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Title: Jaragu of the Jungle Author: Rex Beach * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1900321h.html Language: English Date first posted: March 2019 Most recent update: March 2019 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Chapter 1. - Trouble Aloft
Chapter 2. - Jaragu
Chapter 3. - A Miraculous Escape
Chapter 4. - The San Blas Chieftain
Chapter 5. - In Hostile Country
Chapter 6. - The Poison Cup
Chapter 7. - The Buried Box
Chapter 8. - A Strange Story
Chapter 9. - In Darkness
Chapter 10. - The Village of the Dead
Chapter 11. - The Bushmaster
Chapter 12. - Pursuit
Chapter 13. - The El Chico
Chapter 14. - Death on the Ledge
Chapter 15. - Yellow Riches
Chapter 16. - The Attack
Chapter 17. - The Siege
Chapter 18. - The Way Out
Chapter 19. - New Enemies
Chapter 20. - Down the River
Flying blind through the blackness of a wall of tropical rain, the man at the plane’s controls looked grim.
“Now we’re in for it!” he muttered, his tone inaudible above the roar of the storm.
A blinding flash of lightning stabbed the darkness and revealed “Sunshine” Jones, his negro boy companion, looking back at him from the forward cockpit.
“Wh-wh-where is we at?” the colored boy hollered, his eyes as round as saucers.
“Over the San Blas coast,” the pilot answered, grinning behind his rain-drenched goggles.
Sunshine had been brought along as a guide, and now he was asking where he was!
The altimeter showed a thousand feet. The compass indicated a course “east by southeast.” They had been flying two hours since leaving the Colon airport at the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal. According to the pilot’s best reckoning, allowing for a sixty-mile headwind and drift, they ought to be somewhere over that wild and unexplored region along the Caribbean shore of Central America, but just exactly where?
Stories of fabulously rich gold mines had trickled out of this isolated section of the tropics. Captain William Adams was interested in mines—interested enough to go flying in search of one—but this storm was making mine-hunting both difficult and dangerous. Ex-army pilot and mining engineer with a yearning for adventure, Captain Adams had been in many a tight place, but now he felt, quite abruptly, that there would some day be one he could not get out of with a whole skin.
Suddenly and without warning the single motor cut out. Captain Adams had had his dire hunch confirmed.
The pilot instantly set the low-winged plane into a long glide while he struggled to get the motor going again.
A few seconds showed him that it was hopeless.
“Heads up, Sunshine,” he called with contrary cheerfulness. “We’re going down to earth—and we’ll probably land smack on a crocodile!”
As they rushed downward, Captain Adams looked over the side. He had a fleeting glimpse of a wind-swept beach with long combers rolling in from the ocean, and on the beach the lithe brown figure of a young savage with his face upturned at the unfamiliar sight of an airplane swooping low.
Then came the crash.
A sound as of a single clap of thunder echoed through the rain. The airplane quivered like a great bird which had been struck a mortal blow, and then was still.
If anyone had thought that a gigantic denizen of the air had fallen there, he would have been sure that all life had left the huge body.
The surf was pounding and roaring across the outer reef as Jaragu swung his cayuca, or fishing boat, toward a break in the coral barrier. The cayuca had been hollowed out of a solid piece of mahogany, as were most of the boats used by the San Blas Indians of the region.
The boy wore only a loin cloth. His finely muscled body was the color of bronze. Watching his chance, he drove in on the crest of a wave. A moment later he was moving swiftly toward the second or inner reef.
The water was choppy now, but the swell and roll of the open sea was broken by the outer reef that shelters Puyadas Cay from the storm-swept Caribbean seas. The wind was still howling from offshore. Blinding rain descended with tropical suddenness and with it came the crashing of thunder and forked lightning.
Guided only by sound and a sure sense of direction, the boy steered the light cayuca through a narrow break in the inner reef. From there to shore it was easy going, and he settled back and let the wind carry him along.
In the bow of the boat there was a large tarpon with a hole in its head where the boy’s spear had found its mark. Jaragu looked at the large fish and smiled proudly. He had been far down the coast. His luck had been good. Now he was almost home.
Just as the brown lad sat thinking about these things, his keen ears caught a strange noise. It came from above and sounded like the drone of many, many giant bees.
Suddenly the droning sound stopped, and presently a giant bird passed over him through the air. It made a strange whistling cry as it passed, and an instant later the boy heard it strike the beach of Payudas Cay with a roar like the thunder itself.
Jaragu’s first impulse was to take to his heels, though the unknown monster had surely dashed itself to death on the earth. But he stood his ground and stared. He could see the creature through the rain. Its queer tail stuck up high in the air. Its wings were broken off from its body and its head seemed to be buried deep in the sand.
Now Jaragu prided himself on not being afraid of any living thing. This one, huge though it was, appeared to be quite dead, for it lay still and made no sound. Therefore, remembering his pride, he steered for the shore instead of paddling toward the village on the opposite end of the cay.
Beaching his cayuca, Jaragu cautiously approached the wreck. Still believing it to be the carcass of some great bird that might still have enough life left to attack and hurt him, the boy held his spear in readiness. But the great flying thing remained quite motionless as he came near.
Then Jaragu saw something that froze him in his tracks.
Out of a gaping hole in the back of the dead creature crawled a man with a black skin. His skin was far darker than the darkest-skinned man among the San Blas people. He saw Jaragu at the same instant that the native boy was so surprised to see him. The black man also saw Jaragu’s poised spear, and he promptly ducked back into the great bird’s inside.
“Man, put away dat pigsticker or somebody’s gwine get hurt,” Sunshine yelled in alarm. “Cap’n Bill, Cap’n Bill—where is you all at?”
“Here, Sunshine,” a voice answered him.
At the sound of another voice, Jaragu whirled to see a white man getting up from the sand several paces in front of the great bird. The white man held one hand gripping his shoulder and his white face was twisted with pain.
“Are you hurt, Sunshine?” Captain Adams, called.
