, used for
poisoning arrow-tips."

"And dis, sah.  What you callee he?  Mind, mind, no touchee de point!
He poison, notwidstanding."

It was a thin bamboo cane tipped with a fine-pointed nail.

Bill waited for him to explain.

He condescended to do so at last.

"Long time ago I runee away from de cannibal Indians notwidstanding.  I
young den, I fat, I sweet in flesh.  Sometime my leg look so nice, I
like to eat one little piecee ob myse’f.  But no.  Charlie not one big
fool.  But de chief tink he like me.  He take me to him tent one day,
den all muchee quickee he slaves run in and take up knife.  Ha, ha!  I
catchee knife too, notwidstanding.  Charlie young and goodee and plenty
mooch blood fly.

"I killee dat chief, and killee bof slaves.  Den I runned away.

"Long time I wander in de bush, but one day I come to de tents ob de
white men.  Dey kind to poh Charlie, and gib me work.  I lub de white
man; all same, I no lub Massa Peter."

He paused to puff at a fresh cigarette.

"And," he added, "I fine dat poison berry and dat leetle poison spear in
place where Massa Peter sleep."

"Ho, ho!" said Bill.

Charlie grew a little more excited as he continued: "As shuah as God
madee me, de debbil hisself makee dat bad man Peter.  He wantee killee
poh Brawn. Dat what for, notwidstanding."

Now although there be some human beings--they are really not worth the
name--who hate dogs, every good-hearted man or woman in the world loves
those noble animals who are, next to man, the best and bravest that God
has created.

But there are degrees in the love people bear for their pets.  If a
faithful dog like Brawn is constantly with one, he so wins one’s
affection that death alone can sever the tie.

Not only Roland, but Dick also, dearly loved Brawn, and the bare idea
that he was in danger of his life so angered both that, had Mr. Peter
been present when honest Charlie the Indian made his communication, one
of them would most certainly have gone for him in true Etonian style,
and the man would have been hardly presentable at court for a fortnight
after at the least.

"Dick," said Roland, the red blood mounting to his brow, the fire
seeming to scintillate from his eyes. "Dick, old man, what do you
advise?"

"I know what I should like to do," answered Dick, with clenched fist and
lowered brows.

"So do I, Dick; but that might only make matters worse.

"But Heaven keep me calm, old man," he continued, "for now I shall send
for Peter and have it out with him.  Not at present, you say?  But,
Dick, I am all on fire.  I must, I shall speak to him.  Charlie, retire;
I would not have Mr. Peter taking revenge on so good a fellow as you."

At Dick’s earnest request Roland waited for half an hour before he sent
for Peter.

This gentleman advanced from the camp fire humming an operatic air, and
with a cigar in hand.

"Oh, Mr. Peter," said Roland, "I was walking near your sleeping place of
last night and picked this up."

He held up the little bamboo spear.

"What is it?" said Peter.  "An arrow?  I suppose some of the Indians
dropped it.  I never saw it before. It seems of little consequence," he
continued, "though I dare say it would suffice to pink a rat with."

He laughed lightly as he spoke.  "Was this all you wanted me for, Mr.
St. Clair?"

He was handling the little spear as he spoke.  Next moment:

"Merciful Father!" he suddenly screamed, "I have pricked myself!  I am
poisoned!  I am a dead man! Brandy--  Oh, quick--  Oh--!"

He said never a word more, but dropped on the moss as if struck by a
dum-dum bullet.

And there he lay, writhing in torture, foaming at the mouth, from which
blood issued from a bitten tongue.

It was a ghastly and horrible sight.  Roland looked at Dick.

"Dick," he said, "the man knew it was poisoned."

"Better he should die than Brawn."

"Infinitely," said Roland.



CHAPTER XIX--STRUGGLING ONWARDS UP-STREAM


"But," said Roland, "it would be a pity to let even Peter die, as we may
have need of him.  Let us send for Charlie at once.  Perhaps he can tell
us of an antidote."

The Indian was not far off.

"Fire-water", was his reply to Dick’s question, "and dis."

"Dis" was the contents of a tiny bottle, which he speedily rubbed into
the wound in Peter’s hand.

The steward, as one of the men was called, quickly brought a whole
bottle of rum, the poisoned man’s jaws were forced open, and he was
literally drenched with the hot and fiery spirit.

But spasm after spasm took place after this, and while the body was
drawn up with cramp, and the muscles knotted and hard, the features were
fearfully contorted.

By Roland’s directions chloroform was now poured on a handkerchief, and
after this was breathed by the sufferer for a few minutes the muscles
became relaxed, and the face, though still pale as death, became more
sightly.

More rum and more rubbing with the antidote, and Mr. Peter slept in
peace.

About sunrise he awoke, cold and shivering, but sensible.

After a little more stimulant he began to talk.

"Bitten by a snake, have I not been?"

"Mr. Peter," said Roland sternly, "you have narrowly escaped the death
you would have meted out to poor Brawn with your cruel and accursed
arrow.

"You may not love the dog.  He certainly does not love you, and dogs are
good judges of character.  He tree’d you, and you sought revenge.  You
doubtless have other reasons to hate Brawn, but his life is far more to
us than yours.  Now confess you meant to do for him, and then to make
your way down-stream by stealing a canoe."

"I do not, will not confess," cried Peter.  "It is a lie.  I am here
against my will.  I am kidnapped.  I am a prisoner.  The laws of even
this country--and sorry I am ever I saw it--will and shall protect me."

Roland was very calm, even to seeming carelessness.

"We are on the war-path at present, my friend," he said very quietly.
"You are suspected of one of the most horrible crimes that felon ever
perpetrated, that of procuring the abduction of Miss St. Clair and
handing her over to savages."

"As Heaven is above us," cried Peter, "I am guiltless of that!"

"Hush!" roared Roland, "why take the sacred name of Heaven within your
vile lips.  Were you not about to die, I would strike you where you
stand."

"To die, Mr. Roland?  You--you--you surely don’t mean--"

Roland placed a whistle to his lips, and its sound brought six stern men
to his side.

"Bind that man’s hands behind his back and hang him to yonder tree," was
the order.

In two minutes’ time the man was pinioned and the noose dangling over
his head.

As he stood there, arrayed but in shirt and trousers, pale and
trembling, with the cold sweat on his brow, it would have been difficult
even to imagine a more distressing and pitiable sight.

His teeth chattered in his head, and he swayed about as if every moment
about to fall.

A man advanced, and was about to place the noose around his neck when:

"A moment, one little moment!" cried Peter.  "Sir--Mr. St. Clair--I did
mean to take your favourite dog’s life."

"And Miss St. Clair?"

"I am innocent.  If--I am to be lynched--for--that--you have the blood
of a guiltless man on your head."

Dick Temple had seen enough.  He advanced now to Peter’s side.

"Your crime deserves lynching," he said, "but I will intercede for you
if you promise me sacredly you will never attempt revenge again.  If you
do, as sure as fate you shall swing."

"I promise--Oh--I promise!"

Dick retired, and after a few minutes’ conversation with Roland, the
wretched man was set free.

_Entre nous_, reader, Roland had never really meant to lynch the man.
But so utterly nerveless and broken-down was Mr. Peter now, that as soon
as he was released he threw himself on the ground, crying like a child.

Even Brawn pitied him, and ran forward and actually licked the hands of
the man who would have cruelly done him to death.

So noble is the nature of our friend the dog.

                                  ――――

The voyage up-stream was now continued.  But the progress of so many
boats and men was necessarily slow, for all had to be provided for, and
this meant spending about every alternate day in shooting, fishing, and
collecting fruit and nuts.

The farther up-stream they got, however, the more lightsome and cheerful
became the hearts of our heroes.

They began to look upon Peggy as already safe in their camp.

"I say, you know," said Dick one day, "our passage up is all toil and
trouble, but won’t it be delightful coming back."

"Yes, indeed," said Roland, smiling.

"We sha’n’t hurry, shall we?"

"Oh, no! poor Peggy’s health must need renovating, and we must let her
see all that is to be seen."

"Ye--es, of course!  Certainly, Roll, and it will be all just too lovely
for anything, all one deliciously delicious picnic."

"I hope so."

"Don’t look quite so gloomy, Roland, old man.  I tell you it is all
plain sailing now.  We have only to meet Benee when we get as far as the
rendezvous, then strike across country, and off and away to the land of
the cannibals and give them fits."

"Oh, I’m not gloomy, you know, Dick, though not quite so hopeful as you!
We have many difficulties to encounter, and there may be a lot of
fighting after we get there; and, mind you, that game of giving fits is
one that two can play at."

"Choorka!  Choorka!" shouted the captain of the leading boat, a swarthy
son of the river.

As he spoke, he pointed towards the western bank, and thither as quickly
as paddles could send him his boat was hurried.  For they had been well
out in the centre of the river, and had reached a place where the
current was strong and swift.

But closer to the bank it was more easy to row.

Nevertheless, two of the canoes ran foul of a snag. One was capsized at
once, and the other stuck on top.

The ’gators here were in dozens apparently, and before the canoe could
be righted two men had been dragged below, the brown stream being tinged
with their gushing blood.

Both were Indians, but nevertheless their sad death cast a gloom over
the hearts of everyone, which was not easily dispelled.

On again once more, still hugging the shore; but after dinner it was
determined to stay where they were for the night.

They luckily found a fine open back-water, and this they entered and
were soon snug enough.

They could not be idle, however.  Food must be collected, and
everything--Roland determined--must go on like clock-work, without hurry
or bustle.

Soon, therefore, after the canoes were made fast, both Indians and
whites were scattered far and near in the forest, on the rocks and
hills, and on the rivers.

I believe that all loved the "boys", as Roland and Dick were called by
the white men, and so all worked right cheerfully, laughing and singing
as they did so.

Ten men besides our heroes and Burly Bill had remained behind to get the
tents up and to prepare the evening meal, for everybody would return as
hungry as alligators, and these gentry seem to have a most insatiable
appetite.

Just before sunset on this particular evening Roland and Dick had
another interview with Mr. Peter.

"I should be a fool and a fraud, Mr. Peter," said the former, "were I to
mince matters.  Besides, it is not my way.  I tell you, then, that
during our journey you will have yonder little tent to yourself to eat
and to sleep in.  I tell you, too, that despite your declarations of
innocence I still suspect you, that nevertheless no one will be more
happy than Mr. Temple here and myself if you are found not guilty.  But
you must face the music now.  You must be guarded, strictly guarded, and
I wish you to know that you are.  I wish to impress upon you also that
your sentries have strict orders to shoot you if you are found making
any insane attempt to escape.  In all other respects you are a free man,
and I should be very sorry indeed to rope or tie you.  Now you may go."

"My time will come," said Mr. Peter meaningly.

His face was set and determined.

"Is this a threat?" cried Roland, fingering his revolver.

But Peter’s dark countenance relaxed at once.

"A threat!" he said.  "No, no, Mr. Roland.  I am an unarmed man, you are
armed, and everyone is on your side.  But I repeat, my time will come to
clear my character; that is all.

"So be it, Mr. Peter."

And the man retired to his tent breathing black curses deep though not
aloud.

"I’ve had enough of this," he told himself.  "And escape that young
cub’s tyranny I must and shall, even should I die in my tracks.  Curse
them all!"

                                  ――――

Next day a deal of towing was required, for the river was running fierce
and strong, and swirling in angry eddies and dangerous maelstroms even
close to the bank.

This towing was tiresome work, and although all hands bent to it, half a
mile an hour was their highest record.

But now they neared the terrible rapids of Antonio, and once more a halt
was called for the night, in order that all might be fresh and strong to
negotiate these torrents.

Next day they set to work.

All the cargo had to be got on shore, and a few armed men were left to
guard it.  Then the empty boats were towed up.

For three or four miles the river dashed onward here over its rocky bed,
with a noise like distant thunder, a chafing, boiling, angry stream,
which but to look at caused the eyes to swim and the senses to reel.

There are stretches of comparatively calm water between the rapids, and
glad indeed were Roland’s brave fellows to reach these for a
breathing-spell.

In the afternoon, before they were half-way through these torrents, a
halt was called for the night in a little bay, and the baggage was
brought up.

They fell asleep that night with the roar of the rapids in their ears,
and the dreams of many of them were far indeed from pleasant.

Morning brought renewal of toil and struggle.  But "stout hearts to stey
braes" is an excellent old Scottish motto.  It was acted on by this
gallant expedition, and so in a day or two they found themselves in a
fresh turmoil of water beneath the splendid waterfalls of Theotonia.

The river was low, and in consequence the cataract was seen at its best,
though not its maddest.  Fancy, if you can, paddling to keep your
way--not to advance--face to face with a waterfall a mile at least in
breadth, and probably forty feet in height, divided into three by rocky
little islands, pouring in white-brown sheets sheer down over the rock,
and falling with a steady roar into the awful cauldrons beneath. It is
like a small Niagara, but, with the hills and rocks and stately woods,
and the knowledge that one is in an uncivilized land, among wild beasts
and wilder men, far more impressive.

Our young heroes were astonished to note the multitudes of fish of
various kinds on all sides of them.  The pools were full.

The larger could be easily speared, but bait of any kind they did not
seem to fancy.  They were troubled and excited, for up the great stream
and through the wild rapids they had made their way in order to spawn in
the head-waters of the Madeira and its tributaries.  But Nature here had
erected a barrier.

Yet wild were their attempts to fling themselves over.  Many succeeded.
The fittest would survive. Others missed, or, gaining but the rim of the
cataract, were hurled back, many being killed.

Another halt, another night of dreaming of all kinds of wild adventures.
The Indians had told the whites, the evening before, strange legends
about the deep, almost bottomless, pools beneath the falls.

Down there, according to them, devils dwell, and hold high revelry every
time the moon is full.  Dark? No it is not dark at the bottom, for
Indians who have been dragged down there and afterwards escaped, have
related their adventures, and spoken of the splendid caverns lit up by
crimson fire, whose mouths open into the water.  Caverns more gorgeous
and beautiful than eyes of men ever alight upon above-ground. Caverns of
crystal, of jasper, onyx, and ruby; caverns around whose stalactites
demons, in the form of six-legged snakes, writhe and crawl, but are
nevertheless possessed of the power to change their shapes in the
twinkling of an eye from the horrible and grotesque to the beautiful.

Prisoners from the upper world are tortured here, whether men, women, or
children, and the awful rites performed are too fearful--so say the
Indians--to be even hinted at.

