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Title: Sam Steele's Adventures in Panama
Author: Fitzgerald, Capt. Hugh
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Internet Archive)



[Illustration: The Escape.]



SAM STEELE’S ADVENTURES

  In Panama

  By
  CAPT. HUGH FITZGERALD

  [Illustration]

  CHICAGO
  THE REILLY & BRITTON CO.
  PUBLISHERS



  COPYRIGHT, 1907,
  BY
  THE REILLY & BRITTON CO.



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                   PAGE

     I. I UNDERTAKE A HAZARDOUS VOYAGE         9

    II. I SHIP A QUEER PASSENGER              22

   III. THE MOIT CONVERTIBLE AUTOMOBILE       33

    IV. WE COME TO GRIEF                      56

     V. MAKING THE BEST OF IT                 71

     VI. THE DEAD MAN’S STORY                 84

    VII. THE FOLLY OF THE WISE               100

   VIII. THE SAN BLAS COUNTRY                116

     IX. FACING THE ENEMY                    128

      X. NALIG-NAD                           137

     XI. PRINCESS ILALAH                     153

    XII. WAR IS DECLARED                     170

   XIII. WE LOOK INTO DANGER’S EYES          182

    XIV. WE ASTONISH OUR FOES                195

     XV. WE SEARCH FOR THE VALLEY            213

    XVI. THE ARROW-MAKER                     224

   XVII. A WOODLAND WONDERLAND               241

  XVIII. THE PRINCESS DISAPPEARS             255

    XIX. WE ATTEMPT A RESCUE                 265

     XX. OUTWITTED                           275

    XXI. THE SACRIFICE                       285

   XXII. THE THRUST OF A SPEAR               293

  XXIII. THE DESERTER                        299

   XXIV. WE LEAVE PANAMA                     307



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

FROM ORIGINAL PAINTINGS BY HOWARD HEATH


  THE ESCAPE                      _Frontispiece_

  THE ARROW MUST HAVE KILLED HIM INSTANTLY    84

  “ANY SPEAK ENGLIS’?”                       124

  “DIAMONDS! THEY ARE MAGNIFICENT!”          246

  HE DREW THE BOWSTRING TO HIS CHIN          290



SAM STEELE’S ADVENTURES IN PANAMA

CHAPTER I

I UNDERTAKE A HAZARDOUS VOYAGE


The bark _Nebuchadnezar_ came staggering into Chelsea harbor in a very
demoralized condition. Her main and mizzen masts were both gone, the
bulwarks were smashed in, the poop swept away, and she leaked so badly
that all the short-handed crew were nearly ready to drop from the
exhausting labor of working the pumps. For after weathering a dreadful
storm in which the captain and mate were washed overboard, together
with five of the men, those remaining had been forced to rig up a
square-sail on the foremast and by hook or crook to work the dismantled
hulk into harbor, and this they did from no love of the ship but as a
matter of mere self-preservation, the small boats having all been lost
or destroyed.

As soon as they dropped anchor in the harbor they fled from the
crippled ship and left her to her fate.

It fortunately happened that an agent of the owners, a man named
Harlan, lived at Chelsea and was able to take prompt action to save
the company’s property. The _Nebuchadnezar_ was loaded heavily with
structural steel work from Birmingham, which had been destined for San
Pedro, California, which is the port of entry for the important city
of Los Angeles. It was a valuable cargo, and one well worth saving; so
Mr. Harlan quickly sent a lot of men aboard to calk the sprung seams
and pump her dry, and within twenty-four hours they had her safe from
sinking, although she still looked more like a splintered tub than a
ship.

And now the agent spent a whole day exchanging telegrams with the chief
agents of the Line in New York. It appeared that to unload the heavy
structural beams, which were of solid steel, and ship them by rail
across the continent would entail a serious loss, the freight rates
being enormous for such a distance. There was at the time no other
ship procurable to carry the cargo on to its destination. Either the
old _Nebuchadnezar_ must be made seaworthy again, and sent on its way
around the Horn to San Pedro, or the company was in for a tremendous
loss.

Harlan was a man of resource and energy. He promptly informed his
superiors that he would undertake to fit the ship for sea, and
speedily; so he was given permission to “go ahead.”

New masts were stepped, the damages repaired, and the bark put in as
good condition as possible. But even then it was a sad parody on a
ship, and the chances of its ever getting to the port of destination
were regarded by all observers as extremely doubtful.

Having done the best in his power, however, Mr. Harlan came to my
father and said:

“Captain Steele, I want you to take the _Nebuchadnezar_ to San Pedro.”

The Captain smiled, and answered with his usual deliberation:

“Thank you, Mr. Harlan; but I can’t by any possibility get away this
winter.”

You see, we were just building our new vessel, the _Seagull_, which was
to be our future pride and joy, and my father did not believe the work
could progress properly unless he personally inspected every timber
and spike that went into her. Just now the builders were getting along
finely and during the coming winter all the interior fittings were to
be put in. I knew very well that nothing could induce Captain Steele to
leave the _Seagull_ at this fascinating period of its construction.

Mr. Harlan was very grave and anxious, and spoke frankly of the
difficulty he was in.

“You see, sir, my reputation is at stake in this venture,” he
explained, “and if anything happens to that cargo they will blame me
for it. The only way to avoid a heavy loss is to get the old hull into
port, and I am aware that to accomplish this task a man of experience
and exceptional judgment is required. There is not another captain on
the coast that I would so completely and confidently trust with this
undertaking as I would you, sir; and we can afford to pay well for the
voyage.”

My father appreciated the compliment, but it did not alter his resolve.

“Can’t be done, Mr. Harlan,” he said, pressing the ashes into the bowl
of his pipe and looking around the group of intent listeners with a
thoughtful expression. “Time was when I’d have liked a job of that
sort, because it’s exciting to fight a strong ocean with a weak ship.
But my whole heart is in the _Seagull_, and I can’t an’ won’t leave
her.”

Just then his eyes fell upon me and brightened.

“There’s no reason, howsomever,” he added, “why Sam can’t undertake
your commission. We won’t be likely to need him this winter, at all.”

Mr. Harlan frowned; then looked toward me curiously.

“Would you really recommend a boy like Sam for such an important
undertaking?” he asked.

“Why not, sir?” replied my father. “Sam’s as good a navigator as I
am, an’ he’s a brave lad an’ cool-headed, as has been proved. All he
lacks is experience in working a ship; but he can take my own mate, Ned
Britton, along, and there’s not a better sailing-master to be had on
the two oceans.”

The agent began to look interested. He revolved the matter in his mind
for a time and then turned to me and asked, abruptly:

“Would you go, sir?”

I had been thinking, too, for the proposition had come with startling
suddenness.

“On one condition,” said I.

“What is that?”

“That in case of accident--if, in spite of all our efforts, the old tub
goes to the bottom--you will hold me blameless and look as cheerful as
possible.”

The agent thought that over for what seemed a long time, considering
the fact that he was a man of quick judgment and action. But I will
acknowledge it was a grave condition I had required, and the man knew
even better than I did that under the most favorable circumstances the
result of the voyage was more than doubtful. Finally he nodded.

“I do not know of any one I would rather trust,” said he. “You are only
a boy, Sam Steele; but I’ve got your record, and I know Ned Britton.
Next to getting Captain Steele himself, the combination is as good as I
could hope to secure for my company, and I’m going to close with you at
once, condition and all.”

Britton, who was himself present at this conference, shifted uneasily
in his chair.

“I ain’t right sure as we can ship a proper crew, sir,” he remarked,
eyeing me with the characteristic stare of his round, light blue eyes,
which were as unreadable as a bit of glass.

“Well, we can try, Ned,” I answered, with some concern. “I shall take
Nux and Bryonia along, of course, and we won’t need over a dozen able
seamen.”

I must explain that the Nux and Bryonia mentioned were not homeopathic
remedies, but two stout, black South Sea Islanders who bore those
absurd names and had already proven their loyalty and devotion to me,
although they were the especial retainers of my uncle, Naboth Perkins.

“What became of the crew that brought the ship in?” asked my father.

“Deserted, sir, an’ dug out quick’s scat,” answered Ned.

“Why?”

“Said as nothing but bad luck followed the ship. She were a thirteener,
sir, and bound fer to get in trouble.”

“How’s that?”

“Why, I talked with the second mate, who brung the ship in. He said
they had sailed from Liverpool on a Friday, the thirteenth o’ the
month. There was thirteen aboard; it were the Cap’n’s thirteenth
voyage; an’ the _Nebuchadnezar_, which had thirteen letters in its
name--bein’ as how it were mis-spelled by its builders--was thirteen
year old to a day. That was bad enough fer a starter, as everybody can
guess. Thirteen days out they struck trouble, an’ it clung to ’em as
desp’rit as their own barnacles. You couldn’t hire one o’ that crew to
go aboard agin, sir, fer love or money.”

This dismal revelation struck a chill to all present, except, perhaps,
Mr. Harlan and myself. I am superstitious about some things, I
acknowledge, but thirteen has for me always been a number luckier than
otherwise. However, I knew very well that sailors are obstinate and
fearful; so I turned to the agent and said:

“You must paint out that name _Nebuchadnezar_ and replace it with any
other you like. Do it at once, before we attempt to ship a crew. With
that accomplished, Ned won’t have much trouble in getting the men he
wants.”

“I’ll do it,” replied Mr. Harlan, promptly. “I’ll call her the _Gladys
H._, after my own little daughter. That ought to bring her good luck.”

Ned bobbed his head approvingly. It was evident the idea pleased him
and removed his most serious objection to the voyage.

“And now,” continued the agent, “it is only necessary to discuss terms.”

These proved liberal enough, although I must say the money was no
factor in deciding me to undertake the voyage. I had been quite
fortunate in accumulating a fair share of worldly wealth, and a part of
my own snug fortune had gone into our new _Seagull_, of which I was to
be one-third owner.

So it was really a desire to be doing something and an irrepressible
spirit of adventure that urged me on; for, as my father said, a
struggle with old ocean was always full of surprises, and when we had
such frail support as the crippled _Nebuchadnezar_, the fight was
liable to prove interesting.

But that preposterous name was painted out the following day, and
before I trod the deck for the first time the bark had been renamed
the _Gladys H._, and was resplendent in fresh paint and new cordage.
The old hulk actually looked seaworthy to a superficial observer; but
Ned Britton went below and examined her seams carefully and came back
shaking his head.

“If the weather holds good and the cargo steady,” he said to me, “we
may pull through; but if them big iron beams in the hold ever shifts
their position, the whole hull’ll open like a sieve.”

“Don’t whisper that, Ned,” I cautioned him. “We’ve got to take chances.”

He was not the man to recoil at taking chances, so he kept a close
mouth and in three days secured all the sailors we needed.

They were a fairly good lot, all experienced and steady, and when I
looked them over I was well pleased. One or two who were new to our
parts grinned rather disrespectfully when they noted my size and youth;
but I paid little attention to that. I was, in reality, a mere boy, and
the only wonder is that they consented to sail under my command.

My mate, however, looked every inch the sailor, and won their immediate
respect, while my father’s ample reputation as a daring and skillful
captain caused the men to be lenient in their judgment of his son.

It was to be a long cruise, for Mr. Harlan had instructed me to skirt
the coast all the way to Cape Horn, keeping well in to land so that
in an emergency I could run the ship ashore and beach her. That would
allow us to save the valuable cargo, even if we lost the ship, and that
structural steel work was worth a lot of bother, he assured me.

“When you get to the Cape,” said the agent, “take your time and wait
for good weather to round it. There’s no hurry, and by the time you
arrive there the conditions ought to be the most favorable of the year.
Once in the Pacific, continue to hug the coast up to San Pedro, and
then telegraph me for further instructions. Of course you know the
consignment is to the contracting firm of Wright & Landers, and when
you arrive they will attend to the unloading.”

I got my things aboard and found my room very pleasant and of ample
size. I took quite a library of books along, for the voyage would
surely consume most of the winter. We were liberally provisioned, for
the same reason, and our supplies were of excellent quality.

My two black Islanders, Nux and Bryonia, were calmly indifferent to
everything except the fact that “Mars’ Sam” was going somewhere and
would take them along.

Bry was our cook, and a mighty good one, too. With him in charge of the
galley we were sure to enjoy our meals. Nux acted as steward and looked
after the officers’ cabins. He was wonderfully active and a tower of
strength in time of need. Both men I knew I could depend upon at all
times, for they were intelligent, active, and would be faithful to the
last.

We arranged to sail with the tide on a Wednesday afternoon, the date
being the nineteenth of September. On that eventful morning every
preparation was reported complete, and I rowed to the shore for a final
conference with the agent and a last farewell to my father.



CHAPTER II

I SHIP A QUEER PASSENGER


The ship-yards were on this side of the harbor, and presented a busy
scene; for besides our own beautiful _Seagull_, whose hull was now
nearly complete and so graceful in its lines that it attracted the
wondering admiration of every beholder, several other ships were then
in the yards in course of construction.

It was in one of the builders’ offices that I met my father and Mr.
Harlan, and while we were talking a man came in and touched his cap to
us, saying:

“May I speak to Captain Steele?”

He was about thirty years of age, somewhat thin and lank in appearance,
and would have been considered tall had he stood erect instead
of stooping at the shoulders. His face was fine and sensitive in
expression and his eyes were large and gray but dreamy rather than
alert. Gray eyes are usually shrewd; I do not remember ever before
seeing so abstracted and visionary a look except in brown or black
ones. The man’s hair was thick and long and of a light brown--nearly
“sandy”--color. He dressed well but carelessly, and was evidently
nervous and in a state of suppressed excitement when he accosted us.
I noticed that his hands were large and toil-worn, and he clasped and
unclasped them constantly as he looked from one to another of our group.

“I am Captain Steele,” said my father.

“Then, sir, I desire to ask a favor,” was the reply.

“State it, my man.”

“I want you to take me and my automobile with you on your voyage to Los
Angeles.”

Mr. Harlan laughed, and I could not repress a smile myself.

“Then I’m not the Captain Steele you want,” said my father. “This is
the one you must deal with,” pointing his finger in my direction.

The stranger turned, but to my satisfaction seemed in no way surprised
or embarrassed by being confronted with a boy.

“It will be a great favor, sir,” he continued, earnestly. “I beg you
will grant my request.”

“An automobile!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, sir.”

“Your request is unusual,” I said, in order to decline gracefully,
for something about the fellow was strangely appealing. “We are not
a passenger ship, but a slow freighter, and we are bound for a long
voyage around the Horn.”

“Time does not greatly matter,” he murmured. “Only one thing really
matters at all.”

“And that?”

“The expense.”

We stared at him, somewhat perplexed.

“Permit me to explain,” he went on, still gazing at me alone with
his beseeching eyes. “I have invented an automobile--not strictly an
automobile, it is true; but for want of a better name I will call it
that. I have been years experimenting and building it, for it is all
the work of my own hands and the child of my exclusive brain. It is now
just finished--complete in every part--but I find that I have exhausted
nearly every available dollar of my money. In other words, sir, my
machine has bankrupted me.”

He paused, and catching a wink from Mr. Harlan I said in an amused tone:

“That is an old story, sir.”

“You doubt it?”

“No; I mean that it is quite natural.”

“Perhaps,” he replied. “You see I had not thought of money; merely of
success. But now that at last I have succeeded, I find that I have
need of money. My only relative is a rich uncle living at Pasadena,
California, who is so eccentric in his disposition that were I to
appeal to him for money he would promptly refuse.”

“Most rich men have that same eccentricity,” I observed.

“But he is quite a genius commercially, and if he saw my machine I
am confident he would freely furnish the money I require to erect a
manufactory and promote its sale. I assure you, gentlemen,” looking
vaguely around, “that my machine is remarkable, and an original
invention.”

We nodded. There was no object in disputing such a modest statement.

“So I wish to get myself and my automobile to Los Angeles, and at the
least possible expense. The railroads demand a large sum for freight
and fare, and I have not so much money to pay. By accident I learned
that your ship is going to the very port I long to reach, and so I
hastened to appeal to you to take me. I have only two hundred dollars
in my possession--the last, I grieve to say, of my ample inheritance.
If you will carry us for that sum to your destination, I shall indeed
be grateful for the kindness.”

Really, I began to feel sorry for the poor fellow.

“But,” said I, “I cannot possibly take you. We sail this afternoon and
the hatches are all closed and battened down for the voyage.”

“I do not wish the machine put in the hold,” he answered, with
strange eagerness. “All I ask is a spot in which to place it on the
deck--anywhere that will be out of your way. I will make it secure,
myself, and take every care of it, so that it will cause you no trouble
at all.”

“I’m afraid you could not get it to the ship in time.”

“It is already loaded upon a flat-boat, which will take it to the
_Gladys H._ in an hour, once I have your permission.”

I looked at him in astonishment.

“You seem to have considered your request granted in advance,” I
remarked, with some asperity.

“Not that, sir; I am not impertinent, believe me. But I enquired about
Captain Steele and was told that he is a good man and kind. So, that I
might lose no time if I obtained your consent, I had the machine loaded
on the flat-boat.”

Mr. Harlan laughed outright. Acting upon a sudden impulse I turned to
him and said:

“May I decide as I please in this matter?”

“Of course, Sam,” he replied. “It is your affair, not mine.”

I looked at the stranger again. He was actually trembling with anxious
uncertainty.

“Very well,” I announced, “I will take you.”

“For the two hundred dollars?”

“No; I’ll carry you for nothing. You may need that extra money at your
journey’s end.”

He took out his handkerchief and wiped his brow, upon which beads of
perspiration were standing.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, simply.

“But I must warn you of one thing. The bark is not in what we call A-1
condition. If she happens to go to the bottom instead of San Pedro I
won’t be responsible for your precious machine.”

“Very well, sir. I will take as many chances as you do.”

“May I ask your name?”

“Moit, sir; Duncan Moit.”

“Scotch?”

“By ancestry, Captain. American by birth.”

“All right; make haste and get your traps aboard as soon as possible.”

“I will. Thank you, Captain Steele.”

He put on his cap and walked hurriedly away, and when he had gone both
Mr. Harlan and my father rallied me on account of my queer “passenger.”

“He looks to me like a crank, Sam,” said the agent. “But it’s your
fireworks, not mine.”

“Whatever induced you to take him?” Captain Steele enquired,
wonderingly.

“The bare fact that he was so anxious to go,” I replied. “He may be
a crank on the automobile question, and certainly it is laughable to
think of shipping a machine to Los Angeles on a freighter, around the
Horn; but the poor fellow seemed to be a gentleman, and he’s hard up.
It appeared to me no more than a Christian act to help him out of his
trouble.”

“You may be helping him into trouble, if that confounded cargo of yours
takes a notion to shift,” observed my father, with a shake of his
grizzled head.

“But it’s not going to shift, sir,” I declared, firmly. “I’m looking
for good luck on this voyage, and the chances are I’ll find it.”

The agent slapped me on the shoulder approvingly.

“That’s the way to talk!” he cried. “I’m morally certain, Sam, that
you’ll land that cargo at San Pedro in safety. I’m banking on you,
anyhow, young man.”

I thanked him for his confidence, and having bade a last good-bye to
my father and my employer I walked away with good courage and made
toward my boat, which was waiting for me.

Uncle Naboth was waiting, too, for I found his chubby form squatting on
the gunwale.

Uncle Naboth’s other name was Mr. Perkins, and he was an important
member of the firm of “Steele, Perkins & Steele,” being my dead
mother’s only brother and my own staunch friend. I had thought my uncle
in New York until now, and had written him a letter of farewell to his
address in that city that very morning.

But here he was, smiling serenely at me as I approached.

“What’s this foolishness I hear, Sam?” he demanded, when I had shaken
his hand warmly.

“I’m off on a trip around the Horn,” said I, “to carry a cargo of
building steel to the Pacific coast in that crippled old bark, yonder.”

His sharp eye followed mine and rested on the ship.

“Anything in it, my lad?”

“Not much except adventure, Uncle. But it will keep me from growing
musty until Spring comes and the _Seagull_ is ready for launching. I’m
dead tired of loafing around.”

He began to chuckle and cough and choke, but finally controlled himself
sufficiently to gasp:

“So’m I, Sam!”

“You?”

“Tired as blazes. New York’s a frost, Sam. Nothin’ doin’ there that’s
worth mentionin’. All smug-faced men an’ painted-faced women. No
sassiety, more policemen than there is sailors, hair-cuts thirty-five
cents an’ two five-cent drinks fer a quarter. I feel like Alladin an’
the Forty Thieves--me bein’ Alladin.”

“But, Uncle, it wasn’t Aladdin that the Forty----”

“Never mind that. Got a spare bunk aboard, Sam?”

I laughed; but there was no use in being surprised at anything Uncle
Naboth did.

“I’ve got a whole empty cabin--second mate’s.”

“All right. When do we sail?”

“Three o’clock, Uncle Naboth--sharp.”

“Very good.”

He turned and ambled away toward the town, and, rather thoughtfully, I
entered my boat and was rowed out to the _Gladys H._



CHAPTER III

THE MOIT CONVERTIBLE AUTOMOBILE


The flat-boat came alongside within the hour. On it was a big object
covered with soiled canvas and tied ’round and ’round with cords like
a package from the grocer. Beside it stood Moit, motionless until the
barge made fast and Ned Britton--who at my request had ordered the
windlass made ready--had the tackle lowered to hoist it aboard.

Then the inventor directed his men in a clear-headed, composed way that
made the task easy enough. The big bundle appeared not so heavy as it
looked, and swung up without much strain on the tackle.

I found a place for it just abaft the forecastle, where it would not
interfere with the sailors in working the ship. In a brief space of
time Duncan Moit had screwed hooks in the planking and lashed his bulky
contrivance so firmly to the deck that no ordinary pitch or roll of
the ship could possibly affect its security.

Then he carried his trunk and several packages to his cabin, which I
had assigned him next my own, and after that I lost sight of him in the
responsible duties of our preparations to hoist anchor.

Luncheon was served while we waited for the tide, but there was as yet
no sign of Uncle Naboth. I really did not know whether to expect him or
not. He might have changed his mind, I reflected; for unless it was a
business matter my uncle and partner was wont to be extremely erratic
in his decisions. And he had no business at all to join me on this
voyage except, as he had said, that he was tired of the land and wished
to relieve his restlessness by a smell of salt water.

He was no sailor at all, nor even a navigator; but he had sailed so
many years as supercargo and trader that he was seldom contented for
long on land, and like myself he dreaded the long wait until Spring
when our beautiful new craft would be ready for her maiden trip.

So for a time I thought it probable that he would come alongside;
and then I thought it probable he would not. If he ran across Captain
Steele, my father was liable to discourage him from making so long
and so useless a voyage when no profit was to be had from it. My case
was different, for I was a boy still full of a youthful energy and
enthusiasm that needed a safety-valve. Moreover, I was pardonably proud
of my new position, being for the first time the captain of a ship in
name and authority, although I was forced to acknowledge to myself that
Ned Britton was the real captain and that without him I would be very
helpless indeed.

Two o’clock came, and then three o’clock; but there was no evidence of
Uncle Naboth.

I gave a sigh of regret and unfeigned disappointment then, and nodded
to Ned to weigh anchor, for the tide was beginning to turn.

My new men worked cheerily and with a will, and soon the anchor was
apeak, our mainsail set and we were standing out to sea on our doubtful
attempt to round the Horn and reach the blue waters of the Pacific.

We had left the bay and were standing well out from the coast, when
I happened to glance over the rail and notice a small launch coming
toward us from the harbor at full speed. They were unable to signal
from that distance, but I brought a powerful glass and soon made out
the form of Uncle Naboth standing upright in the middle of the little
craft and gracefully waving a red handkerchief.

I had Ned luff and lay to, laughing to think how nearly the little
uncle had missed us, and before long the launch covered the distance
between us and came alongside.

Uncle Naboth was gorgeous in appearance. He was dressed in a vividly
checked suit and wore a tourist cap perched jauntily atop his iron-gray
locks. His shirt bosom was wonderfully pleated, his shoes of shiny
patent-leather, and he wore yellow kid gloves that wrinkled dreadfully.
Moreover--the greatest wonder of all, to me--my uncle was smoking a
big, fat cigar instead of his accustomed corn-cob pipe, and he had a
kodak slung over one shoulder and a marine-glass over the other.

First of all my uncle sent his traps up the side. Then he began a
long but calm argument with the crew of the launch, who were greatly
excited, and this might have continued indefinitely had not Ned become
impatient and yelled a warning that he was about to tack. At this Uncle
Naboth thrust some money in the hand of the skipper and leisurely
ascended the ladder while a chorus of curses and threats fell upon his
unheeding ears.

“Nearly missed you, Sam, didn’t I?” he said, nodding cheerfully as the
sails filled and we headed into the breeze again. “Close shave, but no
alum or bay-rum.”

“What made you late, Uncle?”

“Had to do a lot to git my outfit ready,” he said, puffing his cigar,
smoothing out his gloves and at the same time casting a critical eye
over the deck. “First time in my life, nevvy, that I’ve went to sea on
a pleasure-trip. No business to look after, no worry, no figgerin’.
Jest sailin’ away o’er the deep blue sea with a jolly crew is the life
for me. Eh, Sam?”

“Right you are, Uncle. You’re just a passenger, and a mighty welcome
one. I’m glad you caught us.”

“Stern chase, but not a long one. What do you s’pose, Sam? I had to
pay them pirates in that half-grown steamboat thirty dollars to get me
aboard.”

“Thirty dollars!”

“Dreadful, wasn’t it? And then they wanted sixty. Took me for a tourist
gent ’cause I looked the part. But I was bound to come, an’ they was
onto my anxiousness, so it might be expected as they’d soak me good an’
plenty. Where’d you say you was bound for, Sam?”

“Down the coast, around the Horn, and up the Pacific to San Pedro.”

“Sounds interestin’.”

His bright little eye had been observant.

“What’s aboard, my lad?”

“Steel beams for some new buildings in Los Angeles.”

“Loaded rather heavy, ain’t she?”

“Too heavy, Uncle.”

“H-m-m. Not any too tight, either, I take it. Hull old an’ rotten;
plenty o’ paint to cover up the worm-holes.”

“Exactly, sir.”

“Will you make it, Sam?”

“Can’t say, Uncle Naboth. But I’ll try.”

“Cargo insured?”

“No; that’s the worst of it. The owners insure themselves, because the
tub won’t pass at Lloyd’s. If we sink it’s a big loss. So we mustn’t
sink.”

“Iron won’t float, nevvy.”

“I’m going to hug the coast, mostly. If trouble comes I’ll beach her.
You may be in for a long cruise, Uncle.”

He nodded quite pleasantly.

“That’s all right. I take it we’ll manage to get home by Spring, an’
that’s time enough fer us both. But I can see she ain’t a race-hoss,
Sam, my boy.”

Indeed, the ship was not behaving at all to suit me. With a favorable
breeze and an easy sea the miserable old hulk was sailing more like a
water-logged raft than a modern merchantman.

Her sails and cordage were new and beautiful, and her paint spick and
span; but I noticed my sailors wagging their heads with disappointment
as the _Gladys H._ labored through the water.

Uncle Naboth chuckled to himself and glanced at me as if he thought
it all a good joke, and I the only victim. But I pretended to pay no
attention to him. Being, as he expressed it, a “loafin’ land-lubber,” I
installed him in the last of the roomy cabins aft, all of which opened
into the officers’ mess-room. Ned Britton had the cabin opposite mine,
and Mr. Perkins the one opposite to that occupied by Duncan Moit. For
my part, I was pleased enough to have such good company on a voyage
that promised to be unusually tedious.

Moit had kept well out of our way until everything was snug and
ship-shape, and then he came on deck and stood where he could keep a
tender eye on his precious machine. I introduced him to Uncle Naboth
and the two “passengers” shook hands cordially and were soon conversing
together in a friendly manner.

I had decided to take my sailors into my confidence in the very
beginning, so I called all hands together and made them a brief speech.

“My lads,” said I, “we need not look forward to a very good voyage,
for you have doubtless discovered already that the _Gladys H._ is not
a greyhound. To be honest with you, she’s old and leaky, and none
too safe. But she’s got a valuable cargo aboard, that must be safe
delivered if we can manage it, and we are all of us well paid to do
our duty by the owners. My instructions are to hug the land and make a
harbor if bad weather comes. At the worst we can run the ship on the
shingle and save the cargo in that way--for the cargo is worth a dozen
such tubs. It’s a somewhat risky undertaking, I know, and if any of you
don’t like your berths I’ll put you ashore at the first likely place
and you can go home again. But if you are willing to stick to me, I’ll
take as good care of you as I can, and your money is sure because the
Interocean Forwarding Company is back of us and good for every penny.
What do you say, my lads?”

They were a good-natured lot, and appreciated my frankness. After
a little conference together the boatswain declared they were all
content to see the venture to the end and do the best they could under
the circumstances. So a mutual understanding was established from the
beginning, and before the end came I had cause to be proud of every man
aboard.

The weather was warm and pleasant, and as I sat with our passengers
and Ned on the deck in the afternoon Uncle Naboth got his eye on the
overgrown grocery package and said to Moit:

“What sort of an automobile have you got?”

The man had been dreaming, but he gave a start and his eyes lighted
with sudden interest. The abstracted mood disappeared.

“It is one of my own invention, sir,” he replied.

“What do you call it?”

“The Moit Convertible Automobile.”

“Heh? Convertible?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I guess,” said Uncle Naboth, “I’m up agin it. ‘Convertible’ is a word
I don’t jest catch the meaning of. Latin’s a little rusty, you know; so
long since I went to school.”

“It means,” said Moit, seriously, “that the machine is equally adapted
to land and water.”

My uncle stared a little, then looked away and began to whistle softly.
Ned Britton sighed and walked to the rail as if to observe our motion.
For my part, I had before entertained a suspicion that the poor fellow
was not quite right in his mind, so I was not surprised. But he
appeared gentlemanly enough, and was quite in earnest; so, fearing he
might notice the rather pointed conduct of my uncle and Ned, I made
haste to remark with fitting gravity:

“That is a very desirable combination, Mr. Moit, and a great
improvement on the ordinary auto.”