“No, suh,” the black boy replied. “But I’m afeared I’s gwine be hurt ‘fore long. See dat feller with de spearment? Can’t you talk some words to him, suh? He don’ seem to savvy English as I speaks it to him.”
Seeing that neither of these strange men carried a spear, Jaragu stood his ground and gripped his weapon more firmly. He advanced no farther, however, for caution is the first law of the jungle. Something about the men and their unfamiliar speech compelled Jaragu to remain and watch.
The white man turned and faced the native boy. Then he slowly raised his left hand in the San Blas signal of brotherhood.
“We come in friendship and peace,” he said in Jaragu’s own language.
Jaragu relaxed his grip on his spear and lowered its tip. He stared at the white man fixedly.
“You speak with the tongue of my people,” he said, “and yet you are not one of us.”
Captain Adams smiled.
“We belong to another tribe,” he explained. “Our boat which travels through the air instead of in the water has been broken by the storm. We seek a shelter for the night. Will you take us to your chief?”
The native boy shook his head.
“Chief Chingana does not welcome strangers who come to Puyadas Cay,” Jaragu replied regretfully, for this white man seemed friendly.
What was more, Jaragu was stirred by the rousing of old memories. The white man’s first words in his own tongue had not been wholly strange. His speech brought back almost-forgotten recollections of Jaragu’s childhood, and there flashed in Jaragu’s mind a fleeting picture of his mother, who had now been gone to the world of spirits for more than ten rainy seasons. She had spoken words very much like those of this white man.
“I will talk to your chief and tell him that we come in peace,” Captain Adams went on.
“Then I will take you to Chief Chingana,” Jaragu agreed.
“Come on out, Sunshine,” the captain called to his guide.
Sunshine stuck his head out, and, seeing that the spear was no longer being brandished, he climbed to the beach.
“Is yo’ bad hurt, boss?” he inquired.
“Afraid my shoulder’s broken,” was the reply, accompanied by a grimace of anguish. “Listen, Sunshine,” he then continued; “There’s something queer about that native boy. He isn’t a San Blas, unless I’m an Indian too. I don’t see how or why, but I’m sure he’s—”
Before the captain could finish what he was about to say, he clutched his injured shoulder convulsively and collapsed in a sprawling heap on the sand.
Sunshine stared incredulously at the fallen figure of Captain Adams. It was the first time he had seen his employer unconscious.
“Hey!” he called to Jaragu. “Come he’p me get the cap’n up agin!”
Jaragu frowned. He missed in the dark boy’s pronunciation much of the familiar sound that he had recognized in the white man’s speech. Yet the words were still remotely like something he once had known. He realized that the black boy was asking for help—that was it, HELP.
“Yes,” Jaragu whispered. “Yes. I HELP.”
Saying the words was like a magic touch inside him. They warmed his inner being and gave him renewed pride and confidence. Energetically he drove his spear into the sand and bent to help Sunshine lift the unconscious white man. Together the two lads carried Captain Adams to the beached cayuca.
Putting the man into the boat, Jaragu pushed off while Sunshine sat in the bow.
About an hour later, Jaragu ran his light craft up on the beach close by the big house of Chief Chingana, in whose household the boy had lived since his mother’s death. The rain had stopped and the wind had blown itself out during their journey from the scene of the crash to the village on the south side of the cay.
The natives gathered quickly as the news spread that Jaragu had brought two strangers to the village and was leading them to the house of the chief. A runner meanwhile went ahead to bring word to the old chief that Jaragu of the fair hair was bringing strangers to speak with him.
Chief Chingana was an old man with shrunken skin and sharp, cunning little eyes peering out from their shriveled sockets beneath bushy eyebrows overgrown with the years. He awaited their coming in the large circular room of the Great House which was his palace. Behind him stood the old men of the tribe, his counselors. They had been hastily summoned to help decide the fate of the strange visitors.
Several young men stood around the sides of the room. They held burning torches aloft, for there were no windows. The flickering yellow light gave the interior of the Great House a menacing and forbidding appearance. The expressions on the faces of the Indians took on a sinister cast.
Jaragu, assisted by Sunshine, carried Captain Adams into the council room and laid him gently on a pile of matting. Sunshine eyed the silent group of natives and muttered something under his breath to Jaragu.
“Yo’ may be all right,” he whispered, “but yo’r frien’s looks to me like dey’d be mighty pleased to feed us foreign folks to de croc’diles, yes, suh.”
Jaragu puzzled over Sunshine’s words without understanding them. They sounded vaguely familiar, but he was unable to make any sense out of them.
Forgetting his bafflement, Jaragu turned to face the chief, who was seated on his throne chair, waiting. He wore as a crown a battered old bowler hat, evidently secured in barter from some trader years before. The chief was frowning thoughtfully as he listened for what Jaragu had to report.
“The white man and his black companion come out of the storm,” Jaragu said. “They flew in a great ship that rides the air like a bird. Their boat fell on the beach and lost its wings. The white man was injured. They ask for food and shelter.”
The chief listened. His face did not alter its grim lines. When Jaragu had finished, the chief beckoned to one of his counselors. For a moment the two old men jabbered together like a pair of excited monkeys. Then the chief turned his solemn face back to where Jaragu stood.
“If the white man is dead,” he announced, “it is good, for we shall then not be put to the work of killing him. The dark man is alive, and therefore he must die.”
Sunshine, who stood at Jaragu’s elbow, tugged at his arm.
“I don’t like how dat ol’ buzzard looked at me,” he complained.
Jaragu motioned impatiently for Sunshine to be silent. Then he again addressed the Old chief.
“I am aware that it is the custom of our people to put to death all strangers,” he said. “I believe in the wisdom of the great chief who has spoken. But there is something of which I must make mention. These men speak in a tongue that reminds me of my mother. They make me think that perhaps they are some distant kinsmen of mine. For this reason, O Chief, I beg that their lives may be spared, for if they are my kinsmen they are not wholly strangers among us.”
“How long has Jaragu been sitting with the council of elders?” Chief Chingana snarled.