The cargo first and the empty canoes next had to be portaged half a mile
on shore and above the lovely linn.  This was extremely hard work, but
it was safely accomplished at last.

Roland was not only a born general, but a kind-hearted and excellent
master.  He never lost his temper, nor uttered a bad or impatient word,
and thus there was not an Indian there who would not have died for him
and his companion Dick.

Moreover, the officer-Indians found that kind words were more effectual
than cuts with the bark whips they carried, or blows with the hand on
naked shoulders.

And so the march and voyage was one of peace and comfort.

Accidents, however, were by no means rare, for there were snags and
sunken rocks to be guarded against, and more than one of the small
canoes were stove and sunk, with the loss of precious lives.

                                  ――――

Roland determined not to overwork his crew.  This might spoil
everything, for many of the swamps in the neighbourhood of which they
bivouacked are pestilential in the extreme.

Mosquitoes were found rather a plague at first, but our boys had come
prepared.

They carried sheets of fine muslin--the ordinary mosquito-nets are
useless--for if a "squeeter" gets one leg through, his body very soon
wriggles after, and then he begins to sing a song of thanksgiving before
piercing the skin of the sleeper with his poison-laden proboscis.  But
mosquitoes cannot get through the muslin, and have to sing to themselves
on the other side.

After a time, however, the muslin was not thought about, for all hands
had received their baptism of blood, and bites were hardly felt.



CHAPTER XX--THE PAGAN PAYNEES WERE THIRSTING FOR BLOOD


A glance at any good map will show the reader the bearings and flow of
this romantic and beautiful river, the Madeira.  It will show him
something else--the suggestive names of some of the cataracts or rapids
that have to be negotiated by the enterprising sportsman or traveller in
this wild land.

The Misericordia Rapids and the Calderano de Inferno speak for
themselves.  The latter signifies Hell’s Cauldron, and the former speaks
to us of many a terrible accident that has occurred here--boats upset,
bodies washed away in the torrent, or men seized and dragged below by
voracious alligators before the very eyes of despairing friends.

The Cauldron of Hell is a terrible place, and consists of a whole series
of rapids each more fierce than the other.  To attempt to stem currents
like these would of course be madness.  There is nothing for it but
portage for a whole mile and more, and it can easily be guessed that
this is slow and toilsome work indeed. Nor was the weather always
propitious.  Sometimes storms raged through the woods, with thunder,
lightning, and drenching rain; or even on the brightest of days, down
might sweep a whirlwind, utterly wrecking acres and acres of forest,
tearing gigantic trees up by the roots, twisting them as if they were
ropes, or tossing them high in air, and after cutting immense gaps
through the jungle, retire, as if satisfied with the chaos and
devastation worked, to the far-off mountain lands.

Once when, with their rifles in hand, Roland and Dick were watching a
small flock of tapirs at a pond of water, which formed the centre of a
green oasis in the dark forest, they noticed a balloon-shaped cloud in
the south.  It got larger and larger as it advanced towards them, its
great twisted tail seeming to trail along the earth.

Lightning played incessantly around it, and as it got nearer loud peals
of thunder were heard.

This startled the tapirs.  They held their heads aloft and snorted with
terror, running a little this way and that, but huddling together at
last in a timid crowd.

Down came the awful whirlwind and dashed upon them.

Roland and Dick threw themselves on the ground, face downwards,
expecting death every moment.

The din, the dust, the crashing and roaring, were terrific!

When the storm had passed not a bush or leaf of the wood in which our
heroes lay had been stirred. But the glade was now a strange sight.

The waters of the pool had been taken up.  The pond was dry.  Only
half-dead alligators lay there, writhing in agony, but every tapir had
been not only killed but broken up, and mingled with twisted trees,
pieces of rock, and hillocks of sand.

Truly, although Nature in these regions may very often be seen in her
most beautiful aspects, fearful indeed is she when in wrath and rage she
comes riding in storms and whirlwinds from off the great table-lands,
bent on ravaging the country beneath.

"What a merciful escape!" said Roland, as he sat by Dick gazing on the
destruction but a few yards farther off.

"I could not have believed it," returned Dick. "Fancy a whirlwind like
that sweeping over our camp, Roland?"

"Yes, Dick, or over our boats on the river; but we must trust in
Providence."

Roland now blew his whistle, and a party of his own Indians soon
appeared, headed by a few white men.

"Boys," said Roland smiling, "my friend and I came out to shoot young
tapir for you.  Behold! Dame Nature has saved us the trouble, and flesh
is scattered about in all directions."

The Indians soon selected the choicest, and departed, singing their
strange, monotonous chant.

Presently Burly Bill himself appeared.

He stood there amazed and astonished for fully half a minute before he
could speak, and when he did it was to revert to his good old-fashioned
Berkshire dialect.

"My eye and Elizabeth Martin!" he exclaimed. "What be all that?  Well, I
never!  ’Ad an ’urricane, then?"

"It looks a trifle like it, Bill; but sit you down. Got your
meerschaum?"

"I’ve got him right enough."

And it was not long before he began to blow a kind of hurricane cloud.
For when Bill smoked furnaces weren’t in it.

"Do you think we have many more rapids to get past, Bill?"

"A main lot on ’em, Master Roland.  But we’ve got to do ’em.  We haven’t
got to funk, has we?"

"Oh no, Bill! but don’t you think that we might have done better to have
kept to the land altogether?"

"No," said Bill bluntly, "I do not.  We never could have got along, lad.
Rivers to cross by fords that we might have had to travel leagues and
leagues to find, lakes to bend round, marshes and swamps, where lurks a
worse foe than your respectable and gentlemanly ’gators."

"What, snakes?"

"Oh, plenty of them!  But I was a-loodin’ to fever, what the doctors
calls malarial fever, boys.

"No, no," he added, "we’ll go on now until we meet poor Benee, if he is
still alive.  If anything has happened to him--"

"Or if he is false," interrupted Dick; "false as Peter would have us
believe--"

"Never mind wot Mr. Bloomin’ Peter says!  I swears by Benee, and nothing
less than death can prevent his meeting us somewhere about the mouth of
the Maya-tata River.  You can bet your bottom dollar on that, lads."

"Well, that is the rendezvous anyhow."

"Oh," cried Dick, "sha’n’t we be all rejoiced to see Benee once more!"

"God grant," said Roland, "he may bring us good news."

"He is a good man and will bring good tidings," ventured Burly Bill.

Then he went on blowing his cloud, and the boys relapsed into silence.

Each was thinking his own thoughts.  But they started up at last.

"I’ve managed to secure a grand healthy appetite!" cried Roland.

"And so has this pale-faced boy," said Bill, shoving his great thumb as
usual into the bowl of his meerschaum.

So back to camp they started.

Brawn had been on duty not far from Mr. Peter’s tent, but he bounded up
now with a joyful bark, and rushed forward to meet them.

He displayed as much love and joy as if he had not seen them for a whole
month.

For ten days longer the expedition struggled onwards.

The work was hard enough, but it really strengthened their hearts and
increased the size of their muscles, till both their calves and biceps
were as hard and tough as the stays of a battle-ship.

Some people might think it strange, but it is a fact nevertheless, that
the stronger they grew the happier and more hopeful were they.  We may
try to account for this physiologically or psychologically as we choose,
but the great truth remains.

                                  ――――

One or two of the men were struck down with ague-fever, but Roland made
them rest while on shore and lie down while on board.

Meanwhile he doctored them with soup made from the choicest morsels of
young tapir, with green fresh vegetable mixed therein, and for medicine
they had rum and quinine, or rather, quinine in rum.

The men liked their soup, but they liked their physic better.

Between the rapids of Arara and the falls of Madeira was a beautiful
sheet of water, and, being afraid of snags or submerged rocks, the
canoes were kept well out into the stream.

They made great progress here.  The day was unusually fine.  Hot the sun
was certainly, but the men wore broad straw sombreros, and, seated in
the shadow of their bamboo cabin, our heroes were cool and happy enough.

The luscious acid fruits and fruit-drinks they partook of contributed
largely to their comfort.

Dick started a song, a river song he had learned on his uncle’s
plantation, and as Burly Bill’s great canoe was not far off, he got a
splendid bass.

The scenery on each bank was very beautiful; rocks, and hills covered
with great trees, the branches of which near to the stream with their
wealth of foliage and climbing flowers, bent low to kiss the placid
waters that went gliding, lapping, and purling onwards.

Who could have believed that aught of danger to our heroes and their
people could lurk anywhere beneath these sun-gilt trees?

But even as they sang, fierce eyes were jealously watching them from the
western bank.

Presently first one arrow, and anon a whole shower of these deadly
missiles, whizzed over them.

One struck the cabin roof right above Dick’s head, and another tore
through the hat of the captain himself.

But rifles were carried loaded, and Roland was ready.

"Lay in your oars, men!  Up, guns!  Let them have a volley!  Straight at
yonder bush!  Fire low, lads!  See, yonder is a savage!"

Dick took aim at a dark-skinned native who stood well out from the wood,
and fired.  He was close to the stream and had been about to shoot, but
Dick’s rifle took away his breath, and with an agonized scream he threw
up his arms and fell headlong into the water.

Volley after volley rang out now on the still air, and soon it was
evident that the woods were cleared.

"Those are the Paynee Indians without a doubt," said Dick; "the same
sable devils that the skipper of that steamer warned us about."

They saw no more of the enemy then, however, and the afternoon passed in
peace.

An hour and a half before sunset they landed at the mouth of a small but
clear river, about ten miles to the north of the Falls of Woe.

Close to the Madeira itself this lovely stream was thickly banked by
forest, but the boats were taken higher up, and here excellent
camping-ground was found in a country sparsely wooded.

Far away to the west rose the everlasting hills, and our heroes thought
they could perceive snow in the chasms between the rocks.

Roland had not forgotten the adventure with the Indians, so scouts were
sent out at once to scour the woods.  They returned shortly before
sunset, having seen no one.

Both Roland and Dick were somewhat uneasy in their minds, nevertheless,
and after dinner, in the wan and uncertain light of a half-moon, a
double row of sentries was posted, and orders were given that they
should be relieved every two hours, for the night was close and sultry,
just such a night as causes restless somnolence.  At such times a sentry
may drop to sleep leaning on his gun or against a tree.  He may slumber
for an hour and not be aware he has even closed an eye.

The boys themselves felt a strange drowsiness stealing away their
senses.  They would have rolled themselves up in their rugs and sought
repose at once, but this would have made the night irksomely long.

So they chatted, and even sang, till their usual hour.

When they turned in, instead of dressing in a pyjama suit, they retained
the clothes they had worn all day.

Dick noticed that Roland was doing so, and followed his example.  No
reason was given by his friend, but Dick could guess it.  Guess also
what he meant by placing a rifle close beside him and looking to his
revolvers before he lay down.

Everyone in camp, except those on duty, was by this time sound asleep.
Lights and fires were out, and the stillness was almost painful.

Roland would have preferred hearing the wind sighing among the forest
trees, the murmur of the river, or even the mournful wailing of the
great blue owl.

But never a leaf stirred, and as the moon sank lower and lower towards
those strangely rugged and serrated mountains of the west, the boys
themselves joined the sleepers, and all their care and anxiety was for
the time being forgotten.

The night waned and waned.  The sentries had been changed, and it was
now nearly one o’clock.

There was a lake about a mile above the camp, that is, a mile farther
westwards.  It was surrounded by tall waving reeds, at least an acre
wide all round.

The home _par excellence_ of the dreaded ’gator was this dark and sombre
sheet of water, for to it almost nightly came the tapirs to quench their
thirst and to bathe.

Silently a troop of these wonderful creatures came up out of the forest
to-night, all in a string, with the largest and oldest a little way in
front.

Every now and then these pioneers would pause to listen.  They knew the
wiliness of the enemy that might be lying in wait for them.  So acute in
hearing are they said to be that they can distinguish the sound of a
snake gliding over withered leaves at a distance of a hundred yards.
But their sight also is a great protection to them.  No ’gator can move
among the reeds without bending them, move he never so warily.  Above
all this, the tapir’s sense of smell is truly marvellous.

To-night the old tapirs that led the van seemed particularly suspicious
and cautious.  Their signal for silence was a kind of snort or cough,
and this was now ofttimes repeated.

Suddenly the foremost tapir stamped his foot, and at once the whole
drove turned or wheeled and glided back as silently as they had come,
until the shadows of the great forest swallowed them up.

What had they seen or heard?  They had seen tall, dark human
figures--one, two, three--a score and over, suddenly raise their heads
and shoulders above the reeds, and after standing for a moment so still
that they seemed part and parcel of the solemn scene, move out from the
jungle and take their way towards the slumbering camp.

Savages all, and on a mission of death.

Nobody’s dreams could have been a bit more happy than those of Dick
Temple just at this moment.

He was sitting once more on the deck of the great raft, which was slowly
gliding down the sunlit sea-like Amazon.  The near bank was tree-clad,
and every branch was garlanded with flowers of rainbow hues.

But Dick looked not on the trees nor the flowers, nor the waving
undulating forest itself--looked not on the sun-kissed river.  His eyes
were fixed on a brightly-beautiful and happy face.  It was Peggy who sat
beside him, Peggy to whom he was breathing words of affection and love,
Peggy with shy, half-flushed face and slightly averted head.

But suddenly this scene was changed, and he awoke with a start to grasp
his rifle.  A shrill quavering yell rang through the camp, and awakened
every echo in the forest.

The Indians--the dreaded Paynee tribe of cannibals--were on them.  That
yell was a war-cry.  These pagan Paynees were thirsting for blood.



CHAPTER XXI--THE FOREST IS SHEETED IN FLAMES


For just a few moments Roland was taken aback. Then, in a steady manly
voice that could be heard all over the camp, he gave the order.

"All men down!  The Indians are approaching from the west.  Fire low,
lads--between you and the light.

"Don’t waste a shot!" he added.

[Illustration: "FIRE LOW, LADS....  DON’T WASTE A SHOT!"]

Three Indians bit the dust at the first volley, and though the rest
struggled on to the attack, it was only to be quickly repulsed.

In ten minutes’ time all had fled, and the great forest and woodland was
as silent as before.

It was Roland’s voice that again broke the stillness.

"Rally round, boys," he shouted, "and let me know the worst."

The sacrifice of life, however, was confined to three poor fellows, one
white man and two peons; and no one was wounded.