“Oh, there is nothing ordinary about the machine, in any way,” he
responded, quickly. “Indeed, it is so different from all the other
motor vehicles in use that it cannot properly be termed an automobile.
Some time I intend to provide an appropriate name for my invention, but
until now the machine itself has occupied my every thought.”

“To be sure,” I said, rather vaguely.

“Most automobiles,” began my uncle, lying back in his chair and giving
me a preliminary wink, “is only built to go on land, an’ balks whenever
they gets near a repair shop. I was tellin’ a feller the other day in
New York, who was becalmed in the middle of the street, that if he’d
only put a sail on his wagon and wait for a stiff breeze, he could tell
all the repair men to go to thunder!”

“But this has nothing to do with Mr. Moit’s invention,” I said, trying
not to smile. “Mr. Moit’s automobile is different.”

“As how?” asked my uncle.

Mr. Moit himself undertook to reply.

“In the first place,” said he, his big eyes looking straight through
me with an absorbed expression, as if I were invisible, “I do not use
the ordinary fuel for locomotion. Gasoline is expensive and dangerous,
and needs constant replenishing. Electricity is unreliable, and its
storage very bulky. Both these forces are crude and unsatisfactory. My
first thought was to obtain a motive power that could be relied upon at
all times, that was inexpensive and always available. I found it in
compressed air.”

“Oh!” ejaculated Uncle Naboth.

I am sure he knew less about automobiles than I did, for I owned a
small machine at home and had driven it some while on shore. But Mr.
Perkins prided himself on being familiar with all modern inventions,
and what he did not know from personal experience he was apt to imagine
he knew.

“Compressed air,” he observed, oracularly, “is what blows the sails of
a ship.”

The inventor turned on him a look of wonder.

“This seems to me like a clever idea,” I hastened to say. “But I can’t
see exactly, sir, how you manage to use compressed air for such a
purpose.”

“I have a storage tank,” Moit answered, “which is constantly
replenished by the pumps as fast as the air is exhausted, which of
course only occurs while the machine is in action.”

“But you need something to start the engines,” I suggested. “Do you use
gasoline for that purpose?”

“No, sir. I have a glycerine explosive which is so condensed that an
atom is all that is required to prime the engines. In a little chamber
that contains about a pint I can carry enough explosive to last me for
a year. And wherever there is air I have power that is perpetual.”

“That’s great!” cried Uncle Naboth, with an enthusiasm so plainly
assumed that Ned and I had much ado to keep from laughing outright.

“In other ways,” continued Duncan Moit, “I have made marked
improvements upon the ordinary motor car. Will you allow me, gentlemen,
to show you my machine, and to explain it to you?”

We were glad enough of this diversion, even Ned Britton, who could
not have run a sewing-machine, being curious to examine our crazy
passenger’s invention.

Moit at once began to untie the cords and remove the soiled canvas,
which consisted of parts of worn-out sails stitched clumsily together.
But when this uninviting cover was withdrawn we saw with astonishment
a machine of such beauty, completeness and exquisite workmanship that
our exclamations of delight were alike spontaneous and genuine.

Moit might be mad, but as a mechanic he was superb, if this was indeed
a creation of his own hands.

An automobile? Well, it had four massive wheels with broad rubber
tires, a steering gear (of which only the wheel was visible) and a
body for the passengers to ride in; but otherwise the world-pervading
auto-fiend would not have recognized the thing.

It seemed to be all of metal--a curious metal of a dull silver hue--not
painted or polished in any place, but so finely constructed that every
joint and fitting appeared perfect. It was graceful of design, too,
although the body was shaped like the hull of a boat, with the wheels
so placed that the structure was somewhat more elevated from the ground
than ordinarily. This body was about a foot in thickness, having an
inner and outer surface composed of beautifully rivetted plates of the
strange metal.

Moit explained that part of this space was used for vacuum chambers,
which were kept exhausted by the pumps when required and made the
machine wonderfully light. Also, within what corresponded with the
gunwale of a boat, were concealed the parts of the adjustable top,
which, when raised into position and hooked together, formed a
dome-shaped cover for the entire body. These parts were almost entirely
of glass, in which a fine wire netting had been imbedded, so that while
the riders could see clearly on all sides, any breakage of the glass
was unlikely to occur. In any event it could only crack, as the netting
would still hold the broken pieces in place.

The engines were in a front chamber of the body. There were four of
them, each no bigger than a gallon jug; but Moit assured us they
were capable of developing twenty-five horse-power each, or a total
of one hundred horse-power, owing to the wonderful efficiency of the
compressed air. All the other machinery was similarly condensed in size
and so placed that the operator could reach instantly any part of it.

The entrance was at either side or at the back, as one preferred,
but the seats were arranged in a circle around the body, with the
exception of the driver’s chair. So roomy was the car that from six to
eight passengers could be carried with comfort, or even more in case of
emergency.

All of these things were more easily understood by observation than
I can hope to explain them with the pen. Perhaps I have omitted to
describe them to you as clearly as I should; but I must plead in
extenuation a lack of mechanical knowledge. That you will all ride in
similar cars some day I have no doubt, and then you will understand all
the details that I, a plain sailor, have been forced to ignore because
of my ignorance of mechanics.

“But,” said Uncle Naboth, whose eyes were fairly bulging with
amazement, “I don’t yet see what drives the blamed thing through water.”

Moit smiled for almost the first time since I had known him, and the
smile was one of triumphant pride.

He entered the automobile, touched some buttons, and with a whirring
sound a dozen little scoop-shaped flanges sprang from the rim of each
wheel. There was no need for farther explanation. We could see at once
that in water the four wheels now became paddle-wheels, and their rapid
revolution would no doubt drive the machine at a swift pace.

The paddles were cleverly shaped, being made of the same metal employed
everywhere in the construction of this astonishing invention, and they
stood at just the right angle to obtain the utmost power of propulsion.

“Aluminum?” questioned Mr. Perkins, pointing to the metal.

“No, sir. This is perhaps my most wonderful discovery, and you will
pardon me if I say it is a secret which I am unwilling at this time
to divulge. But I may tell you that I have found an alloy that is
unequalled in the known world for strength, durability and lightness.
It weighs a little more than pure aluminum, but has a thousand times
its tensile strength. You may test one of these blades, which seem to
the eye to be quite delicate and fragile.”

Uncle Naboth leaned over and gingerly tested one of the wheel blades
with his thumb and finger. Then he exerted more strength. Finally he
put his heel upon it and tried to bend it with the weight of his body.
It resisted all efforts with amazing success.

And now the inventor pushed some other buttons, or keys, and the metal
blades all receded and became once more a part of the rims of the
wheels.

“When we get to San Pedro, gentlemen,” said he, “it will give me
pleasure to take you for a ride in my machine, both on land and water.
Then you will be sure to appreciate its perfection more fully.”

He began to replace the canvas cover, apologizing as much to his
beloved machine as to us for its shabbiness.

“All of my money was consumed by the machine itself,” he explained,
“and I was forced to use this cloth to make a cover, which is needed
only to protect my invention from prying eyes. The metal will never
rust nor corrode.”

“Is this material, this alloy, easy to work?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“It is very difficult,” he returned. “Steel crumbles against it with
discouraging readiness, so that my tools were all of the same metal,
annealed and hardened. Even these had to be constantly replaced. You
must not imagine, sir, that I obtained all of this perfection at the
first trial. I have been years experimenting.”

“So I imagine, Mr. Moit.”

“By a fortunate coincidence,” he went on, dreamily, “my money, which
I had inherited from my father, lasted me until all the work was
complete. I had thought of nothing but my machine, and having at last
finished it and made thorough tests to assure myself that it was as
nearly perfect as human skill can make it, I awoke to find myself
bankrupt and in debt. By selling my tools, my workshop, and everything
else I possessed except the machine itself, I managed to pay my
indebtedness and have two hundred dollars left. This was not enough to
get myself and my car shipped to California by rail; so I was at my
wits’ end until you, sir,” turning to me, “kindly came to my rescue.”

During the pause that followed he finished covering up his machine,
and then Uncle Naboth asked, bluntly:

“If you are sure the blamed thing will work, why didn’t you run it
overland to California? That has been done more’n once, I’m told, and
as you use compressed air the expense wouldn’t be a circumstance.”

That had occurred to me too, and I awaited the man’s reply with much
curiosity.

“Sir,” he answered, “you must not forget that I have devoted years
to this work--years of secret and constant toil--and that my whole
heart is involved in the success of my perfected machine. But you can
readily understand that I have not dared to patent it, or any of its
parts, until all was complete; for an imperfect patent not only fails
to protect one, but in this case it would give other designers of
automobiles the ideas I had originated. A patent is never a safeguard
if it can be improved or stolen. As I have said, when at last my work
was finished I had no money with which to obtain patents, of which no
less than nineteen are required to protect me.”

“And have you, at this time, no patents at all?” I asked, surprised at
such neglect.

He shook his head.

“Not one. There, gentlemen, stands one of the most important mechanical
inventions the world has ever known, and its inventor has no protection
whatever--as yet. If I attempted to run the machine overland to the
Pacific coast, a dozen automobile experts would see it and promptly
steal my ideas. Such a risk was too great to run. I must manage
to reach my rich and selfish uncle, prove to him how wonderful my
invention is, offer him a half interest in it, and so procure the money
to protect it and to establish a manufactory. Do you understand now why
I have acted in so puzzling a way--puzzling, at least, to one not aware
of my dilemma?”

“It is quite clear to me,” I replied, beginning to think my passenger
was not mad, after all. “But have you not been foolish to confide all
this to us?”

He smiled pleasantly, and the smile made his face really attractive.

“I am not especially stupid, believe me,” said he, “and I am a fair
judge of human nature. You will pardon me if I say that not a man on
this ship is at all dangerous to me.”

“How is that?” I asked, slightly discomfitted.

“No man among you is competent to steal my invention,” he asserted,
coolly, “even if you were disposed to do so, which I doubt. It would
require a dishonest person who is a mechanical expert, and while there
are many such between Chelsea and California, I am sure there is none
on this ship who would wrong me, even if he possessed the power. I feel
entirely secure, gentlemen, in your company.”

This was diplomatic, at least, for we were naturally pleased at the
tribute to our good faith, even if inclined to resent the disparagement
of our mechanical genius. However, we regarded Duncan Moit in a more
friendly light and with vastly increased respect from that time forth.

It was growing dark by this time, and presently Nux announced that
dinner was served. So we repaired to the mess cabin, and while testing
Bryonia’s superb talents as a cook beguiled the hour by canvassing the
future possibilities of the Moit Convertible Automobile.



CHAPTER IV

WE COME TO GRIEF


Fortune seemed to favor the voyage of the _Gladys H._ All the way to
Hatteras the weather was delightful and the breeze fresh and constant.
There was not a moment when the sails were not bulging to some extent
and in spite of the old ship’s labored motion we made excellent time.

However, I followed my instructions, keeping well in toward the coast,
and so crept steadily down to Key West.

Here an important proposition confronted us: whether to enter the Gulf
of Mexico and follow its great circle near to the shore--a method
that would require weeks--or run across to Cuba and then attempt the
passage of the Caribbean by the short cut to Colon or Porto Bella. We
had canvassed this alternative before I left harbor; but Mr. Harlan had
maintained that I must decide the question for myself, being guided by
the actions of the bark and the condition of the weather.

Both these requirements seemed favorable for the short cut. The ship
had behaved so far much better than I had expected, and the good
weather seemed likely to hold for some time longer.

So after a conference with Ned Britton--for Uncle Naboth refused to
“mix up in the business” or even to offer an opinion--I decided to take
the chances and follow the shortest route. After reaching Colon I would
keep close to land way down to the Horn.

So we stood out to sea, made Cuba easily, and skirted its western
point to the Isles de Pinos. Still the skies were clear and the breeze
favorable, and with good courage we headed south in a bee-line for
Colon.

And now we were in the Caribbean, that famous sea whose very name
breathes romance. It recalls to us the earliest explorers, the gold
seekers and buccaneers, the fact that scarce an inch of its rippling
surface is unable to boast some tragedy or adventure in the days of the
Spanish Main, when ships of all nations thronged the waters of the
West Indies.

For three whole days luck was our bedfellow; then, as Uncle Naboth
drily remarked, it “went a fishin’” and left us to take care of
ourselves.

With gentle sighs our hitherto faithful breeze deserted us and our
sails flapped idly for a time and then lay still, while the ship
floated upon a sheet of brilliant blue glass, the tropic sun beat
fiercely down upon us, and all signs of life and animation came to an
end.

No sailor is partial to calms. A gale he fights with a sense of elation
and a resolve to conquer; a favoring breeze he considers his right;
but a glassy sea and listless, drooping sails are his especial horror.
Nevertheless, he is accustomed to endure this tedium and has learned by
long experience how best to enliven such depressing periods.

Our men found they possessed a violinist--not an unskilled fiddler by
any means--and to his accompanying strains they sang and danced like so
many happy children.

Uncle Naboth and Ned Britton played endless games of pinochle under
the deck awning and I brought out my favorite books and stretched
myself in a reclining chair to enjoy them.

Duncan Moit paced deliberately up and down for the first two days,
engrossed in his own musings; then he decided to go over his machine
and give it a careful examination. He removed the cover, started his
engines, and let them perform for the amusement of the amazed sailors,
who formed a curious but respectful group around him.

Finally they cleared a space on the deck and Moit removed the guy-ropes
that anchored his invention and ran his auto slowly up and down, to
the undisguised delight of the men. He would allow six or eight to
enter the car and ride--sixteen feet forward, around the mainmast, and
sixteen feet back again--and it was laughable to watch the gravity of
their faces as they held fast to the edge, bravely resolving to endure
the dangers of this wonderful mode of locomotion. Not one had ever
ridden in an automobile before, and although Moit merely allowed it to
crawl over its confined course, the ride was a strange and fascinating
experience to them.

I must allow that the performances of this clever machine astonished
me. The inventor was able to start it from his seat, by means of a
simple lever, and it was always under perfect control. The engines
worked so noiselessly that you had to put your ear close in order to
hear them at all, and the perfection of the workmanship could not fail
to arouse my intense admiration.

“If this new metal is so durable as you claim,” I said to Moit, “the
machine ought to last for many years.”

“My claim is that it is practically indestructible,” he answered, in a
tone of conviction.

“But you have still the tire problem,” I remarked. “A puncture will put
you out of business as quickly as it would any other machine.”

“A puncture!” he exclaimed. “Why, these tires cannot puncture, sir.”

“Why not?”

“They are not inflated.”

“What then?”

“It is another of my inventions, Mr. Steele. Inside each casing
is a mass of sponge-rubber, of a peculiarly resilient and vigorous
character. And within the casing itself is embedded a net of steel
wire, which will not allow the vulcanized rubber to be cut to any
depth. The result is an excellent tire that cannot be punctured and has
great permanency.”

“You do not seem to have overlooked any important point,” I observed,
admiringly.

“Ah, that is the one thing that now occupies my mind,” he responded,
quickly. “That is why I have been testing the machine today, even in
the limited way that is alone possible. I am haunted by the constant
fear that I _have_ overlooked some important point, which another might
discover.”

“And have you found such a thing?”

“No; to all appearances the device is perfect. But who can tell what
may yet develop?”

“Not I,” with a smile; “you have discounted my mechanical skill
already. To my mind the invention seems in every way admirable, Mr.
Moit.”

For nine days we lay becalmed, with cloudless skies above and a
tranquil sea around us. During the day we rested drowsily in the
oppressive heat, but the nights were always cooler and myriads of
brilliant stars made it nearly as light as day. Ned had taken in every
yard of canvas except a square sail which he rigged forward, and he
took the added precaution to lash every movable thing firmly to its
place.

“After this, we’ve got to expect ugly weather,” he announced; and as he
knew the Caribbean well this preparation somewhat dismayed me. I began
to wish we had entered the Gulf of Mexico and made the roundabout trip;
but it was too late for regrets now, and we must make the best of our
present outlook.

Personally I descended into the hold and examined with care the seams,
finding that the calking had held securely so far and that we were as
right and tight as when we had first sailed. But even this assurance
was not especially encouraging, for we had met with no weather that a
canoe might not have lived through without shipping more than a few
drops of sea.

The ninth day was insufferably hot, and the evening brought no relief.
Ned Britton’s face looked grave and worried, and I overheard him
advising Duncan Moit to add several more anchor ropes to those that
secured his machine.

We awaited the change in the weather anxiously enough, and toward
midnight the stars began to be blotted out until shortly a black pall
overhung the ship. The air seemed vibrant and full of an electric feel
that drew heavily upon one’s nerves; but so far there had been no
breath of wind.

At last, when it seemed we could wait no longer, a distant murmur was
heard, drawing ever nearer and louder until its roar smote our ears
like a discharge of artillery. The ship began to roll restlessly, and
then the gale and the waves broke upon us at the same instant and with
full force.

Heavily weighted and lazy as the bark was, she failed to rise to the
first big wave, which washed over her with such resistless power that
it would have swept every living soul away had we not clung desperately
to the rigging. It seemed to me that I was immersed in a wild,
seething flood for several minutes; but they must have been seconds,
instead, for presently the water was gone and the wind endeavoring to
tear me from my hold.

The square sail held, by good luck, and the ship began to stagger
onward, bowing her head deep and submitting to constant floods that
washed her from end to end. There was not much that could be done to
ease her, and the fervid excitement of those first hours kept us all
looking after our personal safety. Along we went, scudding before the
gale, which maintained its intensity unabated and fortunately drove us
along the very course we had mapped out.

The morning relieved the gloom, but did not lessen the force of the
storm. The waves were rolling pretty high, and all faces were serious
or fearful, according to the disposition of their owners. In our old
_Saracen_, or even the _Flipper_, I would not have minded the blow or
the sea, but here was a craft of a different sort, and I did not know
how she might stand such dreadful weather.

I got Ned into the cabin, where we stood like a couple of drenched
rats and discussed the situation. On deck our voices could not be heard.

“Are the small boats ready to launch?” I asked.

“All ready, sir; but I doubt if they’d live long,” he replied.
“However, this ’ere old hulk seems to be doin’ pretty decent. She lies
low, bein’ so heavy loaded, an’ lets the waves break over her. That
saves her a good deal of strain, Sam. If she don’t spring a-leak an’
the cargo holds steady, we’ll get through all right.”

“Tried the pumps?”

“Yes; only bilge, so far.”

“Very good. How long will the gale last?”

“Days, perhaps, in these waters. There’s no rule to go by, as I knows
of. It’ll just blow till it blows itself out.”

He went on deck again, keeping an eye always on the ship and trying to
carry just enough canvas to hold her steady.

Duncan Moit and Uncle Naboth kept to the cabin and were equally
unconcerned. The latter was an old voyager and realized that it was
best to be philosophical; the former had never been at sea before and
had no idea of our danger.

On the third morning of this wild and persistent tempest the boatswain
came to where Ned and I clung to the rigging and said:

“She’s leaking, sir.”

“Badly?”

“Pretty bad, sir.”

“Get the pumps manned, Ned,” said I; “I’ll go below and investigate.”

I crawled into the hold through the forecastle cubby, as we dared not
remove the hatches. I took along a sailor to carry the lantern, and we
were not long in making the discovery that the _Gladys H._ was leaking
like a sieve. Several of the seams that Mr. Harlan had caused to be
calked so carefully had reopened and the water was spurting through in
a dozen streams.

I got back to my cabin and made a careful examination of the chart.
According to my calculations we could not be far from the coast of
Panama. If I was right, another six hours would bring us to the shore;
but I was not sure of my reckoning since that fearful gale had struck
us. So the question whether or no the ship could live six hours longer
worried me considerably, for the pumps were of limited capacity and the
water was gaining on us every minute.

I told Uncle Naboth our difficulty, and Duncan Moit, who stood by,
listened to my story with lively interest.

“Will you try to beach her, Sam?” enquired my uncle, with his usual
calmness.

“Of course, sir, if we manage to float long enough to reach the land.
That is the best I can hope for now. By good luck the coast of Panama
is low and marshy, and if we can drive the tub aground there the cargo
may be saved to the owners.”

“Ain’t much of a country to land in, Sam; is it?”

“Not a very lovely place, Uncle, I’m told.”

“It’s where they’re diggin’ the canal, ain’t it?”

“I believe so.”

“Well, we may get a chance to see the ditch. This ’ere travellin’ is
full of surprises, Mr. Moit. I never thought to ’a’ brung a guide book
o’ Panama, or we could tell exactly where they make the hats.”

The inventor appeared ill at ease. I could understand the man’s
disappointment and anxiety well enough. To beach his beloved machine on
a semi-barbarous, tropical shore was not what he had anticipated, and I
had time to feel sorry for him while thinking upon my own troubles.

He followed me on deck, presently, and I saw him take a good look at
the sea and shake his head despondently. The Convertible Automobile
might work in ordinary water, but it was not intended for such mammoth
waves as these.

Then he watched the men at the pumps. They worked with a will, but
in that cheerless way peculiar to sailors when they are forced to
undertake this desperate duty. The ocean was pushing in and they were
trying to keep it out; and such a pitiful struggle usually results in
favor of the ocean.

Suddenly Moit conceived a brilliant idea. He asked for a length of
hose, and when it was brought he threw off the covering of his machine
and succeeded in attaching the hose to his engines. The other end we
dropped into the hold, and presently, despite the lurching and plunging
of the ship, the engines started and a stream the full size of the hose
was sucked up and sent flowing into the scruppers. It really did better
work than the ship’s pumps, and I am now positive that this clever
arrangement was all that enabled us to float until we made the coast.

In the afternoon, while the gale seemed to redouble its force, we
sighted land--low, murky and uninteresting, but nevertheless land--and
made directly for it.

Darkness came upon us swiftly, but we held our course, still pumping
for dear life and awaiting with tense nerves the moment of impact.

What this shore, of which we had caught a glimpse, might be like I did
not know, more than that it was reported low and sandy at the ocean’s
edge and marshy in the interior. There were a few rocky islands at
the south of the isthmus, and there might be rocks or breakers at any
point, for all we knew. If the ship struck one of these we were surely
doomed.

On and on we flew, with blackness all round us, until on a sudden the
bow raised and our speed slackened so abruptly that we were all thrown
prostrate upon the deck. The mainmast snapped and fell with a deafening
crash, and slowly the ship rolled to starboard until the deck stood at
a sharp angle, and trembled a few brief moments, and then lay still.

The voyage of the _Gladys H._ was at an end.



CHAPTER V

MAKING THE BEST OF IT


“Are you there, Sam?”

“Yes, Ned.”

“Safe and sound?”

“I think so.”

Overhead the wind still whistled, but more moderately; around me I
could hear the men stirring, with an occasional groan. We had come from
the tempest-tossed seas into a place of comparative quiet, which just
now was darker than the pocket of Erebus.

I found the after cabin and slid down the steps, which inclined
sidewise. Inside, however, the hanging lamps had withstood the shock
and still cast a dim light over the room. I found Uncle Naboth
reclining upon a bench with his feet braced against the table, while he
puffed away complacently at one of his enormous cigars.

“Stopped at a way station, Sam?” he enquired.

“So it appears, Uncle.”

“Any damage?”

“Can’t tell, yet. Were you hurt?”

He exhibited a great lump on his forehead, but smiled sweetly.

“You should ’a’ seen me dive under the table, Sam. It were a reg’lar
circus, with me the chief acrobat. Where are we?”

“I’m going to find out.”

I unhooked both the lanterns and started up the companion-way with
them. Rather than remain in the dark Uncle brought himself and his
cigar after me.

I gave Ned one of the lights and we began to look about us. Duncan Moit
lay unconscious beside his machine, the engines of which were still
running smoothly. I threw back the lever and stopped them, and then a
couple of seamen carried the inventor into the cabin. Black Nux had
lighted another lantern, and with my uncle’s assistance undertook to do
what he could to restore the injured man.

Ned and I slid aft and found the stern still washed by a succession
of waves that dashed over it. Walking the deck was difficult because
the ship listed from stem to stern and from port to starboard. Her
bow was high and dry on a sand-bar--or such I imagined it to be--but
it was only after I had swung a lantern up a halyard of the foremast,
so that its dim rays would illumine the largest possible area, that
I discovered we had plunged straight into a deep inlet of the coast.
On one side of us appeared to be a rank growth of tangled shrubs or
underbrush; on the other was the outline of a forest. Ahead was clear
water, but its shallow depth had prevented our proceeding farther
inland.

Either the gale had lessened perceptibly or we did not feel it so
keenly in our sheltered position. An examination of the men showed that
one of them had broken an arm and several others were badly bruised;
but there were no serious casualties.

The ship was now without any motion whatever, being fast on the bottom
of the inlet. The breakers that curled over the stern did her no
damage, and these seemed to be gradually lessening in force.

Ned sent his tired men to their bunks and with the assistance of
Bryonia, who was almost as skillful in surgery as in cooking, prepared
to set the broken arm and attend to those who were the most bruised.

I went to the cabin again, and found that Uncle Naboth and Nux had been
successful in restoring Duncan Moit, who was sitting up and looking
around him with a dazed expression. I saw he was not much hurt, the
fall having merely stunned him for the time being.

“The machine--the machine!” he was muttering, anxiously.

“It’s all right, sir,” I assured him. “I shut down the engines, and she
seems to have weathered the shock in good shape.”

He seemed relieved by this report, and passed his hand across his brow
as if to clear his brain.

“Where are we?” was his next query.

“No one knows, sir. But we are landed high and dry, and I’m almost
sure it is some part of the coast of Panama. To-morrow morning we can
determine our location more accurately. But now, Mr. Moit, I recommend
that you tumble into your bunk and get all the rest you can before
daybreak.”

The strain of the last few days had been severe upon all of us, and now
that the demand for work or vigilance was removed we found that our
strength had been overtaxed. I left Ned to set a watch, and sought my
own bed, on which I stretched myself to fall asleep in half a minute.

“Wake up, Mars’ Sam,” said Nux, shaking me. “Breakfas’ ready, seh.”

I rubbed my eyes and sat up. The sun was streaming through the cabin
window, which was on the port side. Around me was a peculiar silence
which contrasted strongly with the turmoil that had so long buffeted my
ears. The gale had passed on and left us to count the mischief it had
caused.

“What time is it, Nux?”

“Eight o’clock, Mars’ Sam.”

I sprang up, now fully conscious of the night’s tragedy, which sleep
had for a time driven from my mind. Nux stood with my basin and towel
and his calmness encouraged me to bathe before I went on deck.

In the mess-cabin I found that the table legs had been propped up with
boxes to hold it level, and that a hot breakfast had been prepared
and was now steaming on the table. Around the board were gathered Ned
Britton, Uncle Naboth and Duncan Moit, all busily engaged in eating.
They greeted me cheerfully and bade me sit down and join them.

“How is everything, Ned?” I enquired, anxiously.

“Bad as can be, an’ right as a trivet, Sam,” he replied. “The _Gladys
H._’ll never float again. Her bottom’s all smashed in, an’ she’s fast
in the mud till she goes to pieces an’ makes kindlin’-wood for the
Injuns.”

“Then the cargo is safe, for the present?”

“To be sure. It can’t get lost, ’cause it’s a chunk o’ steel, and the
ship’s planks’ll hold it in place for a long time. It’ll get good and
soaked, but I’ve noticed it’s all painted to keep it from rustin’. This
ain’t San Pedro, whatever else it is, and the voyage has miscarried a
bit; but them beams is a good deal better off here than at the bottom
o’ the sea, so I take it we’ve done the best we could by the owners.”

I sat down and took the coffee Nux poured for me.

“How about the crew?” I asked. “Are the men all right?”

“No body hurt but Dick Lombard, and his arm’ll mend nicely.”

“Have you any idea where we are, Ned?”

“Stuck in a river, somewhere. Wild country all around us, but I guess
we can find a way out. Lots o’ provisions and a good climate. We may
say as we’re in luck, Sam.”

I shook my head dismally. It did not appear to me that luck had
especially favored us. To be sure, we might have gone to the bottom of
the Caribbean in the gale; but it struck me we had landed the cargo in
an awkward place for the owners as well as for ourselves. Mr. Harlan
would have done better had he not taken the long chance of our making
the voyage to San Pedro successfully.

“Well, I cannot see that we have failed in our duty, in any way,” I
remarked, as cheerfully as I could, “so we may as well make the best of
it.”

“This bein’ a tourist, an’ travellin’ fer pleasure,” said Uncle Naboth,
“is more fun than a kickin’ mule. Sam’s got to worry, ’cause he’s paid
fer it; but we passengers can look on an’ enjoy ourselves. Eh, Mr.
Moit?”

“It is a serious situation for me,” replied the inventor. “Think of
it, gentlemen! The most wonderful piece of mechanism the world has yet
known is stranded in a wilderness, far from civilization.”

“That is your own fault,” remarked Ned, bluntly.

“Not that, sir; it is fate.”

“The machine is all right,” said I. “You will have no trouble to save
it.”

“As for that, I must, of course, make the best of the adverse
circumstances that have overtaken me,” he replied, with more composure
than I had expected. “It is not my nature to be easily discouraged,
else I could never have accomplished what I have in the perfection of
any inventions. My greatest regret, at this moment, is that the world
will be deprived, for a longer period than I had intended, of the
benefits of my Convertible Automobile.”

“Having never known its excellent qualities, sir, the world can wait,”
asserted Uncle Naboth, philosophically. I have noticed one can be quite
philosophical over another’s difficulties.

Having hurried through my breakfast, which our faithful Bryonia had
prepared most excellently in spite of the fact that his galley was at
an angle of nearly forty-five degrees, I went on deck to obtain for the
first time a clear view of our surroundings.