Jaragu’s eyes flashed at the insult and for a moment his tongue was flooded with hot words. The chief looked at him narrowly, aware that the boy was about to flame in anger. For years Chief Chingana had been amused by having a child of the hated white race in his Great House. But the boy had grown tall and strong, and he had a clever mind. He would make a stalwart leader, and he already had many followers among the younger men of the tribe.
But Jaragu swallowed his impending wrath. The old chief was the only father he knew and he had given him a home.
“I do not ask to judge,” he explained. “I only came to plead for my kinsmen. I should be disgraced if I said no word in their behalf; The white man is not dead, I think. But he is badly hurt and he needs food and rest before he will be able to travel again.”
Another old man stepped to the chiefs side and whispered in his ear. A crooked smile spread over the twisted skin of Chingana’s face as he again spoke to the earnest boy.
“Tomorrow We begin the Chicha Festival. When it is over we shall pass final judgment on the strangers. In the meantime Jaragu shall play at being a woman and nurse the wounded white man back to health.”
Jaragu flushed at the sarcasm but said nothing.
Signaling that the meeting was over, Chingana left the room, followed by his elders.
The Chicha was a dancing and drinking festival lasting for about a week. While it was going on the San Blas people were particularly dangerous, because their native passions were aroused to fever pitch.
Jaragu, his face flaming at the insults which had been hurled at him, watched the chief depart. Then the boy signed to Sunshine to help him carry Captain Adams to a smaller hut near the Great House.
The captain was placed on a bed crudely built of bamboo and palm fronds. Jaragu then set about binding the broken shoulder with a tough kind of fiber cloth. When he had finished this task he stood up and smiled at Sunshine.
“I go,” he said, speaking slowly and carefully. “I—bring—food.”
Laughing with surprise at remembering these words that his mother had taught him, Jaragu went out.
Captain Adams was restless and feverish all during the first night in Jaragu’s hut, but the next day the fever left him. He began to take an interest in what was going on around him.
It was immediately clear to him that they were prisoners, for one of Chingana’s men stood outside the door of the hut, which was thatched with bamboo and palm.
Again Jaragu went out to bring food, and Sunshine took the opportunity to explain what had happened.
Captain Adams lay on his back without moving. He was trying to figure out how Jaragu, apparently a white boy who was deeply tanned, happened to be growing up among these savage San Blas Indians.
“Have you asked Jaragu how he got here?” he asked Sunshine.
“He don’ get ever’thin’ I says to him. But he say he been heah all the time. I don’ get ever’thin’ he say, neither. He talk like th’ words are not frien’s of hisn. Learned ‘em by his mammy, I guess, an’ she passed on yeahs back. He say we may be cousins or sumpin.”
At that moment the light was shut off from the doorway. A man had paused in the narrow entrance to the hut. Sunshine recognized him as one of the counselors of Chief Chingana. In each hand he carried half a coconut shell filled with a liquid of a pinkish color.
“Chief Chingana sends greeting,” the old man announced.
He handed one cup to Captain Adams and the other to Sunshine.
Then he bowed himself out of the hut backward, bestowing upon them a toothless grin as he went.
“That sho’ look powerful good,” Sunshine said, inspecting his portion. “I been pretty thirsty, too.”
“I wonder what it is,” Captain Adams mused, holding the cup carefully as he raised himself on his good arm.
“I’s so thirsty I could drink it all in one gulp,” Sunshine stated.
“Wait,” the captain warned. “You say that Chief Chingana wanted to have us done away with last night?”
“Yes, suh,” Sunshine confirmed.
“Then I think we’d be wise to wait until Jaragu returns before we drink any of this stuff,” the captain decided.
“Aw, shucks,” Sunshine objected, “No tellin’ when he’ll be back, cap’n. An’ I’s so thirsty I could swaller dozens o’ coconut cups full o’ anythin’.”
“Just the same, I think we’d better wait,” the captain insisted, placing his own cup on the ground.
“Jes’ one little sip, cap’n?” Sunshine begged, for it was indeed hot enough in that hut to parch anyone’s throat.
The captain did not answer, for Jaragu returned just then. He carried a bunch of ripe bananas and several cooked fish on large leaves instead of plates.
“The chief sent us greetings,” the captain said, “and refreshments.”
At the sight of the coconut cups, Jaragu opened his eyes wide with apprehension. He snatched Sunshine’s cup from his hands and sniffed it.
“You—drink?” he demanded.
Sunshine shook his head sadly.
“Cap’n said wait,” he replied.
“Good,” Jaragu agreed. “This—kill. You—drink—you—die.”
“They were poison, then, as I suspected,” Captain Adams said quietly, watching Jaragu empty both cups on the ground at the edge of the room.
Sunshine, his eyes wide and round, quickly recovered himself. He reached for a banana and peeled it hungrily.
At sundown on the second night of the Chicha Festival, Jaragu came to the captain’s hut. From the open space in the center of the village came the savage cries and chants of the natives as they danced in whirling groups around the fires. Even Chief Chingana’s guards had gone to join in the drinking and dancing.
Jaragu addressed Captain Adams with great respect, in his own tongue.
“You have asked me who I am and where my mother and father came from,” he said. “That I cannot tell you. I have often wondered. But I think I shall soon know. You will tell me.”
Captain Adams was bewildered.
“I don’t understand,” he said, also in the boy’s native language.
“I will explain,” Jaragu went on. “Before my mother died she lived in this village many years, as a prisoner, I now believe, in the Great House of Chief Chingana. She taught me to tell the meaning of marks in a book of leaves, and taught me also how to make marks on paper or in the sand which somebody else could understand if he knew my language. These things she taught me in the tongue you, my kinsman, speak. Alas! I have now forgotten many of those words, my kinsman.”
“But how can I tell who your mother and father were?” Captain Adams asked.