Nobody thought of going to sleep again on this sad night, and when red
clouds were at last seen over the green-wooded horizon, heralding the
approach of day, a general sense of relief was felt by all in the little
camp.

Soon after sunrise breakfast was served, and eaten with avidity by all
hands now in camp, for scouts were out, and Dick and Roland awaited the
news they would bring with some degree of impatience.

The scouting was really a sort of reconnaisance in force, by picked
Indians and whites under the command of the redoubtable Burly Bill.

Suddenly Brawn raised his head and gave vent to an angry "wouff!" and
almost at the same time the sound of distant rifle-firing fell on the
ears of the little army.

Half an hour after this, Bill and two men stepped out from the bush and
advanced.

His brow was bound with a blood-stained handkerchief.

It was a spear wound, but he would not hear of it being dressed at
present.

"What cheer then, Bill?"

"Not much of that," he answered, throwing himself down and lighting that
marvellous meerschaum, from which he appeared to get so much
consolation.

"Not a vast deal of cheer.  Yes, I’ll eat after I gets a bit cooler
like."

"Ay, we’ll have to fight the Dun-skins.  They swarm in the forest
between us and the Madeira, and they are about as far from bein’ angels
as any durned nigger could be."

"And what do you advise, Bill?"

"Well," was the reply, "as soon as your boys get their nose-bags off, my
advice is to set to work with spade and shovel and transform this ’ere
camp into a fortress.

"Ay, and it is one we won’t be able to abandon for days and days to
come," he added.

The men were now speedily told off to duty, and in a very short time had
made the camp all but impregnable, and quite strong enough to give an
excellent account of any number of Dun-skins.

The Paynee Indians are a semi-nomadic tribe of most implacable savages,
who roam over hill and dell and upland, hunting or fighting as the case
may be, but who have nevertheless a home in the dark mountain fastnesses
of the far interior.

They are cannibals, though once, long, long ago, a band of Jesuits
attempted their reclamation.

These brave missionaries numbered in all but one hundred and twenty men,
and they went among the terrible natives with, figuratively speaking,
their prayer-books in one hand, their lives in the other.

All went well for a time.  They succeeded in winning the affections of
the savages.  They erected rude churches, and even to this day crosses
of stone are to be found in this wild land, half-buried among the rank
vegetation.

But there came a day, and a sad one it was, when the cannibals were
attacked by a wild hill-tribe. These highlanders had heard that, owing
to the new religion, their ancient enemies had degenerated into old
wives and squaws.

A terrible battle ensued, during which the men from the uplands found
out their mistake, for they were repulsed with fearful slaughter.

All might have gone well with the Jesuits even yet but for one
_contretemps_.

At the very moment when the savages returned wildly exultant from the
hills, bearing, horrible to relate, joints of human flesh on their
spears, there came from the east a party of men who had been down to the
banks of the Madeira, and had attacked and looted a small steamer that
among other things had much fire-water on board.

Oh, that accursed fire-water, how terrible its results wherever on earth
it gains ascendancy!

All the fearful passions of these savages were soon let loose.  The
scene was like pandemonium.

The poor Jesuits hid themselves in their little church, barricading the
door, and devoting the first part of the night to prayer and song.  But
at midnight the awful howling of the cannibals coming nearer and nearer
told them that they had been missed, and that their doom was now sealed.

Only one man escaped to tell the terrible tale.

And these, or rather their descendants, were the very cannibals that
Roland’s little army had now to do battle with.

Both he and Dick, however, kept up a good heart.

There was ammunition enough to last for months of desultory firing, if
necessary, and when the attack was made at last, after Bill’s scouts had
been driven in, the savages learned a lesson they were never likely to
forget.

Brave indeed they were, and over and over again they charged, spear in
hand, almost into the trenches. But only to be thrust back wounded, or
to die where they stood, beneath a steady revolver fire.

But they retreated almost as quickly as they had come, and once more
sought the shelter of bush and jungle.

Not for very long, however.  They were evidently determined that the
little garrison should enjoy no peace.

They had changed their tactics now, and instead of making wild rushes
towards the ramparts, they commenced to bombard the fort with large
stones.

With their slings the Bolivian Indians can aim with great precision, for
they learn the art when they are mere infants.

As no one showed above the ramparts, there was in this case no human
target for the missiles, but use was made of larger stones, and these
kept falling into the trenches in all directions, so that much mischief
was done and many men were hurt.

A terrible rifle fire was now opened upon that part of the bush in which
the cannibal savages were supposed to be in force, and from the howling
and shrieking that immediately followed, it was evident that many
bullets were finding their billets.

But soon even these sounds died away, and it was evident enough that the
enemy had retired, no doubt with the intention of inventing some new
form of attack. There was peace now for many hours, and Roland took
advantage of this to order dinner to be got ready. No men, unless it be
the Scotch, can fight well on empty stomachs.

The wounded were attended to and made as comfortable as possible, and
after this there was apparently very little to do except to wait and
watch.

Burly Bill brought out his consolatory meerschaum. But while he puffed
away, he was not idle.  He was thinking.

Now thinking was not very much in this honest fellow’s line.  Action was
more his _forte_.  But the present occasion demanded thought.

The afternoon was already far spent.  The sentries--lynx-eyed Indians,
rifles in hand--were watching the bush, and longing for a shot.  Roland
and Dick, with Bill and big Brawn, were seated in the shade of a green
and spreading tree, and all had been silent for some considerable time.

"I say, young fellows!" said Bill at last, "this kind of lounging
doesn’t suit me.  What say you to a council of war?"

"Well, you’ve been thinking, Bill?"

"Ay, I’ve been doin’ a smart bit o’ that.  Let us consult Charlie."

Charlie the ex-cannibal was now brought forward and seated on the grass.

There was a deal of practical knowledge in this Indian’s head.  His had
been a very long experience of savage warfare and wandering in forests
and wilds; and he was proud now to be consulted.

"Charlie," said Bill, "what do you think of the situation?"

"De sit-uation?" was the reply.  "Me not likee he. Me tinkee we sitee
too much.  Byme by, de cannibal he come much quick.  Ah! dere will soon
be muchee much too much sabage cannibal!  Fust de killee you and den de
eatee you, and make fine bobbery.  Ha! ha!"

"Well, Charlie, I don’t think that there is a deal to laugh at.
Howsomever, we’ve got to do something soon."

"So, so," said Charlie, "notwidstanding."

"Well, I’ve been thinking that we should make tracks for the other side
of the river.  You see these savage rapscallions have no canoes, and
they seem to have no food.  They are not herons or storks, and can’t
wade through deep water."

"Foh true, sah.  Dey am not stohks and dey am not herons notwidstanding,
but see, sah, ebery man he am his own canoe!  No stohks, but all same
one frog, notwidstanding foh true!"

"And you think they would follow us?"

"All same’s one eel--two hundred eel.  Dey swim wid spears in mouf, and
bow and arrow held high. Ha! ha! good soldier, ebery modder’s son!"

"I’ll tell you my plan," said Dick Temple.  "Just loose off the boats,
and make one bold dash for liberty."

"Ha! ha! sah!" cried Charlie.  "I takes de liberty to laugh
notwidstanding, foh true.  You plenty much all dead men ’fore you get
into de big ribber!"

"Well, hang it!" said Dick, "we’re not going to stay here with the
pretty prospect before us of being all scuppered and eaten.  What say
you, Roll?"

"I think," said Roland quietly, "that Charlie there has come prepared to
speak, for his face is just beaming."

"See, sah," cried Charlie, evidently pleased, "you trust all to Charlie.
He makee you free after dark. Down in de fo’est yondah dere am mebbe
two, mebbee free hunder’ sabages.  Now dey not want to fight till de
dark.  Dey will fight all de same when de moon rise, and de rifle not
muchee good.  No hit in de dark, on’y jes’ puff, puff.

"See," he continued, "de wind begin to blow a leetle. De wind get high
byme by, den de sun go out, and Charlie he fiah de forest."

"Fire the forest, Charlie?"

"Notwidstanding," said Charlie grimly.

"When," he added, "you see de flame curl up, be all ready.  Soon de
flame he bus’ highah and highah, and all by de ribber bank one big
blaze."

"Charlie," cried Bill, "you’re a brick!  Give us a shake of your yellow
hand.  Hurrah! boys, Charlie’s going to do it!"

Never perhaps was sunset waited for with more impatience.

The great and unanswerable question was this: Would these savages attack
immediately after darkness fell, or would they take some time to
deliberate?

But behind the rugged mountains down sank the sun at last, and after a
brief twilight the stars shone out.

Charlie was not going alone.  He had asked for the assistance of many
Indians, and in a whisper he gave them their orders.

Our heroes did not interfere in any way, for fear of confusing the good
fellow’s plans.  But they soon noted that while Charlie himself and two
Indians left in one of the smallest canoes, the others disappeared like
snakes in the grass, creeping northwards over the plain.

And now there was silence, for the wind was hushed; silence everywhere,
that deep, indescribable silence which nightfall ever brings to a wild
and savage land, in which even the beasts are still and listening in
forest and dell, not knowing from which direction danger may spring.

Within the little camp nothing could be done but lie still, every man
holding his breath with suspense. Nothing could be done save watch,
wait, count the weary minutes, and marvel at their length.

Suddenly, however, the deep silence was broken by a mournful cry that
came from riverwards.  It was apparently that of an owl seeking for its
mate, but it was taken up and repeated northwards all over the plain
twixt camp and forest, and almost at the same time tiny tongues of fire
sprang up here and there and everywhere.

Higher and higher they leapt, along the ground they ran, meeting in all
directions down the dark river and across the wild moor by the edge of
the woodland.  The undergrowth was dry, the grass was withered, and in
an amazingly short time the whole forest by the banks of the Madeira was
sheeted in devastating flames.

The savages had been massed in the centre of the jungle, and just
preparing to issue forth and carry death into the camp of our heroes,
when suddenly the crackling of the flames fell on their ears, and they
knew they were caught in a fire-trap, with scarcely any means of escape.

Charlie had been terribly in earnest, and, hurrying on in his canoe
towards the Madeira, he lit the bank all along, and even down the side
of the great stream itself.

It was evidently his savage intention to roast these poor cannibals
alive.

As it was, the only outlet towards salvation that remained for them was
the Madeira’s dark brink.

"Now, boys, now!" shouted Roland, when he saw that the fire had gained
entire mastery, and, making its own wind, was sweeping onwards, licking
up everything in its way.

"Now, lads, on board!  Let us get off down stream in all haste.
Hurrah!"



CHAPTER XXII--EVENINGS BY THE CAMP FIRE


The moorings were speedily slipped, and by the light of the blazing
forest the peons bent sturdily to their paddles, and the canoe went
dancing down stream.

They had already taken on board the Indians who had assisted Charlie,
and before long his own boat hove in sight, and was soon taken in tow by
the largest canoe.

That burning forest formed a scene which never could be forgotten.  From
the south side, where the boats were speedily rushing down the stream on
their way to the Madeira, and from which came the light wind that was
now blowing, the flames leaned over as it were, instead of ascending
high in air, and the smoke and sparks took the same direction.

The sparks were as thick as snow-flakes in a snow-storm, and the lurid
tongues of fire darted high as the zenith, playing with the clouds of
smoke or licking them up.

The noise was indescribable, yet above the roaring and the crackling
could be heard the shouts of the maddened savages, as they sought exit
from the hell around them.

There was no escape except by the Madeira’s bank, and to get even at
this they had to dash through the burning bushes.

Alas!  Charlie and his assistants had done their work all too well, and
I fear that one-half of the cannibals were smothered, dragged down by
alligators, or found a watery grave.

As the canoes shot past, the heat was terrible, and next morning at
daybreak, when they were far up the river, towards the falls, Roland and
his friend were surprised to notice that the palm-leaves which covered
the cabin were brown and scorched.

On the whole the experience they had gained of the ferocity and fighting
abilities of these Paynee cannibals was such as they were not likely to
forget.

                                  ――――

During all this period of excitement the suspect Peter had remained
perfectly quiescent.  Indeed he seemed now quite apathetic, taking very
little notice of anything around him, and eating the food placed before
him in a way that was almost mechanical. Neither Roland nor Dick had
taken much heed of him till now.  When, however, they observed his
strange demeanour they took council together and determined that the
watch over him should be made extra strict, lest he should spring
overboard and be drowned.

Roland may seem to have been harsh with Mr. Peter. But he only took
proper precautions, and more than once he assured Dick that if the man’s
innocence were proved he would recompense him a hundred-fold.

"But," added Dick meaningly, "if he is really guilty of the terrible
crime we impute to him, he cannot be punished too severely."

The expedition had that afternoon to land their stores once more to
avoid rapids, and a little before sunset they encamped near to the edge
of a beautiful wood well back from the banks of the Madeira.

The night passed without adventure of any kind, and everyone awoke as
fresh and full of life and go as the larks that climb the sky to meet
the morning sun.

Another hard day’s paddling and towing and portage, and they found
themselves high above the Madeira Falls in smooth water, and at the
entrance to a kind of bay which formed the mouth or confluence of the
two rivers, called Beni and Madro de Dios.  This last is called the
Maya-tata by the Bolivians.

It is a beautiful stream, overhung by hill and forest, and rises fully
two hundred miles southward and west from a thousand little rivulets
that drain the marvellous mountains of Karavaya.

The Beni joins this river about ten or twelve miles above the banks of
the Madeira.  It lies farther to the south and the east, and may be said
to rise in the La Paz district itself, where it is called the Rio de la
Paz.

To the north-west of both these big rivers lies the great unexplored
region, the land of the Bolivian and Peruvian cannibals.

Small need have we to continue to hunt and shoot in Africa, wildly
interesting though the country is, when such a marvellous tract of tens
of thousands of square miles is hidden here, all unvisited as yet by a
single British explorer.

And what splendid possibilities for travel and adventure are here!  A
land larger than Great Britain, France, and Ireland thrown together,
which no one knows anything about; a land rich in forest and prairie; a
land the mineral wealth of which is virtually inexhaustible; a land of
beauty; a land of lake and stream, of hills and rocks and verdant
prairie, and a veritable land of flowers!

A land, it is true, where wild beasts lurk and prowl, and where unknown
tribes of savages wander hither and thither and hunt and fight, but all
as free as the wind that wantons through their forest trees.

                                  ――――

The boats were paddled several miles up-stream to a place where the
scenery was more open.