The tide had changed and the wind fallen. We lay in the center of a
placid river--high and dry, as Ned had said--with the current gently
rippling against our bow. Not more than ten yards to the right was a
low, marshy bank covered with scrub underbrush of a tropical character.
On our left, however, and some fifty yards distant, lay a well defined
bank marking the edge of the stately forest which I had observed the
night before. The woodland gradually sloped upward from the river,
and above it, far to the south, a formidable range of mountains was
visible.

Between us and this left bank the water seemed a fair depth, but it was
quite shallow on our right. It seemed wonderful that any gale could
have sent so big a ship so far up the river; but I remembered that the
billows had followed us in, and doubtless their power alone had urged
us forward.

Here we were, anyway, and here the _Gladys H._ must remain until
demolished by time, tide or human endeavor.

For the rest, the air was warm and pleasant, with a blue sky overhead.
Aside from the loss that would follow the salvage of the valuable cargo
we had good reason to thank Providence for our fortunate escape from
death.

I felt that I had done as much to promote the interests of the owners
as any man could do; but the conditions had been adverse, and the
responsibility was now theirs, and not mine.

The gravest part of the situation, so far as I was personally
concerned, was to get my men into some civilized port where they could
find an opportunity to get home again. Also I must notify Mr. Harlan,
by cable, and that as soon as possible, of the location and condition
of his cargo. The loss of the ship I knew would matter little to him,
as he had asserted this several times.

And now to solve the problem of our location. I had reason to believe
that we had not varied to any great extent from the course my chart
had indicated. Somewhere, either up or down the coast, was Colon, the
Atlantic terminal of the Panama canal, and to reach that place ought
not to be especially difficult, because our small boats were in fairly
good condition.

The river made a bend just ahead of us, and my first thought was to
get out a boat and explore the stream for a way. We might find some
village, I imagined, or at least some evidence of human habitation.

So I ordered the gig lowered and took with me four men, besides Duncan
Moit, who wanted to go along and begged the privilege. The current was
languid and easy to breast, so we made excellent progress.

Bend after bend we made, for the stream was as crooked as a ram’s
horn; but always the forest towered on the one hand and the low, marshy
flats prevailed upon the other.

Rowing close to the shore, under the shadow of the trees, we could
hear the stealthy sound of wild beasts in the wildnerness, and once we
espied a sleek jaguar lying flat upon the bank to drink. But no sign of
man or civilization of any sort did we encounter. Even the woodman’s
axe was nowhere in evidence.

We hugged the forest for several miles, finding the river easily
navigable for small steamers. Then we decided to return, and followed
the edge of the opposite marsh, which was much less inviting and less
liable to be inhabited than the other shore.

We were scarcely a mile from the ship when Moit suddenly exclaimed:

“Isn’t that a canoe?”

“Where?” I asked.

He pointed to a small inlet, and I could see plainly a craft that
looked like an Indian dugout lying among the reeds.

“Let us get it and see what it looks like,” said I, hailing with some
satisfaction this first evidence of human handicraft.

At the word my men rowed in, and the sailor in the bow, as he grasped
the gunwale of the canoe, uttered a startled cry.

“What is it?” I asked.

Without reply he drew the canoe alongside our boat, and we could all
see the form of a man lying flat upon his face on the rough bottom.



CHAPTER VI

THE DEAD MAN’S STORY


“Turn him over, Tom,” said I, softly, and the sailor clambered into the
canoe and obeyed--rather gingerly, though, for no one likes to touch a
dead man.

The bearded face and staring eyes that confronted us were those of
one of our own race, a white man who had been shot through the heart
with an arrow that still projected from the wound. His clothing was
threadbare and hung almost in rags, while his feet were protected by
rude sandals of bark laced with thongs of some vegetable fibre. He was
neither a Mexican nor a Spaniard, but I judged him a North American of
German descent, if his physiognomy could be trusted.

[Illustration: The arrow must have killed him instantly.]

The man had not long been dead, that was quite evident, and the arrow
that had pierced his heart must have killed him instantly. I pulled out
the weapon and found it of skillful construction,--a head of hammered
bronze fastened to a shaft most delicately shaped and of a wood that
resembled yew. It differed materially from any Indian arrow I had ever
before seen.

The mystery of this man’s life and death seemed impenetrable, and I
ordered the canoe attached to our stern and towed it in our wake down
to the ship.

A sailor’s burial ground is the sea; so I decided to sew the corpse in
sacking, weight it heavily, and sink it in the deepest water of the
river.

Before doing this one of the men searched the pockets of the tattered
clothing and drew out a small book that looked like a diary, a
pocket-knife, several bits of lead-pencil and a roll of thin bark tied
with wisps of the same material.

These things I took charge of, and then watched the obsequies. These
were quickly performed, Ned reading a short prayer from his Bible by
way of ceremony while all our company stood with bared heads. Then the
men rowed the body out to the deepest part of the river, and as I
watched them from the deck I noticed they were thrown into a state of
sudden excitement and heard cries of anger and alarm. Lifting my glass
into position I discovered the cause of this. The boat was surrounded
by sharks, their dark heads and white bellies alternating as they
slowly swam round and round, attracted by the scent of prey. I yelled
to the men to bring the body back, but they were too excited to hear me
and the next instant had dumped the weighted sack overboard and begun
to row back to the wreck at racing speed.

It was just as well, however. I am quite sure the poor fellow reached
bottom before a shark could seize him, and once on the bottom they
would be unable to either see him or grasp him in their jaws.

Seated on the deck with the others and shaded from the sun by a heavy
awning, I glanced at the diary and found that the murdered man had
not made a daily record, but had written upon the pages a sort of
narrative, which seemed likely to prove interesting. So I asked Duncan
Moit to read it aloud, which he did. I have it beside me now, and copy
the following word for word as it was first read to us that day in the
tropics with the wilderness all around us.

“My name is Maurice Kleppisch,” it began, “by profession an engineer
and mining expert residing at Denver, Colorado, at those times when I
am at home.

“Nine years ago I was sent to the Republic of Colombia to examine a
mine, and while there I joined myself to a party that was formed to
visit the San Blas Country, at the south of Panama, and trade with the
Indians who are the masters of a vast territory there. I am no trader,
but my object was to take advantage of this opportunity to investigate
the mining possibilities of the wild and unknown region of San Blas,
thinking that should I fall in with traces of gold my fortune would be
made.

“But, when we arrived at the border, the arrogant Indians would not
allow us to enter their country at all, commanding us, with imperious
scorn, to stand at a respectful distance and display our wares. The
traders obeyed without demur, but I was angry and vengeful, and for a
time considered my journey a failure. The Indians, however, exchanged
their cocoanuts and sheep-skins--with such other things as their land
produced--with great willingness and absolute honesty and fairness, and
the traders learned that their given word was held inviolate.

“Nursing my disappointment at being excluded from this mysterious
country, I stood sullenly watching the bartering when my attention was
aroused by an object that made my heart bound with excitement. It was
an immense rough diamond, set in the bronze shaft of a spear borne by
Nalig-Nad, the king of the San Blas and the most stalwart, dignified
and intelligent Indian I have ever seen.

“I will here explain that the strange race known as the San Blas
Indians of Southern Panama is none other than that historic remnant
of the Aztec nation which, when Mexico was conquered by the Spaniard,
fled through morass and mountains, across plains and rivers, until they
came to this then unknown wilderness. Here they located and established
a new nation which they call Techla. Their territory stretches south
of the natural depression of the isthmus from the Atlantic to the
Pacific, and contains vast stretches of forests and coastal plains,
which they have ever jealously guarded from intrusion. No more did they
build beautiful cities and golden temples, for gold they had learned
to abhor because the lust for it had brought the white demons upon
them in Mexico. The white skinned races were cordially detested as the
destroyers of their former nation. By them the Techlas had been driven
from the abode bequeathed them by their ancestors.

“The creed of the new nation, therefore, contained two prime articles
of faith: Never to mine or trade or employ gold in any form for use or
ornament; to hate and oppose every white man that came near them.

“The San Blas people are not truly Indians, as we regard the West
Indian and Central American tribes, but are well formed, intelligent
and fierce. Their skin is of copper-colored hue and they have a
characteristic dress that is peculiar to their nation. They have an
established government centering in the king, humane and just laws for
the guidance of their tribes, and many racial characteristics. It is
said the weaker Aztecs remained in Mexico as slaves of the Spaniards,
while the nobles and the most stalwart and powerful individuals,
realizing their inability to oppose the usurpers but scorning to become
their vassals, fled southward in the manner I have described.

“However true this may be, I found the San Blas--a name given them by
the early Spaniards but never acknowledged by themselves--to be well
worthy of admiration in all ways except their persistent hatred of the
whites. They gave our party cocoanuts and cereals, tortoise-shells,
skins of wild beasts that were most skillfully dressed, and a soft
quality of lamb’s wool, in exchange for knives, glass beads, compasses,
colored crayons, mirrors and other inexpensive trinkets.

“When I got my eye upon the king’s mammoth diamond I was so amazed that
I trembled with eagerness. The gem must have weighed fully five hundred
carats, and being intent to obtain it for myself I offered my silver
watch, a fountain pen, my comb and brushes and a quantity of buttons
in exchange for the diamond.

“My very anxiety was the cause of my undoing. My reckless offers
aroused the king’s suspicions, and when my comrades also saw the
diamond they became as anxious as I was, and offered so much for a bit
of stone which the king had never considered of any value, that he
questioned us closely and learned that the white men esteem these gems
even more than they do gold.

“Then the king drew himself up proudly and spoke to his men in their
own native dialect, with which we are unfamiliar. Several of the
Indians brought to their ruler specimens of the same stones--rough
diamonds ranging from the size of a pea upward. These they had
doubtless gathered and kept because they were pretty, but Nalig-Nad
took them all in his hand and, having pried his own splendid stone from
its setting in the spearshaft, he advanced to the edge of the river and
cast them all into its depths.

“‘I have told my men,’ said he, ‘never to gather these pebbles again;
nor will we ever trade them to the white men. I class them with the
gold, for we are determined not to own anything which will arouse the
mad desires of your people.’

“A few of the San Blas, including their king, speak the English
language; more of them speak in the Spanish tongue; but their own
language, as I have said, is distinct from the dialects of the other
Indian tribes and the white men have no opportunity to learn it.

“We were greatly disappointed by the loss of the gems, and when we
returned to our camp we talked the matter over and concluded that there
must be many diamonds lying exposed upon the surface of the ground in
some part of the San Blas territory. Else the Indians would not have
been enabled to pick up such choice and extraordinarily large specimens
as we had seen.

“I did not like to go away without making an attempt to locate these
diamond fields, and seven of the party, adventurous as myself,
determined to join in braving the anger of the stern Nalig-Nad. So at
night we stole through the north forest and by morning had come to the
edge of the fertile plains whereon the San Blas mostly dwell.

“Their country may be divided into three sections: First, the North
Forest, bordering on the Panama marshes and the wilderness. Second, a
high and broad sweep of coastal plains, formed by eroded drift from the
mountains. This section is well watered by numerous streams and the
soil is extremely rich and fertile. To the east, by the Atlantic coast,
are the cocoanut groves, but most of this fruit is grown upon several
islands lying off the coast in the Atlantic. The third division lies
south of the plains and consists of a magnificent primeval forest which
covers thickly all the slope of the mountains. The climate, especially
that of the uplands, is temperate and delightful, and it has been
stated that these powerful Indians control the most desirable bit of
land in the Western Hemisphere.

“It was in the plain that we determined to search for the diamond
fields, and as the Indians had arbitrarily forbidden white men to enter
their domain, we stained our faces and arms and chests with walnut
juice, and dressed ourselves in imitation of the San Blas people as
nearly as we were able. And thus we prowled around for several days,
until in a rich valley covered with alluvial deposit I picked up one
of the coveted ‘pebbles,’ and to our great delight we knew that we had
stumbled upon the right place.

“An hour later we were surrounded by a band of the San Blas and made
prisoners. We relied upon our disguises to protect us, but when they
had examined us closely the Indians stripped off our clothing and
discovered our white skins. We knew, then, our fate was sealed.

“These people allow negroes to enter their country, and even employ
some of them to labor upon their farms. Other Indian tribes of the
mountains, who are all hostile to the whites, are permitted to pass
through the San Blas territory, and sometimes these mountaineers have
with them white slaves, who are treated cruelly and obliged to bear
their burdens. But these whites who are the slaves of Indians are the
only ones ever tolerated in the country, and a band like our own,
entering by stealth to secure treasure, might expect no mercy at the
hands of the San Blas.

“Being taken before Nalig-Nad at his own village, he condemned us all
to death but one, who was to be sent back to Colombia to tell the fate
of those who dared defy the laws of the San Blas. We cast lots, and I
drew the fortunate number. My comrades, two of whom were young men of
position and wealth in Bogota, were ruthlessly murdered, and I was then
escorted to the border and set free.

“I reported the matter to the Colombian authorities, and a company of
soldiers was promptly sent by the President to punish the impudent
Indians and teach them not to molest the whites in the future. After
a long period of waiting a single soldier, who had his ears cut off
and was otherwise horribly mutilated, arrived at Bogota to tell of the
total extinction of all his fellows and to report that King Nalig-Nad
had promised to treat in the same manner any who dared to interfere
with his authority. The government decided to let these fierce Indians
alone. There were other troubles, nearer home, that needed attention.

“I returned to Denver, but could not get this rich diamond field out of
my head. I was a poor man, yet I knew where I might obtain countless
treasure--if I dared but make the attempt.

“Finally I decided that I might be able to accomplish alone what a
band of white men could never succeed in doing, and having formulated
my plans I sailed to Colon and prepared to enter once more the country
of the San Blas.

“My idea was admirably simple. The Indians feel so secure that they
seldom prowl by night, and in their climate the stars and moon are so
brilliant that they illuminate the country almost as well as does the
sun by day. By stealthily avoiding all habitations and villages, I had
a fair chance to escape observation, and the valley I sought was in an
uninhabited part of the plains.

“I took a canoe and a package of provisions, and began my journey by
entering the San Maladrino river at the Atlantic mouth. I followed this
until the river passed between two high hills, which may be seen in the
crude map I have drawn for the benefit of others, should I lose my life
in this desperate adventure.

[Illustration: SAN BLAS COUNTRY]

“A stream of which I do not know the name enters the San Maladrino
just beyond the hills mentioned, and leads to the southward. It passes
through the first forest and is broad and deep. Hiding in the forest
the first day, I cautiously paddled my canoe up this stream the next
night and passed a portion of the plain until I reached a smaller
tributary entering from the left. This tributary flows through the most
fertile and most thickly inhabited portion of the Indian lands. At the
first junction I turned to the right and paddled along until I could
go no further by boat. So, secreting my canoe in some bushes, I walked
during the following night to the valley which we had before visited,
and which lies in the uplands near to the edge of the great mountain
forest. This tangled woodland favored me, for in it I hid securely by
day, while at night I searched for diamonds in my valley.

“I found many stones, and some of extraordinary size and beauty, but
was greatly retarded in my discoveries by the dimness of the light. The
forest shaded the valley part of the time, and only for a brief two
hours each night was the light of the moon directly upon the slight
depression where I labored.

“And now I have been three weeks hidden in the heart of the San Blas
district, and no one has observed me as yet. I have secured almost
three quarts of superb diamonds--a fortune so enormous that I am
considering a speedy return to civilization. Meantime, I have employed
some of my leisure moments in writing this history in my book.”



CHAPTER VII

THE FOLLY OF THE WISE


No one had interrupted Duncan Moit as he read clearly and slowly the
above interesting story, but as he paused at the close of the last
paragraph I have recorded we gave some sighs of wonder and admiration
and looked at one another curiously to see what impression the
“history” was making.

“Go on!” cried Uncle Naboth, eagerly. “That can’t be all.”

“No,” answered the inventor, “it is not all. But it seems to cover the
period of the first writing. The other entries are more hurried and
more carelessly inscribed.”

“Is the map he mentions there?” I asked.

“Yes. It is badly drawn, for an engineer, but sufficiently clear, I
imagine, to enable one to follow it with ease.”

“Then read on, please.”

He obeyed at once.

“Last night, as I approached the forest after my work in the valley,
I saw a man’s face peering at me from between the trees. The moon
shone on it clearly. It was an Indian’s face, but in an instant it had
disappeared. Greatly startled, I searched the forest with care, but
could find no trace of the spy. I may have been deceived, however.
Perhaps my nerves are getting unstrung.”

Moit turned a leaf.

“Again I have seen a man’s face,” he read. “This time it was in the
center of the valley, among a clump of low bushes. I ran to the forest
in a state of excitement; then reproached myself for my folly and came
back; but I could find nothing.”

“These are all different entries,” remarked the reader, turning another
page. “I will read them as they appear.”

“I am confident,” proceeded the writer, “that I have been discovered
at last by the San Blas. They have spies all around me, by day as well
as by night, but to my surprise they have not yet molested me in any
way. I have determined to get away at once--this very night--but as
I may be seized, and perhaps murdered, I shall not take more than a
part of my treasure with me. This valley of diamonds is far richer
than any field ever discovered in South Africa, and if I am able to
escape I shall secure assistance and come here again in spite of the
San Blas. So I will leave the greater part of my treasure where it has
been hidden, and take only such stones as I can comfortably carry in my
pockets. I must write a description of where the diamonds are secreted,
for if I am killed and any white man comes upon this book, I bequeath
to him my wealth, provided he is brave enough to take it from the
country of the San Blas. Here is my injunction: When you have reached
the valley I have marked upon the map, you will find near its center
a boulder of deep red granite, bare and solitary, the upper portion
bearing an arm-like projection or spike that points directly toward the
forest. Follow this line of direction and you will come upon a gigantic
mahogany tree standing just at the edge of the forest, which is really
a jungle at this point. Back of the mahogany is a large dead stump,
surrounded by moss. Lift the moss at the right of the stump and you
will come upon a cavity in which I have secreted my hoard of diamonds.
You will have no trouble in recognizing the valley, on account of the
remarkable boulder of rock, and the rest is easy.... I have reached the
stream and found my canoe safe; but I must keep hidden among the bushes
until another night. I do not think I have been followed, but I cannot
be sure. The strange inaction of the San Blas astonishes me and makes
me uneasy.

       *       *       *       *       *

“The worst has happened, and it is not so very bad, after all. They
seized me last evening and took away my diamonds, which they cast into
the river with absolute disdain of their value. But then they at once
released me, and went away and left me to myself. Fortunately I had
hidden ten fine stones in a roll of bark, and these they failed to
discover. I am sorry to have lost the others, but these few specimens
will prove the truth of my story when I get home. The adventure
shows my wisdom in leaving the bulk of the treasure secreted in the
forest.... There is no use in hiding myself now, for my presence is
well known. Why I should have been spared, when every other white
intruder has been killed, I cannot explain. But they seem to have made
an exception in my favor, and I am jubilant and fearful at the same
time. Somehow, I cannot help imagining that these dreadful Indians are
playing with me, as a cat does with a mouse. But I shall go boldly
forward, and trust to luck to escape.”

“Is that all?” I asked, as Duncan Moit paused and closed the book.

“It is all.”

“But the rest of the poor fellow’s story is as clear as if he had
written it,” I commented, musingly. “The Indians waited until he had
reached the last boundary of their territory, and then put an arrow
into his heart. Where he fell they left him, trusting the canoe would
float down the stream and warn other whites not to venture too near.”

“Do you think that story is true?” enquired Uncle Naboth, with some
asperity.

“Why not, Uncle?”

“It sounds fishy, to my notion.”

I drew the roll of bark we had taken from the pocket of the dead
man and cut with my knife the thongs which bound it together. After
removing the outer wrappers I found ten crystal pebbles in the center,
which I handed around so that all could examine them with care. Only
Uncle Naboth had seen rough diamonds before, but the grunts of the
shrewd old trader told me at once that he recognized the value of these
stones.

However, I looked up the acid test in one of my books in the stateroom,
and was able to apply it in a satisfactory manner. We managed to
crumble a portion of one stone and with the dust thus secured Duncan
polished a small surface on another. They were diamonds, sure enough,
very white in color and seemingly perfect specimens.

And all the while we were thus occupied the four of us were silently
thinking. Each one, moreover, took the book and read with care the
story for himself. The map was crude enough, but I stared at it so
intently that every pencil mark was indelibly impressed upon my brain.

At dinner we were an unsociable party. Afterward we assembled on the
deck. Uncle Naboth smoked his pipe instead of the big cigar, but said
nothing. Ned put his face between his hands and resting his elbows upon
his knees stared fixedly at the deck in meditative silence. Duncan Moit
hung over the rail and gazed at the river as it murmured by.

I looked at my comrades and smiled at their absorption. This longing
for treasure and sudden wealth is natural enough, and few men are
able to escape it. I knew very well that all of us were pondering on
a way to get at the diamonds Maurice Kleppisch had left secreted in
the forest of San Blas. I may as well acknowledge that I was fully as
covetous as the others, but a hearty fear of those strange Indians did
much to lessen my desire to visit them.

The evening passed with scarcely a remark, and when we went to bed we
were still thinking. Not of the wrecked ship, though, or how we should
save the cargo and get ourselves into some civilized port. The reading
of the dead man’s narrative had turned our thoughts entirely from our
own mischance and inoculated us with a feverish desire to plunge into
the same adventurous channels that had resulted so fatally in his own
case.

At breakfast Uncle Naboth suddenly abandoned all pretense of reserve.

“This is the San Maladrino river,” he asserted.

We all nodded, our faces serious and attentive.

“Of course,” said I. “He returned the same way he entered the San Blas
country, and we found him floating on this very stream.”

No one cared to discuss a proposition so very evident, and having
hurriedly finished the meal we assembled on deck to resume the
conversation.

“Gentlemen,” said Moit, “you have all arrived at some conclusion, I am
sure. Let us exchange ideas, and discuss their various merits.”

I asked Ned Britton to speak first.

“Well,” said he, “it wouldn’t be right or proper for us to leave them
two or three quarts o’ di’monds to rust under that stump. I notice the
book says these Injuns don’t have firearms; but we’ve got a plenty, so
I perpose as we march in, pepper ’em good if they show fight, an’ then
march out agin with the di’monds. I believe if we put up a good front
there’s enough of us to do the job.”

“Especially as a company of carefully drilled soldiers got wiped off
the earth,” I remarked somewhat sarcastically.

“Colombian sodgers don’t count,” said Ned. “Our men is the right stuff
’cause they’re all Americans.”

“I confess that I do not like the looks of this arrow,” said Moit,
handling cautiously the bronze tipped weapon we had drawn from the dead
man’s breast. “It is evident they can shoot straight, and there may be
thousands of the San Blas to fight, for all we know. I think that open
warfare would result in our total extinction.”

“If by that you mean we’d be punched full o’ holes, I quite agree with
you,” observed Uncle Naboth. “Diplomacy’s the thing; diplomacy an’
caution. You can ketch more flies with sugar ’n’ you can with vinegar.”

“Haven’t you a suggestion, Uncle?” I asked.

During several voyages in the company of Naboth Perkins I had learned
to have great respect for his shrewdness and judgment, and for that
reason I now awaited his reply with genuine interest.

He relighted his pipe, gave two or three energetic puffs, and then
began:

“This fellow, you’ll notice, tells us a good deal about the San Blas
Indians, an’ what he says is all worth careful considerin’. They ain’t
like common savages, but have their laws an’ live up to ’em. In one
place he says niggers is used by them for slaves, and that white slaves
of Injuns that is friendly to ’em, an’ not to the whites, is let alone
whenever they’re in their country. Gentlemen--an’ Sam, too--that’s my
keynote. It tells us plain what to do, an’ how to do it!”

He looked at us triumphantly, but I was too stupid to see the point of
this argument.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand, Uncle,” I said.

“Well, you’re wrong, Sam. It’s a thing you can’t help now, but you’re
likely to outgrow it. Hey there, Nux!” he called. “Get Bry an’ both o’
you come here.”

I started, beginning to see what he meant; but I said nothing until
the two Sulus stood before us. Bryonia was tall and slender, and very
powerful. Nux was shorter and stouter, but equally strong of muscle.
Their faces were intelligent and expressive and their poise exhibited a
native dignity. Two more faithful followers no man ever had than this
pair of South Sea Indians, and I regarded them more as brothers than
servants, for I owed my life to their bravery and care.

“Gentleman,” announced Uncle Naboth, “these boys is Indians, and mighty
good Indians, too. They’re goin’ to take us four white folks into the
San Blas country as their slaves. They’ll be finely welcomed, for
they’ll pound an’ kick us all around, and we’ll be meek as Moses till
we git our fists on them di’monds. It’s jest as easy as rollin’ off a
log, an’ a heap more fun.”

I admit the suggestion filled me with admiration, and I saw Duncan
Moit’s face brighten as soon as he heard it.

“That’s it, sir!” he exclaimed. “That is just the idea I was looking
for, to connect with my own. By putting the two together I believe we
shall succeed without a doubt.”

“What is your idea, then?” I asked.

“To travel in my convertible automobile.”

“What! Through a wilderness?”

“Along the streams as far as the water will allow, and then over the
level plains. The machine will run in any farming country, for you
must remember that it does not sink into soft ground as ordinary heavy
automobiles do. Indeed, by turning the pumps into the vacuum chambers
and exhausting them, I can render the car so light that it will almost
skim over a marsh.”

“But what’s the use of travellin’ that way?” asked Uncle Naboth.

“We gain safety, in case of attack; speed, if we are forced to fly;
comfort, by carrying our hotel always with us, and, above all, I rely
upon the invention to awe the simple Indians and make them look upon
us as superior creatures. The machine is here and in working order; it
would be folly, when it offers so many advantages, not to use it.”

“Very good,” said I, approvingly, for I could see the force of his
arguments.

“The only thing that worried me,” continued Moit, “was the fact that
our being white would arouse the enmity of the San Blas, in spite
of the wonders we can show them. But if Nux and Bryonia pose as the
masters, and we are merely their slaves to run and care for their magic
travelling machine, then we need have no special fear.”

“Magic travellin’ machine is good!” cried my uncle. “You’ve hit the
nail on the head, Mr. Moit, as sure as fate!”

The inventor smiled, as if pleased with the compliment.

“If I can get a share of those diamonds,” said he, “I will be
independent of my rich uncle in Los Angeles, and will have the means to
secure my patents, erect my own factory, and manufacture the machines
myself. It is something to work for, is it not?”

I had been carefully examining the proposition, and now said:

“There seems to be a serious flaw in your arrangement, Uncle.”

“What’s that, Sam?”

“It isn’t reasonable that four white men should be slaves to two black
ones. Such a combination would excite the suspicions of the Indians at
once, if they are really as clever as they are reported to be. Take
your own case, for example, Uncle Naboth. You couldn’t look like a
slave for a single minute.”

Indeed, Mr. Perkins’ stout little body, his cheery face and shrewd
eyes, and the general air of prosperity and contentment that radiated
from his benign personality, were a clear refutation of any suggestion
of slavery or even dependence. Even Ned smiled at the idea, and Duncan
Moit shook his head with a sigh.

“Mr. Perkins can’t go,” he said.

Uncle Naboth looked disappointed, and then puffed his pipe angrily.

“You fellers don’t allow for my actin’,” he growled. “I’m as good a
play actor as ever travelled with a show.”

“That may be, Uncle; but you don’t look the part, and unfortunately you
can’t disguise yourself,” I said. “But I want it clearly understood
that whoever goes on this adventure, we are all to have an equal share
in the spoils. For the opportunity belongs to us all alike, and all
would be glad to go and do their full share.”

“I am willing to agree to that,” said Moit.

“Then I propose that you and I alone accompany Bry and Nux on the
expedition,” I continued. “Two of us are as good as a dozen, for we
cannot fight our way, in any event.”

“What about me?” asked Britton, anxiously.

“I want you to take a crew in the long boat and try to make Colon, by
feeling your way north along the coast. From there you can report by
wire our mishap to Mr. Harlan, and get his instructions what to do.
Uncle Naboth must in the meantime take charge of the wrecked ship and
the remaining men. This country isn’t very big, you know; so we all
ought to be able to meet again in a few days, when we can decide upon
our future movements.”

And so the matter was finally arranged, and it was decided that Ned
and his crew in the long boat and our party in our “magic travelling
machine” would leave the wreck the next morning and proceed in opposite
directions upon our respective missions.



CHAPTER VIII

THE SAN BLAS COUNTRY


We had an early breakfast and then Ned Britton bade us good-bye and
started obediently to descend the river and explore along the coast.
He was loth to abandon the more dangerous and fascinating quest for
the diamonds, but being loyal to the core he knew how to obey orders
without grumbling.

As soon as he was away we began preparations for our own departure. The
first thing was to arrange for launching the convertible automobile,
which Moit had been examining very carefully ever since daybreak. He
reported that it had sustained no damage whatever from the storm or
the shock of grounding and was in perfect condition. So all we had to
do was to remove the guy ropes, let it slide down the slanting deck
to the bulwarks--over which we lifted it with a crane attached to the
mizzenmast--and then let the machine descend gently until it rested on
the bosom of the river.

I was still so skeptical concerning some of Moit’s absurd claims that
it would not have surprised me to see the huge car sink like a stone;
but instead of that it rode the water like a duck, the wheels half
submerged, the rail high above the water-line.

We now filled the ample lockers beneath the seats with provisions, put
in a cask of fresh water in case the river water proved unpalatable,
and took along such trinkets as we could gather together for trading
purposes. We each carried a brace of revolvers, Moit and I (being
slaves) concealing ours, while Nux and Bry carried theirs openly.

Finally we dressed for the excursion. The gay checked suit and tourist
cap of Uncle Naboth we gave to Nux, and although they hung rather
loosely he presented a most startling appearance in them. He swung a
brass watch chain of gigantic size across his vest front and Uncle gave
him a few of the big cigars to smoke when he wanted to “show off.”

Bry wore a white duck suit belonging to Duncan Moit, and to my
astonishment looked as aristocratic as any Eastern potentate on his
first visit to London. These Sulus were by no means bad looking men,
if one could forget their color, and they took great delight in the
transformations we thrust upon them.

