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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Land Of Mystery - Chapter 10. Double-Guarded
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The Land Of Mystery - Chapter 10. Double-Guarded Post by :eggibiz Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Sylvester Ellis Date :July 2011 Read :1941

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The Land Of Mystery - Chapter 10. Double-Guarded

CHAPTER X. DOUBLE-GUARDED

The native who had made the wonderful throw of the javelin stood a moment longer, and then as if satisfied that he could do no more, he turned about and disappeared.

Fortunately, the missile had struck the upper part of the canoe, through which it tore a jagged hole several inches wide, and a short distance above the water. The injury could be easily repaired, and at present required no attention.

The paddles were again called into play, and the prow of the craft gently touched shore.

Having reached the right bank, the explorers had something to think of beside the savages whom they hoped were left behind for good. Two white men were known to be in the neighborhood, and there was warrant for believing they were as hostile as the natives from whom our friends had had such a narrow escape. With their superior intelligence, there was more to be feared from them than from the brave but ignorant savages; but, at the same time, it was to be hoped they might be conciliated, and that, if not, they would fight without the use of the fearful implements used by the savages, who held human life in such light esteem.

On the other hand, the explorers were too sensible to believe they had seen the last of the warriors that had proven their daring and ferocity.

It was decided to leave all the luggage in the canoe which was held so lightly against the bank that it could be shoved into the river at an instant's need. No fire was to be kindled, although the entire party left the boat and advanced to the edge of the wood, beneath whose shelter they seated themselves on the ground.

The night which they had hoped would afford them much needed rest, promised to be most exhausting in its requirements.

It had been the custom of the explorers, when camping on their way to the Matto Grosso, to have at all times a couple of their number on guard, the night being divided into two watches. For the first five hundred miles, after leaving the Amazon, this precaution was mainly to provide against the wild animals, that were always prowling around camp, and often showed a curiosity to make the acquaintance of the sleepers, and especially of their supplies.

The white men held an earnest consultation, while occupied in eating their evening meal or lunch. Had they deemed it prudent to kindle a fire, they would have prepared some fragrant coffee, of which they carried an abundance, though plenty of the little berries were encountered growing wild along the Xingu.

But that much-relished refreshment was now dispensed with, and they ate their fruit and a slight quantity of dried meat in darkness. The fish in the river was an unfailing source of supply, but that species of food also required fire in its preparation, and was therefore out of the question for the time.

Their latitude was about fifteen degrees south, the temperature being so mild that the whites could have got along very well with as scanty raiment as their native helpers, though, as has been intimated, they clung to a civilized costume. They wore broad Panama hats, flannel shirts, with no coats or vests, and strong duck trousers thrust into their bootlegs. Thus attired, they were probably as comfortable as they could be.

A belt around the waist contained a supply of cartridges for their Winchesters and revolvers, besides affording a resting place for the knives, the indispensible Smith & Wesson being carried in the hip pocket, after the usual fashion.

In view of the unusual peril threatening the party, extra precautions were taken against surprise. It was arranged that Quincal and Jared Long should mount guard until midnight, when they would give way to Pedros and the professor. This would leave Bippo and Ashman free from any duty, their turn to come the following night.

Ashman, however, insisted on taking a part which was somewhat original in its nature. He was confident that if the savages found it impracticable to cross the Xingu in sight of the explorers, they would pass down stream and endeavor to do so, at a point where they could not be observed by those in camp.

He meant, therefore, to station himself so as to be able to detect such a movement. With his repeating rifle at command, he was sanguine of defeating the attempt, even though made by a score of enemies.

But for the peculiar contour of the banks on both sides, the whites could have done much better by simply paddling the canoe a quarter of a mile down the river and then hiding under the overhanging vegetation; but it has been explained that the Xingu, when its volume was swelled by rain, had swept the shores with such violence that they were bare for a dozen feet from the water.

Such a movement, therefore, would have to be made in the full light of the moon, and would, therefore, be plainly perceptible from the opposite bank--a fact which rendered the precaution of no avail.