At every bend and reach of the river Roland expected to find Benee
waiting for them.  Perhaps he had built a hut and was living by
fishing-rod and gun.

But no Benee was visible and no hut.

Together the two friends, Roland and Dick, accompanied by Charlie and
Brawn, took their way across the plain and through the scrub, towards a
lofty, cone-shaped hill that seemed to dominate all the scenery in its
immediate neighbourhood.

To the very top of this mountain they climbed, agreed between themselves
not to look back until they had reached the summit, in order that the
wild beauty of this lone lorn land should burst upon them in all its
glory, and at once.

They kept to their resolution, and were amply rewarded.

As far as eye could reach in any direction was a vast panorama of
mountain, forest, and stream, with many a beautiful lake glittering
silvery in the sunshine.

But no smoke, no indication of inhabitants anywhere.

"It seems to be quite an untenanted country we have struck," said Dick.

"All the better for us, perhaps, Dick," said Roland, "for farther we
cannot proceed until poor Benee comes. He ought to have been here before
now.  But what adventures and dangers he may have had to pass through
Heaven and himself only know."

"Charlie," he continued, "in the event of Benee not turning up within
the next week or two, remember the task of guiding us to the very palace
gates of the cannibal king devolves upon you."

"You speakee me too muchee fly-high Englese," said Charlie.  "But
Charlie he thinkee he understand. You wantee me takee you to de king’s
gate.  I can do."

"That is enough, Charlie, and we can trust you.  You have hitherto been
very faithful, and what we should do without you I know not."

"Now, Dick, I guess we’ll get down a little more speedily than we came
up."

"We’ll try, Roland, old man."

All preparations were now made to camp near to the river, where the
canoes were moored.

They did not expect any attack by armed Indians, nevertheless it was
deemed well to be on the safe side.

Spades and shovels were accordingly brought into use, and even before
sunset a deep trench and embankment were thrown up around the tents, and
at nightfall sentries were posted at each corner.

For a few days the weather was so cold and stormy that there was little
comfort in either shooting or fishing.  It cleared up after this,
however, and at noon the sun was almost too hot.

They found caves in the rocks by the river-side in which were springs
bursting and bubbling up through limestone rocks, and quartz as white as
the driven snow.  The water was exquisitely cool and refreshing.

The days were spent in exploring the country all around and in shooting,
principally for the purpose of keeping the larder well supplied.

Luckily the Indians were very easy to please in the matter of food,
though their captains liked a little more luxury.

But this land was full of game of every sort, and the river was alive
with fish, and so unsophisticated were these that they sprang at a hook
if it were baited only with a morsel of glittering mica picked off a
rock.

What with fish and fowl and flesh of small deer, little wild pigs and
the young of the tapir, there would be very little fear of starvation
should they remain here for a hundred years.

Far up the Maya-tata canoe excursions were made, and at every bend of
this strange river the scenery seemed more delightfully wild, silent,
and beautiful.

"Heigh-ho!" said Dick one day.  "I think I should not mind living here
for years and years, did I but know that poor Peggy was safe and well."

"Ah! yes, that is the ever-abiding anxiety, but we are not to lose
heart, are we?"

"No," said Dick emphatically.  "If the worst should come to the worst,
let us try to look fate fearlessly in the face, as men should."

"Bravo, Dick!"

The evenings closed in at an unconscionably early hour, as they always
do in these regions, and at times the long forenights were somewhat
irksome.

I have not said much about the captains of the great canoes.  With one
exception, these were half-castes, and spoke but little.

The exception was Don Rodrigo, who in his time had been a great
traveller.

He was a man of about fifty, strongly built, but as wiry withal as an
Arab of the desert.

Genial was he too, and while yarning or playing cards--the cigarette for
ever in his mouth, sometimes even two--there was always a pleasant smile
playing around his mouth and eyes.

He liked our young heroes, and they trusted him. Indeed, Brawn had taken
to the man, and often as he squatted in the large tent of an evening,
playing cards or dominoes with the boys, big Brawn would lay his honest
head down on Rodrigo’s knee with a sigh of satisfaction and go off to
sleep.

Rodrigo could sing a good Spanish song, and had a sweet melodious voice
that would have gone excellently well with a guitar accompaniment; but
guitar there was none.

Versatile and clever, nevertheless, was Rodrigo, and he had manufactured
a kind of musical instrument composed of pieces of glass and hard wood
hung on tape bands across a board.  While he sang, Rodrigo used to beat
a charming accompaniment with little pith hammers.

Some of his songs were very merry indeed and very droll, and all hands
used to join in the chorus, even the white men and Indians outside.

So the boys’ days were for the time being somewhat of the nature of a
long picnic or holiday.

The story-telling of an evening helped greatly to wile the time away.

Neither Dick nor Roland had any yarns to spin, but Charlie had stories
of his wild and adventurous life in the bush, which were listened to
with much pleasure. On the other hand, Rodrigo had been everywhere
apparently, and done everything, so that he was the chief story-teller.

The man’s English was fairly good, with just a little of the Peruvian
labial accent, which really added to its attractiveness, while at times
he affected the Mexican drawl.

Around the camp-fire I have seldom or never known what may be called
systematic yarn-spinning. Everything comes spontaneously, one simple
yarn or wild adventure leading up to the other.  If now and then a song
intervenes, all the better, and all the more likely is one to spend a
pleasant evening either in camp or in galley on board ship.

Don Rodrigo did at times let our heroes have some tales that made their
scalps creep, but they liked him best when he was giving them simple
narratives of travel, and for this reason: they wanted to learn all they
could about the country in which they now were.

And Rodrigo knew it well, even from Arauco on the western shore to the
great marsh-lands of the Paraguay or the mountain fastnesses of
Albuquerque on the east.

But the range of Rodrigo’s travels was not bounded by Brazil, or the
great Pacific Ocean itself.  He had been a cow-boy in Mexico; he had
bolo’d guanacos on the Pampas; he had wandered among the Patagonians, or
on fleet horses scoured their wondrous plains; he had dwelt in the
cities, or call them "towns", if so minded, that border the northern
shores of the Straits of Magellan; he had even visited Tierra del
Fuego--the land of fire--and from the black boats of savages had helped
to spear the silken-coated otters of those wild and stormy seas; and he
had sailed for years among the glorious sunlit islands of the Southern
Pacific.

"As to far Bolivia," he said one evening, while his eyes followed the
rings of pale-blue smoke he emitted as they rose to the tent-roof.  "As
to far Bolivia, dear boys, well, you’ve seen a good slice of the wilder
regions of it, but it is to La Paz you must some day go, and to the
splendid fresh-water ocean called the Titicaca.

"Lads, I never measured it, but, roughly guessing, I should say that it
is over one hundred miles in length, and in some places fifty wide."

"Wait one moment," said Burly Bill, "this is getting interesting, but my
meerschaum wants to be loaded."

"Now," he added, a few minutes after, "just fire away, my friend."



CHAPTER XXIII--A MARVELLOUS LAKE IN A MARVELLOUS LAND--LA PAZ


"Mebbe," said Rodrigo, "if you knew the down-south Bolivians as well as
I do, you would not respect them a great deal.  Fact is, boys, there is
little to respect them for.

"Brave?  Well, if you can call slaves brave, then they’re about as
bully’s they make ’em.

"I have mentioned the inland sea called Lake Titicaca.  Ah, boys, you
must see this fresh-water ocean for yourselves! and if ever you get
married, why, take my advice and go and spend your honeymoon there.

"Me married, did you say, Mr. Bill?  It strikes me, sir, I know a trick
worth several of that.  Been in love as often as I’ve got toes and
fingers, and mebbe teeth, but no tying up for life, I’m too old a
starling to be tamed.

"But think, _amigo mio_, of a lake situated in a grand mountain-land,
the level of its waters just thirteen thousand feet above the blue
Pacific.

"Surrounded by the wildest scenery you can imagine.  The wildest, ay,
boys, and the most romantic.

"You have one beautiful lake or loch in your Britain--and I have
travelled all over that land of the free,--I mean Loch Ness, and the
surrounding mountains and glens are magnificent; but, bless my buttons,
boys, you wouldn’t have room in Britain for such a lake as the mighty
Titicaca.  It would occupy all your English Midlands, and you’d have to
give the farmers a free passage to Australia."

"How do you travel on this lake?" said Dick Temple.

"Ah!" continued Rodrigo, "I can answer that; and here lies another
marvel.  For at this enormous height above the ocean-level, steamboats,
ply up and down. No, not built there, but in sections sent from America,
and I believe even from England.  The labour of dragging these sections
over the mountain-chains may easily be guessed.

"The steamers are neither so large nor so fine as your Clyde boats, but
there is a lot of honest comfort in them after all.

"And terrible storms sometimes sweep down from the lofty Cordilleras,
and then the lake is all a chaos of broken water and waves even houses
high.  If caught in such storms, ordinary boats are speedily sunk, and
lucky are even the steamers if shelter is handy.

"Well, what would this world be, I wonder, if it were always all
sunshine.  We should soon get well tired of it, I guess, and want to go
somewhere else--to murky England, for example."

Rodrigo blew volumes of smoke before he continued his desultory yarn.

"Do you know, boys, what I saw when in your Britain, south of the Tweed?
I saw men calling themselves sportsmen chasing poor little hares with
harriers, and following unfortunate stags with buck-hounds.  I saw them
hunt the fox too, men and women in a drove, and I called them in my own
mind cowards all.  Brutality and cowardice in every face, and there
wasn’t a farmer in the flock of stag-hunting Jockies and Jennies who
could muster courage enough to face a puma or even an old baboon with a
supple stick in its hand.  Pah!

"But among the hills and forests around this Lake Titicaca is the
paradise of the hunter who has a bit of sand and grit in his substance,
and is not afraid to walk a whole mile away from a cow’s tail.

"No, there are no dangerous Indians that ever I came across among the
mountains and glens; but as you never know what may happen, you’ve got
to keep your cartridges free from damp.

"What kind of game?  Well, I was going to say pretty much of all sorts.
We haven’t got giraffes nor elephants, it is true, nor do we miss them
much.

"But there are fish in the lake and beasts on the shore, and rod and gun
will get but little holiday, I assure you, lads, if you elect to travel
in that strange land.

"I hardly know very much about the fish.  They say that the lake is
bottomless, and that not only is it swarming with fish, wherever there
is a bank, but that terrible animals or beasts have been seen on its
deep-blue surface; creatures so fearful in aspect that even their sudden
appearance has turned gray the hairs of those who beheld them.

"But I calculate that this is all Indian gammon or superstition.

"As for me, I’ve been always more at home in the woods and forests, and
on the mountain’s brow.

"I’m not going to boast, boys, but I’ve climbed the highest hills of the
Cordilleras, where I have had no companion save the condor.

"You Europeans call the eagle the bird of Jove. If that is so, I want to
ask them where the condor comes in.

"Why, your golden eagle of Scottish wilds isn’t a circumstance to the
condor of the Andes.  He is no more to be compared to this great forest
vulture than a spring chicken is to a Christmas turkey.

"But the condor is only one of a thousand wild birds of prey, or of
song, found in the Andean regions or giant Cordilleras.

"And at lower altitude we find the llamas, the guanacos, and herds of
wild vicuñas.

"You may come across the puma and the jaguar also, and be sorry you’ve
met.

"Then there are goats, foxes, and wild dogs, as well as the viscacha and
the chinchilla, to say nothing of deer.

"But on the great lake itself, apart from all thought of fish, you need
never go without a jolly good dinner if the rarest of water-fowl will
please you.  Ducks and geese galore, and other species too many to
name."

"That is a land, and that is a lake," said Dick musingly, "that I should
dearly like to visit.  Yes, and to dwell in or on for a time.

"I suppose labour is cheap?" he added enquiringly.

"I guess," returned Rodrigo, "that if you wanted to erect a wooden hut
on some high and healthy promontory overlooking the lake--and this would
be your best holt--you would have to learn the use of axe and adze and
saw, and learn also how to drive a nail or two without doubling it over
your thumb and hitting the wrong nail on the head."

"Well, anyhow," said Dick, "I shall dream to-night of your great inland
ocean, of your Lake Titicaca, and in my dreams I shall imagine I am
already there. I suppose the woods are alive with beautiful birds?"

"Yes," said Rodrigo, "and with splendid moths and butterflies also; so
let these have a place in your dreams as well.  Throw in chattering
monkeys too, and beautiful parrots that love to mock every sound they
hear around them.  Let there be evergreen trees draped in garments of
climbing flowers, roaring torrents, wild foaming rivers, that during
storms roll down before them, from the flooded mountains, massive tree
trunks, and boulders houses high."

"You are quite poetic!"

"But I am not done yet.  People your paradise with strangely beautiful
lizards that creep and crawl everywhere, looking like living flowers,
and arrayed in colours that rival the tints of the rainbow. Lizards--ay,
and snakes; but bless you, boys, these are very innocent, objecting to
nothing except to having their tails trodden on."

"Well, no creature cares for treatment like that," said Roland.  "If you
and I go to this land of beauty, Dick, we must make a point of not
treading on snakes’ tails."

"But, boys, there are fortunes in this land of ours also.  Fortunes to
be had for the digging."

"Copper?"

"Yes, and gold as well!"

Rodrigo paused to roll and light another cigarette. I have never seen
anyone do so more deftly.  He seemed to take an acute delight in the
process.  He held the snow-white tissue-paper lovingly in his grasp,
while with his forefinger and thumb he apportioned to it just the right
quantity of yellow fragrant Virginia leaf, then twisting it tenderly,
gently, he conveyed it to his lips.

Said Dick now, "I have often heard of the wondrous city of La Paz, and
to me it has always seemed a sort of semi-mythical town--a South
American Timbuctoo."

"Ah, lad, it is far from being mythical!  On the contrary, it is very
real, and so are everything and everybody in it.

"I could not, however, call it, speaking conscientiously, a gem of a
place, though it might be made so.  But you see, boys, there is a deal
of Spanish or Portuguese blood in the veins of the real whites
here--though, mind you, three-fourths of the population are Indians of
almost every Bolivian race.  Well, the motto of the dark-eyed whites
seems to be Mañana (pronounce Mah-nyah-nah), which signifies
’to-morrow’, you know.  Consequently, with the very best intentions in
the world, they hardly ever finish anything they begin.  Some of the
streets are decently paved, but every now and then you come to a slough
of despond.  Many of the houses are almost palatial, but they stand side
by side with, and are jostled by, the vile mud-huts of the native
population.  They have a cathedral and a bazaar, but neither is finished
yet.