As for Moit and myself, we hunted among the sailors’ cast-off togs
for the most disreputable “land clothes” we could find, and those we
selected were ragged and dirty enough, in all conscience. I wore a
run-down shoe upon one foot and a red leather slipper on the other, and
when I had rumpled my hair and soiled my face and hands I am sure I was
as disgraceful in appearance as any ragged urchin you ever came across.

I was not wholly satisfied with Duncan, however. In spite of his
apparel there was so thoughtful a look in his big gray eyes and so
well-bred and composed an expression on his finely molded features
that he could not look a servant’s part as fully as I did and the
best I could hope was that the San Blas people would consider him an
unfortunate gentleman in hard luck.

There was much laughter and amusement among the men we left behind on
the wreck, when they beheld our queer appearance. Uncle Naboth chuckled
until he coughed, and coughed until he choked, badly frightening
those who were unaware that this startling exhibition was usual with
him whenever he reached that climax of joy which he called being
“desp’ritly pleased.”

I bade him an affectionate farewell, and then we four got into the
“auto-boat.” Moit sprung the paddles from the rims of the wheels and
started the engines, and a minute later we were waving our hands to
those on the wreck and gliding at a good rate of progress up the river.

The bulky machine did not draw so much water as one would imagine,
owing to its broad displacement and the lightness of the material
employed in its construction. We found the current gentle, and made
such good time that at eleven o’clock we passed between the two hills
indicated on Maurice Kleppisch’s map, a copy of which I had brought
with us.

The current was swifter here because the mounds narrowed the river
considerably; but Moit gave the engines a little more speed and we went
through without abating our rate of progress.

Just beyond the hills we saw a group of Indians standing beneath the
trees on the left bank and regarding us earnestly but calmly. Perhaps
they had seen small steamers and thought our craft belonged to that
class, for they exhibited neither fear nor surprise, merely turning
their grave faces toward us and remaining otherwise motionless and
silent as we glided by.

I whispered to Bryonia and Nux to stand up and bow a greeting, which
they proceeded to do with amusing and exaggerated dignity; and then I
told Nux to box my ears, which he did so promptly and in so lusty a
manner that they rang for several minutes afterward.

I had explained to my blacks at great length our reasons for
undertaking this queer adventure, and what we expected them to do to
carry out the farce and assist us in securing the treasure. I had even
read to them the dead man’s diary, from beginning to end, so that
they would know as much about the San Blas as we did. They were, as I
have said, both clever and resourceful, besides being devoted to me
personally; so that I felt justified in relying to a great extent upon
their judgment in case of emergency.

Should I need to give them any secret instructions, I could do so in
their own language, which they had taught me during the tedium of
several long voyages, and which I prided myself upon speaking fairly
well. It was the language of their own island of Tayakoo, for these
were not properly Sulus but natives belonging to a distinct tribe of
South Sea Islanders which owed allegiance to no other ruler than their
own.

Being aware that the king, and some others, of the San Blas knew
English and Spanish, I could rely upon this almost unknown dialect to
cover any secret instructions I wished to convey to my blacks.

Nux and Bry were not linguists, however, and knew but a few Spanish
words besides the imperfect English and their native tongue; but we
arranged that they were to command me to interpret in Spanish whenever
it was necessary. Duncan Moit, unfortunately, knew nothing but English.

The tributary that entered the river from the left side was a farther
distance beyond the hills than the map seemed to indicate; but we came
to it presently and began slowly to ascend it in a southerly direction,
although it made many twists and turns. We found it easily navigable,
with dense forests on either side, and several times we found we were
observed by silent groups of Indians on the bank, to all of whom
Nux and Bry bowed greetings with tremendous condescension and mock
courtesy. The bows were never returned, however, and the Indians stood
like statues until we had passed by.

“There is no way of avoiding these people,” said Moit, “so I think our
best policy will be to go directly to the king’s village, which I see
marked upon the map, and make friends with him. Bryonia can explain our
presence by saying he merely wishes to examine the San Blas country,
and when once we have established friendly relations with these natives
we can visit several different parts of their territory, to throw them
off their guard, and finally reach the valley for which we are bound
and secure the diamonds at our leisure.”

“That seems to me a capital plan,” I agreed, and we decided then and
there to follow it as closely as circumstances would allow.

After an hour’s cruise through the forest we came to the coastal
plains, finding this a remarkably fertile country with fields under
fine cultivation. As soon as we discovered a low bank on our left we
turned the machine toward the shore, and when the wheels touched bottom
they climbed the bank easily and we quickly found ourselves upon dry
land.

More Indians were observing us, and as we left the water and glided
over the land I detected a look of amazement upon their faces that
all their reserve could not control. Indeed, I was myself filled with
wonder at the marvelous performances of Duncan Moit’s invention, so
that small blame attaches to the San Blas if their stoicism could not
master their astonishment.

We crossed the plain until we came upon a pretty stream, which we
took to be the one indicated upon the map, and from there followed its
course eastward, making excellent time over the level meadows. We saw
a few huts scattered along the way, and several herds of cattle and
sheep, but no horses. The sheep seemed few to supply the wool for which
these Indians were famous, but I imagined we would find larger flocks
in the uplands.

It was about five o’clock in the afternoon when we sighted a
considerable village, which at once we determined must be the place we
sought. Bowling along at an increased pace we soon reached the town,
but to our surprise we found our way barred by solid files of Indians,
all standing with their arrows ready notched in their bowstrings.

Moit stopped the engines and we came to a halt. Hitherto we had been
allowed to go where we pleased since entering this strange land, but it
seemed that our license was now at an end.

Bry stood up in his seat, made a bow, and said in a loud voice:

[Illustration: “Any speak Englis’?”]

“Any speak Englis’?--America--United States?”

In an instant we were surrounded by the stern-visaged natives, while
one of them, a tall, powerful fellow and evidently a chief, stepped
close to the machine and answered in a quiet voice:

“I the English speak.”

“Very good,” said Bry. “I am great chief of Tayakoo. My name is
Honorable Bryonia. Here is my brother, also great chief of Tayakoo--he
name Senator Nux. We come to visit the chiefs and great king of the San
Blas. Then, say to me, oh, Chief, are we welcome? Are we all brothers?”

I thought this was a very good introduction. But the chief glanced at
me and at Moit, frowning darkly, and asked:

“Who the white men? What bring them here?”

“You speak about our slaves? Bah! Have my brothers of San Blas, then,
no slaves to do their work?”

The chief considered a moment.

“Where you get white slaves?” he questioned, suspiciously.

“Stan’ up, Dunc!” said Bry, giving the inventor a vicious kick that
made him howl. “Where we get you, heh?”

He kicked him again, quite unnecessarily, I thought, and Moit stood up
with a red and angry face and growled:

“Stop that, you fool!”

At this rebellion Nux promptly fetched him a blow behind the knees that
sent him tumbling backward upon his seat, and when I laughed--for I
could not help it--I got another ear-splitter that made me hold my head
and be glad to keep silent. Moit evidently saw the force of our blacks’
arguments, for he recovered his wits in time to avoid further blows.

The exhibition had one good effect, anyway; it lulled any suspicions
of the chief that the Honorable Bryonia and Senator Nux might not be
the masters in our little party. Although Duncan Moit and I constantly
encountered looks of bitter hatred, our men were thereafter treated
with ample respect and consideration.

“You welcome,” said the chief. “I Ogo--Capitan Ogo--green chief. You
come to my house.”

He turned and marched away, and Moit started the machine and made it
crawl after him.

The other natives followed in a grave procession, and so we entered
the village and passed up its clean looking streets between rows of
simple but comfortable huts to the further end, where we halted at the
domicile of the “green chief.”



CHAPTER IX

FACING THE ENEMY


“Capitan” Ogo made an impressive bow in the direction of his mud
mansion and then another bow to Nux and Bry.

“Come,” he said.

They accepted the invitation and climbed out of the machine.

“Don’t be long, Nux,” I remarked, in the Tayakoo dialect.

Instantly the chief swung around on his heel.

“What does this mean?” he cried, speaking the same language. “Do you
receive orders from your white slaves?”

I stared at him open mouthed, but to my intense admiration neither Nux
nor Bryonia exhibited the least surprise.

“Orders?” asked Bry, quietly. “Do you blame us that the whites are
fools, and speak like fools? My brother has surely more wisdom than
that. If you knew the white dogs, you would believe that their tongues
are like the tongues of parrots.”

“I know them,” answered Ogo, grimly. Then he asked, abruptly:

“Where did you learn the language of my people--the ancient speech of
the Techlas?”

“It is my own language, the speech of my people of Tayakoo, whose chief
I am.”

They looked upon each other with evident curiosity, and I examined the
two Indians, as they stood side by side, and wondered at their similar
characteristics. Bryonia might easily be mistaken for a brother of the
San Blas chief, so far as appearances went, and although Nux was of a
different build there were many duplicates of him in the silent crowd
surrounding us.

“Where is Tayakoo?” asked Ogo.

“Far to the south, in the Pacific ocean.”

“What is the history of your people?”

“I do not know.”

“Are there many of you?”

“But a few, inhabiting a small island.”

The chief seemed thoughtful. Then he turned again.

“Come!” he commanded; and they followed him into his house.

Duncan Moit was clearly puzzled by this conversation, carried on in a
language unknown to him.

“What is it all about, Sam?” he enquired, in a low voice.

“The Sulus and the San Blas speak the same language,” I replied.

“Anything wrong?”

“No; our chances are better than ever, I guess.”

Fifty pair of eyes were staring at us curiously; so we decided not to
converse further at present. We stared in turn at the natives, who
seemed not to object in the least.

Without question the San Blas were the best looking Indians I have ever
seen. They resembled somewhat the best of the North American tribes,
but among them was a larger proportion of intelligence and shrewdness.
Their faces were frank and honest, their eyes large and expressive,
and they moved in a self-possessed and staid manner that indicated
confidence in their own powers and contempt for all enemies.

Their costumes were exceedingly interesting. Men and women alike wore
simple robes of finely woven wool that were shaped somewhat like Greek
tunics. The arms of the men were bare; the women had short flowing
sleeves; and this was the only perceptible difference in the garb of
the two sexes, except that most of the men wore sandals of bark, while
the women and children were bare-footed.

The tunic was their sole garment, and reached only to the knees, being
belted at the waist. The women, I afterward learned, wove the cloth in
their houses, as one of their daily occupations, and the body of the
tunic was always white, with colored stripes worked in at the neck and
around the bottom.

These colors, which must have been vegetable dyes, were very brilliant
in hue, including purple, orange, red, blue and yellow. Black was never
used at all, and green was the color reserved for the nobles and the
king. I noticed that the chief, Ogo, had a narrow band of green on
his robe, which explained his proudly proclaiming himself a “green” or
royal chief. The bands of green we found varied in width according to
the prominence of their wearers.

One can easily imagine that the appearance of an automobile in this
country, isolated as it was from all modern civilization, would be
likely to inspire the natives with awe and wonder, if not with actual
terror. Yet these queer people seemed merely curious, and tried to
repress even their curiosity as much as possible. They knew nothing
at all of mechanics, existing in the same simple fashion that their
ancestors had done centuries before, plowing their land with sharpened
sticks and using arrows and spears as their only weapons except for the
long bronze knives that were so roughly fashioned as to be well-nigh
ridiculous. The only way I can explain the stolid demeanor of these
Indians is through their characteristic fearlessness and repression,
which enabled them to accept any wonderful thing without displaying
emotion.

But they were interested, nevertheless. Their eyes roved everywhere
about the machine and only we, the accursed whites, were disregarded.

After a half hour or so Nux and Bryonia came out of the house,
accompanied by the chief. They had broken bread together and tasted a
native liquor, so that they might now depend upon the friendship of
their host unless he found that they had deceived him. This was a long
stride in the right direction. But when they had asked to see the king
they were told that his residence was several miles to the eastward,
and that in the morning Ogo would escort them to the royal dwelling and
introduce them to the mighty Nalig-Nad.

Meantime Nux and Bry were given plain instructions not to leave this
village, and when they were invited to sleep in the chief’s house they
were able to decline by asserting that they always lived in their magic
travelling machine. This excuse had been prearranged by us, for we
deemed it best not to separate or to leave the machine while we were in
the enemy’s country.

As soon as the blacks had re-entered the machine they commanded me,
in abusive language, to prepare supper. Duncan at once got out our
table, which was a folding contrivance he had arranged to set up in the
center of the car, and then I got the alcohol stove from its locker and
proceeded to light it.

While I made coffee and set the table with the food we had brought,
Nux and Bry lolled on their seats and divided the admiring glances of
the surrounding villagers with the (to them) novel preparations I was
making for the repast. Then the Sulus sat at the table and I waited
upon them with comical deference, Moit being unable to force himself to
take part in the farce. Afterward we ate our own suppers and I for one
relished it more than I usually did. In my boyish fashion I regarded it
all as a great lark, and enjoyed the humor of the situation.

As it was growing dark I now lighted our lamps while the inventor drew
the sections of the glass dome into place and fastened them together.

We could still be observed by those without, for although the top was
provided with curtains we did not draw them. But now we were able to
converse without being overheard, and Nux and Bry, appearing to be
talking with each other, related all that had transpired in the chief’s
house, while we commented upon it and our good fortune up to the
present time.

“After we have visited the king, and made friends with him, we shall be
able to go wherever we please,” I prophesied; “and then it won’t take
us long to get the diamonds and make tracks back to the wreck again.”

To this all were agreed. Then Duncan remarked, musingly:

“It is strange you two Indian nations, so far removed, speak the same
language.”

“True ’nough, Mars’ Moit,” replied Bry. “But I ’spect our folks come
from de same country dese San Blas did, an’ dat ’counts fo’ it.”

“This fact ought to help us with them,” said I.

“Sure t’ing, Mars’ Sam,” Nux responded. “Dey knows now we just as good
as dey is--an’ we know we’s better.”

As we were tired with our day’s excursion we soon removed the table
and spread our blankets upon the roomy floor of the car. Then, with a
courtesy we had not anticipated, the crowd of observers melted silently
away, and by the time we were ready to put out the lights and draw the
curtains we were alone in the village street, where not a sound broke
the stillness.



CHAPTER X

NALIG-NAD


We slept nicely in our rather confined quarters, and at daybreak
Bryonia arose and prepared breakfast while the curtains were still
drawn. But as soon as he and Nux had cleared away the things we let
down the top and appeared in our open car again, to find that the chief
had waited so long outside that he was inclined to be in a bad humor.

The rabble did not come near to us this morning, however. Perhaps the
chief thought their intent observation undignified, and had ordered
them to keep away. But behind Ogo stood ten tall warriors who had been
selected as our escort, or body-guard.

When we signified we were ready for the journey these formed a line
of march--three in front, three behind, and two on either side. All
were armed with stout spears, and each bore a bow and a quiver of
bronze-tipped arrows, as well as a knife stuck into his girdle. When
we started the chief brought up the rear of the procession, so that he
could keep an eye on us.

Duncan Moit resented the necessity of running his machine at a slow
pace, but when he started it at an ordinary walk he soon found that
the Indians were accustomed to swing along at a much swifter rate. So
he gradually increased our speed, and it was comical to see the solemn
visaged warriors trying to keep up with us without running.

Finally, however, they broke into an easy trot, which they maintained
for a long time without seeming to tire. I made Moit slow down after
a while, for I did not wish to provoke the San Blas at present, and
thought it wiser to show them some slight consideration.

The plains we were now crossing were remarkably rich and fertile, and
we passed many farms where men were cultivating the soil by dragging
sharpened sticks over the surface. In other places were fields of grain
ready for the harvest, and Nux questioned the chief and learned that
the climate was so uniform the year around that several crops could be
grown in rapid succession. They used no beasts of burden, but performed
all the labor with their own muscles, which in a measure accounted for
their powerful racial physique. There were no roads leading from one
place to another; merely paths over the meadows to indicate the lines
of travel.

The houses were formed partly of logs and partly of clay baked in the
sun. They were simple and somewhat rude in construction, but appeared
to be quite clean and comfortable. So far we had seen little evidence
of luxury or refinement.

It was nearly noon when we approached a circular enclosure which proved
to be a stockade of clay held together with brushwood until the sun had
hardened it to brick. There was an arched opening in this wall, and
Moit obeyed a signal from Ogo and headed toward it.

Entering the enclosure we found a large, rambling dwelling in the
center and a row of smaller houses circling the inner side of the wall.
A large space was thus left around the central building, which we
naturally concluded to be the king’s palace.

The doorways and windows (the latter being unglazed apertures) of the
smaller huts were filled with attentive faces of women and children,
but not a sound broke the silence to which these natives seemed to
be trained. Except on extraordinary occasions the San Blas did not
chatter; they only spoke when they were required to say something of
meaning.

The chief directed us to halt before a small door of the palace.

“Get out,” he commanded, in the native tongue, “and follow me to the
presence of our ruler, the mighty Nalig-Nad.”

Bryonia and Nux at once obeyed, but the chief motioned to us to come
also. We hesitated, and Bry said:

“One of our slaves must remain in the machine, to care for it. The
other may accompany us.”

“Both must come!” returned the chief, sternly.

“What! do you give me orders--do you command the Honorable Bryonia,
King of Tayakoo?” demanded our black, drawing himself up proudly and
frowning upon Ogo.

“The king shall decide,” returned the chief. “Come!”

I followed them in and Duncan remained with the machine. We passed
through a hallway and came upon a central courtyard, built in the
Spanish style. Here, upon a rude bench, sat an old warrior with a
deeply lined face and long locks sprinkled with gray. His eyes were
large and black and so piercing in their gaze that they seemed to probe
one through and through, yet the expression of the man’s countenance
was just now gentle and unassuming.

He had neither the stern nor the fierce look we had remarked in so many
of the San Blas, but one might well hesitate to deceive the owner of
that square chin and eagle-like glance.

The king wore a white robe with seven broad stripes of green woven into
its texture, and on his knees were seated two children, a curly-headed
little maid of about ten years and a calm faced boy of five. His
surroundings were exceedingly simple, and the only others present were
a group of warriors squatting in a far corner.

“Well, you are here at last,” said Nalig-Nad, looking at us over the
heads of the children as we ranged ourselves before him and bowed with
proper deference. “Which is your leader?”

“My friend, the Senator Nux, and I, the Honorable Bryonia, are alike
kings and rulers in our own country,” was the reply. “But my friend is
modest, and at his request I will speak for us both.”

“Good!” ejaculated Nalig-Nad. “Sit down, my brothers; kings must not
stand in my presence.”

They sat upon a bench, and Nux, thinking this the right time to be
impressive, got out a big cigar and lighted it, having offered another
to the king, who promptly refused it.

“Why are you here to honor me with your presence?” was the next
question, quietly put.

“In our magic travelling machine we are making a trip around the
world,” began Bryonia, in a bombastic tone. They were speaking in the
native dialect, which I clearly understood; and I must say that my men
expressed themselves much better in that than they did in English.

The king took a bit of green chalk from his pocket and made a mark upon
the bench beside him.

“Where did you get your white slaves?” he enquired.

“They were shipwrecked upon the island which we rule, and we made them
our slaves,” said Bry.

The king made a second chalk mark.

“And where did you get the magic machine for travelling upon both land
and water?” It was evident he had been well informed of our movements.

“It was made for us by a wizard of our island,” said Bry.

“What island?”

“Tayakoo.”

A third chalk mark.

“Does it belong to you?”

“Yes.”

Another mark.

“And now,” said the king, looking at them curiously, “tell me what
request you have to make.”

“A request?”

“Yes; you asked to see the King of the San Blas. Then you wish
something. I am the King.”

Bryonia hesitated.

“We wish to see all things,” said he, slowly, “and so we crave
permission to visit the different parts of your country, that we may
observe what it is like.”

“Just as a matter of curiosity?”

“Of course, my brother.”

A chalk mark.

“Do you love gold?” asked the king, abruptly.

“No, we do not care for gold.”

“Not at all?”

“Not in the least.”

The chalk mark again.

“Nor the white pebbles?” looking at them shrewdly.

“We care for no pebbles at all, white or black,” asserted Bry,
beginning to grow uneasy.

The king made another mark, and then slowly counted them.

“Seven lies!” he announced, shaking his head gravely. “My brother is
not honest with me. Otherwise there would be no lies.”

Nux put the wrong end of the cigar in his mouth, and begun to splutter
and make faces. Bryonia looked at the king, stern and indignant.

“Do you judge us by the whites?” he cried.

“No; I have found that the whites are quick to acknowledge their love
of gold.”

“If you were in my country,” said Bry, proudly, “I would not insult my
brother king.”

“What would you do if I lied to you?” asked Nalig-Nad, quickly.

“You would not lie,” declared Bry. “Kings do not lie to each
other--unless they are white.”

I wanted to yell “bravo!” the retort was so cleverly put. The king
seemed pleased, and became thoughtful, stroking the little boy’s hair
gently while the girl rested her pretty head against his broad bosom.

“The Techlas have reason to hate the whites,” he said, with a keen
glance at me. “They drove us from our old home, because they wanted to
rob us of our gold, which we loved only because it was beautiful. They
were cruel and unjust, and lied to us, and had no faith nor honesty. So
we fled; but we swore to hate them forever, and to be cruel and unjust
to them, in turn, whenever they fell into our hands.”

“I do not blame your people,” declared Bry, stoutly.

“Tell me, then, why do you of Tayakoo hate them, and make them your
slaves?”

“Why?”

“Yes; had you gold?”

“No.”

“Nor white pebbles?”

“No.”

“Then why do you hate them?”

“Because they are dangerous and wicked. They come in ships to our
island and try to make us slaves. We fight them and drive them away,
but they take some of my people and lash them with whips, and make them
work like beasts. Also some of the whites we capture--such as these we
now have with us--and then we love to force them to do our bidding.
Never has there been friendship between the white men and the men of
Tayakoo.”

He spoke very earnestly, and I knew he was telling the truth, in the
main, for I had heard the same thing before. It was only because Uncle
Naboth had saved the lives of these two blacks and been kind to them
that they came to love us and to abandon the fierce hatred for the
whites that had been a part of their training from youth up.

“I will buy your white slaves,” said the king, coolly, “and then you
may go where you will in my kingdom.”

“We will not part with them. They must work for us and make our machine
go.”

“If it is magic, it does not need slaves to make it go,” observed the
king, with a smile.

“Would you deprive your brother kings of their only followers?”

“I will give you as many negroes as you require, in place of them.”

“We cannot spare them. These white dogs know our ways, and serve us
well.”

“Then I will take but one, and leave you the other.”

Bry shook his head.

“Whatever else we possess, except our wonderful travelling machine, we
will freely give to our brother,” said he. “But even Nalig-Nad has no
right to demand our slaves, and we shall keep them.”

The king seemed disappointed. After a moment’s pause,

“Think of it,” he said; “and meantime make my home your home. We will
talk of these matters again.”

He waved his hand in dismissal and turned to caress the children.

Ogo the chief said, sternly: “Come!” but Bry stood still.

“Have we the king’s permission to visit his dominions in our machine,
while we are his guests?” he asked.

“Not yet,” replied Nalig-Nad, with the first touch of impatience he had
shown; “we will talk again before you leave my village.”

“That does not sound friendly,” retorted Bryonia, frowning.

“Have you done anything to forfeit my friendship?” enquired the king,
turning a swift glance upon the speaker. “Be content. Only in the
king’s village should the brothers and guests of the king remain in
peace and comfort. My people shall be your servants, and you may
command them as you will; but you must not go outside the wall.”

We did not like this, and stood a moment silent.

“Seems to me, King Honorable Bryonia,” said Nux, speaking for the first
time during the interview and addressing his friend point blank, as if
the king’s presence was immaterial; “seems to me this new brother, King
Nalig-Nad, is not a bad fellow. I like him because he is kind to little
children, and I am sorry for him because he is not better informed. But
what can you expect, when he stays in this one-horse place and knows
nothing of the great world that bows at our feet? If he dares oppose
your will, remember how poor and ignorant he is, and forgive him. I
know what you are thinking, great King Honorable Bryonia, but I beg
you not to destroy Nalig-Nad yet, or to explode his people with the
terrible power you possess. Let us be patient. Permit this king to live
on, for a short time, anyway. What a shame to ruin this happy home! Be
patient, my mighty brother, and soon this foolish Nalig-Nad will have
wisdom, and willingly grant all that you desire.”

Having delivered himself of this speech, Nux puffed his cigar again and
looked at the king with a face expressive of great sympathy and concern.

Both Bry and I were fairly astounded. We had not expected Nux to take
part in the discussion, and the pleading tone he had adopted was as
good a bit of acting as Bryonia had yet exhibited. It impressed the
king even more than Bryonia’s dignified assurances, although at first
I trembled at the folly of threatening so clever and powerful a man
as Nalig-Nad. After all, he was merely a savage, and more liable to
suspect us of unknown powers than of unsupported audacity.

We soon discovered that Nux had grasped the situation more clearly
than we had. The ruler of the San Blas was used to trickery and
cunning and had trained himself to search for hidden reasons in all
his dealings with outsiders. The suggestion that the owners of the
strange travelling machine, who had so boldly invaded his country,
had the intention and power of “exploding” himself and all his people
struck him as more reasonable than anything he had yet heard. He was
visibly worried, and looked half fearfully at the stern and impassive
countenance of the tall South Sea Islander who stood before him.

“We will break bread,” he said, with quick decision. “Send away your
slave, my brothers, and come with me.”

“Go,” said Bry, turning to me. “And go you, also, Chief Ogo,” he added,
imperatively; “we would be alone with the king.”

The chief looked uneasily toward Nalig-Nad, who had set the children
down and allowed them to run into the house. Noting the look, the king
bowed his head to affirm Bry’s command. He might with reason fear his
strange guests, but he was no coward.

I left the courtyard, followed by Ogo, and returned to where the
automobile was standing.



CHAPTER XI

PRINCESS ILALAH


Leaning over the side of the machine, her chin resting upon her hands
at the edge of the car, was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.
Her form was tall and slender, her features exquisitely regular in
contour and her eyes deep brown and soft as velvet. Her fleecy white
tunic was without color save a broad band of green that formed a zigzag
pattern around its edge, and in her dark hair was twined a wreath of
white blossoms with delicate green leaves.

I noticed that her skin was almost white in the sunshine, the bronze
hue being so soft as to be scarcely observable. She had not the same
expression of sadness that seemed an inherited characteristic of her
people, but gazed upward with a faint smile that showed her dainty
white teeth, full at the face of Duncan Moit. When I appeared upon
the scene the inventor was sitting on the side of the car opposite
the girl and returning her frank regard with a look of wonder and
admiration.

A little back stood a silent group of young women, whose demeanor
indicated that they were the girl’s attendants. Their eyes, I noticed,
roved over the strange machine with eager curiosity.

Chief Ogo uttered an exclamation of impatience and strode quickly
forward.

“This is no place for you, my Princess!” he said, addressing the girl.
“You must retire at once to your rooms.”

She turned her head without altering her position and said in a calm,
sweet tone:

“Does my lord Ogo command Ilalah, then?”

“When the king is not present it is my duty to guard his women,” he
returned, brusquely.

With a contemptuous shrug as her only reply she looked toward Duncan
again, and as if continuing a conversation already begun, she said to
him in soft but awkward English:

“And shall it fly like a bird, too?”

“It can almost fly, but not quite, miss,” he answered.

“But it swims like a fish?”

“Yes, miss.”

“And runs like a deer?”

“Exactly, miss.”

“It would be to please me if it did that,” she remarked, very gently.

Duncan was puzzled for a moment; then his face brightened, and he said
eagerly:

“If you will get in, I will take you to ride--you and three of your
women.”

She did not hesitate at all, but turned and called three of the young
women by name, who came at once to her side.

Ogo the chief, who could not follow very well the English words, was
scowling fiercely, but had kept at a respectful distance since the girl
had repulsed him. Enjoying his discomfiture, I promptly opened the door
of the car and motioned the princess to enter. She ascended the steps
lightly and I pushed her attendants after her, for I scented a lark and
wanted to prevent Ogo from interfering.

I could see he was uncertain how to act, and the other bystanders were
equally undecided. But no sooner had I jumped in after the women than
Moit threw over the lever and started the engines, so promptly that the
machine leaped forward with a bound.

We circled the king’s palace three times, while the dainty princess
clung to the back of her seat and laughed delightedly and her women
huddled together in abject terror. Every inhabitant flocked to the
doors and windows to see us, nor could the natives control their
amazement at our rapid flight.

Then Duncan headed for the arched opening in the wall, and ignoring
Ogo’s wild shout to halt darted through and out upon the plains. The
chief instantly notched an arrow, but the princess sprang to her feet
and faced him from the rear of the car, so that he dared not shoot for
fear of wounding her.

Another moment and we were out of range; and now Duncan, inspired by a
natural desire to show his fair passenger what his invention could do,
increased the speed until the wind whistled past our ears and our eyes
were not quick enough to note the objects we passed.

I own that, being myself a sailor, I was a little frightened at this
terrific dash; but Ilalah laughed gleefully and cast a slim brown arm
around Duncan’s neck to steady herself as she gazed straight ahead and
enjoyed to the full the excitement of the wild ride.

There was no real danger, however. The meadows were as smooth as any
highway, and in an incredibly short period of time we were almost out
of sight of the village.

The thought now came to me that it would not be wise for us to offend
Nalig-Nad by carrying our prank too far, so I called to Duncan to
return. Rather reluctantly, I imagined, he described a great circle
and headed at last for the village, never abating his speed, however,
until we had flown through the arch and narrowly escaped knocking over
a dozen or so of the throng assembled in the enclosure.

Around the king’s palace we again sped, so as not to slacken our pace
too abruptly, and then the inventor brought his wonderful machine to a
halt in almost the same spot from whence we had started.

We now observed Nalig-Nad standing at the entrance to his dwelling with
Nux and Bryonia on either side of him. Now that he stood upright I saw
that he towered far above all his people, and was moreover straight as
a gun-barrel.