“Before my mother died,” Jaragu continued, “she took me to a great tree which grew not far from our village. She showed me a certain spot near that tree and urged me to note it well, so that I should never forget it. In that spot she placed a box and covered it with earth. In the box were some papers with marks on them, which someone knowing the language could understand. She said that one day a white man would come, and that I should then dig up the box and give it to him so that he might tell me who I am and where I belong in the world.”
“Have you ever seen this box, Jaragu?” the captain inquired.
“Yes, once,” was the reply. “Many years ago I dug it up. In it was the face of my mother on paper, looking just as she did before she became a spirit. Also there was the face of my father, for so my mother had told me, though him I had never seen. I was afraid Chief Chingana would destroy these things if he knew I had them, and I buried them again in the same spot.”
The captain was suddenly much interested.
“Do you think you can find the box again?” he demanded.
“Of a certainty,” Jaragu assured him. “Tonight there is a full moon. All the people of the cay will be at the Chicha ceremonies. I go to get the box now, in the moonlight, when no one shall see me.”
Jaragu moved swiftly to the doorway of the hut and looked out into the crooked space between the dwellings.
“Keep your guns in readiness, my kinsman,” he warned the captain. “The men of Chief Chingana are filled with the chicha wine and in their drunken state may come here to try and kill you.”
Then the tall brown lad disappeared in the shadows.
Captain Adams, who was now well enough and able to be up and around, took up his post just inside the door of the hut. From there he could see down the street of the village.
The savage music of the reed pipes and the drums echoed through the trees of the adjacent jungle. Shadows of the weird dancers were cast upon the walls of the houses surrounding the central clearing.
Sunshine lay asleep in the back of the hut. He had fallen into slumber after the evening meal, and was snoring peacefully now without a qualm.
Captain Adams watched the dancing shadows.
Half an hour passed with no sign of trouble.
Then, suddenly, a shadowy figure emerged from the blackness of the trees and moved stealthily toward the hut.
Captain Adams was alert and saw the figure approach. Slowly he raised his gun, holding it ready as the figure came nearer and nearer.
It was Jaragu!
Under his arm the lad carried a small box, oblong in shape. Entering the hut, he pulled a piece of heavy matting across the doorway to shield them from anyone on the outside. Then he handed the box respectfully to the captain and waited expectantly for him to open it.
Luckily, Captain Adams still had his flashlight, and he had conserved its batteries. Now he used it to assist him in releasing the catches of the box Jaragu had brought. Then he lifted the lid.
By the light from his flash, he saw that the box contained several papers and letters. Handing the light to Jaragu and instructing him to hold its beam directed on the papers, the captain removed the contents of the box.
Besides the papers, there were some other things—a woman’s wedding ring, a locket containing the picture of a man and a strikingly beautiful woman (the faces that Jaragu had spoken of), undoubtedly the lad’s parents. Handing the ring and locket to the boy, the captain unfolded a paper on which was written the secret of Jaragu’s life.
The captain studied it for a moment, and then slowly and carefully he read, it aloud.
The paper, dated some time in the year 1926, told this strange story:
“My name is Marie Wilson. In 1920 my husband came to Panama in search of gold. Against his will he brought me along. His name was Harvey Wilson, and, to the best of my knowledge, neither he nor I have any living relatives besides my son Gerald, in whose trust I have left the secret of this box and all it contains.
“My husband found the mine. It is very rich, and I wish to pass on the claim to it to my son Gerald, who is now known as Jaragu and is living in the Great House of Chief Chingana of Puyadas Cay. Gerald or Jerry—his Indian name Jaragu is the way the natives pronounce it—was born May 12, 1921, six months after my husband was murdered by savages who came from beyond the mountains on the mainland. I suspect that Chingana had my husband killed, but this I shall never know for certain.
“I have been a prisoner here for five years. I have taught my son the English language, and it is my hope that someone of his own race will find him before it is too late to restore him to his rightful heritage. I am writing this because I fear that I shall never live to see that happy day.
“In this box you will find a map giving the location of the El Chico Mine, and a mother’s prayer goes out to the reader of this letter that he will do all in his power to see that my son is well provided for should it ever be possible to subdue the warlike natives and work the mine.
“Please read this letter to my son, if he is still alive, and tell him that it is his mother’s last loving wish that he shall go to live among his own people. Tell him that his father would have wished it as I do with all my heart.”
The document was signed “Marie Wilson.”
There were tears in Jaragu’s eyes when the captain had finished reading the letter:
Finding his English still too halting, he spoke in San Blas tongue.
“Will you help me to find that mine, Captain Bill? And then will you take me back with you to my people, who are your people also?”
“I’ll do everything I can, Jerry,”
Captain Adams assured him, calling the boy by his right name.
“Call me Jaragu,” the boy urged. “It is the name I know best.”
“All right, Jaragu,” Captain Adams acquiesced. “How soon can we leave here?”
“I am prepared,” Jaragu told the somewhat surprised captain. “I have filled my cayuca with food. You risk death every day you stay on Payudas Cay, for soon the Chicha Festival will be ended. If your shoulder is now well enough for you to travel, we shall leave at once, as soon as the moon goes down tonight.”
“The sooner the better,” the captain readily agreed. “How soon does the moon set?”
“When you hear the big drum,” the boy answered. “That will be soon now.”
The captain drew out the map showing the location of the El Chico Mine. For several minutes they studied the crude drawing in the light from the flash, and then they sat in darkness as they carefully made their plans.
Sunshine slept peacefully on. Outside the dancers made the jungle echoes resound with their savage cries.
It seemed hours before the moon went down. When it finally sank behind the high peaks of the mountains on the mainland, there was left only the faint light of a few stars to lessen the tropical darkness. Even this light was dangerous, but they must take the risk.
“We must go now,” Jaragu said softly.
The wild music and the savage cries of the natives grew louder.
“Where is your cayuca?” the Captain asked.
Sunshine had been awakened and urged to silence. They gathered up their possessions.
“Come,” Jaragu answered quickly and led the way out of the hut. “We must make no sound and keep in the shadows. The cayuca is not far from here.”