"Well, La Paz stands at a great altitude above the ocean.  It is well
worthy of a visit.  If you go there, however, there are two things you
must not forget to take with you, namely, a bottle of smelling-salts and
plenty of eau-de-Cologne."

"The place smells--slightly, then, I suppose," ventured Dick.

"Ha! ha! ha!"  Rodrigo had a hearty laugh of his own.  "Yes, it smells
slightly.  So do the people, I may add.

"The natives of La Paz, although some of them boast of a direct descent
from the ancient Incas, are to all intents and purposes slaves.

"Well, boys, when I say ’slaves’ I calculate I know pretty well what I
am talking about.  The old feudal system holds sway in what we call the
civilized portions of Bolivia.  Civilization, indeed! Only in the wilds
is there true freedom and independence.  The servants on ranches and
farms are bought or sold with the land on which they live.  So, Mr.
Bill, if you purchase a farm in Bolivia, it won’t be only the cows and
cocks and hens you’ll have to take, but the servants as well, ay, and
the children of these.

"Bolivian Indians, who are troubled with families that they consider a
trifle too large for their income, have a simple and easy method of
meeting the difficulty. They just take what you might call the surplus
children to some white-man farmer and sell them as they do their cows."

"Then these children are just brought up as slaves?"

"Yes, their masters treat them fairly well, but they generally make good
use of the whip.  ’Spare the rod and spoil the child’ is a motto they
play up to most emphatically, and certainly I have never known the rod
to be spared, nor the child to be spoiled either.

"Oh! by the way, as long as my hand is in I may tell you about the
servants that the gentry-folks of La Paz keep.  I don’t think any
European would be plagued with such a dirty squad, for in a household
of, say, ten, there must be ten slaves at the very least, to say nothing
of the pongo man.

"This pongo man is in reality the charwoman of La Paz.  It is he who
does all the dirty work, and a disagreeable-looking and painfully dirty
blackguard he is himself.  It is not his custom to stay more than a week
with any one family.  He likes to be always on the move.

"He assists the cook; he collects dried llama manure for firewood, as
Paddy might say; he fetches water from the fountain; he brings home the
marketing, in the shape of meat and vegetables; he cleans and scrubs
everywhere, receiving few pence for his trouble, but an indefinite
number of kicks and cuffs, while his bed at night is on the cold stones
behind the hall door. Yet with all his ill-usage, he seems just about as
happy as a New Hollander, and you always find him trotting around
trilling a song.

"Ah, there is nothing like contentment in this world, boys!"

"Yes, Mr. Bill, I have seen one or two really pretty girls among the
Bolivians, but never lost my heart to any of them, for between you and
me, they don’t either brush or comb their hair, and when walking with
them it is best to keep the weather-gauge.  And that’s a hint worth
having, I can assure you."

                                  ――――

On the very next evening after Don Rodrigo spoke his piece, as he
phrased it, about the strange customs and habits of the Bolivians, all
were assembled as usual in the biggest tent.

Burly Bill and his meerschaum were getting on remarkably well together,
the Don was rolling a cigarette, when suddenly Brawn started up as if
from a dream, and stood with his ears pricked and his head a little to
one side, gazing out into the darkness.

He uttered no warning growl, and made no sound of any sort, but his tail
was gently agitated, as if something pleased him.

Then with one impatient "Yap!" he sprang away, and was seen no more for
a few minutes.

"What can ail the dog?" said Roland.

"What, indeed?" said Dick.

And now footsteps soft and slow were heard approaching the tent, and
next minute poor Benee himself staggered in and almost fell at Roland’s
feet.

The honest hound seemed almost beside himself with joy, but he had sense
enough to know that his old favourite, Benee, was exhausted and ill,
and, looking up into his young master’s face, appeared to plead for his
assistance.

Benee’s cheeks were hollow, his feet were cut and bleeding, and yet as
he lay there he smiled feebly.

"I am happy now," he murmured, and forthwith fell asleep.

Both Roland and Dick trembled.  They thought that sleep might be the
sleep of death, but Don Rodrigo, after feeling Benee’s pulse, assured
them that it was all right, and that the poor fellow only needed rest
and food.

In about half an hour the faithful fellow--ah! who could doubt his
fidelity now?--sat painfully up.

Dick went hurrying off and soon returned with soup and with wine, and
having swallowed a little, Benee made signs that he would rest and
sleep.

"To-morrow," he said, "to-morrow I speak plenty. To-night no can do."

And so they did all they could to make him comfortable, and great Brawn
lay down by his side to watch him.



CHAPTER XXIV--BENEE’S STORY--THE YOUNG CANNIBAL QUEEN


I cannot help saying that in forbearing to talk to or to question poor
Benee on the evening of his arrival, our young heroes exhibited a spirit
of true manliness and courage which was greatly to their credit.

That they were burning to get news of the unfortunate Peggy goes without
saying, and to hear at the same time Benee’s own marvellous adventures.

Nor did they hurry the poor fellow even next day.

It is a good plan to fly from temptation, when you are not sure you may
not fall.  There is nothing dishonourable about such a course, be the
temptation what it may.

Roland and Dick adopted the plan this morning at all events.  Both were
awake long before sunrise; long before the beautiful stars had ceased to
glitter gem-like high over mountains and forest.

The camp was hardly yet astir, although Burly Bill was looming between
the lads and the light as they stood with honest Brawn in the big tent
doorway. Over his head rose a huge cloud of fragrant smoke, while ever
and anon a gleam from the bowl of his meerschaum lit up his
good-humoured face.

It had not taken the lads long to dress, and now they sauntered out.

The first faint light of the dawning day was already beginning to pale
the stars.  Soon the sun himself, red and rosy, would sail up from his
bed behind the far green forest.

"Bill!"

"Hillo!  Good-morning to you both!  I’ve been up for hours."

"And we could not sleep for--thinking.  But I say, Bill, I think Benee
has good news.  I’m burning to hear it, and so is Dick here, but it
would be downright mean to wake the poor fellow till he is well rested.
So, for fear we should seem too inquisitive, or too squaw-like, we’re
off with bold Brawn here for a walk.  Yes, we are both armed."

When the lads came back in about two hours’ time, they found Benee up
and dressed and seated on the grass at breakfast.

When I say he was dressed I allude to the fact that he very much needed
dressing, for his garments were in rags, his blanket in tatters.  But he
had taken the clothes Bill provided for him, and gone straight to the
river for a wash and a swim.

He looked quite the old Benee on his return.

"Ah!" said Bill, "you’re smiling, Benee.  I know you have good news."

"Plenty good, Massa Bill, one leetle bitee bad!"

"Well, eat, old man; I’m hungry.  Yes, the boys are beautiful, and
they’ll be here in a few minutes."

And so they were.

Brawn was before them.  He darted in with a rush and a run, and licked
first Benee’s ears and then Bill’s. It was a rough but a very kindly
salute.

In these sky-high regions of Bolivia, a walk or run across the plains
early in the morning makes one almost painfully hungry.

But here was a breakfast fit for a king; eggs of wild birds, fish, and
flesh of deer, with cakes galore, for the Indians were splendid cooks.

Then, after breakfast, Benee told the boys and Bill all his long and
strange story.  It was a thrilling one, as we know already, and lost
none of its effect by being related in Benee’s simple, but often graphic
and figurative language.

"Oh!" cried impulsive Dick, when he had finished, and there were tears
in the lad’s eyes that he took small pains to hide, "you have made
Roland and me happy, inexpressibly happy, Benee.  We know now that dear
Peggy is well, and that nothing can harm her for the present, and
something tells me we shall receive her safe and sound."

Benee’s face got slightly clouded.

"Will it not be so, Benee?"

"The Christian God will help us, Massa Dick.  Der is mooch--plenty
mooch--to be done!"

"And we’re the lads to do it," almost shouted Burly Bill.

"Wowff!  Wowff!" barked Brawn in the most emphatic manner.

In another hour all were once more on the march towards the land of the
cannibals.

                                  ――――

Life at the court of Queen Leeboo, as her people called poor Peggy, was
not all roses, but well the girl knew that if she was to harbour any
hopes of escape she must keep cool and play her game well.

She had all a woman’s wits about her, however, and all a woman’s wiles.
Vain Peggy certainly was not, but she knew she was beautiful, and
determined to make the best use of the fact.

Luckily for her she could speak the language of this strange wild people
as well as anyone, for Charlie himself had been her teacher.

A strangely musical and labial tongue it is, and figurative, too, as
might be expected, for the scenery of every country has a certain effect
upon its language.

It was soon evident that Queen Leeboo was expected to stay in the royal
camp almost entirely.

This she determined should not be the case.  So after the royal
breakfast one morning--and a very delightful and natural meal it was,
consisting chiefly of nuts and fruit--Queen Leeboo seized her sceptre,
the poisoned spear, and stepped lightly down from her throne.

"That isn’t good enough," she said, "I want a little fresh air."

Her attendants threw themselves on their faces before her, but she made
them get up, and very much astonished they were to see the beautiful
queen march along the great hall and step out on to the skull-decorated
verandah.

The palace was built on a mountain ledge or table-land of small
dimensions.  It was backed by gigantic and precipitous rocks, now most
beautifully draped with the greenery of bush and fern, and trailed over
by a thousand charming wild flowers.

Leeboo, as we may call her for the present, seated herself languidly on
a dais.  She knew better than to be rash.  Her object was to gain the
entire confidence of her people.  In this alone lay her hopes of escape,
and thoughts of freedom were ever uppermost in her mind.

This was the first time she had been beyond the portals of her royal
prison-house, but she determined it should not be the last.

While her attendants partially encircled her she gazed dreamily at the
glorious scenery beyond and beneath her.

From her elevated position she could view the landscape for leagues and
leagues on every side.  Few of us, in this tame domestic land that we
all love so well, have ever visited so beautiful a country as these
highlands of Bolivia.

Fresh from the hands of its Maker did it seem on this fresh, cool,
delightful morning.  The dark green of its rolling woods and forests,
the heath-clad hills, the streams that meandered through the dales like
threads of silver, the glittering lakes, the plains where the llamas,
and even oxen, roamed in great herds, and far, far away on the horizon
the serrated mountains, patched and flecked with snow, that hid their
summits in the fleecy clouds; the whole formed as grand and lovely a
panorama as ever human eyes beheld.

But it was marred somewhat by the immediate surroundings of poor Leeboo.

Oh, those awful skulls!  "Is everything good and beautiful in Nature,"
she could not help asking herself, "except mankind?"

Here was the faint odour of death, and she beheld on many of these
skulls the mark of the axe, reminding her of murder.  She shuddered.
Her palace was but a charnel-house.  Those crouching creatures around
her, waiting to do her bidding or obey her slightest behest, were but
slaves of tyrant masters, and every day she missed one of the youngest
and fairest, and knew what her doom would be.

And out beyond the gate yonder were her soldiers, her guards.  Alas,
yes! and they were her keepers also.

But behold! yonder comes the great chief Kaloomah, her prime minister,
and walking beside him is Kalamazoo.

Kaloomah walks erect and stately, as becomes so high a functionary.  He
is stern in face even to grimness and ferocity, but as handsome in form
as some of the heroes of Walter Scott.

And Kalamazoo is little more than a boy, and one, too, of somewhat
fragile form, with face more delicate than is becoming in a cannibal
Indian.

Kalamazoo is the only son of the late queen.  For some reason or other
he wears a necklace of his mother’s red-stained teeth.  Probably they
are a charm.

Both princes kneel at Leeboo’s feet.  Leeboo strikes both smartly on the
shoulders with her sceptre and bids them stand up.

"I would not have you grovel round me," she says in their own tongue,
"like two little pigs of the forest."  They stand up, looking sheepish
and nonplussed, and Leeboo, placing one on each side of her--a
spear-length distant,--looks first at Kaloomah and then at Kalamazoo and
bursts into a silvery laugh.

Why laughs Queen Leeboo?  These two men are both very natural, both
somewhat solemn.  Not even little pigs of the forest like to be laughed
at.

But the queen’s mistress of the robes--let me call her so--has told her
that she is expected to take unto herself a husband in three moons, and
that it must be either Kaloomah or Kalamazoo.

This is now no state secret.  All the queen’s people know, from her own
palace gates to the remotest mud hut on this cannibalistic territory.
They all know it, and they look forward to that week of festivity as
children in the rural districts of England look forward to a fair.

There will be a monster carousal that day.

The soldiers of the queen will make a raid on a neighbouring hill tribe,
and bring back many heads and many hams.

If Kaloomah is the favourite, then Kalamazoo will be slain and cooked.

If the queen elects to smile on Kalamazoo with his necklace of the
maternal molars and incisors, then Kaloomah with the best grace he can
must submit to the knife.

Yet must I do justice to both and say that it is not because they fear
death that they are so anxious to curry favour with the young and lovely
queen.  Oh no! for both are over head in love with her.

And a happy thought has occurred to Leeboo.  She will play one against
the other, and thus, in some way to herself at present unknown,
endeavour to effect her escape from this land of murder, blood, and
beautiful scenery.

So there they stand silently, a spear-length from her dais, she glorying
in the power she knows she has over both.  There they stand in silence,
for court etiquette forbids them to speak until spoken to.

Very like a couple of champion idiots they are too. Big Kaloomah doesn’t
quite know what to do with his hands, and Kalamazoo is fidgeting
nervously with his necklace, and apparently counting his dead mother’s
teeth as monks count their beads.

Leeboo rises at last, and, gathering the loose portion of her skirts
around her, says: "Come, I would walk."

She is a little way ahead, and she waves her spear so prettily as she
smiles her sweetest and points to the grimly ornamental gate.

And after hesitating for one moment, both Kaloomah and the young prince
follow sheepishly.

The guards by the gate, grim, fully armed cut-throats, seeing that her
majesty expects obedience, fall back, and the trio march through.

But I do not think that either of Leeboo’s lovers is prepared for what
follows.

If they had calculated on a solemn majestic walk around the plateau,
they were soon very much undeceived.

Leeboo had no sooner begun to breathe the glorious mountain air, than
she felt as exuberant as a child again.  Indeed, she was but little
else.  But she placed her spear and sceptre of royalty very
unceremoniously into Kaloomah’s hand to hold, while she darted off after
a splendid crimson specimen of dragon-fly.