As soon as we halted I opened the door and assisted the frightened
attendants to reach the ground. Duncan, however, sprang out and gave
his hand to Ilalah, who needed no such support. Her cheeks glowed pink
through their rich tinting, her eyes sparkled brightly and there could
be no question of her delight in her recent novel experience.

As soon as her feet touched the ground she ran to the king and seized
his arm affectionately, crying aloud in her native tongue:

“Oh, my father, it is a miracle! The white man’s wagon is alive, and
more fleet than an arrow.”

“It is not the white man’s wagon,” said Bry, quickly. “It is our
wagon--the wagon of kings--and the white man is a slave whose duty it
is to make it go.”

“A slave? Oh, I am sorry!” said Ilalah, with disappointment.

“Why?” asked her father, putting an arm around her.

“Because the white man is beautiful as a spirit, and he is good and
kind,” answered the princess.

I glanced at the unconscious Duncan and nearly laughed outright. That
the thin-faced, stooping, dreamy-eyed inventor could by any stretch of
the imagination be called beautiful was as strange as it was amusing.
But the girl was doubtless in earnest, and being so rarely beautiful
herself she ought to be a judge.

The king was plainly annoyed at this frank praise of a hated white. He
presented his daughter, with much ceremony, to Nux and Bryonia, and she
touched their foreheads lightly with her finger-tips, and then her own
brow, in token of friendship.

“Will your Majesty take a ride in our magic travelling machine?” asked
Bry, with proud condescension.

“Not now,” said the king, drawing back thoughtfully.

Presently he walked close to the machine and eyed every part of it with
great intentness. But it was clear the thing puzzled him, as well it
might, and he shook his grizzled head as if he despaired of solving the
problem.

Then he escorted the blacks around his village, showing them the
various huts and storehouses for fruits and grain; and while they were
thus occupied the princess came nearer and leaned again upon the side
of the car, Moit and I being seated within it.

“If you are slaves,” she said, in a low voice, “I will befriend you. Do
not fear, but call on Ilalah if you meet trouble or enemies threaten
you.”

“Thank you, sweet Princess,” replied Duncan. “We may be slaves at
present, but soon we shall be free. We fear no danger.”

She nodded, brightly, as if the answer reassured her, and walked away
to enter the palace, her train of attendants following at a respectful
distance.

Ogo and his villagers stood several paces away, silent and motionless.
When the king returned with his “noble” guests he noticed the chief
and at once dismissed him, telling him to return to his village and be
vigilant until the visitors had departed from their dominions.

Ogo promptly departed, but not without a final glance of hatred at the
inventor and me. Then the king, with many expressions of friendship,
retired into his palace, and Bry and Nux were again permitted to join
us.

“Let us put up the top,” said I, “so that we may talk without being
overheard.”

We drew up the sections of the glass dome and fastened them in place,
while the natives looked on with renewed curiosity. Then, quite alone
although we could see anything that happened around us, we sat at our
ease and canvassed the situation.

“If you fellows had been with us,” said Moit, “I would have run away
with the princess and held her as hostage to secure our safe return to
the ship.”

“Would you have let her go then?” I enquired, mischievously.

He did not deign to reply.

“We could not abandon Bry and Nux, though,” I continued, more
seriously, “so there is nothing to regret.”

Bry seemed very thoughtful.

“We in bad box, Mars’ Sam,” he said in his broken English, which
contrasted so strongly with the ease with which he expressed himself in
his own tongue; “dat king is old fox, sure ’nough, an’ won’t let us go
’way from here to get de di’monds.”

“He seemed to treat you and Nux very politely, I thought.”

“All seem, Mars’ Sam; no be.”

“But isn’t he friendly? Didn’t he break bread with you?”

“Dat don’t ’mount to nuffin, seh. If a friend lie to him, he frien’ship
is broke.”

“Well, Bry; what then?”

“He know I lie to him.”

“What makes you think so?”

“He make de chalk mark.”

“But how could he know you were lying?”

“His people see our wreck ship, when we not see dem. Dey see from de
trees me cook de breakfas’ an’ Nux wait on de white folks. Dey see
Mars’ Dunc put de machine in de ribber, an’ we-all ride away on it.
Ev’yt’ing de king know befo’ we come an’ lie to him. He know we fin’ de
body in de canoe, an’ bury dead man in ribber. He know dead man wanted
di’monds, so he kill him. He think we want di’monds, too; so he kill us
if he can.”

This was indeed a gloomy prophecy. I had no doubt my man had put the
exact truth clearly before us. Our folly in imagining we could so
easily deceive these clever Indians was all too evident.

“I noticed that Nalig-Nad seemed suspicious and unbelieving,” I
remarked, after a period of silence during which we sat staring
despondently into one another’s faces. “He was telling himself all the
time, perhaps, that we were fools, and he had us in his power. Only
once was he at all disturbed, and that was when Nux threatened to
‘explode’ him and his people. He is not quite sure that we cannot do
that.”

“Nor am I,” said Duncan Moit, musingly.

“But they must know about fire-arms, and Maurice Kleppisch wrote in his
book that they despised them,” I observed.

“Fire-arms do not explode people. I did not refer to them,” Moit
returned. “But, tell me: if these natives are aware of our imposture,
what is the use of keeping up the game? Let us get hold of the girl,
make a dash for the diamonds, and then escape the best way we can.”

“The girl!” I exclaimed, as if surprised; “why should you want the girl
when, as you say, we defy the natives and no hostage will be required?”

Moit looked confused.

“She knows the country,” he said, after a moment, “and would make a
good guide.” Then he glanced up at me and added, more honestly: “She’s
very nice and pretty, Sam.”

“She’s a darling, old man; I agree with you there. But it strikes me
that to capture the princess and run away with her would be to stir
up no end of a rumpus. We cannot run the machine through the tangled
forests, so the only way to get back is by the river--the same way we
came. The king could assemble a thousand warriors to oppose us, and the
chances are he’d win out.”

“Well, what shall we do?” he asked; “fight it out?”

“Of course.”

“Got to fight, anyhow,” remarked Nux, philosophically.

“And we may as well keep up the fable of our being slaves to Nux and
Bry,” I added. “They may know a good deal by observation, but the
chances are they have guessed at a lot; so as long as we pretend to be
two black kings and two white slaves they haven’t any good excuse for
attacking us.”

During the afternoon several chiefs arrived at the village, coming in
one by one as if from different parts of the country. All had more or
less green in their robes, and they were a lot of remarkably shrewd
and imposing looking fellows. We decided that they had been summoned
by the king to a conference concerning us, for after pausing in the
enclosure to take accurate note of our appearance and study the queer
machine in which we were seated, they passed on into the royal dwelling.

Toward evening we prepared our supper, while many of the inhabitants
came to watch us through our glass case. Presently some one rapped
softly upon the glass, and going to the place I saw a woman standing
there and holding out a basket made of rushes. I opened a window near
and took in the basket.

“Ilalah sends it to the big white slave,” said the woman, in her native
dialect.

“The big white slave thanks Ilalah and sends her his love in return,”
I answered, laughing. But she nodded and turned away with a serious
countenance, as if the message was no more than she had expected.

I handed the basket to Duncan and gave him the message of the princess.
His face lighted up and he blushed like a school-boy, but made no
comment.

In the basket were some fresh eggs and a roasted fowl that resembled a
pheasant in size and flavor. We cooked the eggs over our alcohol stove
and blessed the girl for her thoughtfulness, for her contribution was a
grateful addition to our tinned foods.

As darkness came on we lighted our lamps and drew our curtains and
after a little further discussion as to our future actions we lay down
upon our blankets and prepared to pass a second peaceful night in the
heart of the enemy’s country.

It must have been about midnight when I was awakened by a strange
crackling sound. For a moment I lay still, wondering what it could be;
then I sprang up and opened one of the little windows.

Dense smoke was rising all around the automobile, and thrusting out my
head I saw a mass of flames underneath us. I drew back quickly, my eyes
smarting from the smoke, and closed the orifice.

The interior of the car was now dimly illumined by a dull red glow.
Moit was sitting up when I reached out to touch him.

“What is it?” he asked sleepily.

“They have built a great bonfire underneath us,” I answered. “Will it
be likely to do any damage?”

He shook his head.

“All the harm it could possibly do would be to melt the rubber of the
tires, and as they are vulcanized I do not believe any open fire would
be powerful enough,” he said. “But it may get rather close and warm for
us to sleep, so we will move on a bit.”

He reached for the lever and the machine started and slowly moved over
the blazing logs, bouncing us around somewhat but creating no other
discomfort. By raising the curtain in front Duncan could see when we
were at a safe distance from the fire, so he stopped about twenty yards
away and we prepared to lie down again.

“Some one ought to stand watch,” said the inventor; “for if we are
sound asleep while they are wide awake they may get into more dangerous
mischief than building bonfires.”

We cheerfully agreed to so necessary a precaution, and I was glad to
find myself selected for the first watch, because by that time I had
become as wakeful as an owl. When the others returned to their blankets
I settled myself comfortably on a seat and listened intently for the
slightest sound that might indicate danger.

Presently I heard another crackling, from which it appeared that our
unseen foes had dragged the blazing logs toward us and were making
another effort to burn our stout metal car. So I aroused Duncan, and
this time we moved around to the other side of the enclosure, halting
close to a wing of the king’s house. For while the car itself could not
burn, a good bed of coals under us would convert it into a frying-pan,
and we had no mind to sizzle and brown for the entertainment of the San
Blas.

Perhaps it was a fear of setting the royal palace on fire that deterred
our enemies from annoying us further; for after this second move we
were not molested and my comrades were allowed to finish their sleep in
comfort.



CHAPTER XII

WAR IS DECLARED


Next morning we made an unpleasant discovery.

When we brought the automobile around to the front of the house again
we found that during the night the natives had bricked up the entrance
arch to a height of some four feet above the ground, using blocks of
baked clay cemented together with some preparation that we were not
familiar with.

This action was intended to imprison the automobile within the wall and
prevent our running out on another excursion, as we had the day before.

At first sight it appeared that the device was successful. A small hut
had been torn down to provide the material, and the blocks were thick
and hard as rock.

Duncan frowned as he looked at the barrier, and remarked:

“Then it is to be war.”

“I knew that last night,” said I, “when they tried to smoke us out or
burn us up.”

“Let us give them a good volley from our revolvers,” he suggested,
angrily.

“Don’ do dat, seh,” said Bry, earnestly. “Wait first till dey shoot
arrows. We make b’lieve we frien’s as long as we can. It gives us time
to think what we do.”

“Evidently,” said I, “the council of chiefs has advised the king to
make short work of us. We have probably been condemned already, and all
that now holds them in check is their uncertainty of the best way to
vanquish us.”

“They are a little awed by our wonderful powers, I am sure,” declared
Moit.

“Quite probable,” I replied. “Is there any way to get over that wall,
Duncan?”

He did not answer at once, but looked reflectively at the archway.

“We can leave this place tomorrow morning,” said he, finally; “but I do
not see how we can accomplish the feat before then. Do you imagine we
can hold the natives at bay another day?”

“We can try,” I said as cheerfully as I could.

But the prospect was not an enticing one, and I began to bitterly
regret our folly in ever entering a place wherein we could be so easily
imprisoned.

“If we get out,” said Nux, “then we mus’ fight our way all time. If we
bold an’ quick, we get away all right.”

Nux didn’t speak often, but his judgment was pretty good.

“I want those diamonds,” I said; “and I’m going to have them. If we go
back empty-handed we have made a failure of the expedition.”

“To let a lot of ignorant natives triumph over the greatest invention
of the century is absurd--it’s fairly criminal!” added Moit. “I’m not
afraid to tackle the whole San Blas nation in this car.”

“Too bad you didn’t make it a man-o’-war,” said I, with a laugh. “If we
had a gattling gun aboard we’d have everything our own way.”

We raised the curtains, and while Bry openly got the breakfast ready I
took careful note of our surroundings.

Some twenty warriors, armed with spears and bows, were in sight,
lounging in doorways or leaning silently against the various buildings.
They were watching us closely, no doubt; but there was no open attempt
to attack us as yet.

After a brief conference we decided not to put down the top again,
as the San Blas might take a notion to shoot at any time, and their
arrows, while they might not penetrate the netted glass of the dome,
might mow us down quickly if we were exposed to them.

But I did not like to acknowledge that we were afraid, either; so I let
down the steps and opened the rear door, and Bry and Nux and myself all
descended to the ground and grouped ourselves carelessly near the car,
leaving Moit alone in the machine.

As soon as we appeared the natives began to come nearer, in a curious
observant crowd. Then one who was doubtless a chief came forward and
said that the King Nalig-Nad desired his brother kings to attend him
at once in his palace.

“In our country,” answered Bry, gravely, “it is the custom when kings
meet to honor each other in turn. Yesterday we waited upon Nalig-Nad;
today he must wait upon us.”

“But he is the great King of the Techlas!” protested the other, as if
amazed that the command could be disregarded.

“And we are the mighty Kings of Tayakoo, which numbers more people than
the leaves of the forest,” replied Bry, drawing himself up proudly and
frowning upon the other. “Take your master our answer, slave!”

The fellow obeyed; but the king was in no hurry to come.

His daughter arrived, though, fresh and beautiful as a rose in bloom,
and the natives made way for her as she pressed through the group.

“A greeting to my friends!” she said in English, and peered into the
car in search of Duncan Moit.

“Enter, Princess,” said I, holding open the door.

She accepted the invitation frankly, and Duncan took her hand and
pressed it to his lips as an old time courtier would have done. She
was very sweet and lovely, this Indian maiden, and I did not blame the
inventor for worshipping her as he evidently did.

“You cannot today with me run away,” she said, laughing and pointing a
slender finger at the barricade.

“You are wrong, Ilalah,” answered Moit, smiling into her fair face.
“When I wish to go the walls cannot stop me. But we would like to stay
another day in your village.”

She became serious at this. Thinking someone in the crowd might
understand the English language as well as she did, I motioned to Nux
and Bry to enter the car, and I followed them and closed the door.

“Listen, then,” she said, seeming to be glad of the seclusion. “The
king, who is my father, is angry because you have told lies to him.
There was a council of the chiefs last night. The white men are to be
captured and shot with arrows. The magic machine that is a bird and
a fish will be destroyed, and the two black kings may then go free
because they speak in our tongue, and are therefore brothers.”

“That is pleasant news,” said Duncan. “When will they do this?”

“To-day, if they can. I was with them at the council. I told them that
I loved you, and would make you the mate of the Princess Ilalah. But to
that my father would not agree. He says you must die.”

Duncan took her hand and kissed it again, very gratefully and with a
look of joy and animation upon his face that fairly transformed it.

“Did not this make you afraid?” I asked the girl, surprised that she
seemed to accept her lover’s cruel fate so lightly.

“Oh, no,” she replied. “For the white Chief I love is greater than the
San Blas. He will save himself and fly, and I will go with him.”

“Will you?” cried Duncan, earnestly.

“And why not?” she asked, frankly. “Will the doe leave the stag she has
chosen? Could I be happy or content without my white chief?”

“Here is a case of love at first sight, with a vengeance!” I said,
greatly amused at the girl’s bold declaration. But Moit frowned upon me
angrily and his eyes flashed.

“Shut up, you pig!” he growled, and suddenly I felt ashamed of myself
for not better appreciating the maiden’s brave honesty.

“Is there no way, Ilalah, to make your father wait until to-morrow
morning?” he asked, turning again toward the girl.

“Why should he wait?” she returned.

“I have summoned mighty powers to my assistance,” declared Moit, after
a moment’s thought, “and it would please me to await their arrival. It
will make me stronger; but I am not afraid if your people begin the war
at any time.”

“And to-morrow morning?”

“Then, at daybreak, you must come to me, and we will go away and leave
your people.”

“That is good,” she said, joyfully. “I will try to make my father wait,
and to-morrow I will give up my power to go with my white chief.”

“What is your power, Ilalah?” asked Duncan, puzzled by the expression.

“After my father, I am the ruler of the Techlas, which you call the San
Blas. When the king dies, I am queen, with power of life and death over
my people. But the king my father hates white men, who may not live if
they enter his kingdom, so I must go with my mate to another country
where the king does not hate him, or to his own country, where he will
rule.”

This willing abdication of a throne for the sake of a man whom she
had known only for a day aroused my wonder. But I could not fail to
admire the girl’s courage, and indeed to rule the San Blas was no great
privilege, in my estimation.

“If your father makes war to-day,” said Duncan, “fly here to me at
once. Then, if I escape, we will never more be separated.”

She promised readily to do this, and leaving the car rejoined her women
and moved away to enter the palace.

I noticed that while she had abandoned all--her life, her prejudices
and her kingdom--for her white lover, Duncan Moit had promised nothing
in return except that they would not be separated. The thought made me
sorry for the poor maid; but it was none of my affair.

Bye and bye the king came out, followed by his chief men and
counsellors, in an imposing group.

As he approached, Bry and Nux again descended from the car and stood
by the steps, and I followed and took up a position just behind them.
Duncan, as before, remained inside. We were all prepared to act quickly
in an emergency, but our plan was to secure a truce in some way until
another morning. I could not understand why Moit desired the delay so
earnestly, but was willing to assist him to obtain it.

The king was plainly annoyed at the refusal of the black kings to come
into his dwelling. His face still wore its calm expression but his eyes
snapped ominously.

“My brothers,” said he, “we do not like your white slaves. Years ago
the whites wronged the Techlas most cruelly, and the law of our nation
is to put all white people to death who enter our country. I am sorry
to take away your property, but the slaves must die.”

“My brother,” answered Bry, “see how much more we love you than you
love us. We could kill you in a flash, even where you stand. We could
destroy your village and all your people. If we so desired, there would
be no more a nation of Techlas on the face of the earth. But we let you
live, because we have called you our friend. To break that friendship
would be to destroy yourselves. I beg you will not again ask us to give
up our slaves to your cruel and unjust vengeance.”

It did me much good to watch Nalig-Nad’s face. He did not like to risk
defying the unknown power of the strangers, but if his own authority
was thus ignored he would hereafter be a king only in name. Some of his
chiefs were glancing at one another significantly, while others were
clearly uneasy at our domineering attitude.

I stood with my hands in the pockets of my jacket and a grin of
amusement on my face when the king’s roving eyes suddenly observed me.
I suppose his forbearance could not withstand the white boy’s audacity,
for he raised his hand and at the signal a coil of rope shot through
the air and a loop settled over my body and clutched me firmly around
the chest.

Instantly I was jerked from my feet and dragged into the group of
warriors, all of whom, as if the action had been preconcerted, sprang
forward with their spears levelled threateningly at Nux and Bry.



CHAPTER XIII

WE LOOK INTO DANGER’S EYES


The capture was so sudden that it took me a moment to collect my wits.
Although bruised and bumped to some extent I had not been much hurt,
and even before I was jerked to my feet I cried aloud to my men:

“Get into the car and watch out! Don’t mind me. Take care of
yourselves.”

They obeyed promptly, but none too soon; for scarcely had they closed
the door when a shower of arrows rattled against the dome. All
subterfuge and arbitration was now at an end; they had at last “shot
the arrow” and we might expect in the future nothing but implacable
hatred.

My captors--two stalwart chiefs--having raised me to my feet now held
me firmly secured by means of the thong lasso which still encircled my
body. The coils pinioned my elbows so closely to my sides that I could
not even withdraw my hands from the pockets of my jacket.

They had begun to hurry me toward the king’s house when a roar of
dismay broke from the group we had just left. I turned half around
and saw that the automobile had made a short circle and was plunging
straight at the king and his warriors. Some were wise enough to scatter
from its path, but the more dignified hesitated and were bowled over
like a company of wooden soldiers and tossed in every direction.

The lightness of the machine prevented many serious casualties,
however, and while Duncan chased them here and there, managing the huge
automobile with consummate skill, the warriors gathered up the stunned
and maimed and, dodging the onslaught as nimbly as they could, fled
into the palace and houses where the terrible monster could not follow
them.

Forgetting for the moment my own unenviable plight, I laughed heartily
at the exhibition until the two chiefs pushed me roughly toward a
doorway and so along the narrow hall and into the big courtyard.

Here the chiefs began to gather, muttering angrily at their recent
discomfiture and casting upon me glances of such malignity that they
had the effect of sobering me effectually.

The king came limping in and dropped upon his bench with a brow like a
thundercloud. He had not been much injured, but his royal dignity had
suffered a severe blow.

While one man held the loose end of my lasso and guarded me, the others
all ranged themselves back of the king, who said, with what appeared to
me to be unseemly haste:

“What shall be the fate of the white stranger?”

“Death!” they cried, in a fierce chorus.

“And at once,” added Nalig-Nad. He glanced around him. “To you,
Tetch-Tsa, I allow the privilege.”

A stout young fellow with considerable of the royal green in his robe
stepped forward with a grim smile and drew his long knife. As I looked
at him I clutched with my fingers the handles of the two self-cocking
revolvers that were fortunately in my jacket pockets, and which I had
been secretly holding when the coil of the lasso settled over me. I
was not able to move my arms because of the thong that pressed them
against my body, but I pointed the barrel of the right hand weapon as
accurately as I could toward my proposed executioner. When he was but a
few paces off I blazed away at him.

At the first shot he paused, as if astonished; at the second he threw
up his arms and tumbled over.

Instantly I whirled and fired at the man behind, and my position was
so awkward and my aim so uncertain that I emptied the chambers of the
revolver in quick succession to make sure one bullet would take effect.

He staggered back and released the thong, and even while I loosed the
slip-noose I ran toward the hall and made my best speed for the door.

The thong tripped me as it dropped to my feet and I fell just in time
to escape a spear that was hurled after me. Another, as I jumped up,
slipped past my right ear, and a third slashed my hip. But I fled for
dear life and in a jiffy was free of the house and heading across the
enclosure toward the automobile.

They saw me coming and opened the door for me to tumble in. A spear
crashed into the netted glass just as the door swung into place again,
hurled with such force that its point stuck half way into the car and
taught us we were not so secure within the dome as we had imagined.
But now I lay panting upon the floor while Bryonia emptied a couple of
revolvers into the crowd of my pursuers and brought them to an abrupt
halt.

“Getting a little warm,” remarked Duncan Moit, calmly. “I’m not sure,
Sam, whether we can stick out the day or not.”

“Glad you escape, Mars’ Sam!” said Nux, bending over me. “Bad hurt?”

“I guess not,” I answered, still breathing hard.

The black unfastened my clothing, which was saturated with blood just
over the left hip. The spear had cut an angry looking gash in the
flesh as a passing reminder of what it might do if better aimed, but
fortunately the wound was not deep and on account of its location would
cause me little trouble beyond a slight stiffness. Nux began to dress
it as well as he could by tearing up a shirt for bandages and applying
plenty of sticking plaster from the supply we had brought with us. I
thought he made a very good job of it, being somewhat skilled in the
treatment of flesh wounds myself.

I could imagine how furious the San Blas would be at my escape. They
did not venture out into the open space after these two repulses, but
hung around the doorways in an alert and vigilant way, being very sure
that we could not get out of the enclosure and would be unable to defy
them for any length of time.

Duncan rather expected the princess to appear, as she had promised in
case of open warfare; but either she did not consider the emergency had
yet arisen or she had been prevented from acting as she wished.

“I won’t go without her, though,” he muttered, decidedly.

“Tell me,” said I, “what is your object in wanting to wait until
to-morrow before escaping from here? I can’t see that another day will
bring any better condition to our captivity, and it’s a settled fact
that we can’t get the machine out of this enclosure, in any event.”

“Perhaps I ought to explain,” he began, and then paused for a long
time, as if absorbed in deep thought.

“Take your time, Duncan,” I remarked, impatiently.

He did not notice the sarcasm, but my voice aroused him and he said:

“Perhaps you remember that I once told you I used a glycerine explosive
of my own invention to prime the engines of this automobile. In
starting, a tiny drop is fed into the cylinders to procure the air
compression which furnishes the motive power.”

“I remember; go ahead.”

“The feeding chamber is supplied with enough of this explosive to
run the machine a year or more,” he continued; “but when I made it,
in my own laboratory, the apparatus required was so complicated and
expensive that I decided to manufacture an extra supply, to use in
other machines which I intended to build later.”

“I see.”

“This reserve supply, in a powerfully concentrated form, I now have
with me.”

“Oh! Isn’t it dangerous, old man?” I asked, glancing around uneasily.

“Properly applied it might blow all Panama to atoms,” he returned
vaguely. “But it cannot be accidently exploded while it remains in the
place I have provided for it.”

“Where is that?”

He reached down and removed a square trap in the floor of the car.
Leaning over, I discovered a small cylindrical jar, having the capacity
of about a quart, which was suspended at one side of the driving shaft.
The straps that held it in place allowed it to swing in any direction
with the movement of the machine, but any sudden jar was impossible.

“Is it like nitro-glycerine?” I asked, eyeing the cylinder with an
involuntary shudder.

“Not at all,” replied the inventor, calmly closing the trap again. “It
is a much more powerful explosive, in its concentrated form, but may
be diluted to any strength desired. The mechanism I have invented for
its application renders it perfectly harmless when exploded in atomic
quantities in the engines, although ordinary concussion would, as in
the case of nitro-glycerine, explode the condensed contents of the
extra cylinder.”

“I think I now comprehend your idea,” said I.

“Yes, it is very simple. Under cover of darkness I propose to bore a
hole in that barrier and fill it with my explosive. In the morning
I will blow up the wall and in the excitement that follows run the
machine through the gap and escape.”

“Very good!” I exclaimed, joyfully. “Then all we need do is to keep
these Indians at bay until we have an opportunity to do the job.”

“Otherwise,” said he, musingly, “I would have to throw some of the
explosive at the wall, and that attempt might prove as dangerous for us
as are the fierce San Blas themselves.”

The Indians seemed for some time unwilling to resume the attack. It was
the middle of the afternoon before the king sent a messenger from his
council chamber to say that all friendship had now ceased and we must
consider ourselves completely in his power. If the Senator Nux and the
Honorable Bryonia would leave the village alone and on foot, Nalig-Nad
would guarantee their safe conduct to the border, and thus they would
be permitted to escape. The white men and their devil-machine were
alike doomed, and could in no way survive the vengeance of the Techlas.
And, unless Nux and Bry abandoned us at once, they must perish with us.

This proposition enabled us to gain the desired respite. Bryonia
pretended to consult with Nux and then answered the messenger that they
would decide the matter at daybreak the following morning. At that time
the final answer of the two kings would be given to Nalig-Nad, and they
intimated that they might possibly decide to abandon the miserable
whites and save their own skins.

Whether this proposition was satisfactory or not to the king and his
council did not appear; but the San Blas evidently decided to wait, for
they did not molest us again that day.

As night approached we were somewhat worried lest they should resume
the attempts to burn us; but they must have been satisfied of the
impossibility of such a proceeding. No bonfires were lighted, which
suited our plans admirably.

The moon, however, was brilliant during the first part of the night,
and by its rays we could see that watchers were maintained in several
places, so we were unable to do more than restrain our impatience as
best we might. Moit raised the trap and carefully removed the cylinder
that contained the explosive from its suspended position, placing it on
the seat beside him. The very sight of the thing filled me with terror,
and both Nux and Bry moved as far away from it as possible--as if that
would do any good if it went off. But the inventor had handled it so
often that he did not fear it as we did, and taking an empty glass
bottle that was about as big around as your little finger he unscrewed
the cap of the cylinder and calmly filled the bottle from its contents.

I watched him as if entranced, and thought the liquid resembled castor
oil in color and consistency. When the bottle was filled Duncan corked
it and put it in his inside pocket, afterward replacing the cylinder
and strapping it into place.

And now he rummaged in his box of tools and took out a brace and a long
bit that was about a half inch in diameter. He also picked out a piece
of red chalk and placed that too in his pocket.

We were all ready, now, but had to wait, although the strain began to
tell upon our nerves.

Finally the moon passed behind the king’s house and sank so low that
the building cast a black shadow over the enclosure, throwing both the
automobile and the barricaded archway into intense darkness.

“In an hour more day will break,” whispered Duncan in an anxious voice.
“We must work quickly now, or we are lost.”

He started the machine moving so slowly that it merely crept toward the
wall. The watchers had doubtless retired, for we heard no sound of
movement in the sleeping village.

When we had approached quite near to the barricade Moit softly opened
the rear door, left the car, and crawled on hands and knees to the
wall. We showed no light at all, and from the automobile I lost sight
of our friend altogether.

But presently I could hear the faint sound of the augur as it ground
its way into the clay wall. Duncan started at about the middle of the
barricade, but bored his hole slanting downward, so that the explosive
would run into the cavity without danger of escaping. It did not take
him more than a few minutes to complete his task, and before long he
was back in the car again, holding the empty bottle before our faces
with a smile of satisfaction.

And now the machine crept inch by inch back to its former position, and
we were ready for the day to break.



CHAPTER XIV

WE ASTONISH OUR FOES


Slowly the sun arose, and as its first rays lighted the cloudless sky
Ilalah came gliding from the palace and sprang lightly up the steps
that Duncan had let down in order to receive her. Once she was in the
car we all breathed easier, and the inventor especially showed his
content and exultation.

“Now let them come!” he cried; and each of us felt that the sooner the
suspense was over the better we would like it.

King Nalig-Nad gave us plenty of time, though, and we had breakfast
while we waited, the princess accepting her share with gracious
enjoyment of a meal quite novel in her experience. She was so
unaffected and so charming in her manner that already we began to
consider her one of us.

At last the king and his chiefs emerged, and we could see by their
stern faces that a climax in our adventure had arrived.

Moit was ready for them. He backed the machine around until it was
facing the barricade and as far removed from it as the enclosure would
allow. He had made Ilalah crouch low on the floor of the car, so that
her people would not discover her presence.

A spokesman advanced from the group of warriors and demanded Bryonia’s
promised answer.