With Jaragu leading and the Captain bringing up the rear, the trio made their way past the outlying huts. They all breathed easier when they finally reached the deep shadows beneath the palm trees and jungle brush.
Jaragu moved swiftly. He was as silent as a jaguar and his eyes could see in the blackness. As the sounds of the revelry of the villagers faded away behind them, the Captain stopped looking back over his shoulder. If he had looked back as they approached the tiny bay where Jaragu had hidden the cayuca, he would have seen a pygmy figure standing beside a tree.
In the shadow’s hand was an upraised spear.
The native drew back his spear to hurl it, but his jungle cunning warned him that he was no match for these three. Without a sound he turned and fled to the village to spread the alarm.
Unaware of the impending danger, Jaragu and his friends reached the spot where the cayuca was hidden. They stored their few belongings in the boat and made ready to carry it down to the water’s edge.
“Jaragu,” the Captain said suddenly, “if we’re going into the mountains we’ll need more than my revolvers for weapons. There were two rifles and a supply of food in the airplane. Do you think the Indians have looted the plane?”
“No, Captain Bill,” Jaragu answered. “The Puyadas people think your plane is a bird of evil omen and they will not go near it. I heard them talking about it only yesterday.”
“Good. Then we’d better go there first and get the rifles. We may need them to keep ourselves supplied with food, if for no other reason.”
“Yas, suh, das right,” Sunshine put in.
“It would be good to have them,” Jaragu admitted, “but we must hurry. We cannot take many steps before dawn, and we must be hidden in the jungles of the mainland before then if we are to escape.”
As Jaragu spoke he suddenly stiffened and swung around to face in the direction of the village.
“Something is wrong. The music and dancing have stopped,” he said.
“Perhaps they’ve discovered we are missing from the hut,” the Captain suggested.
“Let’s—let’s us get out o’ heah,” Sunshine urged.
The Negro nervously started to drag the cayuca toward the water.
“Yes,” Jaragu cried softly and leaped to help him. “They will come this way to look for you.”
The loaded cayuca was still a dozen paces from the water’s edge when the first warning of impending danger came to them.
A spear whistled through the air, passing between Sunshine and the Captain, striking the hull of the cayuca with a thud.
“They’ve found us,” the Captain cried. “Can you carry this end of the boat, Sunshine? I’ll try to hold them off.”
“Law’, boss,” Sunshine answered nervously. “Feelin’ like I does now I could fly with dis boat.”
Out of the shadows of the trees above the beach a second spear came singing toward them. It fell short and buried itself in the sand at the Captain’s feet.
Guessing at the direction, he whirled and fired blindly.
A medley of savage cries answered his shot. As the Captain slowly backed toward the water the spears kept thudding into the sand all around him.
One spearman, bolder than the others, rushed out of the shelter of the trees. He brandished his spear and came on, uttering strange cries.
The Captain swung round again, and, taking careful aim, he fired low. The savage crumpled with a cry of pain, and, rousing on all fours in a panic, he crawled back into the shadows.
“Come, Captain Bill,” Jaragu called.
The cayuca was now in the water. The captain fired several warning shots in the general direction of their pursuers; then, plunging into the water up to his waist, he climbed into the waiting boat and Jaragu shoved off.
“We must make straight for the mainland. There is no time to get the rifles from the plane,” Jaragu said. “Even now they are launching the war canoes. They will try to catch us before we reach the mainland.”
Jaragu sprang forward and swiftly rigged a small mast and sail on his small craft. The cayuca began to move swiftly across the dark water.
“She sails well,” Jaragu observed aloud with some pride. “If the wind does not die down they will never get within spear throw of us.”
Jaragu took his place in the stern of his craft and steered toward the dim outline of the distant shore. Out on the water the pale starlight made it possible to see for a considerable distance.
They were hardly a quarter of the way across the strait, however, when Jaragu’s prediction about the war canoes was borne out.
“Look,” the boy called to the Captain. “Chief Chingana lost no time.”
He was pointing to the water off the eastern tip of Puyadas.
Three long boats filled with armed savages were coming toward them. They were half a mile distant and appeared as dim shadows on the dark surface of the sea, but they were paddling hard.
“They’re gaining on us,” the Captain said after he had watched the canoes for several minutes. “Perhaps we’d better help our sail along.”
“You cannot use a paddle with your broken shoulder, but if you would have Sunshine take the big paddle in the bow it would help,” Jaragu answered.
The lad began driving the light craft faster with his own steering paddle.
“Much as I hates work,” Sunshine called with a chuckle, “I’d a heap rather paddle than sit heah an’ wait fer one o’ dem li’l fellers ter get near ’nough ter stick one o’ dem spears inter me. Yes, suh!”
“They’re still gaining,” the Captain called a few minutes later, “but not so rapidly now.”
“If we can reach the river that empties into the sea at the Village of the Dead, we will be safe until after sunrise,” Jaragu answered while he peered anxiously ahead.
“What is this Village of the Dead?” the Captain asked suddenly.
Jaragu paused to phrase his explanation.
“It is the burial ground of the Puyadas. It has houses and streets just like the village on the island, but no one lives there and you could not get any of the Puyadas people to go near it in the night,” he explained. “There’s the river,” he cried a moment later, and pointed his craft straight ahead.
In a few minutes they were gliding silently up a small sluggish river. A hundred yards from the mouth they came to a large clearing in the jungle.
“Did I heah yuh say dis am a graveyard?” Sunshine asked nervously.
Jaragu was heading the cayuca toward the shore.
“Perhaps you’d rather wait for our friends the Puyadas,” the Captain suggested grimly.
“How come we can’t jes’ go right on up dis heah ribber?” Sunshine objected.
“The river is shallow and choked with weeds,” Jaragu answered. “It is also alive with crocodiles, and they would surely upset the cayuca and kill us.”
“In dat case,” Sunshine answered without hesitation. “I’ll take my chances walkin’ through dis funny-lookin’ graveyard.”
The first pale streaks of dawn were shooting up from the eastern horizon when they beached the cayuca and gathered up their few possessions. They could see the war canoes standing off the shore until daylight.