Kaloomah looked at Kalamazoo.  Kalamazoo looked at Kaloomah.

The one didn’t love the other, it is true, yet a fellow-feeling made
them wondrous kind.  And the feeling uppermost in the mind of each was
wonder.

Kaloomah beckoned to Kalamazoo, and pointed to the queen.  The words he
spoke were somewhat as follows:

"Too much choorka-choorka!  Suppose the queen we lose--"

He pointed with his thumb to his neck by way of completing the sentence.

"Too much choorka-choorka!" repeated the young prince.  "You old--you
stop her."

"No, no, you young--you run quick, you stop her!"

That dragon-fly gave Leeboo grand sport for over half an hour.  From
bush to bush it flitted, and flew from flower to flower, over rocks,
over cairns, and finally down the great hill that led to the plain
below.

Matters looked serious, so both lovers were now in duty bound to follow
their all-too-lively queen.

When they reached the bottom of the brae, however, behold!--but stay,
there was no behold about it. Queen Leeboo was nowhere to be seen!



CHAPTER XXV--BENEE’S MOTHER TO THE FRONT


Here was a difficulty!

If they returned without the queen, they would be torn in pieces and
quietly eaten afterwards.

They became excited.  They looked here, there, and everywhere for
Leeboo.  Up into the trees, under the bushes, behind rocks and stones,
but all in vain.  The beautiful girl seemed to have been spirited away,
or the earth had opened and admitted her into fairy-land, or--

But see!  To their great joy, yonder comes the young queen holding aloft
the dragon-fly and singing to herself.

Not a whit worse was the lovely thing; not one of its four gauzy wings
was so much as rumpled.

Then she whispered something to it, and tossed it high in air.

And away it flew, straight to the north-east, as if bent upon delivering
the message she had entrusted to its keeping.

She stood gazing after it with flushed cheeks and parted lips until it
was no longer visible against the sky’s pale blue, then turned away with
a sigh.

But Leeboo was not tired yet.  There were beautiful birds to be seen and
their songs listened to.  And there were garlands of wild flowers to be
strung.

One she threw over Kaloomah’s neck.

Kalamazoo looked wretched.

She made him even a larger, and he was happy. This garland quite hid his
mother’s frightful teeth.

But it must be said that these two lovers of Leeboo’s looked--with those
garlands of flowers around their necks--more foolish than ever.

She trotted them round for two whole hours.  Then she resumed her
sceptre, and intimated her intention to return to the palace.

For a whole week these rambles were continued day after day.

Then storm-winds blew wild from off the snow-patched mountains, and
Leeboo was confined to her palace for days.

Her maids of honour, however, did all they could to please and comfort
her.  They brought her the choicest of fruits, and they told her strange
weird tales of strange weird people and mannikins who in these regions
dwell deep down in caves below the ground, and often steal little
children to nurse their tiny infants.

And they sang or chanted to her also, and all night long in the
drapery-hung chamber, where she reposed on a couch of skins, they lay
near her, ready to start to their feet and obey her slightest command.

Leeboo ruled her empire by love.  But she could be haughty and stern
when she pleased, only she never made use of that terrible spear, one
touch of which meant death.

                                  ――――

In less than six-weeks’ time Queen Leeboo had so thoroughly gained the
confidence of her people that she was trusted to go anywhere, although
always under the eyes of the young prince or Kaloomah.

I believe Leeboo would have learned to like the savages but for their
cannibal tastes, and several times, when men returned from the war-path,
she had to witness the most terrible of orgies.

It was always young girls or boys who were the victims of those fearful
feasts.  Her heart bled for them, but all remonstrance on her part was
in vain.

Leeboo had got her pony back, and often had a glorious gallop over the
prairie.

But something else had happened, which added greatly to Leeboo’s comfort
and happiness.  Shooks-gee himself came to camp and brought with him
little Weenah, his beautiful child-daughter.

Leeboo took to her at once, and the two became constant companions.

Weenah could converse in broken English, and so many a long delightful
"confab" they had together.

Child-like, Weenah told Leeboo of her love for Benee, of their early
rambles in the forest, too, and of her own wild wanderings in search of
him.  Told her, too, that Benee was coming back again with a fresh army
of Indians and white men, with Leeboo’s own lover and her brother as
their captains; told her of the fearful fight that was bound to take
place, but which would end in the complete triumph of the good men and
the rescue of Leeboo herself.

Yes, Weenah had her prophecy all cut and dry, and her story ended with a
good "curtain", as all good stories should.

Whether Weenah’s prophecy would be fulfilled or not we have to read on
to see, for, alas! it was a dark and gloomy race of savages that would
have to be dealt with, and rather than lose their queen, Kaloomah and
his people would--but there!  I have no wish to paint my chapters red.

                                  ――――

Leeboo was not slow to perceive that her chief chance of escape lay in
the skill with which she might play her two lovers against each other.

Whoever married her would be king.  He would rank with, but after, the
queen herself, for, to the credit of these cannibals be it said, they
always prefer female government.

In civilized society Leeboo might have been accused of acting
mischievously; for she would take first one into favour and then the
other, giving, that is, each of them a taste of the seventh heaven time
about. When Kalamazoo’s star was in the ascendant, then Kaloomah was
deep down in a pit of despair; but anon, he would be up and out again,
and then it was Kalamazoo’s turn to weep and wail and gnash his
triangular red-stained teeth.

It is needless to say that the game she was playing was a sad strain
upon our poor young heroine.  No wonder her eyes grew bright with that
brightness which denotes loss of strength, and weariness, and that her
cheeks were often far too flushed.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, and but for little Weenah I think
that Leeboo would have given up heart altogether and lain down to die.

But Weenah was always bright, cheerful, and happy.  She was laughing all
day long.  Benee was coming for her; of that she was very certain and
sure, so she sang about her absent lover even as birds in the woodlands
sing, and with just as sweet a voice.

The plot was thickening and thickening, and Leeboo managed matters now
so that only one of her guardians at a time accompanied herself and
Weenah in their rides or rambles.

Dixie--as the pony was named--was a very faithful little horse, and
though when Weenah had to trot beside him he never was allowed to go the
pace, he was exceedingly strong, and could scour the plain or prairie as
fleet as the wind whenever his young mistress put him on his mettle.  On
such occasions, no matter which of Leeboo’s admirers was with her, he
dropped far astern, and after running for a mile or so, had to sit down
to pant.

But the young queen always returned, and so she was trusted implicitly.

So too was Weenah, but then Weenah was one of themselves.

                                  ――――

In their very long and toilsome march, up the Mayatata, well was it
indeed for Roland and Dick that they had guides so faithful and clever
as Benee and Charlie. But for them, indeed, the expedition would have
been foredoomed to failure.

Benee indeed was really the guiding star.  For in his own lonesome
wanderings he had surveyed the whole country as it were, and knew every
fitting place for a camp, every ford on every stream, and every pathway
through the dense and dark forests.

They were but the pathways made by the beasts, however, and often all
but impassable.  Still, in single file they marched, and were always
successful in making their way.  Two whole months passed away, and now,
as they were nearing the cannibal highlands, greater precautions than
ever were required.

And for a week they had to turn night into day, and travel while the
savages slept.

They kept away, too, from any portion of the country which seemed to
have the slightest claim to be called inhabited.  Better they should
herd with the wild beasts of the forest than sight the face of even a
single savage.  For swift as deer that savage would run towards the
cannibal head-quarters and give information of the approach of a
pale-face horde of enemies.

At last there came a day when Benee called a council of war.

"We now get near de bad man’s land," he said. "Ugh!  I not lub mooch
blood."

"Then what would you have us do?" said Roland. "Shall we advance boldly
or make a night attack?"

"No, no, no, sah.  Too many cannibal warrior, too much pizen arrow,
sling, and spear.  No; build here a camp.  Make he strong.  Benee will
go all same. Benee will creep and crawl till he come to father and
mother house.  Den Benee make all right.  Pray for Benee."

Benee left, poor Brawn bidding him a most affectionate farewell.  Surely
that honest dog knew he was bent on saving his little mistress, if only
he could.

Charlie, the ex-cannibal, stayed in camp for the time being, but he
might be useful as a spy afterwards.

It is needless to say that the prayers of both our heroes were offered
up night and day for Benee’s success, and that their blessings followed
him.

But we do not always receive the answers that would appear to us the
best to our prayers, however earnest and heartfelt they may be.  Still,
we know well, though we are generally very loth to admit it, that
afflictions are very often blessings in disguise.

And now Benee was once more all alone on the war-path, and he followed
his old tactics, creeping quietly through the jungle only by night, and
retiring into hiding whenever day began to obliterate the stars. Roland
gave orders for the camp to be immediately fortified.  It was certainly
a well-chosen one, on the top of a wooded hill.

This hill was scarcely a hundred feet high, but although it might be
taken by siege, its position rendered it almost impregnable as far as
assault was concerned.

A rampart with a trench was thrown round three sides of it.  That was
apparently all that would be needed.

Looking from below by daylight even, hardly a savage could have told
that an enemy held the hill.

And now there was nothing to do but to wait.  And waiting is always
wearisome work.

But let us follow Benee.

His progress was slow, but it was sure, and at last he reached the
cottage where good Shooks-gee and his wife resided.

But here was no one save his "mother", as Benee lovingly called her.

A great fear took possession of his mind.  Could it be that his father
himself was dead, and that Weenah was captive?

His lips and voice almost refused to formulate the question nearest to
his heart.

But his mother’s smile reassured him.  Weenah was safe, and at the court
of the queen, and Shooks-gee himself was there.  So Benee grew hopeful
once more.

But his task would be by no means an easy one.

First and foremost he must establish communication between the captive
girl and himself.  How could this be done?

Had Shooks-gee been at home it might have been managed simply enough.
But he himself dared not appear anywhere in sight of the savages.

He felt almost baffled, but at last his mother came to his rescue.

The risk would be extreme.  These cannibal savages are as suspicious of
strangers as they are fierce and bloodthirsty, and if this poor,
kindly-hearted woman was taken for a spy her doom would be sealed.

But see the young queen she must, or little Weenah, her daughter; for
great though Benee’s abilities were, he did not possess the
accomplishment of writing.

                                  ――――

Dressed as one of the lowest of peasants, the mother of Weenah set
boldly out on her forlorn hope the very next day, and in the afternoon
she was within one mile of the palace itself.

Here she hid herself in the jungle, and after eating a little fruit went
to sleep.

The stars were still shining when she awoke, but she knew them all, and
those that were setting told her that day would soon break.

To pass through the soldier-guards and enter the palace would, she knew,
be an utter impossibility. There was nothing for it but to wait with
patience, for her husband had told her that the queen rode out for a
scamper over the plains every forenoon.

He had even told her the direction she usually took, not riding fast,
but with Weenah running by her side, keeping a long way ahead of her
lover guardian, whichever one of them might happen for the time being to
be the happy man.

Benee’s mother was as courageous as a mountain cat.  She had a duty to
perform, and she meant to carry it out.

Well, we are told in some old classic that fortune favours the brave.

It does not always do so, but in this case, at all events, this good
woman was successful.

At a certain part of the plain there were bushes close and thick enough,
and just here Leeboo with her little charger must pass if she came out
to-day at all.

It was at this spot, then, that Weenah’s mother concealed herself.

Nor had she very long to wait, for soon the sound of the pony’s hoofs
fell on her ear, beating a pleasant accompaniment to two sweet voices
raised in song.

The Indian woman raised herself and peeped over the bushes.

Yes, they were coming, and alone too, for Kaloomah could not run so fast
as Kalamazoo, and was a long way behind.

With characteristic impulse Weenah rushed forward and was clasped for a
moment in her mother’s arms.

And, somewhat astonished, Leeboo immediately reined up.



CHAPTER XXVI--THE PALE-FACE QUEEN HAS FLED


Leeboo, the young queen, could see that the woman was flurried and
excited.

She stood with her face to the pony and one arm was held aloft in the
air.  Her eyes were gleaming, and her hat had fallen over her back,
allowing her wealth of coal-black hair to escape.

Weenah stood by the saddle.

"I have that to say," exclaimed her mother, in her strangely musical
language, "that must be said speedily. If I am seen we are all doomed.
But listen, and listen intently.  You are free if you are fortunate.
Liberty is at hand.  Your friends are twenty miles down stream in camp.
Down the stream of Bitter Waters. Ride this way to-morrow, and when far
enough away take Weenah in your saddle, and gallop for your life into
the forest.  Weenah will be your guide."

So quickly did the woman vanish that for a few moments our heroine half
believed she must have been dreaming.

But she pulled herself together at once, and now rode back to meet
Kaloomah.

She was all smiles too.

"Why waits poor Kaloomah here?" she said, in her softest sweetest tones.

Kaloomah placed his hand on the saddle pommel, and panted somewhat.  But
Kaloomah was in the seventh heaven.

"Say--say--say ’poor Kaloomah’ again," he muttered.

"Poor Kaloomah!  Poor dear Kaloomah!"

She could even afford to place emphasis on the "dear", she was so happy.

"Oh--ugh!" sighed the savage; "but to-morrow it may be ’poor dear
Kalamazoo!’"

"Ah, you are jealous!  A little forest bird is pecking, pecking at your
heart.  But listen; to-morrow it shall not be Kalamazoo, but Kaloomah
once again."

Well, I dare say that love-making is very much the same all over the
wide, wide world, and so we cannot even laugh at this cannibal if he did
bend rapturously down and kiss the toe of Leeboo’s sandal-shaped
stirrup.

"And now, Kaloomah," she added, "I would gather some wild flowers, and
listen for a little while to the soo-soo’s song while you twine my wild
flowers into a garland.  My little handmaiden, Weenah, will assist you.

"But, Kaloomah!" she continued archly.

"Yes, my moon-dream."

"You must not make love to my maiden, else a little forest bird will
peck poor Leeboo’s heart to pieces and Leeboo die."

                                  ――――

I hardly think it would be putting it one whit too strongly to say that
the pale-face maiden queen had turned this savage’s head.

They all returned together at last to the palace, and the queen with her
little handmaiden retired to her chamber to dine.

As to Kaloomah, the spirit of pride had got into him, and this is really
as difficult to get rid of as if one were possessed of an evil spirit.
So the chief, decorated with the garland of wild flowers that Leeboo the
queen had placed around his neck, could not resist the temptation to
parade himself on the plateau before Kalamazoo’s tent.  He wished the
prince to see him. And the prince did.