I opened a side window and said, boldly and in a loud voice, that we
had played with the San Blas people long enough.

“You annoy us with your foolish demands,” I added, “and we cannot
bother to remain with you longer. Had you been friendly, we would have
favored you; but you are silly children, and so we leave you.”

As I finished speaking Duncan opened the window in front of his
steering wheel and aimed a shot from his revolver at the red chalk mark
on the barricade that marked the location of the explosive. There was
no result, so he fired again, and still again.

The natives, at first furious at my insults, now paused to wonder what
the big white slave was shooting at, and I saw that the inventor’s
nervousness or lack of marksmanship was likely soon to plunge us into a
deal of trouble. Leaping to his side I pushed him away and took careful
aim with my own revolver.

A crash that seemed to rend the very air followed. The machine was
hurled backward against the king’s palace, from which a rain of mud
bricks and bits of wood rattled down upon us, while all the open space
of the enclosure was filled with falling debris.

Shrieks of terror and pain followed, while we, who had all been dumped
in a heap on the floor of the car, scrambled up and took note of what
had happened. The wall had vanished, and only a ragged depression in
the earth remained to mark the place where the barricade had lately
stood.

None of us was injured, fortunately, and as soon as Duncan had assured
himself that Ilalah was alive and unhurt he sprang to the lever and
the machine bounded forward and skimmed light as a feather over the
littered ground.

I tried to look out and wave an adieu to King Nalig-Nad; but we were
off like a shot across the meadows and all I could see was a mass of
excited natives rushing here and there in wild confusion.

After fifteen minutes of this terrific speed Moit moderated our pace,
for we were miles from the village and pursuit was impossible.

“Where now?” he asked, his voice seeming to indicate that he cared not
a rap, since we had managed to escape with the beautiful princess.

“It will be well for us to find that valley of diamonds as soon as
possible,” said I, “and secure our plunder before the king can raise
the alarm and head us off.”

“All right; where is it?” he demanded.

I produced the map and pointed out the location of the valley, which
appeared to lie in a fork of the river, far to the south.

“We are now somewhere to the east of the king’s village,” I observed.
“The hilly ground ahead of us rises to small mountains between here
and the sea; but if we turn south there is open country clear through
to the forest-clad mountain range, and when we reach the forest we can
follow its edge until we come to the diamond valley.”

“That is clear enough,” replied Moit, looking over my shoulder.

So we turned south, and presently came to a stream with such steep
banks that we could not cross it. The map had not prepared us for
this, so we kept to the eastward, endeavoring to find a crossing,
until we reached a marsh, and found our wheels sinking into a soft and
treacherous bog.

We backed out just in time to avoid serious trouble, and had to go
north again, skirting the marsh slowly and with care until we were once
more in the hills we had recently left.

This was decidedly annoying, and we appealed to Ilalah.

“Is there not a path from here to the mountains?” I asked.

“Oh, yes;” she said; “there must be many paths.”

“Do you know them?”

“Not to go to them from here. Often I and my women cross to the great
forest from our village; but we seldom come here at all.”

“I don’t blame you,” growled Moit. “This part of your country isn’t
worth photographing. What shall we do now, Sam?”

“I don’t like to go back,” said I, studying the map with a suspicion
that its maker had never been in this section at all. “But we might try
these hills. If we could find a path over them it might lead us around
the marsh, and then we would be all right.”

“How do you know? There may be more marshes,” he suggested.

“It may be. This is all guess work, it seems--map and all. But if we
reached the ocean we could run along the beach at low tide, and make
good time.”

“It is certainly worth a trial,” he said; “and if we fail we cannot be
any worse off than we are at present.”

I doubted that the automobile would be much of a hill-climber, because
until then I had a notion that the heaviest machines, with the most
power to move their weight, could climb the easiest. But a few minutes
removed that erratic idea from my mind. We skimmed up the slopes as
lightly as an ibex, and went down them much more safely than a heavy
machine under the strain of brakes could do. And so, winding around
this hill and over that, we kept on at an easy pace until the breath of
salt air could be felt and we knew we were close to the sea.

But now the hills became rocky and more difficult. One good sized mound
stood right in our way, and after a close inspection of it through our
telescope (for Moit seemed to have forgotten nothing in fitting up his
automobile) we saw a broad ledge running around its right side which
promised a way through to the coast.

By now it was after midday, for much time had been consumed in seeking
a path through this wild and unknown country. So we halted for
luncheon, and as we ate I said to Ilalah:

“How did you learn to speak such fine English, Princess, when your
people have always hated the whites and tried to drive them from your
dominions?”

“The king my father,” she answered, “is very wise. From his captives he
has learned that half of the people of the world speak English. So he
thought it would be best for some of the Techlas to speak English too.
One day our watchers brought to the king a man and a woman, who were of
the English but could speak a little Spanish too. My father promised
them life if they would teach us to speak the English tongue. So the
man taught the king and his noble chiefs each day in the courtyard of
the palace, while the woman taught the foreign tongue to me and my
favorite attendants in our own rooms. It was a long task and a hard
one, but after many moons some of us could speak and understand the
English well enough.”

“Did you also learn to read?” Duncan asked.

“No. My father says written words are lies, for when you read the signs
you cannot read the speaker’s eyes and know that he speaks truth. The
Techlas do not love the sign language, and will not have it.”

“That is foolish,” I said. “If you cannot read, you cannot know what is
going on in the world.”

“And that is what we do not wish to know,” she answered, smiling. “My
people say that to hear of other people is to make unhappiness. We live
only our own lives; so why should we care what happens in other lives
in other countries?”

It struck me there was some sense in that, if their own lives were
sufficient to content them.

“What became of the white man and woman who taught you?” asked Duncan.

“After we had learned to speak their tongue my father killed them,” she
answered simply.

“Then he, too, lied,” I said.

“Not so. He promised them life if they would teach us, and they lived.
But he could not promise them life for all time, because all life is
uncertain.”

“So he killed them?”

“Yes; having no longer need for them. They were white, and the Techlas
hate all white people.”

“Because of their color?”

“Because they once robbed our people and drove them from their homes.”

“Listen, Ilalah,” said Duncan, earnestly; “the white race that wronged
your people was the Spanish race; but there are many whites that are
not Spaniards--any more than are all Indians Techlas. So you have no
reason to hate us, who are not Spanish and have never wronged you.”

“I do not hate you,” she answered, taking his hand and pressing it
fondly. “I love you.”

“But your people do.”

She grew serious.

“If I should come to rule my people,” was the slow answer, “I would
command them to hate and to kill only the Spaniards. But I will never
rule them, because I shall go with you to your own country, where you
are the king, and help you to rule your subjects.”

I laughed at the idea, although the sentiment was so pretty. Duncan
frowned at me. He did not tell the Indian maid that he was merely
a bankrupt inventor, with no subjects and no wealth aside from the
possession of his really wonderful machine. Why should he?

We now moved on again, following the natural ledge of rock that wound
around the hill. The precipice beside it grew deeper and more dangerous
as we advanced, and the ledge narrowed until often there was barely
room for the machine to pass around a projection. Also the ledge
sometimes inclined toward the chasm at an awkward angle that forced us
to crawl cautiously along and rely upon the rubber tires to keep us
from slipping off the rock entirely.

Not knowing from one moment to another what the windings of the
ledge were about to disclose, it is obvious that our journey was
as interesting as it was exciting. But we kept moving with dogged
perseverance until, with the end almost in sight, we were brought to an
abrupt halt by the total disappearance of the ledge itself.

With a precipice in front and one at our right, while a steep wall of
rock towered at our left, we had no trouble to decide that we must go
back by the same nerve-racking path we had come. This was the more
embarrassing that we had no room to turn around, and it was no easy
task to back the machine over the dangerous places.

Duncan made us all get out and walk. The way he steered the machine
along its crab-like course filled me with wonder and admiration, and I
am sure Ilalah considered him little less than a god.

We had dropped the dome top to bring the weight closer to the ground,
and if the automobile chanced to slip over the edge Duncan would have a
good show to leap out and save himself. Yet so dear was the machine to
its inventor that I feel positive that Moit, at any time before Ilalah
had enslaved him with her sweet face, would have gone to his death
in it without hesitation rather than live to see it demolished. But
the pretty Indian princess now possessed his heart as the automobile
had possessed his brain, and with such a divided allegiance I looked
to see him jump in case anything went wrong. But nothing did, and so
the occasion to test the strength of his affection for the girl or
the machine did not transpire. Knowing so accurately the capabilities
of his marvelous invention, he was able to guide it safely until we
reached once more the base of the hill and came upon level ground.

Then we all breathed again, and entering the car held a council to
discuss our future actions.

“Isn’t the Atlantic coast inhabited by your people?” I asked Ilalah.

“Only in the northern part, where the cocoanut groves are,” she
answered.

Then, as we questioned her, she told us some interesting things about
her people. Off the coast were several islands, also inhabited by the
San Blas Tribes, the chiefs of which all paid tribute to Nalig-Nad.
These tribes hated the whites even more venomously than did the
dwellers on the mainland, although they traded constantly with many
ships that came to them for their cocoanuts, which are considered the
finest grown in all the world.

She said these ships were from many countries, but their crews were
never permitted to sleep a night upon the shore and merely landed to
make their trades with the natives. The San Blas people built great
pyramids of cocoanuts close to the landing places, and when a ship
arrived the natives retired and allowed the traders to come ashore and
examine and count the supply of cocoanuts. When they had estimated the
worth of the offering thus made them by the Indians they placed beside
the pyramids such articles as they were willing to exchange, including
beads, clothing, tools and liquors. Then they all retired to their
ship and allowed the Indians to advance and look over the goods. If
they were satisfied it was a fair exchange they took the plunder away
and permitted the traders to load the cocoanuts upon their vessel; but
if the San Blas considered the offer too little, they left the goods
untouched and again retired. Then the traders must add more, until the
natives were content, before they undertook to remove a single cocoanut.

No other form of communication ever took place between these two
inimical races, and the San Blas island tribes were so rich in
cocoanut groves and so shrewd in trading, that they were the most
prosperous subjects the king could boast.

Smaller groves were also on the mainland, south of the marsh country,
and traders reached that district by entering a bay and the mouths of
one or two rivers. But all trading was there conducted in the same
manner as upon the islands, and it was only in the north, where we
had entered, that the whites came occasionally to trade for skins,
tortoise-shell and grains from the farm lands, and with these parties
Nalig-Nad personally conducted the trading and was thus able to
jealously guard his border from invasion.

I would like to say, at this point in my digression from my story, that
many travellers who have had no personal experience with the San Blas
Indians have been induced by the unreliable gossip of the traders to
write preposterous tales concerning the manners and customs of these
interesting natives. As a rule such descriptions are very misleading,
and I am quite positive no white men before our visit to the Techlas
have ever had the same opportunities to observe their country and
their customs as we had.

So much time had been lost in our futile journeying and in discussing
our plans with the princess, that the sun was now low in the horizon.
It was discouraging to reflect that in all that long day we had
accomplished nothing at all since our escape from the village.

To endeavor to cross an unknown country at night would be folly; so
there was nothing to do but find a convenient place to camp until
morning.

“Our safest plan,” I counselled, “is to return to the river the way
we came, and paddle upstream as far as possible. Then we can take to
the bank and still follow the stream to the valley of diamonds. Our
departed friend, the German, was not a success as a map-maker; but we
know that he followed the river in the way I propose, so that part
of the country is probably depicted on the map with a fair degree of
accuracy.”

“This plan will oblige us to pass the villages again,” objected Moit,
“and that will mean a fight.”

“Not necessarily. The country is level there, and we can dash by at
full speed, before they know we are coming.”

It really seemed the only practical thing to do; so we decided to get
as near to the king’s village as possible without danger of being
observed, and then wait until daylight to regain the river.

I kept watch through the telescope as we bowled along over the smooth
meadows; and when, just at dusk, I sighted the distant enclosure, we
came to a halt.

While Nux and Bry cooked us a good supper the rest of us got out of
the car and strolled to the brook to stretch our limbs. I felt that
“three was a crowd” and let Duncan and Ilalah walk by themselves. They
wandered so far and were so deeply occupied by their own interesting
conversation that when the meal was ready I jumped into the machine and
ran it over to where they were sitting side by side on the bank of the
brook.

It was easy enough to do, for I had watched Moit very carefully; but
the inventor was not at all pleased with what he called my “infernal
meddling,” and told me to keep my hands off his property thereafter.

When darkness came on and it was time to sleep I proposed rigging up a
little room in the front of the car for Ilalah by suspending blankets
from the dome to the floor. In this way the princess would have all
the seclusion of a private apartment. But Duncan protested that he had
no intention of sleeping while we were in so dangerous a position, and
Ilalah very promptly decided to sit up with him and keep him company.

So there was no need for the rest of us to do more than lie down and go
to sleep, an undertaking which we accomplished with much satisfaction.



CHAPTER XV

WE SEARCH FOR THE VALLEY


At the first sign of light we were off, making to the north until we
had nearly reached the edge of the wood and then following its curves
over the plains toward the west.

In this way we managed to gain a considerable distance northward from
the villages, and although we passed some scattered houses and a few
groups of farmers who were early in the fields, there was no attempt
made to interfere with our progress.

But when we came to the bank of the main river--making the same point
where we had first landed--we found a different condition of affairs
confronting us. Fully a hundred warriors were gathered on the bank,
armed and prepared to receive us. I saw them through our telescope
before they could see us, and we halted at once for a conference.

Nalig-Nad had evidently conceived the notion that in order to leave his
country we would be forced to pass down the river at this point, and
therefore it was here that he had determined to assemble his forces in
order to stop us. He was right in his conclusion that we needed the
waterway to carry us to our ship, but he was wrong in thinking that we
were ready to escape.

The approach to the river was somewhat confined, because the forest
was on one side of us and the high-banked stream entered the river on
the other side, narrowing the plain whereon we could travel to rather
a small space. It would be impossible to proceed without coming into
contact with the band of natives ahead of us.

These warriors seemed intent on watching the river, for they had no
idea that we had altered our course and would come up behind them.
Indeed, we afterward learned that there was a good path around the
base of the hills to the eastward, and had we not been so ignorant of
the country we need not have turned back at all. But here we were,
confronting a grave emergency, and it puzzled us for a time to know
what to do.

Duncan solved the difficulty in his own peculiar way.

“Isn’t that a house over there?” he asked, pointing to a roof that
showed above a small hollow.

“It is sure to be,” I answered, and the princess, who was quite at home
in this section, said we were right.

Without more ado Duncan ran the machine over to the house, passing
a man who stood in a field staring at us. As we drew up at the door
of the primitive hut and Moit leaped out of the car, a woman sprang
away like a startled deer carrying a child in her arms and screaming
lustily, although Ilalah called to her not to be afraid.

Duncan entered the house and quickly returned bearing a bow and a sheaf
of arrows in a leathern quiver. His face wore a smile of satisfaction,
but as he rejoined us and started the car again I said to him:

“Do you imagine we can shoot better with that outfit than with our
revolvers?”

“Yes; one shot will be worth a volley from a regiment,” he returned.

I own I was puzzled, but he graciously allowed me to run the car,
although at a moderate speed, so that I had little chance to observe
his immediate actions. I heard him lift the trap in the door, though,
and then, after a period of silence, he touched my arm and told me to
stop.

We could now observe with the naked eye the group of Indians on the
river bank.

“Who can make the best shot with this contrivance?” asked Moit.

I turned around and understood his plan at once. To one of the arrows
he had firmly tied the slender glass bottle, and I could see that it
had again been filed with the dreadful explosive.

“I shoot,” said Nux, nodding his head gravely.

Both of the blacks shot splendidly with the bow, I remembered, for it
was their native weapon. But Nux was the better marksman of the two.

Duncan handed the arrow and the bow to him and opened a side window.

“When we get a hundred yards away from the river,” said he, “shoot the
arrow among the San Blas; but try, if you can, to strike one of those
trees growing by the bank. Can you shoot so far, and shoot straight?”

Nux nodded confidently, but held the arrow with great caution and was
evidently afraid of it.

The machine started again and rolled over the thick turf at a great
rate of speed, heading directly toward the river. Soon one of the
Indians discovered us, and gave a cry that turned every face in our
direction.

“Now!” shouted Moit, without slackening speed.

Nux drew the bow and the arrow sped swiftly on its mission. The aim was
good, but the bottle so weighted the shaft that I feared for a moment
it would miss the mark. It flew over the heads of the group, in a
graceful curve, and struck a root at the very base of the tree.

The explosion was instantaneous. The tree itself flew skyward and the
air was filled with earth, wood and Indians. I do not know how many of
the San Blas suffered in this catastrophe, but those who were left were
thrown into such dire confusion that they fled in all directions and
many leaped into the river in an endeavor to escape.

Meantime the machine never abated its speed for an instant, although
the ears of all on board were ringing with the shock. We knew that we
must take advantage of our opportunity and the confusion of our foes,
so on we drove until we reached the low, shelving bank, and the next
moment plunged unhesitatingly into the water.

Duncan sprung the paddles on the rims and turned the wheel to guide
our course up stream. Before the Indians could recover we were a good
distance away and had turned the first bend so that we were hidden from
their view.

“Get out the revolvers and stand ready,” said Moit. “They will probably
follow, and we cannot tell how long the water will be of a sufficient
depth to float us.”

But the San Blas decided not to give chase. They had ample evidence, by
this time, that we were dangerous enemies, and since we had chosen to
proceed still farther into their territory instead of trying to leave
it, they would have plenty of time to reorganize their forces and
determine on the best method to oppose us.

We found the stream navigable for several miles. Then we reached the
uplands, and the water began tumbling amongst rocky boulders in a way
that made farther progress dangerous. So we took to the land, gaining
the left bank with ease and then rolling along in a southerly direction.

And now we had occasion to blame the map-maker again, for instead of
the single fork in the stream which he had depicted we found a dozen
branches leading down from the mountains and forming a regular network
on this part of the plain. Several we forded, losing more and more our
sense of location, until finally we came to a high embankment that
barred our way and were forced to follow its course up to the forest,
which we reached about the middle of the afternoon.

The grandeur of this immense woodland, as we approached its border,
both awed and amazed us. The wood we had passed at the north was
nothing more than a grove of trees when compared with the grand
primeval forest that covered the mountain as far as the eye could reach.

We hardly knew whether to turn to the east or west from this point,
and so we asked Ilalah if she had any idea in which direction lay the
valley where the “white pebbles” were found.

She had none at all. The law forbidding the Techlas to gather these
pebbles was passed by the king her father years ago, when she was but
a child. No one had ever mentioned in her hearing where they had been
found.

Fairly bewildered as to our whereabouts, by this time, we turned to
the left and, easily fording now the shallow streams we encountered,
visited several valleys without having a notion whether any of them was
the one we sought, or not.

Finally I said to the princess:

“The place we seek has a great rock of red granite stone in the center,
and a part of the rock points like an arm directly at the forest.”

“Oh, yes!” she exclaimed; “that place I remember well, for I have
visited it often as a girl.”

Here was cheering news, indeed.

“Is it near here?” asked Duncan.

“It is far to the right,” she answered, after some thought. “We should
not have come in this direction at all.”

Blaming ourselves for our stupidity in not questioning the girl about
this land-mark before, we turned the machine again and began to double
on our tracks.

“This means spending another night in the wilderness,” said Moit; but
he spoke with unusual cheerfulness, and I reflected that as long as
Ilalah was by his side our inventor was not likely to complain of the
length of this trip.

“But there seem to be no Indians in this neighborhood to annoy us,” I
observed. “Do you know, Duncan, I believe that your invention of the
glycerine explosive is almost as important as the machine itself?”

“Oh, it has helped us nicely in two emergencies, so far,” he answered
soberly; “but I hope we shall not be called upon to use it again. It is
so powerful that it frightens me. Every time I handle it I place all of
us in as much danger as I do our enemies, for a premature explosion is
not unlikely to happen. Especially is this true in so hot a climate as
the one we are now travelling in. The can that contains the glyceroid
was quite warm when I filled that bottle to-day, and this condition
adds to its tendency to explode.”

It made me a little uneasy to hear this.

“Doesn’t it require a jar to set it off?” I asked.

“Almost always. And there is less chance of a jar to the can if we
leave it alone.”

We finally reached the place where we had first arrived at the forest,
and fording the stream, which was shallow as it came from the wood,
continued our search to the westward. The country was very beautiful
around here, and when I asked Ilalah why it was not more thickly
settled she said that the forest was full of terrible beasts and
serpents, which attacked men fearlessly and destroyed them. So few
cared to live in the neighborhood.

We were not afraid, though, with the protection of the car, and when
the princess recognized, just at dark, a familiar landmark, and
assured us the valley we sought was not far distant, we decided to
make our camp where we were and await the morning to complete our quest.

The temperature cooled rapidly in the shade of the forest, and we were
now in the uplands, too, where the day was never as sultry as on the
lower plains; so we thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Ilalah sang sweetly some of her native songs, and Nux and Bry favored
us with a duet that they had learned in their own far away island
home. So we were merry enough until bedtime, and then, the Sulus being
appointed to keep watch, the rest of us turned in and slept fairly well
until morning, despite the sound of an occasional wild beast prowling
around our glass-covered retreat.



CHAPTER XVI

THE ARROW-MAKER


We were up and stirring early, and after a good breakfast and a draught
of cool water from a sparkling brook near by, we started again in
search of the valley of diamonds.

An hour’s swift run brought us to the slight depression in which stood
the great block of red granite we had so eagerly sought. There was no
mistaking it, as the German had said; curiously enough, it was the only
granite boulder we had seen in this country.

A long, horizontal spike of rock near the apex pointed unerringly into
the near-by forest, and I dismounted and walked from the boulder slowly
in the direction indicated by the guide.

Sure enough, on reaching the forest I found myself confronting a
gigantic mahogany tree, standing a little in advance of its fellows; so
with a shout of joy I beckoned to my comrades and waited for them to
join me. Duncan ran the automobile close up to the edge of the wood,
and then stopped the engines and closed the door of the dome so that we
could all take part in the discovery of the diamonds.

Entering the forest, which was quite open and clear at this one spot,
we had no difficulty in finding the dead stump, and then I fell upon my
knees and began to remove the thick moss that clung to the ground all
around the stump.

I was scarcely more excited than the others--if I may except the
princess, to whom treasure had no meaning. Moit, Nux and Bry were all
bending over me, while in the background the Indian maiden watched us
with a plaintive smile. To her this anxiety to secure a collection of
pebbles was not quite comprehensible.

At first the moss resisted my efforts. Then, as I moved farther around,
a great patch of the growth suddenly gave way to my grasp and disclosed
a large cavity between two prongs of the stump.

I leaned over to look. Then I thrust in my arm to make sure.

The cavity was empty.

“Try somewhere else!” cried Moit, hoarsely. He had risked a good deal
for the gems which were to enable him to become famous and wealthy, and
this disappointment was sufficient to fill his heart with despair, had
he not found another treasure in Ilalah which might somewhat mitigate
this baffling failure.

I worked all around the stump, digging up the moss with my knife and
finger-nails; but in every other place the ground was solid. There
was but this one vacant cavity, and when at last we knew the truth we
stared at each other in absolute dejection.

“He must have put them there, though,” I said, hopelessly. “The trouble
is that someone else has taken them away.”

“Oh, yes; I did it,” said a strange voice at our side.

I turned and found a tiny Indian standing near us. At first I thought
it was a child, but looking more closely perceived the lines of age on
his thin face and streaks of gray in his hair. Yet so small was his
stature that he was no taller than my breast.

He wore the ordinary San Blas tunic, striped with purple and yellow,
a narrow band of green showing between the two plebeian colors. When
first we saw him he had assumed a dignified pose and with folded arms
was looking upon us with a calm and thoughtful countenance.

“Greetings, Tcharn!” exclaimed the princess, in a pleased and kindly
tone.

The dwarf, or Lilliputian, or whatever he might be, advanced to her with
marked but somewhat timid respect and touched the fingers of his right
hand to the fair brow she bent toward him. Then he retreated a pace and
laid his hand upon his heart.

“My Princess is welcome to my forest,” he said in his native tongue.

“Is it near here, then, that you live, my Tcharn?” she enquired.

“Very near, my Princess.”

“But tell us,” I cried, unable to control myself longer, “did you find
many of the white pebbles in this cavity, and did you take them all
away?”

“Yes,” he answered readily, with a nod of his small head; “I found them
and I took them away, and they were many.”

“But why did you take them?” asked the girl, who, without knowing the
value to us of the stones, was able to sympathize with us in our bitter
disappointment.

Tcharn was thoughtful. He sat upon the stump and for a moment studied
the various faces turned toward him.

“Some time ago,” said he, “a white man came to this valley, which our
laws forbid the whites to enter. Perhaps he did not know that I rule
the forest which is my home--that I am the Master Workman of the Techla
nation. Why should he know that? But the white beast was well aware
that his race is by us hated and detested”--here he cast a sinister
glance at Duncan and myself--“and barred from our domain. He sneaked in
like a jackal, hiding himself by day while by night he prowled around
upon all fours, gathering from off the ground the pebbles which our
master the king has forbidden any man to see or to touch.

“Day after day I watched the white man at his unlawful toil. I sent
tidings to Nalig-Nad, the king, who laughed at the cowardly intruder,
and bade me continue to watch and to notify him if the beast tried to
escape.

“Finally he saw my face among the trees, and it frightened him. He
prepared to run away, and buried all the pebbles he had found under the
moss beside this stump. Then he slunk from the valley and I let him go;
for the king had been notified and would look after him.”

This relation proved to us the honesty of the German’s story. We knew
well the rest of the tragic tale, and were just then more deeply
interested in the loss of the diamonds.

“Why did you dig up the pebbles, when the commands of your king forbade
you to touch them?” I asked, in a bitter tone.

The little Indian gave me a scornful look and said to Ilalah:

“Must I answer the white child, my Princess?”

“It will please me to have you do so,” she answered. “I must tell you,
Tcharn, that these white people are my friends. Those who love me will
also befriend them, and treat them kindly.”

For a time the dwarf stood motionless, frowning and staring stolidly
upon the ground. Then he looked up and said:

“Does Nalig-Nad also love these whites?”

“He hates them, and seeks their destruction,” Ilalah replied.

The dwarf smiled.

“Then they will be destroyed,” he prophesied.

“Not so, my Tcharn,” replied the princess, gently. “The power of these
white chieftains is greater than the power of Nalig-Nad.”

Tcharn grew thoughtful again.

“I saw them approach in a moving house, that seemed alive and yet was
not,” he remarked.

“That is but one proof of their might,” said she.

“And is my Princess now opposed to her father the King?”

“Yes, Tcharn, in this one thing.”

“Then,” said he, “I will stand by your side, for my blood is the blood
of your dead mother, and not the blood of Nalig-Nad.”

“But the pebbles!” I cried, impatiently. “Tell us what you have done
with them.”

He turned his sombre eyes in my direction.

“I carried the pebbles to my own dwelling,” he returned. “They are
beautiful, and when the sun kisses them they borrow its light and glow
like fireflies at dusk. I love the pebbles; so I took them, and they
are mine.”

This was exasperating to a degree.

“You had no right to do that,” I protested. “Your king has forbidden
you to gather the pebbles.”

“I did not gather them; I but took them from the place where the white
jackal had placed them.”

“The king will punish you for keeping them!”

“The king? Ah, the king will not know. And we are opposed to the king
just now, the Princess Ilalah and myself,” with a queer smile. “But you
are strangers, and therefore you do not know that in my forest even
Nalig-Nad dare not molest the Master Workman.”

The last words were spoken confidently, and his prompt defiance of the
king pleased me.

“Who is this man, Ilalah?” asked Duncan.

“Tcharn is my mother’s cousin,” she replied, with frankness, “and in my
mother’s veins flowed the most royal blood of our great ancestors. For
this reason Tcharn is a person of consequence among my people. He is
called the Arrow-Maker, and forges all the arrow-heads that the Techlas
use. No one else is allowed to work in metals, which Tcharn brings from
the mountains. In this forest--I do not know exactly where--is his
secret work-shop and his dwelling place. Only one thing is forbidden
him, under penalty of torture and death: to gather or use the loathsome
gold which was at one time the curse of the Techlas. In all else Tcharn
is master of the forest, and the people honor and avoid him.”

An important individual, truly, and one who doubtless realized his own
importance. Since he had secured the diamonds and loved their beauty it
would be difficult to wrest them from him.

While the princess had spoken the little Techla had been regarding her
with an uneasy look.

“I see trouble in Ilalah’s path,” he now remarked gravely.

“Am I not the princess?” she asked, proudly.

“You are the princess, and one day you will succeed your father as
ruler of the Techlas--if you live. If you do not live, Nalig-Nad’s
children by another mother will succeed him. Will you live, Ilalah--you
who defy the traditional hatred of your race for the cursed white
people?”

Ilalah flushed a little, but not with fear. She wanted Tcharn to
understand her, though, and began to tell him how the white people
had for many ages dominated the world beyond the seas, where they had
many distinct nations that warred with each other. Some of the white
nations were strong, and just, and wise; others were strong, but wicked
and unjust. It was one of these latter nations, she explained, whose
people were known as Spaniards, that had invaded the country of her
forefathers and robbed and oppressed them; therefore the Techlas,
knowing no better, had hated all of the white nations instead of that
especial one that had wronged them.

“These friends,” she added, pointing to us, “have never injured us,
nor have their people, who have themselves warred with the Spaniards,
our old and hated enemies. Why then, should I condemn and hate the
innocent?”

The dwarf listened carefully to this explanation, and without answering
her appeal he said, in a doubtful tone:

“The chiefs who rule the islands and the coast, all of whom trade with
the whites, have told me they are all alike. They are never satisfied,
but always want something that belongs to others.”

I laughed at his shrewd observation, for that was our case, just then.
We wanted the diamonds.

“Will you not permit us to see the beautiful pebbles?” I asked.

Tcharn hesitated.

“Will you let me see your moving house?” he demanded.