All conceded the wisdom of Ashman's plan. The Professor urged him in case he found himself growing drowsy, to return at once to camp and allow one of his friends to take his place. The young man gave his promise, and, bidding them good-by, he began stealing down the stream, keeping as closely within the wall of shadow as he could, and advancing with as much care as though he saw the fierce savages across the Xingu watching for just such a movement.

The peculiar nature of the ground rendered progress easy, and he paused after going about a furlong, believing he had advanced sufficiently far to accomplish what he wished.

The essential work of Ashman was to cover one-half the distance between him and the camp, the further half being under the surveillance of the guards on duty there. Since he could also overlook the stream equally far in the opposite direction, it will be seen that the savages would have to make their crossing nearly a fourth of a mile below the camp to escape observation.

All this was on the theory that the lone sentinel was really able to scan the space with sufficient clearness to detect anything of the nature apprehended, and that the savages themselves had no suspicion of any such extra care on the part of their enemies.

The astonishing brilliancy of the moonlight will be appreciated, when it is stated that Ashman felt not the least doubt of his ability to meet every requirement of his self-assumed duty.

Well aware, from previous experience, of the insidious approach of slumber to the most vigilant sentinel, when unable to keep in motion, he avoided sitting down, even though he never felt more wakeful. So long as he stood erect, there was no danger of his lapsing into unconsciousness.

Another indispensable requirement was that he should not be tempted into venturing from the shadow where he stood, for such an act was liable to bring about discovery and defeat the very object that had brought him thither.

The moon was so nearly in the zenith that the shade from the edge of the forest did not project halfway across the open space to which we have alluded. It was in this partial gloom that the young man took his station, placing himself as far back as he could without standing among the trees themselves.

He was in the position of one who feels that the lives of his dearest friends are placed in his hands. To him, nothing was more evident than that the revengeful savages would attempt to cross the stream and make another stealthy attack upon the camp. They surely must feel enough dread of the terrible weapons that had wrought such havoc, not to defy them again, but would make their next demonstration in the nature of a flank movement.

One fact caused Ashman some surprise; he had seen nothing of any canoes or boats, which were plentiful along the shores of the Xingu below. It was not to be supposed that such a powerful and brave tribe as those on the other side, would live in a country abounding in streams, without finding need of such craft.

But because he had not seen them, was no proof that they were not in existence. They may have been drawn up among the trees, their precise location known only to their owners.

The prospect of holding his place for several hours, with his senses at a high tension, was not an inviting one, for he did not expect the savages to make their attempt before midnight; all such people aiming to surprise their enemies when wrapped in profound slumber.

But Ashman had not been at his station a half hour, when, to his amazement, he discovered that something was going on across the river directly opposite.

Despite the strong moonlight, he was unable to guess for a long time what it meant. He first heard a splash, as though a body had fallen or been thrown into the water, and then, for several minutes, everything was still as before.

It was a source of annoyance to him that at this moment, when he hoped to keep his attention fixed on matters on the other bank, he should be disturbed by a sound among the trees directly behind him. He, turned sharply and looked around, for the noise which had caught his attention was a footfall beyond all question.

But, if the youth was to be taken between two fires, he was ready. The stranger nearest him could have no thought of his proximity, or he would have taken more care to suppress any noise. Since he was so much nearer than him on the other side. Ashman was forced to give his whole attention for the moment to the former's approach.

His suspense was brief, for while he stood with rifle ready, a large puma, or American lion, emerged from a point a couple of rods away, walked in his stealthy fashion to the edge of the river and began lapping the water.

Ashman wished nothing with him in view of more important business elsewhere, and he, therefore, stepped softly back in the wood, before the beast finished drinking.

The puma quickly slaked his thirst, and then, raising his head, looked about him with an inquiring stare as though he scented something suspicious. He gazed toward the other shore and finally swung himself lightly around, and trotted back to the forest.

Just before entering, he abruptly stopped and looked toward the spot where Ashman was concealed. He offered a tempting shot, but it hardly need be said that the young man restrained himself, and the next minute the beast vanished.

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