“We must travel fast,” Jaragu warned. “In an hour the Puyadas will come ashore and hunt us in the jungle as they would the wild animals, and if they find us they will kill us.”
Once more Jaragu led the way. Captain Adams marveled that the boy showed no fear. For fifteen years he had lived among superstitious savages. He was as much if not more at home on the sea as in the jungle, and yet he had none of the fear of the supernatural that kept the savages from entering this Village of the Dead, which was taboo at night.
They moved swiftly along the, dark silent streets, past well-built houses in which no living person had ever lived. The place had a weird appearance. Out of the surrounding jungle came the strange night cries of birds and hunting animals.
Sunshine stayed as close as possible to Jaragu and the Captain. As they approached the end of the single street of the village, a solid wall of jungle vines and trees seemed to block the way ahead of them, but Jaragu moved toward it confidently.
“From what you have told me of the direction on the map I think I can lead you to the El Chico mine,” Jaragu said.
He pointed to the high peaks of the mountains, which were beginning to catch the first rays of the morning sun. The mountains were about a dozen miles to the south west.
A moment later Jaragu motioned for them to follow him single file, and he stepped through a hole in the mass of vines and underbrush. Soon they were following him through what seemed to be an impenetrable maze, sometimes crawling on hands and knees.
Once in the jungle Jaragu seemed to cast off all trace of his white heritage. He crouched and darted here and there. His alert eyes watched the trees overhead and the ground underfoot.
Nothing escaped his vigilance. The slightest rustle of a branch caused him to turn his head. His jungle training warned him to be on the alert, for here in this steaming tangle, death lurked at every turn.
Captain Adams, handicapped by his shoulder still in a sling, could not be so careful. The soft ground provided uncertain footing, and several times he staggered and would have fallen if Jaragu had not caught him and steadied him.
Then suddenly it happened.
They were passing across a stretch of soggy ground. The mass of trees and vines overhead shut off the daylight and made it almost pitch-black.
The Captain’s foot caught in a root. He staggered forward and fell alongside a rotting tree trunk.
“Don’t move,” Jaragu cried softly.
His keen eyes had caught sight of a large snake coiled and ready to strike, not three feet from the Captain’s head.
The Captain, recognizing the urgency of Jaragu’s tone, lay still as death.
Slowly and carefully Jaragu drew back his spear. He knew that to miss would mean the Captain’s death. The snake was the dreaded bushmaster, one of the most poisonous reptiles in the world.
A low moan of terror issued from Sunshine’s lips as he watched the tense scene.
The Captain lay motionless on the ground.
Jaragu’s steel muscles flexed. His hand was as steady as a rock.
Slowly the big snake reared its head. Its eyes were like flaming points of fire in the gloom. The ugly head weaved from side to side, but Jaragu knew it would be still for an instant just before it struck, and he waited for that instant, knowing all too well that fraction of a second would be all the chance he would have.
The ugly head stopped weaving and reared upward for the strike. Jaragu’s spear flashed. The point met the striking head and cut it asunder.
The Captain, uninjured by his fall, got to his feet gingerly.
“Thanks,” he murmured.
“A lucky shot,” said Jaragu modestly.
But the incident showed all too plainly the dangers of the jungle which they had to face.
They pushed forward again. The sun came up and occasionally found breaks in the thick canopy of trees overhead. Giant mahogany trees reared skyward.
“We will reach higher ground soon,” Jaragu said cheerfully. “We shall make better progress.”
As he spoke, he pointed to the south. The underbrush was thinning out and the ground was becoming firmer.
After a time they began to climb and the character of the forest changed. The trees grew farther apart and were larger. There were no more vines.
Then suddenly they reached a hilltop and were able to look back over the tree tops. The Village of the Dead was barely visible several miles to the north. On the calm waters of the straight separating Puyadas Cay from the mainland they could see two more war canoes. In the jungle below they could hear the warriors of Chief Chingana calling to each other as they followed their trail.
“Well,” Captain Adams remarked, “I see they’re still following us.”
“Come,” Jaragu said with a smile. “We must throw Chief Chingana and his men off our trail.”
“Nothing would suit me better, but how can we do it?” Captain Adams asked.
“There is a stream running down from the mountains not far from here,” Jaragu answered, and led the way upward. “It runs swiftly and with a stony bottom. We will wade up the stream and the running water will not leave our trail.”
“Yuh sure knows yore jungles,” Sunshine commented admiringly.
Jaragu led them straight to the stream and they waded up its course for a good quarter of a mile before Jaragu turned south again and led his companions over rocky ground.
They were high above the sea now, and the cries of their pursuers could no longer be heard. But Jaragu was cautious. He knew the keenness of the eyes of the Puyadas people.
“Let us rest here a few minutes,” he suggested, when they reached a sheltered spot behind several rocks. “While we rest we might study my father’s map,” the boy said.
The Captain spread the crude map out on a flat rock and explained the meaning of the lines and writing.
“The mine is located at the point where it is in line with the western tip of Puyadas and the south peak, and where a line drawn from the north peak to the Village of the Dead crossed the first line.”
The Captain traced the lines for Jaragu and the boy nodded to indicate that he understood.
“I have heard of the mine. Chief Chingana knows of it and he will search for us there.”
Jaragu looked at the Captain questioningly.
“It will be dangerous to go there but from what you have told me gold is very useful in your country. Without it you cannot buy food, so I must take the risk,” he said.
The Captain’s first impulse was to tell Jaragu that the gold was not worth the risk, but he knew that to have any real chance to win a place among white people this half savage boy would need money.
“It’s your mine, Jaragu. You’ll need gold to learn the ways of your own people. If you don’t think the risk is too great we’ll try it.”
“We will not have to stay long. I have heard stories that the gold is in little sacks and ready to be carried away. Perhaps we can get it and be gone before Chingana’s men come.”
“How far do you think it is to the mine, Jaragu?” the Captain asked.