The prince, moreover, was strongly tempted to rush forth, spear in hand,
and slay his rival where he stood.

But he remembered in time that Kaloomah was not only a great chief but a
mighty warrior.  Over and over again had he led the cannibal army
against the glens and valleys of distant highland chiefs.  And he had
been ever victorious, his soldiers returning after a great slaughter of
the foe, laden with heads and hams, to hold nights and nights of fearful
orgie.

Kalamazoo knew that Kaloomah was the people’s favourite, and that if he
slew him, he himself would speedily be torn limb from limb.

So he was content to gnash his own teeth, to count his mother’s over and
over again, and to remain quiescent.

It is seldom indeed that a savage is troubled with sleeplessness, but
that night poor Benee was far too anxious to slumber soundly.  For he
knew not what another day might bring forth.  It might be pregnant with
happiness for him and the young girls he loved so dearly, or it might
end in bloodshed and in death.

What a glorious morning broke over the woodlands at last!  Looking
eastwards Benee could note a strip of the deepest orange just above the
dark forest horizon.  This faded into palest green, and above all was
ethereal blue, with just one or two rosy clouds. And westwards those
patches of snow in the hollow of the mighty Sierras were pink, with
purple shadows.

And this innocent and unsophisticated savage bent himself low on his
knees and prayed to Him who is the author of all that is beautiful, to
bless his enterprise and take his little mistress safe away from this
blood-stained land of darkness and woe.

He felt better when he rose to his feet.  Then he entered the cottage
and had breakfast.

"I will come again some day," he said, as his "mother" bade him a
tearful farewell.  "I will come again and take Father and you to the
far-off happy land of the pale-faces."

So he hied him away to the forest, looking back just once to wave his
hand.

He well knew the road that Weenah and Leeboo--no, let us call her Peggy
once more--would take, if indeed they should succeed in escaping.

He walked towards the river of Bitter Waters therefore, and, journeying
for some miles along its wild romantic banks, lay down to wait.

Wild flowers trailed and climbed among the bushes where he hid; he saw
not their bright colours, he was scarcely sensible of their perfume.

The soo-soo’s song was sweet and plaintive; he heard it not.

He was wholly absorbed in thought.  So the sun got higher and higher,
and still he waited and watched--waited and hoped.

Only, ever and anon he would place his ear against the hard ground and
listen intently.

’Twas noon, and they came not.

Something must have happened.  Everything must have failed.

What should he do?  What could he do?

                                  ――――

But hark!  A joyful sound.  It was that of a horse at the gallop, and it
was coming nearer and nearer.

Benee grasped his rifle.

It must be she.  It must, and was poor Peggy, and Weenah was seated
behind her.

He looked quickly to his repeating rifle, and patted the revolvers in
his belt.

"Oh, Benee, Benee! how rejoiced I am!"

"But are you followed, Missie Peggy?"

"No, no, Benee, we have ridden clean and clear away from the savage
chief Kaloomah, and we fear no pursuit."

"Ah, Missie!  You not know de savage man.  I do. Come.  Make track now.

"Weenah," he added.  "Oh, my love, Weenah!  But come not down.  We mus’
fly foh de cannibal come in force."

It seemed but child’s play to Benee to trot lightly along beside the
pony.

Love, no doubt, made the labour lighter.  Besides, on faithful little
Dixie’s back was all that Benee cared much for in the world, Weenah and
"Missie Peggy".

True enough, he liked and respected Roland, and Dick as well, but they
were not all the world to him as these girls were.  And ever since he
had found Roland and Peggy in the dark forest and rescued them, his
little mistress had been in his eyes an angel.  Never an unkind word was
it possible for her to say to anyone, least of all--so he flattered
himself--to Benee.

The poor, untutored savage felt, in his happiness, at this moment, that
it would be sweet to die were the loved ones only near to hold his hand.

But he could die, too, fighting for them; ay, fighting to the end.  Who
was he that would dare touch the ground where Peggy or Weenah trod if
he--Benee--were there?

And so they journeyed on and on by the river’s side and through jungle
and forest, never dreaming of danger or pursuit.

Ah! but wild as a panther was Kaloomah now.

When he found that he was baffled, befooled, deserted, then all his
fury--the fury of an untamed savage--boiled up from the bottom of his
heart.

Love!  Where was love now?  It found no place in this wild chief’s
heart; hate had supplanted it, and it was a hate that must be quenched
in blood.  Yes, her blood!  He would be revenged, and then--well then,
the sooner he should die after that the better.  For his life’s sun had
gone out, his days could only be days of darkness now.

Yet how happy had he been only this morning, and how proud when he
stalked forth from his hut and passed that of Kalamazoo, still wearing
the wild flowers with which she had adorned him!

He tore those wild flowers from his neck now, and scattered them to the
winds.

Then, as fast and fleet as ever savage ran, he hied him back to the
palace.

Few had more stentorian lungs than Kaloomah!

"The queen has gone!  The white queen has fled!"

That shout awakened one thousand armed men to action, and in less than
an hour they were on the warpath.



CHAPTER XXVII--THE FIGHT AT THE FORT


So toilsome was the road to trace, and so far away was the fortified
camp of our heroes, that the sun was almost setting before Benee arrived
with his precious charge.

Why should I make any attempt to describe the meeting of Roland and Dick
with the long-lost Peggy?

Roland and she had always been as brother and sister, and now that they
were once more united, all her joy found vent in a flood of tears, which
her brother did what he could to stem.

It seemed hardly possible that she should be here safe and sound, and in
the presence of those who loved her so well and dearly.

And here, too, was Brawn, who was delirious with joy, and honest Bill
with his meerschaum.

"Oh, surely I shall not awake and find it all a dream!" she cried in
terror.  "Awake and find myself still in that awful palace, with its
dreadful surroundings and the odour of death everywhere!  Oh--h!"

The girl shuddered.

"Dear Peggy," said Dick tenderly, "this is no dream; you are with us
again, and we with you.  All the past is as nothing.  Let us live for
the future.  Is that right, Roland?"

"Yes, you must forget the past, Peggy," said Roland. "Dick is right.
The past shall be buried.  We are young yet.  The world is all before
us.  So come, laugh, and be happy, Peggy."

"And this charming child here, who is she?" said Dick.  He alluded to
Weenah.

"That is little Weenah, a daughter of the wilds, a child of the desert.
Nay, but no child after all, are you, Weenah?"

Weenah bent her dark eyes on the ground.

"I am nothing," she said.  "I am nobody, only--Benee’s."

"But, Weenah," said Peggy, taking the girl by the hand, "oh, how I shall
miss you when you go!"

"Go?" said Weenah wonderingly.

"Yes, dear, you have a father and a mother, who are fond of you.  Must
you not return soon to them?"

"My father and my mother I love," replied Weenah. "And you I love, for
you have taught me to pray to the pale-face’s God.  You have taught me
many, many things that are good and beautiful.  My life now is all joy
and brightness, and so, though I love my mother and my father, oh! bid
me not to leave you."

All this was spoken in the language of the country. It was Greek to
those around them, but even Bill could see that the dark-eyed maiden was
pleading for something, for her hand was in Peggy’s, her eyes upon hers.

                                  ――――

It was just at this moment that scouts came hurrying in from the forest,
bringing news that was startling enough, as well as surprising.

These men had come speedily in, almost as fleet of foot as deer, and the
word they brought was that the savages, at least six hundred strong,
were not more than three hours distant.

Roland showed no excitement, whatever he might feel.  Nor did Dick.  Yet
both were ready for action.

Burly Bill, who had been quietly smoking a little way off, put his great
thumb in the bowl of his meerschaum, and stowed away that faithful
companion of his in his coat-pocket.

Can a young fellow still in his teens, and whom we older men are all too
apt to sneer at as a mere boy, prove himself a good general.  He may and
he can, if he has grit in him and a head of some sort surmounting his
shoulders.

From what followed I think Roland proved that he was in possession of
both.

Well, he had descended from a long line of hardy Cornish ancestors, and
there is more in good blood than we are apt to believe.

He came to the front now at all events, and Dick and Bill, to say
nothing of Benee, Rodrigo, and the other canoe captains, were ready to
obey his every command.

Roland called a council of war at once, and it did not take long to come
to a decision.

Our chief hero was the principal speaker.  But brave men do not lose
much time in words.

"Boys," he said, "we’ve got to fight these rascally savages.  That’s so,
I think?"

"That’s so," was the chorus.

"Well, and we’ve got to beat them, too.  We want to give them something
that shall keep them both quiet and civil until we can afford to send
out a few missionaries to improve their morals.

"Now, Rodrigo, I cannot force you to fight."

"Force, sir?  I need no force.  Command me."

"Well, I will.  I wish to outflank these beggars. You and our Indians,
with Benee as your guide, are just the men to do so.

"The moon will be up in another hour.  It will be the harvest-moon in
England.  The harvest-moon here, too--but a harvest, alas! of blood.

"Now, Benee," he continued, "as soon as we are ready, guide these men
with Captain Rodrigo for some distance down-stream, then curl round the
savages, and when they begin to retreat, or even before that, attack
them in the rear.  Good luck to you!"

As silently as ghosts two hundred and fifty well-armed Indians, a short
time after Roland made that brave little speech, glided down the brow of
the hill, and disappeared in the woods beyond.

Though our heroes listened, they could not hear a sound, not even the
crackling of a bush or broken branch.

Soon the moon glared red through the topmost boughs of the far-off
trees, and flooded all the land with a light almost as bright as day.
The stars above, that before had glittered on the river’s rippling
breast, and the stars beneath--those wondrous flitting
fire-insects--paled before its beams, and the night-birds sought for
shelter in caves among the rocks.  So over all the prairie and woodlands
there fell a stillness that was almost oppressive.  It was as if Nature
held her breath, expectant of the fight that was to follow.

Nor was that fight very long delayed.  But it must have been well on
towards midnight before the first indication of an approaching foe was
made manifest.

Only a long, mournful hoot, away in the bush, and bearing a close
resemblance to that of the owl.

It was repeated here and there from different quarters, and our heroes
knew that an attack was imminent.

There was in the centre of the camp a roomy cave. In this all stores had
been placed, with water enough for a night at all events, and here were
Peggy and Weenah safely guarded by Brawn.  Roland had managed to make
the darkness visible by lighting two candles and placing them on the
wall.

In a smaller cave was Peter, and as he had given evidence lately of a
great desire to escape, the boys had taken the liberty to rope him.

"You shall live to repent this," hissed the man through his teeth.

He had thrown overboard all his plausibility now, and assumed his
natural self--the dangerous villain.

"Have a care," replied Dick, "or you will not live long enough to repent
of anything."

On one side of the camp was the river, down under a cliff of
considerable height.  It was very quiet and sluggish just here, and its
gentle whispering was no louder than a light breeze sighing through
forest trees.

There were, therefore, really only three sides of the parapet and hill
to defend.

And now Burly Bill’s quick ear caught the sound of rustling down below.

"The savages are on us," he said quietly.

"Then give them a volley to begin with," answered Roland.

The white men started down scores of huge stones; but this was more for
the purpose of bringing the savages into sight than with a view to wound
or kill any.

It had the desired effect, and probably another, for the cannibals must
have believed the pale-faces had no other means of defence.

They were seen now in the bright moonlight scrambling up-hill in scores,
with knives in their mouths and spears on their backs.

"Fire straight and steadily, men," cried the young chief, Roland.  "Fire
independently, and every man at the enemy in front of him."

A well-aimed and rattling volley, followed by another and another, made
the Indians pause.  The number of dead and wounded was great, and
impeded the progress of those who would have rushed up and on.

Volley after volley was now poured into the savage ranks, but they came
pressing up from behind as black and fierce and numerous as a colony of
mountain-ants.

Their yelling and war-cries were terrible to hear.

But the continuous volley-firing still kept them at bay.

"The rockets, Dick, are they ready?"

"Yes, captain, all ready."

"Try the effect of these."

It was a fearful sight to witness those dread weapons of warfare tear
through the ranks of these shrieking demons.

Death and mutilation was dealt on every side, and the fire from the
ramparts grew fiercer and fiercer.

Yet so terrible in their battle-wrath are these cannibals, that--well
our heroes knew--if they were to scale the ramparts, even the white men
would not be able to stand against them.

Then the fight would degenerate into a massacre, and this would be
followed by an orgie too awful to contemplate.

At this moment there could not have been fewer than five hundred savages
striving to capture the little hill on which stood the camp, and
Roland’s men in all were barely eighty.  Some who had exposed themselves
were speedily brought down with poisoned arrows, and already lay
writhing in the agonies of spasmodic death.

But see, led on by the chief Kaloomah himself, who seems to bear a
charmed life, the foremost ranks of those sable warriors have already
all but gained footing on the ramparts, while with axe and adze the
pale-faces endeavour to repel them.

In vain!

Kaloomah--great knife in hand--and at least a score of his braves have
effected an entrance, and the whites, though fighting bravely, are being
pushed, if not driven back.

It is a terrible moment!



CHAPTER XXVIII--THE DREAM AND THE TERROR!


Far more acute in hearing are these children of the wilds than any white
man who ever lived, and now, just as hope was beginning to die out of
even Roland’s heart, a sudden movement on the part of the savages who
had gained admittance caused him to marvel.

More quickly than they had entered, back they sprang towards the
parapet, and on gazing after them, our heroes found that the hill-sides
were clear.

It was evident, however, that a great battle was going on down beneath
on the prairie.

Explanation is hardly needed.

Rodrigo’s men, guided by Benee, had outflanked--nay, even
surrounded--the foe, and with well-aimed volleys had thrust them back
and back towards the river, into which, with wild agonizing shouts, all
that was left of Kaloomah’s army was driven.

They were excellent swimmers, the ’gators were absent from this river,
and doubtless hundreds of fugitives would find their way back into their
own dark land to tell how well and bravely the pale-faces can fight.

But Kaloomah, where is he?

Intent on revenge, even while the battle raged the fiercest and the
whites were being driven back, his quick eye caught the glimmer of the
candle-light in the cave.

Leeboo was there, he told himself, and the false witch Weenah.

He shortened his knife, and made a rush for the entrance.

"Hab--a--rabb--rr--rr--ow!"  That was the voice of the great wolf-hound,
as he sprang on the would-be assassin and pinned him to the ground.

Kaloomah’s knife dropped from his hand as he tried to free himself.