I nearly yelled with delight. I had been searching my brain for some
way to win this strange personage to our side, and he promptly put
himself in our hands by acknowledging his curiosity concerning our
machine. But this proved his intelligence, too, and betrayed his
mechanical instinct, so that it increased our respect for him.

“We will explain to you our moving house, which is the most wonderful
thing ever made by the hands of man,” I answered, seriously, “and we
will also take you to ride in it, that you may know how and why it
moves. But in return you must take us to your dwelling and show us the
pebbles.”

I was rather surprised that he consented readily.

“It is a bargain,” said he, quietly, and Ilalah whispered that his word
might be depended upon.

So we all walked out of the forest to where we had left the car, which
Tcharn first examined from the outside with minute intentness.

“Here is a man who might steal my patents, if he lived in our world,”
remarked the inventor, with a smile. But as there was no danger to be
apprehended Moit took pains to explain to the dwarf how the machine
would float and move in the water as well as travel upon the land,
and then he took the little Indian inside and showed him all the
complicated mechanism and the arrangements for promoting the comfort
and convenience of the passengers.

Tcharn listened with absorbed interest, and if he failed to comprehend
some of the technical terms--which is very probable, as I was obliged
to translate most of the description and there were no words in the
native language to express mechanical terms--he allowed neither word
nor look to indicate the fact.

Afterward Moit started the car and gave the arrow-maker an impressive
ride around the valley, gradually increasing the speed until we very
nearly flew over the ground.

When, at last, we came to a halt at the forest’s edge, it was evident
we had won the dwarf completely. His face was full of animation and
delight, and he proceeded to touch each of our foreheads, and then his
own heart, to indicate that we were henceforth friends.

“We will ride into the forest,” he said. “I will show you the way.”

It suited us very well to hide the machine among the trees, for
we might expect the natives to search for us and give us further
annoyance. But we failed to understand how the big machine might be
guided into the tangled forest.

Tcharn, however, knew intimately every tree and shrub. He directed Moit
to a place where we passed between two giant mahoganies, after which
a sharp turn disclosed an avenue which led in devious windings quite
a distance into the wood. Sometimes we barely grazed a tree-trunk on
either side, or tore away a mass of clinging vines or dodged, by a
hair’s breadth, a jagged stump; and, after all, our journey was not a
great way from the edge of the forest and we were soon compelled to
halt for lack of a roadway.

“The rest of the distance we will walk,” announced the dwarf. “Follow
me, if you will.”

I shall never forget the impressiveness of this magnificent forest.
The world and its glaring sunlight were shut out. Around our feet was
a rank growth of matted vines, delicate ferns and splendid mosses. We
stood in shadow-land, a kingdom of mystery and silence. The foliage
was of such dainty tracery that only in the deep seas can its equal be
found, and wonderful butterflies winged their way between the tender
plants, looking like dim ghosts of their gorgeous fellows in the
outer world. Here was a vast colonnade, the straight, slender, gray
tree-trunks supporting a massive roof of green whose outer branches
alone greeted the sun. Festooned from the upright columns were tangled
draperies of climbing vines which here rested in deep shadow and there
glowed with a stray beam of brilliant sunshine that slyly crept through
the roof. And ever, as we pressed on, new beauties and transformations
were disclosed in the forest’s mysterious depths, until the conviction
that here must be the favorite retreat of elfins and fays was dreamily
impressed upon our awed minds.

But almost before we were aware of it we came to a clearing, a circular
place in the wood where great trees shot their branches into the sky
and struggled to bridge the intervening space with their foliage. The
vain attempt left a patch of clear sky visible, although the entire
enclosure was more than half roofed with leaves.

Instead of mosses and vines, a grassy sward carpeted the place, and
now we came upon visible evidence that we had reached the abode of the
little arrow-maker.

On one side was a rude forge, built of clay, and supporting a bellows.
In a basket beside the forge were hundreds of arrow-points most
cleverly fashioned of bronze, while heaps of fagots and bars of metal
showed that the dwarf’s daily occupation was seldom neglected.

The tools strewn about interested me greatly, for many were evidently
of American or European make; but Tcharn explained this by saying
that his people often traded their cocoanuts and skins for tools and
cutlery, and at these times he was allowed to select from the store
such things as he required.

“But where do you live?” asked Moit; “and where are the pebbles?”

“Come,” said the arrow-maker, briefly, and led us across the glade and
through a little avenue where there was a well trodden path.

A moment later a mass of interwoven boughs covered with vines
confronted us, and stooping our heads we passed through a low archway
into wonderland.



CHAPTER XVII

A WOODLAND WONDERLAND


What we saw was a circular chamber formed of tree-trunks at the sides
and roofed with masses of green leaves. The central trees had been
cleared away by some means, for a large mahogany stump was used for a
table and its beautifully polished surface proclaimed that it had been
a live tree when sawed through. Also there were several seats formed
from stumps in various parts of the room, and one or two benches and a
couch had been manufactured very cleverly from polished mahogany wood.

But these were by no means the chief wonder of the place. The walls
were thickly covered with climbing vines, which reached in graceful
festoons to the overhanging central boughs; but these were all the
creation of man rather than of nature, for they were formed from virgin
gold.

Also the ornaments scattered about the place, the mountings of the
furniture, swinging lamps and tabourettes, all were of gold, and never
have I beheld the equal of their exquisite workmanship or unique
designing. The tracery of every leaf of the golden bower imitated
accurately nature itself, the veins and stems being so perfect as to
cause one to marvel. Not only had a vast amount of pure gold been used
in this work, but years must have been consumed in its execution.

“Oh, Tcharn!” cried Ilalah, in a shocked tone, as soon as she had
recovered from the wonder of her first look; “you have broken the law!”

“It is true,” answered the arrow-maker, calmly.

“Why did you do it?” she asked.

“The yellow metal is very beautiful,” said he, looking upon the golden
bower with loving eyes; “and it is soft, and easy to work into many
pretty forms. Years ago, when I began to gather the metal for my arrows
and spears, I found in our mountains much of the forbidden gold, and
it cried out to me to take it and love it, and I could not resist. So
I brought it here, where no white man could ever see it and where not
even your father was likely to come and charge me with my crime. My
princess, you and your friends are the first to know my secret, and
it is safe in your care because you are yourself breaking the law and
defying the king.”

“In what way?” asked Ilalah.

“In seeking the pebbles that are denied our people, and in befriending
the whites who have been condemned by us for centuries.”

She was silent for a moment. Then she said, bravely:

“Tcharn, such laws are unjust. I will break them because they are my
father’s laws and not my own. When I come to rule my people I will make
other laws that are more reasonable--and then I will forgive you for
your gold-work.”

“Oh, Ilalah!” exclaimed Moit; “how can you rule these Indians when you
have promised to come with me, and be my queen?”

She drew her hand across her eyes as if bewildered, and then smiled
sweetly into her lover’s face.

“How easy it is to forget,” she said, “when one has always been
accustomed to a certain life. I will go with you, and I will never
rule my people.”

“You are wrong, my princess,” declared the dwarf, eagerly. “What to you
is the white man’s land? You will rule us indeed, and that in a brief
space of time!”

“No, my friend,” she said, “the house that moves will carry me away
with my white chief, and in a new land I will help him to rule his own
people.”

The arrow-maker looked at her with a dreamy, prophetic expression upon
his wizened features.

“Man knows little,” said he, “but the Serpent of Wisdom knows much. In
my forest the serpent dwells, and it has told me secrets of the days to
come. Soon you will be the Queen of the Techlas, and the White Chief
will be but your slave. I see you ruling wisely and with justice, as
you have promised, but still upholding the traditions of your race. You
will never leave the San Blas country, my Ilalah.”

She laughed, brightly.

“Are you then a seer, my cousin?” she asked.

The dwarf started, as if suddenly awakened, and his eyes lost their
speculative gaze.

“Sometimes the vision comes to me,” he said; “how or why I know not.
But always I see truly.”

Duncan Moit did not understand this dialogue, which had been conducted
in the native tongue. He had been examining, with the appreciation of a
skilled workman, the beautiful creations of the Indian goldsmith. But
now our uneasy looks and the significant glances of Nux and Bryonia
attracted his attention, and he turned to ask an explanation.

The princess evaded the subject, saying lightly that the dwarf had
been trying to excuse himself for breaking the law and employing
the forbidden gold in his decorations. I turned to Tcharn and again
demanded:

“Show us the pebbles.”

At once he drew a basket woven of rushes from beneath a bench and
turned out its contents on the top of the great table. A heap of stones
was disclosed, the appearance of which at first disappointed me. They
were of many shapes and sizes and had surfaces resembling ground
glass. In the semi gloom of the bower and amid the shining gold tracery
of its ornamentation the “pebbles” seemed uninteresting enough.

But Moit pounced upon the treasure with exclamations of wonder,
examining them eagerly. Either the German or the arrow-maker had
chipped some of them in places, and then the clear, sparkling
brilliancy of the diamonds was fully demonstrated.

“They are magnificent!” cried the inventor. “I have never seen gems so
pure in color or of such remarkable size and perfect form.”

I compared them mentally with the stones I had found in the roll of
bark taken from the dead man’s pocket, and decided that these were
indeed in no way inferior.

The dwarf opened a golden cabinet and brought us three more diamonds.
These had been cut into facets and polished, and were amazingly
brilliant. I am sure Tcharn had never seen the usual method of
diamond-cutting, and perhaps knew nothing of the esteem in which
civilized nations held these superb pebbles of pure carbon; so it is
remarkable that he had intuitively found the only means of exhibiting
the full beauty of the stones.

[Illustration: “Diamonds! They are magnificent!”]

“Will you give me these, my cousin?” asked the princess.

For answer he swept them all into the basket and placed it in her
hands. She turned and with a pleased smile gave the treasure to Moit.

“At last,” said I, with a sigh of relief, “we have accomplished the
object of our adventure.”

“At last,” said Duncan, “I have enough money to patent my inventions
and to give the machine to the world in all its perfection!”

“But we mus’ get out o’ here, Mars’ Sam,” observed Bry, gravely.

“That is true,” I replied. “And I hope now that we have no further
reason for staying that we shall have little difficulty in passing the
lines of our enemies.”

We confided to the arrow-maker a portion of our adventures, and told
him how Nalig-Nad had seemed determined to destroy us. When the
relation was finished I asked:

“Will you advise us how we can best regain our ship without meeting
the king’s warriors?”

He considered the matter with great earnestness. Then he enquired:

“Will your machine run safely in the waters of the ocean?”

I repeated the question to Moit.

“Yes,” he answered, “if the water is not too rough.”

“Then it will be best for you to go east until you come to the coast
of the Atlantic,” said Tcharn. “The tribes of the south-east will not
oppose you if the Princess Ilalah and I are with you. When you get to
the ocean you may travel in the water to your river, and so reach your
ship.”

This advice was so good that we at once adopted the suggestion.

The arrow-maker now clapped his hands, and to our surprise three tall
natives entered the bower and bowed to him. He ordered them to bring
refreshments, and they at once turned and disappeared.

“Who are these men?” I asked.

“They are my assistants, who help me to forge the arrows and the
spears,” he replied. “The king always allows me three men, and their
tongues are cut out so that they cannot tell to others the secrets of
my art.”

That explained why he was able to devote so much time to the execution
of his gold-work.

The servants shortly returned bearing golden dishes of exquisite
shapes, on the polished surfaces of which familiar scenes in the lives
of the San Blas were cleverly engraved.

We were given fresh milk, a kind of hominy boiled and spiced, slices of
cold mutton and several sorts of fruits, including cocoanut meats.

Sitting around the splendid table, which would have conferred
distinction upon a king’s palace, we made a hasty but satisfying meal
and then prepared to return to the automobile.

I think the little arrow-maker was as eager to ride in the wonderful
machine as to guide us on our way; but we were very glad to have him
with us, and he sat quietly absorbed by the side of Duncan Moit and
watched the inventor direct the course of his automobile over the
difficult pathway between the trees.

We reached level ground without accident and then, turning to the left,
increased our speed and travelled rapidly over the now familiar plains
in the direction of the sea.

We followed the edge of the forest as well as we could, for here in the
uplands the numerous streams were less difficult to cross; but soon
after we had passed beyond the point of our first excursion in this
direction we came upon a good sized river sweeping out from the wood,
which Tcharn told us flowed into the Atlantic further toward the north.
There were dangerous rapids in it, however, so we decided it would
be safer to continue on to the coast than to trust ourselves to this
treacherous current.

And now we soon began to pass the cocoanut groves, while groups of
natives paused to stare at us wonderingly. But we made no halt, for the
plains were smooth and easy to travel upon and the less we had to do
with the natives the better we were off.

A mile inland from the ocean the dwarf told us were many villages. We
decided to rush past these quickly to avoid being stopped, and Tcharn
agreed that it would be wise. Explanations would be sure to delay us,
even if these tribes had not already been warned by messengers from
Nalig-Nad to capture us if we came their way. So when we reached the
villages we shot by them like a flash, and the sensation we created was
laughable.

Men, women and children--even the dogs--rushed from the path of the
dreadful flying monster in a panic of fear, and we heard their screams
and wild cries long after the houses had been left far behind. These
tribes may be just as brave as the ones farther north, but their
natures are not so stolid and self-possessed.

The ocean came into view suddenly, and we found the banks so high above
the beach that we were obliged to turn north until we reached a small
river, the water of which was deep enough to float us out to sea.

Here we bade farewell, with much regret, to our arrow-maker, and Duncan
generously presented him with such wrenches and other tools as could be
spared from his outfit. These presents gave the dwarf much delight, and
for my part I was so grateful for his assistance that I gave him my
silver watch, and showed him how to tell the time of day by following
the movements of its hands. He understood it very quickly and I knew
that he would obtain much pleasure from its possession.

It was little enough, indeed, for the transfer of the diamonds, which
were worth a fortune; but the gems were valueless to him, even had he
been able to own them without the risk of forfeiting his life.

We left the arrow-maker earnestly watching us from the bank as we
paddled swiftly down the stream; but soon our attention was directed to
other matters and we forgot him.

When we reached the ocean we headed out boldly, but the long waves
rolled pretty high for us, we soon found. It was not at all a rough
sea, yet Moit was forced to acknowledge that his invention was not
intended for ocean travel. After we had tossed about for a time we went
ashore, finding to our joy that the beach was broad and sandy, and the
tide was out.

This was the best luck that could possibly have happened to us, and we
sped along the sands at a fine rate of speed, resolved to make the most
of our opportunities.

Just before we reached the northern forest, however, we found that king
Nalig-Nad had been thoughtful enough to anticipate the possibility of
our coming this way and had sent a large force to oppose us. They were
crowded thickly upon the beach and we were given the choice of meeting
them or driving into the ocean again.

I rather favored the latter course, but Duncan’s face was set and
stern, and I saw that he was intent on running them down.

He increased our rate of speed until we were fairly flying, and a
moment more we bumped into the solid ranks of the Indians and sent them
tumbling in every direction--not so much on account of the machine’s
weight as its velocity.

Those who were not knocked over made haste to get out of our way, and
in a few seconds they were all behind us and we could slacken our
terrible pace with safety.

We had passed the mouths of several streams on our way, and circled
some remarkably broad and pretty bays, so now we began to look for
the river in which our wrecked ship was stranded. One broad inlet we
paddled up for a way, but it led straight into the wood; so we backed
out again, and the next time were more successful; for soon we were
able to discern the _Gladys H._ lying on her side, and knew we were
near our journey’s end.

Ilalah told us that small ships sometimes came to this river to trade
with her people for skins and tortoise-shell; but none had been there
for several months.

At first I thought that our wreck was entirely deserted, but after a
time Uncle Naboth’s pudgy form appeared at the stern, waving his red
handkerchief in frantic greeting; a moment later our sailors flocked to
his side, and then a lusty cheer of welcome saluted our grateful ears.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE PRINCESS DISAPPEARS


We were given a joyful welcome by our comrades aboard the wreck, you
may be sure. Ned was there, a smile mantling his rugged face as the
auto came alongside and he assisted us to make fast and mount to the
slanting deck of the ship.

Uncle Naboth’s eyes were big and staring as our dainty Indian princess
came aboard; but I could see that he was pleased with her beauty and
modest demeanor.

No questions were asked us until we were all comfortably stowed on
deck and the automobile had been hoisted over the side by the willing
sailors and set in its old position. They were glad enough to see us
safely returned without bothering us with questioning; but I knew
of their eagerness to hear of our adventures and so took an early
opportunity to remark:

“Well, Uncle Naboth and Ned, we’ve got the diamonds.”

“Sure?”

“Sure enough.”

I brought the basket and allowed them to inspect the treasure, which
they did with wonder and a sort of awe, for they had little to say.

“How much is the bunch worth?” asked my uncle, trying to be indifferent.

“Why, we are all quite ignorant of their value,” I replied; “but Moit
and I both think we have secured a snug fortune for each one of us four
who are interested in the division. We couldn’t have done anything at
all without the automobile, though, so I am going to give Duncan a part
of my share.”

“I won’t take it,” declared Moit. “We made a fair and square bargain,
to share alike, and I mean to live up to it.”

“But you need the money more than we do,” I protested, “for you’ve
got to build a factory to manufacture your machines and also to make
a home for Ilalah. She is a prize we don’t share in, but we’d like
to contribute to her happiness, so I shall suggest to Ned and Uncle
Naboth that you take a half of all the diamonds and we will divide the
other half.”

“Agreed!” cried my uncle and Ned, both together, and although Duncan
objected in a rather pig-headed way I declared that we had fully made
up our minds and he had nothing to say about the matter.

Then we told out story, rather briefly at first, for it would take some
time to give our friends all the details of our adventures. Uncle was
very proud of the way Bryonia and Nux had behaved, and told them so in
his outspoken fashion. The honest fellows could have desired no higher
reward.

After this Ned told me of his trip. On reaching the ocean he had rigged
a mast and sail on the long boat and before a brisk breeze had soon
reached Manzanillo Bay and arrived at Colon harbor within a half day.

Colon is a primitive town built upon a low coral island, but being the
Atlantic terminal of the great canal it possessed an office of the
Central and South American Telegraph Company, so that Ned was able to
send a cable message by way of Galveston to Mr. Harlan.

He got an answer the next day, saying that the _Carmenia_, one of
the Company’s ships, was due at Cristobal in a few days, and further
instructions as to the disposition of the wrecked cargo would be
cabled me on her arrival. Cristobal was a port adjoining Colon, and I
remembered to have heard that the _Carmenia_ was soon to come home from
the Pacific with a light cargo; so I judged it would be Mr. Harlan’s
intention to have her take our structural steel on board and carry it
on to San Pedro.

All we could do now was to wait, and instead of waiting in unhealthy
Colon Ned wisely decided to return to the wreck and report to me.

They had begun to worry over us and to fear the Indians had murdered
us, so it was a great relief to them when we came back safe and
successful from our perilous adventure.

Uncle Naboth admired Ilalah more and more as he came to know her, and
he told Duncan with great seriousness that she was worth more than all
the diamonds in the world, to which absurd proposition the inventor
gravely agreed. But indeed we were all fond of the charming girl and
vied with one another to do her honor. Even stolid Ned Britton rowed
across to the marshes in the afternoon and returned with a gorgeous
bouquet of wild flowers to place in the Indian maid’s cabin--formerly
his own cabin, but gladly resigned for her use.

Ilalah accepted all the attentions showered upon her with simple,
unaffected delight, and confided to us that she had altered entirely
her old judgment of the whites and now liked them very much.

“They must be my people, after this,” she said, with a sad smile,
“because I have left the Techlas forever.”

At dinner Bryonia outdid himself as a chef and provided for the menu
every delicacy the ship afforded. Ilalah ate little, but enjoyed the
strange foods and unusual cooking. After dinner we sat on the deck in
the splendid moonlight and recited at length our adventures, until the
hour grew late.

When I went to bed I carried the diamonds to my locker, putting them
carefully away where no one could get at them until we left the wreck
and the time came to make the division. The ship was very safe for the
present. Until another severe gale occurred to bring the waves up the
river there was no danger of her going to pieces, as she held firmly to
her mud bank, weighted on her open planks with the great mass of steel
in the hold. Her bottom was like a crate, but her upper works seemed as
firm and substantial as ever.

Ilalah’s cabin was on the starboard side, but in spite of the ship’s
listing her window was four or five feet above the surface of the
river. She bade us a sweet good-night in her pretty broken English, and
an hour later everyone on board was enjoying peaceful slumbers and I,
for my part, was dreaming of the fortune we had so unexpectedly secured.

Suddenly a cry aroused me. I sat up and listened but could hear no
further sound. Absolute silence reigned throughout the ship. Yet the
cry still rang in my ears, and the recollection of it unnerved me.

While I hesitated a knock came to my door, and I got up and lighted a
candle.

Moit was standing outside in the saloon. His face was white but as
undecided in expression as my own.

“Did you hear anything, Sam?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Was it a cry for help?”

“That, or a woman’s scream, Duncan.”

“Come with me,” he said, and I followed him to the door of Ilalah’s
cabin.

Two or three loud knockings failed to arouse any response. I turned the
handle, found the door unlocked, and threw it open.

The room was empty.

I turned my flickering candle in every direction, lighting up the
smallest cranny, as if the girl could be hidden in a rat-hole. The
window stood wide open, and the cool night breeze came through it.

I turned toward Duncan, who stood in the middle of the room staring
at the floor. As my gaze followed his I saw several of the blue beads
Ilalah had worn scattered over the carpet.

“It is Nalig-Nad,” he muttered. “The San Blas have stolen my princess!”

“What’s up, boys?” asked Uncle Naboth. He was standing in the doorway
clad in a suit of pajamas that were striped like a convict’s, only in
more gorgeous colors.

“The Indians have stolen Ilalah and carried her away,” I answered.

I am afraid Uncle Naboth swore. He is a mild mannered old gentleman,
but having taken a strong liking for the beautiful girl he perhaps
could find no other way, on the impulse of the moment, to express his
feelings.

“Well,” he remarked, after we had looked blankly into one another’s
faces for a time, “we must get her back again, that’s all.”

“Of course, sir,” agreed Duncan, rousing himself. “We will go at once.”

“What time is it?” I asked.

“Three o’clock,” answered my uncle, promptly.

“Then let us wait until morning,” I advised. “The Indians already
have a good start of us and there would be no chance to overtake them
before they regain the king’s village. We must be cautious and lay our
plans carefully if we hope to succeed.”

“Perhaps you are right,” returned Duncan, wearily. “But I swear to you,
Sam, that I will find Ilalah and bring her back with me, or perish in
the attempt.”

I smiled at his theatric manner, but Uncle Naboth said seriously:

“I don’t blame you a bit, sir. That girl is worth a heap o’ trouble,
and you can count on me to help you to the last gasp.”

“Well, well,” said I, impatiently, “let us get dressed and go on deck
to talk it over.” I well knew there would be no more sleep for us that
night, and although I was not in love with the lost princess I was as
eager to effect her rescue as Moit himself.

“But I must warn you, gentlemen,” I continued, “that you have to deal
with the wiliest and fiercest savage in existence, and if we venture
into his dominions again the chances of our ever coming out alive are
mighty slim.”

“All right, Sam,” retorted Uncle Naboth, cheerfully; “we’ve got to
take those chances, my lad, so what’s the use of grumbling?”

“If you’re afraid, Sam--” began Moit, stiffly.

“Oh, get out!” was my peevish reply. “I may be afraid, and small wonder
if I am; but you know very well I’ll go with you. So get your togs on,
both of you, and I’ll meet you on deck.”



CHAPTER XIX

WE ATTEMPT A RESCUE


The entire ship’s company was aroused by this time, and it amused
me to find that every man jack, down to the commonest sailor, was
tremendously indignant and most properly incensed because Nalig-Nad had
dared to steal his own daughter--the successor to his throne--from the
white men with whom she had fled.

Ned Britton’s plan was to arm our entire company “to the teeth” and
march in solid ranks through the forest until we came to the king’s
village, which he figured lay about opposite the point where our ship
had stranded. Once at the village we could surprise the place, capture
Ilalah, and bear her in triumph back to the wreck.

There were several objections to Ned’s optimistic plan. In the first
place we did not know the forest, and the Indians did. They could hide
behind the trees and pick us off with their arrows before we could
use our fire-arms; or they might ambush us, and annihilate our band.
Moreover, we were not sure Ilalah had been taken directly to the king’s
village. They might have hidden her somewhere else.

“It’s another case of automobile, Mr. Moit,” declared Uncle Naboth. “If
we’re a-goin’ to get that girl you’ll have to use the convertible, as
sure as fate.”

“There is no doubt of that,” returned the inventor, promptly. “I have
determined to start as soon as it is daylight.”

“What is your idea, Duncan?” I asked.

“Simply to enter the country of the Techlas, show them a bold and
fearless front, find out where the princess is, and then rescue her in
some way. I’m afraid they will treat her badly, because she defied them
and ran away with me.”

“But she is to be their next ruler, after Nalig-Nad is dead,” said I.

“Yes, if she outlives him. But the king has two other children, and he
may prefer one of them to rule.”

“That’s a fact,” I answered. “I’ve seen them. And Nalig-Nad must have
been furious at Ilalah for favoring the hated whites.”

“There is no time to lose,” continued Duncan, nervously. “We must start
as soon as possible and make our plans on the way. Who will go with me?”

Everyone wanted to go, of course; but finally it was settled that Uncle
Naboth and I, with Nux and Bryonia, should accompany Duncan Moit in
the automobile. If we did not return within twenty-four hours then Ned
Britton was to land his sailors and march quickly through the forest to
our rescue. This arrangement was the best we could think of, and when I
frankly told the men that this hazardous duty would not be forced upon
them, since the adventure was wholly outside their province as seamen,
they one and all declared they would “see us through” or die in the
attempt.

Only Dick Lombard, whose arm had been broken, and an old sailor with a
bruised knee were to be left behind, that they might care for the ship
in our absence.

“No one can steal the cargo, anyhow; it’s too heavy,” I remarked; “and
if the Indians manage to do us up entirely Mr. Harlan will still be
able to get his steel beams. So we need not worry over the ship.”

It was a desperate enterprise, and we knew it; but so strong was our
admiration for the Princess of the Techlas that we did not hesitate to
attempt in her behalf all that brave men might be capable of.

At the first break of day we got the automobile over the side and
safely launched it. There was not a moment’s unnecessary delay, and as
Duncan was now familiar with the river channel we were soon paddling at
our best speed up the river.

By the time the red rays of the rising sun gleamed over the water we
had passed the two hillocks and reached the southern tributary that led
into the land of the Techlas.

We saw no Indians in the forest this time. Either it was too early for
them to be abroad or they had assembled inland for some purpose. The
forest was deserted.

Our progress was, of course, much slower than on land. I think the
automobile paddled about eight miles an hour in still water, but as we
now had to stem a current we made less time than that. But distances
are not great in Panama, where the isthmus has a breadth of only some
fifty miles, so that we were not long in passing the northern forest
and coming to the coastal plains.

We left the river at the same spot as before, where the bank was low
and shelving; for in talking over our plans we had decided to make
directly for Nalig-Nad’s own village. It was reasonable to suppose
that Ilalah had been first taken there, it being the nearest point to
the ship from whence they had stolen her. The king might intend to
hide her, presently, even if he permitted his rebellious daughter to
live; but we judged that he would not expect us to give chase so soon.
That we would dare venture into his dominions a second time the astute
monarch would hesitate to believe.

We relied much upon the promptness with which we had acted, and
although we were forced to travel by a roundabout route we ought, with
good luck, to reach the king’s village by the middle of the forenoon.

Once on the broad and level plains Moit allowed his machine to do its
best. We knew there were no obstructions in the way, so we made a
wonderful dash across the country.

No effort was made by the San Blas to oppose us or interfere with our
progress. We observed no warriors at all, and the few farmers we passed
scarcely paused in their labors long enough to stare at us.

When we came to Ogo’s village, however, we saw by means of the glass
that the place was swarming with Indians, who were as busy and excited
as bees in a hive. This puzzled us, and made us fear the princess might
be in this place instead of the village farther on. But we decided to
stick to our first programme, so we circled around the town to the
north and continued on our way.

Much faster than we had covered the distance before we now fled over
the plain, and soon the enclosure became visible and our journey was
almost over.

A great jagged section of the wall had been blown up by the explosion,
wrecking some of the huts at the same time; but as we drew nearer we
discovered that Nalig-Nad had caused a big ditch to be dug, in the form
of a half moon, reaching from one end of the broken wall to the other.
This ditch was evidently made on our account, and as it circled outward
into the plain it prevented most effectually our entering the enclosure
with the automobile.

We smiled at so childish an attempt to bar us from the village, but it
informed us plainly that the king had anticipated our return and feared
us, which knowledge served to encourage us very much.

We halted the machine outside the ditch, a hundred yards or so from the
wall, and then proceeded to take careful observation of the condition
of affairs at the village.

Our arrival had created no apparent excitement. There were no crowds to
be seen and the few natives, men or women, who stalked across the space
that was visible within the wall, going from one building to another,
merely turned their faces toward us for a moment and then continued on
their way. A woman sat at one side of the gap milking a goat; another
near her was hanging some newly washed tunics on the edge of the broken
wall to dry in the sun; but neither of these gave us more than a glance
or allowed us to interrupt their occupation.

This apathy was mystifying. Surely we had created enough excitement at
the time we left the king’s village to ensure a degree of interest in
our return. If the savages imagined their puny ditch any protection
they were likely to find themselves much mistaken.

Presently we saw something that aroused us to action. Ilalah appeared,
crossing the enclosure from one of the side huts to the king’s palace.
Her hands were bound firmly behind her back and her eyes were covered
with a thick scarf which effectually blindfolded her. She was led and
pushed along by two sour visaged old women, who showed their princess
scant courtesy.

Moit swore roundly under his breath and I myself was filled with
indignation at the poor girl’s condition; at the same time we were
gratified to know we had found her by coming promptly to the right
place.