Jaragu studied the mountains ahead of him for a moment.
“About a half day’s march,” he said. “From what the map says the mine must be high on the mountain. With good luck we should reach it before sundown.”
“In that case,” the Captain said quickly, “we’d better be moving along.”
“Yes,” Jaragu answered and smiled, “and on the way we must do what we can to get food and water. We cannot eat and drink gold, and even though we had all the gold in the San Blas country we would die of hunger and thirst.”
“Jaragu,” the Captain said kindly, “always keep that thought uppermost in your mind and you’ll be happy.”
“I will try, sir,” Jaragu answered. “Today, since we dare not fire your guns, I will show you how a spear is more valuable in the jungle than all the gold of the El Chico mine,” he went on. ‘‘I will find meat before the sun has set.”
So saying, Jaragu picked up his spear and led the way toward the mountains.
The afternoon was almost gone before Jaragu made good his boast, but when the time came he made it good with a vengeance.
They were climbing steadily now. The jungle spread out below them.
Suddenly Jaragu halted and raised his hand as a signal for silence.
Without a word the boy motioned Sunshine and the Captain to stay where they were. Then he moved forward with the swiftness and silence of a shadow.
“I don’ see nothin’,” Sunshine grumbled.
But the Captain signaled him to be still.
Jaragu had halted at the rim of a tiny mountain plateau. Then they saw what Jaragu had seen minutes before. Four mountain deer were moving uneasily toward the forest. They sensed the nearness of an enemy but as yet they hadn’t seen Jaragu.
With the same sure deliberation he had shown in killing the deadly bushmaster, Jaragu hurled his spear.
Straight and true it went toward the largest of the stately deer. It was a twenty-five-yard throw, but Jaragu’s powerful muscles sent the weapon deep and true into the deer’s body.
The animal gave one bound into the air and fell dead. The rest of the deer darted off and disappeared into the woods.
“A marvelous throw,” the Captain cried and rushed to the dead animal. “You are a better shot with a spear than most white men are with a rifle.”
“There is no time to lose,” Jaragu said quickly, but he smiled with pardonable pride. “Chief Chingana and his men will come soon.”
Swiftly and expertly Jaragu cut off the choice quarters of the deer, and a few minutes later they were pushing on up the mountain slope, Jaragu easily shouldering the additional burden of the fresh meat
“We must be near the mine now,” he said as the sun sank behind the high peaks.
“We’d better be,” the Captain replied grimly.
As he spoke, he glanced down the mountain. The trees and shrubs were thinning out and offered little or no protection if they were attacked.
Night was upon them before Jaragu’s sharp eyes singled out the black hole in the mountain side that marked the entrance to the mine.
“There is a hole in the mountain,” he cried.
“Mebbe it’s jes’ a cave,” Sunshine objected.
“No,” the Captain replied, rushing forward. “It’s the mine. I can just see the timbers around the entrance. I’m sure of it!”
“We must be careful,” Jaragu warned. “Chief Chingana may have guessed we would come here and sent his swiftest spearmen to head us off.”
“It’s too dark to see, Jaragu,” the Captain answered. “How are we going to find out if there’s anyone in the mine?”
“Wait here,” Jaragu answered.
Before they could stop him he glided into the shadows and approached the entrance to the mine from above.
A few minutes later he reappeared out of the darkness. He came so noiselessly that he was almost beside the Captain before they saw him.
“The way seems clear,” he reported. “Come!”
Sunshine and the Captain followed Jaragu to the entrance of the mine.
“Wait, Jaragu,” the Captain warned. “Let me throw my flashlight beam in there before you go inside.”
“I have been inside,” the boy answered simply.
“I wouldn’t have gone in there without a light for all the gold in the world,” the Captain replied with admiration.
“I went only far enough to make sure Chief Chingana’s spearmen were not waiting for us at the entrance.”
The Captain pulled his flashlight out of his pocket, but Jaragu put his hand out and stopped him.
“Wait until we are inside where the light cannot be seen from below,” he suggested wisely.
It was so black inside the mine that it was impossible to see a hand held right before one’s eyes.
“Put your hand on my shoulder and have Sunshine put his hand on yours,” Jaragu advised.
They did as Jaragu advised.
The trio moved forward in this fashion, stumbling over rocks and bumping against the walls, for some little distance.
“We go south now,” Jaragu warned, taking a sharp turn.
Suddenly the floor of the mine sloped downward.
“I have a brush torch. We can use that now and save the magic one,” Jaragu said at last.
He had never seen a flashlight before the Captain had shown him his, but he understood that it would burn itself out if used and could not be replaced in the jungle. Although the Captain had tried to explain how electricity was stored in the batteries, it seemed some form of magic to the jungle boy.
“I’ll strike a match,” the Captain answered.
But before he could do so there was a savage snarl. A heavy body struck Jaragu and hurled him to the floor of the mine.
“Jaguar,” Jaragu cried as he fell.
The Captain whipped his flashlight out and snapped it on. In the pool of light they saw Jaragu and the big cat, caught in a frantic embrace, rolling over and over on the floor.
The jaguar clawed and sank his teeth into the boy’s shoulder.
The Captain drew his revolver, but he dared not fire for fear of hitting Jaragu.
Jaragu was fighting back. His powerful hands caught the beast by the throat. His fingers sank into its windpipe and its breath rattled in its great mouth, but still it clawed and bit with desperate fury.
“Hold this light, Sunshine,” the Captain cried.
Sunshine took the flashlight with trembling fingers.
Dropping the gun and drawing a long-bladed hunting knife, the Captain boldly flung himself upon the jaguar.
Once, twice, three times, he drove the knife into the beast’s body. The third time it reached the jaguar’s heart. With a convulsive jerk the great cat became a dead weight upon Jaragu’s chest.
Gasping with exertion, the Captain pulled the dead animal off Jaragu. Then he bent over the boy to see how badly he was hurt.
Although his shoulder was bleeding and his body was slashed in many places by the knife-like claws of the jaguar, Jaragu tried to get to his feet. The Captain held him down firmly.