But Brawn had him by the throat now, and had not brave Peggy sprung to
the assistance of the savage, the dog would have torn the windpipe from
his neck.

But Kaloomah was prisoner, and when the fight was all over, the dog was
released from duty, and the chief was bound hand and foot and placed in
the other cave beside Peter.

This cave, which had thus been turned into a prison, possessed an
entrance at the side, a kind of doorway through the dark rocks, and a
great hole at the top, through which daylight, or even moonlight, could
stream.  At some not very distant date it had evidently been used as a
hut, and must have been the scene of many a fearful cannibal orgie, for
scores of human skulls were heaped up in corners, and calcined bones
were also found.  Altogether, therefore, an unhallowed kind of place,
and eerie beyond conception.

It is as well to tell the truth concerning the battle on the hill-top,
ghastly though it may appear.  There were no wounded men there, for even
in the thick of the fight the savages not only slew the white men who
dropped, but their own maimed as well.

So long as the brave fellows under Roland and Dick held the ramparts,
and poured their volleys into the ranks of the enemy beneath, scarcely a
white man was hurt; but when the battlements were carried by storm, then
the havoc of war commenced in earnest; and at daylight a great deep
trench was excavated, and in this no fewer than eleven white men were
placed, side by side.

A simple prayer was said, then a hymn was sung--a sad dirge-like hymn to
that sacred air called "Martyrdom", which has risen in olden times from
many a Scottish battle-field, where the heather was dripping blood.  I
take my fiddle and play it now, and that mournful scene rises up before
me, in which the white men crowd around the long quiet grave, where
their late companions lie sleeping in the tomb.

Every head is bared in the morning sunshine, every eye is wet with
tears.

It is Bill himself who leads the melody.

Then clods are gently thrown upon the dead, and soon the grave is
filled.

                                  ――――

There was not the slightest apprehension now that the battle would be
renewed, and so all the day was spent in getting ready for the long
march back to the spot where, under the charge of one of the captains
and his faithful peons, the great canoes had been left.

Among the stores brought here to camp--the suggestion had emanated from
Roland’s mother and Beeboo--was a chest containing many changes of
raiment and dresses belonging to Peggy.  In the cave, then, both she and
Weenah conducted their toilet, and when, some time after, and just as
breakfast was about to be served, they both came out, it would have been
difficult, indeed, to keep from exclamations of surprise.

Even Benee gave way to his excitement, and, seizing Weenah, held her for
a moment high in air.

"I rejoice foh true!" he cried.  "All ober my heart go flapperty-flap.
Oh, Weenah! you am now all same one red pale-face lady."

Dick thought Peggy, with her bonnie sun-tanned face, more lovely now
than ever he had seen her.

                                  ――――

But while they are breakfasting, and while the men are quietly but
busily engaged getting the stores down-hill, let us take a peep into the
cave where the prisoners are.

When Kaloomah was thrust into the cave, Peter was fast asleep.  Of late
he had become utterly tired and careless of life.  Was his not a wrecked
existence from beginning to end?  This was a question that he oftentimes
asked himself sadly enough.

During the fight that had raged so long and fiercely he had remained
perfectly passive.  What was it to him who won or who lost?  If the
Indians won, he would speedily be put out of pain.  If the white men
were the victors--well, he would probably die just the same.  At all
events, life was not worth having now.

Then, when the lull of battle came, when the wild shrieks and shouting
were over, and when the rattling of musketry was no longer heard, he
felt utterly tired. He would sleep, he told himself, and what cared he
if it should be

    "The sleep that knows not breaking,
    Morn of toil or night of waking"?


The cords that bound him hurt a little, but he would not feel their
pressure when--he slept.

His was not a dreamless sleep by any means, though a long one.

His old, old life seemed to rise up before him.  He was back again in
England--dear old England!  He was a clerk, a confidential clerk.

He had no care, no complications, and he was happy. Happy in the love of
a sweet girl who adored him; the girl that he would have made his wife.
Poor? Yes, both were; but oh! when one has innocence and sweet
contentment, love can bloom in a garret.

Yet envy of the rich began to fill his soul.  The world was badly
divided.  Why had he to tread the streets day after day with muddy boots
to his office, and back to his dingy home after long hours of toil and
drudgery at the desk?

Oh for comfort!  Oh for riches!

The girl that was to be his was more beautiful than many who lolled in
cushioned carriages, with liveried servants to attend their beck and
call.

So his dream went on, and dreams are but half-waking thoughts.

But it changes now!

He sees Mary his sweetheart, wan and pale, with tears in her eyes for
him whose voice she may never hear again.

For the tempter has come with gold and with golden promises.

And he has fallen!

Other men have fallen before.  Why not he when so much was to be gained?
So much of--nay, not of glory, but of gold.  What is it that gold cannot
do?

A conscience?  Yes, he had possessed one once. But this tempter had
laughed heartily when he talked of so old-fashioned a possession.  It
was all a matter of business.

Behold those wealthy men who glide past in their beautiful landaus.  Did
they have consciences?  If they did, then, instead of a town and country
house, their home would soon be the garret vile in some back slum in
London.

Again the dream changes.  To the fearful and awful now.  For, stretched
out before him is Mary, wan and worn--Mary, DEAD!

He awakes with a shriek, and sits up with his back against the black
rock.

His hand touches something cold.  It is a skull, and he shudders as he
thrusts it away.

But is he awake?  He lifts his fettered hands and rubs his eyes.

He gazes in terror at someone that is sitting, just as he is, with his
back against the wall--and asleep.

The rough dress is all disarranged, and the brown hands are covered with
blood.  It is an awful vision.

He shuts his eyes a moment, but when he opens them again the man is
still there!  The terror!

The morning sun is glimmering in and falling directly on the awful
sleeping face.

He sits bolt upright now and leans forward.

"Kaloomah!" he cries.  "Kaloomah!"

And his own voice seems to belong to some spirit behind those prison
walls.

But the terror awakes.

And the eyes of the two men meet.

"Don Pedro!  You here?"

"Kaloomah.  I am."



CHAPTER XXIX--EASTWARD HO!  FOR MERRIE ENGLAND


Captain Roland St. Clair, as he was called by his men, was busy along
with Dick and Bill in superintending the sending-off of all heavy
baggage down-stream, when a man came up and saluted him.

"Well, Harris?"

"The prisoner Peter desires to speak with you, sir, in the presence of
two witnesses.  He wished me to request you to bring paper, pen, and
ink.  It is his desire that you should take his deposition."

"Deposition, Harris?  But the man is not dying."

"Well, perhaps not, sir.  I only tell you what he says."

"I will be in his cell in less than twenty minutes, Harris."

"Dick," said Roland, at the appointed time, "there is some mystery here.
Come with me, and you also, Bill."

"What I have to say must be said briefly and quickly," said Peter,
sitting up.  "I will not give myself the pain," he added, "to think very
much about the past.  It is all too dark and horrible.  But I make this
confession, unasked for and being still in possession of all my
faculties and reasoning power."

He spoke very slowly, and Dick wrote down the confession as he made it.

"I am guilty, gentlemen.  Dare I say ’with extenuating circumstances’?
That, however, will be for you to consider.  As the matter stands I do
not beg for my life, but rather that you should deal with me as I
deserve to be treated.

"Death, believe me, gentlemen, is in my case preferable to life.  But
listen and judge for yourselves, and if parts of my story need
confirmation, behold yonder is Kaloomah, and he it was whom I hired to
carry your adopted sister away, where in all human probability she could
never more be heard of again. Have you got all that down?"

"I have," said Dick.

"But," said Roland, "what reason had you to take so terrible a revenge
on those who never harmed you, if revenge indeed it was?"

"It was not revenge.  What I did, I did for greed of gold.  Listen.

"I was happy in England, and had I only been content, I might now have
been married and in comfort, but I fell, and am now the heart-broken
villain you see before you.

"You know the will your uncle made, Mr. St. Clair?"

"I have only heard of it."

"It was I who copied it for my master, the wretched solicitor.

"I stole that copy and re-copied it, and sold it to the only man whom it
could benefit, and that was your Uncle John."

"My Uncle John?  He who sent you out to my poor, dear father?"

"The same.  But let me hurry on.  The real will is still in possession
of the solicitor, and it gives all the estates of Burnley Hall, in
Cornwall, to John, in the event of Peggy’s death."

"I begin to see," said Dick.

"My reward was to have been great, if I managed the affair properly.  I
have never had it, and, alas! I need it not now.

"But," he continued, "your villainous uncle was too great a coward to
have Peggy murdered.  His last words to me on board the steamer before I
sailed were: ’Remember--not one single drop of blood shed.’

"I might have done worse than even I did, but these were the words that
instigated my vile plot, of which I now most heartily repent.  All I had
to do was to get apparent proof of Peggy’s death."

"And my Uncle John now holds the estates of Burnley Hall?  Is that so?"

"He does.  The solicitor could not help but produce the will, on hearing
of Peggy’s capture and death.

"That, then, is my story, gentlemen.  Before Heaven I swear it is all
true.  It is, moreover, my deposition, for I already feel the cold
shadow of death creeping over me.  Yes, I will sign it."

He did so.

"I makee sign too," said Kaloomah.

"That is the man whom I hired to do the deed," said Peter again.

And Kaloomah made his mark.

"I feel easier now, gentlemen" continued Peter. "But leave me a while.
I would sleep."

                                  ――――

Kaloomah had all a savage’s love for the horrible, and he was merely an
interested spectator of the tragedy that followed.

Between him and Peter lie two poison-tipped arrows.

At first Peter looks at them like one dazed.  Then he glances upwards at
the glorious sunshine streaming in through the opening.

Nearer and nearer he now creeps to those arrows!

Nearer and nearer!

Now he positions them with his manacled hands.

Then strikes.

In half an hour’s time, when Burly Bill entered the cave to inform the
prisoners that it was time for them to be on the road, he started back
in horror.

Peter, fearfully contorted, lay on the floor of the cave, dead.

                                  ――――

Some weeks after this the party found themselves once more near to the
banks of the rapid Madeira.

Everything had gone well with those captains and peons whom they had
left behind, and now every preparation was made to descend the stream
with all possible speed, consonant with safety.

They had taken Kaloomah thus far, lest he should return and bring
another army to attack them.

And now a kind of drum-head court-martial was held on this wild chief,
at which even Charlie and Benee were present.

"I really don’t see," said Roland, "what good has come of saddling
ourselves with a savage."

"No, I agree with you, Roll," said Dick.  "Peter has gone to his
account, and really this Kaloomah has been more sinned against than he
has sinned."

"What would you advise, Bill?"

"Why, I’d give him a rousing kick and let him go."

"And you Benee?"

"I go for hangee he."

"Charlie, what would you do?"

Charlie was smiling and rubbing his hands; it was evident he had
formulated some plan that satisfied himself.

"I tie dat savage to one biggee stake all by de ribber, den watch de
’gator come, chumpee, chumpee he."

But a more merciful plan was adopted.  Kaloomah evidently expected
death, but when Roland himself cut his bonds and pointed to the west,
the savage gave just one wild whoop and yell, and next moment he had
disappeared in the forest.

                                  ――――

Were I beginning a story instead of ending one, I should not be able to
resist the temptation to describe that voyage down the beautiful
Madeira.

It must suffice to say that it was all one long and happy picnic.

Just one grief, however, had been Peggy’s at the start.  Poor Dixie, the
pony, must be left behind.

She kissed his forehead as she bade him good-bye, and her face was wet
with tears as she turned her back to her favourite.

Roland did what he could to comfort her.

"Dixie will soon be as happy as any horse can be," he said.  "He will
find companions, and will live a long, long time in the wilds of this
beautiful land. So you must not grieve."

                                  ――――

There are times when people in this world are so inexpressibly happy
that they cannot wish evil to happen even to their greatest enemies.
They feel that they would like every creature, every being on earth, to
be happy also.

Surely it is with some such spirit that angels and saints in heaven are
imbued.

Had you been on board the steamship _Panama_ as she was swiftly
ploughing her way through the wide blue sea that separates Old England
from South America, from Pará and the mouths of the mighty Amazon, you
could not have been otherwise than struck with the evident contentment
and happiness of a group of saloon passengers there.  Whether walking
the quarter-deck, or seated on chairs under the awning, or early in the
morning surrounding their own special little breakfast-table, pleasure
beamed in every eye, joy in every face.

Who were they?  Listen and I shall tell you.

There was Roland, Dick, Roland’s sweet-faced mother, Peggy; and last,
but certainly not least in size at all events, there was dark-skinned
jolly-looking Burly Bill himself.

But Burly Bill did not obtrude his company too much on the younger
folks.  He was fond of walking on the bridge and talking to the officer
on duty. Fond, too, of blowing a cloud from his lips as they dallied
with his great meerschaum.  Fond of telling a good story, but fonder
still of listening to one, and often chuckling over it till he appeared
quite apoplectic.

There was someone else on board who must be mentioned.  And this was
Dixie, the pony!

Did he remain on the banks of the Madeira?  Not he.  For by some means
or other he found his way--so marvellous is the homing instinct in
animals--back to the old plantation long before Roland and his little
army, and was the first to run out to meet Peggy and get a kiss on his
soft warm snout.

Need I add that Brawn was one of the passengers? And a happy dog he was,
and always ready for a lark when the sailors chose to throw a
belaying-pin for him.

Dick had had a grief to face when he returned.

His uncle was dead.  So he determined--as did Roland with his
plantation--to sell off and return to England, for a time at all events.

The two estates are now worked by a "Company Ltd.", but Jake Solomons is
head overseer.

Benee, who has married his "moon-dream", little Weenah, is second in
command, and right merry of a morning is the boom and the song of the
old buzz-saw.

                                  ――――

So happy, then, were Roland and Dick and Peggy that they concluded they
would not be too hard on wicked Uncle John.

This wicked Uncle John went into retirement after the arrival of our
heroes and heroine.  He might have been sent into retirement of quite a
different sort if Roland had cared to press matters.

Peggy got all her own again.  She is now Mrs. Temple, and Dick and she
are beloved by all the tenantry--yes, and by all the county gentry and
farmer folks round and round.

I had almost forgotten to say a last word about Beeboo.  She is Mrs.
Temple’s chief servant, and a right happy body is Beeboo, and Burly
Billy is estate manager.

Now, if any of my readers want a special treat, let him or her try to
get an invitation to spend Christmas at Burnley Old Hall.





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