“Now,” said Duncan, grimly, “we know what to do.”

“What is it?” I enquired.

“They will bring her out again, sooner or later,” he answered, “and
then we must make a dash, seize her, regain the automobile, and fly
back to the ship.”

“Easy enough!” ejaculated Uncle Naboth, admiringly.

The women had finished milking and hanging out their clothes. Just now
the courtyard seemed deserted.

“This is our chance,” cried Moit. “Follow me, all of you except Mr.
Perkins. He must stay to guard the machine and to wave us a signal when
Ilalah appears. We will creep up to the broken wall and hide behind it
until the princess comes back. Then we will make a rush all together
and capture her before the Indians know what we are about. Are you all
armed?”

We were, and ready.

Duncan leaped from the car and we followed him. Then, bounding across
the narrow ditch, we ran silently but quickly to a position behind the
wall, where those inside could not see us. There we crouched, panting,
to await Uncle Naboth’s signal.



CHAPTER XX

OUTWITTED


The silence of death seemed to reign in the little village. All life
had for the moment ceased, and gradually this extraordinary fact
impressed me ominously.

“Where are all the people?” I whispered to Moit.

“I can’t imagine,” he answered.

“Guess dey in de co’te-yard of de palace,” said Bry, who with Nux stood
just beside us. “Princess bein’ judged; ev’body lookin’ on.”

That seemed plausible; and it was a condition especially favorable to
our plans; so we waited with suppressed excitement, our eager eyes upon
the automobile, until suddenly we saw Uncle Naboth spring to his feet
and wave his red handkerchief.

At the signal we four rose as one man and dashed through the gap into
the enclosure, each with a revolver held fast in either hand.

As I bounded over the loose rubbish something suddenly caught me and
threw me violently to the ground, where I rolled over once or twice and
then found myself flat upon my back with a gigantic Indian pressing his
knee against my chest.

I heard a roar from Moit and answering shouts from our two blacks,
and turning my head saw them struggling with a band of natives who
surrounded them on every side.

Indeed, our conquest was effected much sooner than I can describe the
event on paper, and within a few moments all four of us stood before
our captors disarmed and securely bound.

I own I was greatly humiliated by the clever deception practiced upon
us by Nalig-Nad. The wily king had foreseen our arrival and using
Ilalah as a bait had ambushed us so neatly that we had no chance
to fight or to resist our capture. The victory was his, and it was
complete.

Stay; there was Uncle Naboth yet to be reckoned with. I could see him
still standing in the car glaring with amazement at the scene enacted
within the enclosure.

The Indians saw him, too, and with wild and triumphant yells a score of
them rushed out and made for the car. But my uncle was warned and had
calmly laid a number of revolvers upon the seat beside him.

With a weapon in either hand the old gentleman blazed away at the
Techlas as soon as they approached, doing such deadly execution that
the natives were thrown into confusion and held back, uncertain what to
do.

Having emptied one brace of revolvers Mr. Perkins hurled them at the
heads of his assailants and picked up another pair. I wondered that the
San Blas did not shoot him down with arrows, or impale him on a spear,
for the top was down and he was unprotected from such missiles; but
doubtless they had been instructed to capture him alive and had not
been prepared for such a vigorous resistance.

Presently an Indian who had made his way around to the opposite side
put his hand on the rail and leaped lightly into the car; but my uncle
turned in a flash and seized the fellow at the waist in his powerful
arms. Lifting the astonished Techla high in the air Uncle Naboth flung
him bodily into the furious crowd before him, tumbling a number of his
foes to the ground with this living catapult.

But such magnificent strength and courage was without avail. Before
uncle could seize his revolvers again a dozen warriors had leaped into
the car beside him and grasped him so firmly that further struggles
were useless. The little man collapsed immediately and was dragged out
and brought to where we had been watching him in wonder and admiration.

“Good for you, Uncle!” I cried. “If we could have managed to put up
such a fight it might have been a different story.”

He smiled at us cheerily.

“Hain’t had so much fun, my lads, since Polly had the measles,” he
panted; “but it couldn’t last, o’ course, ’cause I’m all out o’
trainin’.”

And now that all our party had been captured, transforming powerful
enemies into helpless victims, King Nalig-Nad appeared before us with
a calm countenance and ordered us taken to one of the huts, there to
remain in confinement to await his pleasure concerning our disposal.

“Who’s this feller?” asked Uncle Naboth, looking hard at the king.

“It is Nalig-Nad,” I replied, rather depressed by our hard luck.

“Why, hello, Naddie, old boy--glad to meet you!” said Mr. Perkins,
advancing as far as his captors would let him and holding out one of
his broad, fat hands.

The king regarded him silently. It was the first time he had had an
opportunity to inspect this addition to our former party. But he paid
no attention to the outstretched hand.

“Know your daughter well,” continued Uncle Naboth, unabashed at the
marked coolness with which his friendly advances were met; “she’s a
fine gal, Nalig; oughter be proud o’ her, old chap!”

With this he began to chuckle and poked the king jovially in his royal
ribs, causing the stern visaged monarch to jump backward with a cry
of mingled indignation and rage. This so pleased my uncle that his
chuckle increased to a cough, which set him choking until he was purple
in the face.

The king watched this exhibition with amazement; but when his prisoner
recovered with startling abruptness and wiped the tears of merriment
from his eyes, the barbarian gave a disdainful grunt and walked away
to his palace. He was followed by his band of attendant chiefs, whom I
recognized as his former counsellors.

I looked around for Ilalah, but she had disappeared the moment we
rushed into the enclosure, having doubtless been dragged away by her
attendants as soon as she had served the purpose of luring us into the
trap.

We were now taken to one of the huts built against the wall and thrust
through a doorway with scant ceremony. It was merely a one-roomed
affair with thick walls and no furniture but a clay bench at the back.
The only aperture was the doorway. Several stout warriors, well armed
and alert, ranged themselves before this opening as a guard.

We were not bound, for having lost all our weapons, including even our
pocket-knives, we were considered very helpless.

“I don’t like the looks of this thing,” I remarked, when we had seated
ourselves quite soberly in a row on the mud bench.

“Bad box, sure ’nough, Mars’ Sam,” said Bryonia, with a sigh.

“I hope they won’t touch the machine,” observed Moit, nervously. “I
don’t mind what they do to me if they let the automobile alone.”

“That’s rubbish,” said I in a petulant tone; “they couldn’t run it to
save their necks. Don’t worry, old man.”

“I s’pose we won’t have much use for an automerbeel in the course of a
jiffy or two,” added my uncle, cheerfully.

“Oh, I depend a good deal upon Ned and his men,” I replied. “He will be
sure to come to our rescue early to-morrow morning.”

“Too late, den, Mars’ Sam,” muttered Nux. “Dat wicked king ain’t goin’
let us lib long, I ’spect.”

“Then why did he put us here?” I demanded. “If he intended to kill us
quickly he’d have murdered us on the spot.”

“There was nothing to prevent his doing that, most certainly,” said
Moit, eagerly adopting the suggestion.

This aspect of the affair was really encouraging. So elastic is hope
in the breasts of doomed men that we poor creatures sat there for an
hour or more and tried to comfort ourselves with the thought that a
chance for escape might yet arise. It was pitiful, now that I look back
upon it; but at the moment the outlook did not appear to us especially
gloomy.

I do not believe that any regret for having followed the Indian girl
and tried to rescue her entered into the mind of any one of the party.
Ilalah had stood by us and it was our duty to stand by her, even
had not Moit been so infatuated by her beauty that he could not be
contented without her.

Being a boy and less stolid than my elders, I caught myself wondering
if I should ever behold the handsome ship my father was building, and
sighed at the thought that I might never stand upon its deck after
all the ambitious plans we had laid for the future. There was a little
comfort in the thought that all the diamonds were safe in the locker of
the wreck and that Ned would look after them and carry my share as well
as Uncle Naboth’s to my father. But we were likely to pay a good price
for the treasure we had wrested from the San Blas.

Midday arrived and passed. Food was brought to our guard but none
was given to us. We were not especially hungry, but this neglect was
ominous. It meant that we had either not long to live or our foes
intended to starve us. We tried to believe that the latter was the
correct solution of the problem.

Soon after noon, however, all uncertainty vanished. Our guards entered,
commanded by one of the chiefs, and said we were to be taken to
judgment. They prepared us for the ordeal by tying our hands behind our
backs with thongs, so securely that there was no way to slip the bonds.
Then they fastened us together in a string by an original method.

A coil of dressed skin was brought and an Indian held one end while
another made a slip-noose and threw it over Duncan’s head. A second
slip-noose was placed around Bryonia’s neck, a third around that of
Uncle Naboth, a fourth around Nux and the fifth around my own neck.
There was still enough of the coil remaining for a second guard to
hold--and there we were. If any one of us attempted to run, or even to
struggle, he would only tighten his noose, and perhaps those of the
others, and risk a choking.

It wasn’t a bad method of keeping us orderly and meek, and we were not
at all pleased with the arrangement, I assure you.

When we had been thus secured the chief--who, by the way, was a “green
chief”--ordered us sternly to march; and so, like a gang of chained
convicts, we tramped from the gloomy hut and passed out into the
courtyard.



CHAPTER XXI

THE SACRIFICE


The elaborate preparations made for our “judgment” were certainly
flattering; but we were in no mood to appreciate the mocking attentions
of the San Blas.

The open space of the enclosure in front of the palace was filled with
a crowd of silent Indians, so many being present that we knew they must
have gathered from all parts of the territory.

Our guards led us through the close ranks of these spectators to a
clear place near the center, where King Nalig-Nad sat upon a bench with
a score of his favorite green chiefs ranged just behind him. At the
sides of this interesting group several women, all of whom had green
in their tunics, squatted upon the ground. At the king’s feet were the
same pretty boy and girl I had seen on my first presentation to the
potentate.

But this was not all. In the open space at the right of the king stood
Ilalah between two stout guards. The girl’s hands were bound behind her
back as ours were, but she was no longer blindfolded. Her proud and
beautiful face wore a smile as we were ranged opposite her, and she
called aloud in English in a clear voice:

“Have fortitude, my White Chief. In death as in life Ilalah is your
own.”

A murmur of reproach came from those of the San Blas who understood her
speech. The king looked at his daughter with a dark frown mantling his
expressive features.

“And I belong to Ilalah,” replied Duncan Moit, composedly, as he smiled
back at his sweetheart.

Indeed, I was proud of the courage of all my comrades on this trying
occasion. Bryonia and Nux were dignified and seemingly indifferent,
Uncle Naboth smiling and interested in each phase of the dramatic
scene, and the inventor as cool in appearance as if this gathering
of the nation was intended to do him honor. I do not know how I
myself bore the ordeal, but I remember that my heart beat so fast and
loud that I was greatly annoyed for fear someone would discover its
rebellious action and think me afraid. Perhaps I really was afraid; but
I was greatly excited, too, for it occurred to me that I was facing the
sunshine and breathing the soft southern air for almost the last time
in my life. I was sorry for myself because I was so young and had so
much to live for.

Ilalah, it seemed, was to be judged first because her rank was higher
than that of the strangers.

The king himself accused her, and when he began to speak his voice was
composed and his tones low and argumentative. But as he proceeded his
speech grew passionate and fierce, though he tried to impress upon his
people the idea that it was his duty that obliged him to condemn Ilalah
to punishment. However that plea might impress the Techlas it did not
deceive us in the least. It was father against daughter, but perhaps
the king’s hatred of the whites had turned him against his first born,
or else he preferred that the pretty girl nestling at his feet should
succeed him.

“Lords and chiefs of the Techlas,” he said, speaking in his native
language, “the Princess Ilalah has broken our laws and outraged the
traditions that have been respected in our nation for centuries. We
have always hated the white race, and with justice. We have forbidden
them to enter our dominions and refused to show them mercy if they fell
into our hands. But this girl, whose birth and station are so high that
she is entitled to succeed me as ruler of the Techlas, has violated our
most sacred sentiments. She has favored and protected a band of white
invaders; she has dared to love their chief, who has lied to us and
tricked us; she has even forgotten her maidenly dignity and run away
with him, preferring him to her own people. It is the law that I, her
father, cannot judge or condemn her, although it is my privilege to
condemn all others. Therefore I place her fate in the hands of my noble
chiefs. Tell me, what shall be the fate of the false Techla? What
shall be Ilalah’s punishment?”

The chiefs seemed undecided and half frightened at the responsibility
thus thrust upon them. They turned and consulted one another in
whispers, casting uncertain looks at the princess, who smiled back at
them without a trace of fear upon her sweet face.

Standing close beside Ilalah I now discovered our old friend Tcharn,
the goldsmith and arrow-maker, whose eager face showed his emotion at
the peril of his friend. His dark eyes roved anxiously from the girl
to her judges, and it was plain to see that he was fearful of her
condemnation.

I myself tried to read the decision of the chiefs from their faces, and
decided that while Ilalah was doubtless a great favorite with them all,
they could find no excuse for her conduct. Their conference lasted so
long that the king grew impatient, and his animosity became more and
more apparent as he glowered menacingly upon the girl and then glanced
appealingly at her judges, who tried to avoid his eyes.

Finally, however, the conference came to an end.

A tall, lean chief whose gray hairs and the prominence of the green
stripes in his tunic evidently entitled him to be the spokesman,
stepped forward and bowed low before the king.

“Mighty Ruler of the Techlas,” he said, “we have weighed well the
strange conduct of the Princess Ilalah and desire to ask her a
question.”

“The speech of the accused may not be considered,” said the king,
gruffly.

“It affects not her condemnation, but rather her punishment,” returned
the other.

“Then proceed.”

“Princess,” continued the old man, speaking in a kindly tone as he
addressed the young girl, “if in our mercy we spare your life will you
promise to forsake your white chief and yield him and his followers to
our vengeance?”

“No!” she answered, proudly.

Her questioner sighed and turned to his fellows, who nodded to him
gravely.

“Then,” said he, again turning to the king, “we find that the conduct
of the Princess Ilalah merits punishment, and the punishment is death!”

[Illustration: He drew the bowstring to his chin.]

The king smiled triumphantly and cast a look around the assemblage. Not
a man or woman returned his smile. They stood steadfast as rocks, and
only the little arrow-maker gave way to his grief by bowing his head in
his hands and sobbing most pitifully.

“We also find,” continued the grave chieftain, breaking the painful
pause, “that the law forbids any Techla to lift a hand against one of
the royal blood; and especially is that person immune who is next in
succession to the throne.”

This statement caused a thrill that could not be repressed to pass
through the crowd. The natives looked on one another curiously, but
satisfaction lurked in their dark eyes.

I began to like these people. In themselves they were not especially
disposed to evil, but their fiendish king had dictated their thoughts
and actions for so long that they were virtually the slaves of his
whims.

“Therefore,” said the chief, speaking in a firm voice, “who will
execute our decree of death upon the royal princess?”

“I will!” cried Nalig-Nad, springing to his feet. “The king is bound by
no law save his own will. The girl is condemned to death, and die she
shall!”

With a lightning gesture he caught up his bow and notched an arrow.

I looked toward Ilalah. Her face was pallid and set but she did not
flinch for an instant. One fleeting glance she gave into Duncan’s face
and then turned her eyes steadily upon her fierce and enraged sire.

The king did not hesitate. He drew the bowstring to his chin, took
rapid aim, and loosed the deadly shaft.

A cry burst from the assemblage, and even while it rang in my ears I
saw Tcharn leap into the air before the princess, receive the arrow in
his own breast, and then fall writhing in agony upon the ground.



CHAPTER XXII

THE THRUST OF A SPEAR


Instantly there was tumult all about us. The crowd broke and surged
toward the central point in the tragedy, forcing us who were in front
to struggle on the crest of the wave. Their reserve vanished and each
man cried to his neighbor in eager tones and allowed the mad excitement
of the moment full sway.

Some one cut Ilalah’s bonds and the girl sank to the ground to support
the head of the little arrow-maker upon her breast, pressing back his
thin locks and tenderly kissing him upon the forehead.

But he knew nothing of this grateful kindness. His eyes were set and
glazed, for the arrow had lodged in his heart.

A tug at my thong threatened to strangle me, for Moit had bounded
forward to kneel beside Ilalah and try to assist her in spite of his
own helpless condition. Then some semblance of order was restored and
our guards pushed us back and eased the thong which was fast throttling
me.

From the murmured words of the natives I gathered that Tcharn had
atoned by his sacrifice for all the guilt charged against the princess,
as the law declared that when the death penalty was imposed another
could die instead of the condemned and so set him free.

For this reason the king was raging like a wild beast and threatening
those who expressed sympathy for the girl who had so miraculously
escaped his brutal vengeance.

“But the whites, at least, shall die--and the black men who are with
them!” he shouted aloud, casting at us such glances of hatred and
ferocity that we knew our fate was sealed.

They had carried poor Tcharn away and the princess had risen to her
feet and now stood bravely confronting her father.

“It is folly to talk of injuring these strangers,” she answered him,
boldly. “I alone know their wonderful powers and that they are able to
crush us all if we dare attempt to harm them.”

The king let out a disdainful roar, but Ilalah’s words impressed many
in the crowd and caused the Techlas to murmur again.

“What can they do?” asked Nalig-Nad, derisively. “They are but
human and they are in our power.”

“They have their magic chariot,” she said, “which you all know can deal
death and destruction to their foes.”

“Magic!” retorted the king, laughing boisterously; “do you call that
poor, man-made contrivance magic?”

All eyes turned toward the opening, where a hundred yards beyond the
broken wall poor Moit’s automobile was standing motionless as we had
left it.

Most of those present had witnessed the machine’s marvelous
performances, and in nearly every face now lurked an expression of awe
or apprehension. Nalig-Nad saw the look, and it aroused him to fury.

“Come!” he cried, “I will prove that the white men have no magic.”

Seizing a heavy, bronze-tipped spear from an attendant he ran from the
enclosure and made directly for the automobile, followed by a crowd
of his most devoted adherents. The others, with us, remained to watch
curiously what he would do.

I saw Moit’s face pale and his lips tremble; but he stood firm and
steadfast while the king rushed upon his beloved machine and with a
powerful stroke drove the spear clean through the plates of sheathing
which protected the body.

I own I was amazed at such a display of strength, but a more athletic
savage than Nalig-Nad I have never beheld. When the jagged rent was
torn in the side of the automobile the crowd that surrounded it danced
gleefully and jeered at the helpless child of our poor inventor’s brain
as if it were alive and could feel their scorn.

Again Nalig-Nad seized a spear and hurled it at the side of the
machine, piercing once more the light but stout metal. A third went
crashing into the automobile, and then--

And then it seemed as though the world had suddenly come to an end.

I was dashed so forcibly against the huge body of my guard that where
he fell upon the hard earth his head was crushed in like an eggshell.
But I did not know this until I came to my senses and heard the sounds
of moaning all around me and saw the ground covered with the forms of
the stricken natives.

A knife severed my bonds and set me free, and I staggered to my feet
to find Ilalah and Duncan Moit supporting me until I could recover
sufficiently to stand alone.

Nux and Bryonia, all unhurt, were busy restoring the bruised and
bewildered Techlas to consciousness, while Uncle Naboth sat upon the
king’s bench, his clothing torn to tatters, and wiped away with his red
handkerchief the blood that trickled from a cut in his head.

I looked around wonderingly, trying to imagine what had happened, and
saw a piece of dull silver metal driven edgewise into the front of the
palace, where it was wedged firmly into the hard clay. That gave me a
hint, and I looked out upon the plain where the automobile had stood
and found that it had disappeared. So had Nalig-Nad and the crowd of
furious natives that had surrounded him as he plunged his spear into
the heart of Duncan Moit’s great invention.

Then I remembered the can of glycerine explosive and knew the whole
terrible story in an instant. The spear-point had made Ilalah Queen of
the Techlas. It had also deprived her lover of the perfect fruit of
years of inspired thought and faithful toil.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE DESERTER


While the village slowly recovered from the effects of this dreadful
calamity and the uninjured were caring for their less fortunate
brethren, our party was ushered into a comfortable apartment of the
palace and given food and drink and such comforts as the place afforded.

We saw nothing of Ilalah at the time, for with those chiefs left to her
she was doing her best to relieve the misery of the stricken village.
Moit was with her, alert and active, keeping constantly by her side and
eagerly assisting her in the work of mercy. This I learned afterward.
Just then I imagined him frantic with grief and despair, and I found
myself regretting the destruction of his great invention even more than
the loss of life caused by the explosive. The dead were unimportant
savages; the machine that had perished with them was the most splendid
achievement, I firmly believe, that any man in any era of civilization
has ever been able to boast.

But when toward evening Duncan Moit came to us with Ilalah, I was
astonished at his placid stoicism. Grieved he certainly was, but his
face expressed resolve and thoughtfulness more than despair.

“I’m awfully sorry, old man,” I said, laying a sympathetic hand upon
his shoulder. “I know how long and tedious the time will seem until you
are able to construct another machine as perfect as the one you have
lost.”

He shuddered a little at my words but replied gently:

“Sam, I shall never build another machine. That dream is over.”

“Over!” I cried, astonished. “What do you mean? Will you abandon all
your ambitions--the certain fortune that awaits you--the applause and
admiration of your fellow men?”

“What do they all amount to?” he asked. “Yes; I abandon them. I’m going
to live with Ilalah.”

“Here?”

“Here; in the half savage and almost unknown land of the Techlas. The
result of years of labor has been wiped out of existence in a flash,
and I have not the courage to begin all over again. I have no patterns
of the machine and the drawings and specifications all were destroyed
with it. I could never build another that would equal it in perfection.
But why should I attempt it? I do not need an automobile here. I do not
need fortune, or fame, or anything but love; and this Ilalah has given
me freely.”

“Do I understand you to mean that you will always remain in this
forsaken country?”

“That is my intention,” he said. “I shall help my wife to rule her
people and in her companionship be happy in a simple, natural way.”

We argued with him long and earnestly, while Ilalah sat beside him
silent and smiling but very sure that we could not prevail over his
sudden but preposterous resolution.

They found a few scraps of what they believed to have once been
Nalig-Nad, and that night the remains were consumed with fire,
accompanied by many impressive ceremonies. Other funeral pyres burned
also, both in the enclosure and on the plain beyond; for the most
malignant of the green chiefs had followed the king to assist him in
destroying the automobile and had therefore shared his fate.

Bright and early next morning Ned Britton appeared at the edge of the
forest leading his band of seamen to our rescue. We advanced eagerly
to meet him and told him the news of the king’s destruction and of our
altered standing with the new ruler of the San Blas. Ned had heard and
felt the explosion even on the wreck, but thought that it must have
been an earthquake.

The newcomers were not regarded with much favor by the Indians, yet
I thought that we all assisted greatly to lend dignity to the day’s
ceremonies, which included the formal acknowledgment of Ilalah as
ruler and lawgiver of the nation and her subsequent marriage--a most
primitive rite--to the inventor, Duncan Moit. Ilalah’s husband was next
adopted as a Techla, and then the excitement seemed to subside and the
population settled down to business again.

However, there was no denying the fact that the natives resented
our presence among them and were ill at ease while we remained in
the village. So I told “King Duncan,” as Uncle Naboth insisted upon
jocosely calling him, that we would make haste to return to our ship.

He offered no objection to our going, but stated simply that it would
be our wisest course. Then he hesitated a moment, as if embarrassed,
and added:

“You must never come back, you know. The Techlas will live their own
lives in their own way, and hereafter I am to be one of them and shall
forget everything that exists outside our borders. We permit you to
go freely now, as a return for your kindness to our queen; but should
you be daring enough to return at any time I warn you that you will be
received as enemies, and opposed to the death.”

“Will you become another Nalig-Nad, then?” I asked, indignant at the
traitorous words.

“In the future, as in the past, the demoralizing influences of the
whites and their false civilization will be excluded from the dominions
of the San Blas,” he answered, coolly. “My wife will rule as her
fathers did, in spite of the fact that one white man has been admitted
into the community. You have been my friends, but when you leave me
now you must forget our friendship, as I am resolved to do. Should you
invade the country of the Techlas again, you do so at your peril.”

This assertion, coming from one whom I had trusted and regarded as
a faithful comrade, filled me with consternation not unmixed with
resentment. But the man had always been peculiar and I tried to make
allowances for his erratic nature.

“Tell me, then,” I said, after a moment’s thought; “how about dividing
those diamonds?”

“They are yours. I have no use for such things now,” he added, a touch
of sadness in his voice. “You are welcome to whatever share was due
me--on one condition.”

“What is that, Duncan?”

“That you will tell no one where you found them and will promise never
to return here for more.”

I hesitated, and Uncle Naboth looked sorely disappointed.

“It is my intention,” continued Moit, firmly, “to support the
traditions of the Techlas. They must own nothing that will arouse the
cupidity of the outside world, for only in this way will they be able
to control their own territory. I am glad the audacious Tcharn is dead,
and I will destroy all his pretty goldsmith work within the next few
days. Also I shall have the valley of diamonds thoroughly searched and
all the white pebbles cast into the sea. Therefore no temptation will
exist for you or your fellows to come here again. Our laws will be
rigidly maintained, and any strangers, white or black, who defy them
will be severely punished.”

Yes, I had always suspected a streak of madness in Moit. Perhaps the
destruction of his marvelous invention had served to unbalance a mind
already insecurely seated. Anyway, I could see that he was in deadly
earnest and that any argument would be useless. My companions, also,
noted a strange glitter in his eyes that warned them he would not lift
a finger to save their lives if they again ventured to invade the
country ruled by Queen Ilalah.

So, with regret, we submitted to the inevitable. We bade Duncan Moit
and his beautiful bride farewell and marched away through the forest
till we came to the banks of the river, where the wreck lay in plain
sight. A strong escort of silent natives watched us until we were all
on board, and then they melted away and disappeared like ghosts.

I have never seen the inventor since, or stepped a foot upon the land
of the Techlas.



CHAPTER XXIV

WE LEAVE PANAMA


Well, the story is told, as you may easily guess.

Uncle Naboth and I ran up to Colon, and not liking that city took a
train across the isthmus to Panama, which we liked no better. The
half-caste Spaniards and natives are a miserable lot, and do not
compare either in intelligence or dignity with the isolated tribes
of the San Blas. Some day, however, when the great canal is built,
Americans will invade these parts in such numbers that the present
population will disappear.

It is a mistake to think the climate of Panama unhealthful. On the
uplands, both north and south of the depression where the canal zone is
established, it is as healthful as any tropical country in the world.
In the zone itself, which is ten miles wide, bad sanitation caused
by the carelessness of the French workmen used constantly to breed
fevers and disease. The Americans are now busily cleansing the Augean
stables and good sanitary conditions are rapidly being established. But
I will say this: that unless one has business in Panama he may readily
discover a more desirable location for a residence.

We soon returned to the wreck, which we preferred to the towns of
the isthmus, and there amused ourselves until the _Carmenia_ arrived
at Colon. Then her captain, an active and energetic young man named
Colton, took charge of the remains of the _Gladys H._ He had received
orders to remove the cargo, strip the wreck of all valuables and then
abandon her where she lay.

He brought his ship alongside with ease and as soon as he was in
charge and had given me a receipt, our people removed their personal
possessions and were rowed round to Colon, where a steamer was shortly
due that would carry us to New Orleans.

I kept an eye upon the forest for Moit, thinking he might appear to bid
us good-bye; but he did not. We warned Captain Colton not to land in
the San Blas country, but did not confide to him any part of our recent
remarkable experiences.

A few days later we caught the steamer and made a quick voyage across
the gulf. We reached Chelsea on the twelfth day of February, and were
warmly welcomed by my father, who reported the _Seagull_ nearing
completion.

The diamonds were sold for a surprising amount of money, because the
stones proved exceptionally large and perfect, and the proceeds were
equally divided between Ned Britton, Uncle Naboth and myself. We had
selected three good specimens of the “white pebbles” to sell for the
benefit of our faithful seamen, and the amount of prize money they
received from this source greatly delighted them. Nux and Bryonia would
never accept anything in the way of money at all. They said that they
belonged to Uncle Naboth and “Mars Sam,” and they knew very well that
whatever we had they were welcome to.

Neither Mr. Harlan nor his company ever blamed me for the loss of the
_Gladys H._ It was one of those fateful occurrences that mortal man is
powerless to control.



Transcriber’s Note:

The only known changes made to the original publication are as follows:

  Page 27
    “Of coure, Sam,” he replied _changed to_
    “Of course, Sam,” he replied

  Page 36
    his shoes of shiney _changed to_
    his shoes of shiny

  Page 59
    games of penocle under _changed to_
    games of pinochle under

  Page 94
    one of the coveted “pebbles,” _changed to_
    one of the coveted ‘pebbles,’

  Page 102
    I bequeathe to him my wealth _changed to_
    I bequeath to him my wealth

  Page 107
    o’ diamon’s to rust under _changed to_
    o’ di’monds to rust under

  Page 159
    daughter, with much cermony _changed to_
    daughter, with much ceremony

  Page 165
    cannot run the macine _changed to_
    cannot run the machine

  Page 183
    automobile with consumate skill _changed to_
    automobile with consummate skill

  Page 189
    held it in place allowing it to _changed to_
    held it in place allowed it to

  Page 216
    Nux was the best marksman of the two _changed to_
    Nux was the better marksman of the two

  Page 217
    suffered in this catastrophy _changed to_
    suffered in this catastrophe

  Page 227
    dwarf, or liliputian, or whatever he _changed to_
    dwarf, or Lilliputian, or whatever he

  Page 238
    was a vast colonade _changed to_
    was a vast colonnade

  Page 259
    gorgeous boquet of wild flowers _changed to_
    gorgeous bouquet of wild flowers

  Page 280
    having doutbless been dragged _changed to_
    having doubtless been dragged

  Page 291
    the royal princess?. _changed to_
    the royal princess?

  Page 292
    face was palid _changed to_
    face was pallid

  Page 295
    “What can they do” asked _changed to_
    “What can they do?” asked





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