“Wait,” he cried. “We’ve got to bandage you up or you’ll bleed to death. That cat almost finished you, lad.”
“What you did was not so good for your broken shoulder,” Jaragu answered with a weak smile.
“Never mind my shoulder,” the Captain replied tersely.
Swiftly and expertly he worked to stop the blood flow from Jaragu’s ugly cuts. The jungle-bred lad did not wince or whimper once.
While the Captain was binding up Jaragu’s wounds, he ordered Sunshine to light the brush torches. They had fashioned several of them, under Jaragu’s instructions, on their way up the mountain.
Sunshine did as he was told and ignited three.
The torches gave off a smoky yellow light. In the dim glare, the men stared blinkingly at each other. They saw that they were in a long narrow passage.
The jaguar that had attacked Jaragu was a female, but no one had had time to notice this.
Just as the Captain finished working over the boy, Sunshine let out a yell.
“Quick, Cap’n! Lawdy! Dere’s a lot more o’ dem jaggers in heah, suh!”
“Where, Sunshine?” the Captain asked, reaching for his rifle,
“Back farder. I sees their yaller eyes!”
The Captain looked in the direction Sunshine’s shaking finger pointed. He saw four pairs of eyes glowing like fire with the reflected light of the torches. Suddenly he laughed.
“I think we can handle those without Jaragu’s help,” he said.
With a deep sigh of relief he turned the beam of his flashlight on four baby jaguars. The cubs were about as large as ordinary house cats, but they had plenty of spirit and fight. They snarled and spat as the Captain approached them.
Suddenly the Captain halted and stared in amazement. The jaguars were huddled together in a nest of bags. One of the bags was broken open and its contents sprawled out on the floor of the mine. It looked like powdered sand.
“Look, Sunshine,” the Captain said in an awed tone. “Those cubs have been sleeping on a bed of GOLD!”
Sunshine rushed forward. Greedily he reached out to take one of the sacks, but a young jaguar sprang out and raked his hand with its sharp little claws.
Sunshine let out a yell that echoed and reechoed through the tunnel that was half cave, half mine.
“Wait, Sunshine,” the Captain warned.
Stripping off his coat, the Captain threw it over the cubs. In a few minutes the four young jaguars were trussed up in a sack.
As the Captain and Sunshine set about gathering the gold, Jaragu got to his feet and helped them. For all his cuts he seemed none the worse for his desperate battle with the big cat.
“There is more gold than we can carry,” the Captain said. They worked swiftly to find the strongest sacks. Some of the sacks were so rotted with age and dampness that they broke at a touch. Their contents trickled out on the ground until a fortune lay scattered about in the dirt.
It was a fantastic scene.
For a moment the Captain and Sunshine, who knew the value of this precious metal, forgot everything else. But to Jaragu it was only so much yellow stuff out of which he could make ornaments such as the San Blas people wore in their ears and as bracelets around their arms on festive occasions.
Jaragu was puzzled by the Captain’s excitement, but he was alert while his companions sorted the bags of precious metal. He listened for sounds he seemed to expect to come.
“We must go,” he warned. “This mine is a trap.”
Even as he spoke he heard a signal cry outside the entrance. It was answered by another and then another.
“Chingana’s men have come!” he said grimly, and sped to the entrance of the mine.
The Captain grabbed his rifle and revolver and followed Jaragu, heading back to the entrance of the mine. When they neared it they stopped to reconnoiter.
The moon was coming up, and in the bright light of it they could see the pygmy figures of Chingana’s men darting among trees and rocks as they closed in on the tiny clearing before the opening to the El Chico mine.
“It would be death to try to escape them,” Jaragu warned in a whisper.
“Let’m come and I’ll give them a taste of lead,” the Captain answered grimly.
“They will rush us soon,” Jaragu said. “If we pile up these rocks we will be safe from their spears,” he suggested.
The two men set to work.
Swiftly and as silently as possible they rolled the loose stones into place. Sunshine joined them and lent a hand. Some moments later they had a barricade as high as their shoulders across the entrance. It left only a small space about two feet wide through which the Captain could shoot.
They finished their work none too soon. Chingana’s full force arrived while they labored, and the crafty chief had completely surrounded the entrance with a wall of spears.
Suddenly with a chorus of savage cries the natives rushed forward.
Spears whistled through the air and crashed against the rock barricade. One or two found the narrow opening and sailed into the tunnel.
The Captain crouched behind the barricade and waited until the closely massed line of warriors was within a dozen paces of the entrance.
Jaragu crouched beside him with a spear he had picked up in one hand, and his hunting knife in the other.
Sunshine stood at one side with a heavy rock in each tightly clenched black fist.
On the savages came and still the Captain held his fire. He had too little ammunition to waste any of it. He knew, besides, that the flash and roar of the revolver would have a far greater demoralizing effect when fired right in the faces of the onrushing natives.
An instant later, believing they had met no resistance, the savages flung themselves upon the rock barricade. Some tried to tear it down. Some hurled their spears through the opening at the top.
“That is good,” Jaragu whispered to the Captain. “We can use those spears.”
Suddenly the narrow opening was blocked by the bodies of three savages as they tried to crawl through together.
Jaragu accounted for one with his knife. The Captain took another with the butt of his revolver, and Sunshine gleefully struck the third savage with one of his heavy stones.
The three impetuous savages tumbled out of the hole and fell upon their fellow tribesmen outside.
“Now we’ll teach them a lesson,” the Captain cried. He poured five shots in quick succession into the packed mass of struggling spearmen.
With cries of terror the warriors fled to the shelter of the rocks and trees.
“They won’t attack again right away,” said the Captain.
“No,” Jaragu agreed. “They’ll wait and starve us out.”
All that night Jaragu and his companions took turns at standing guard. Jaragu was right in his assumption, for Chingana withdrew his men back out of range of the Captain’s guns and laid siege to the mine.
The sun came up in a cloudless sky. There was not one Puyadas warrior in sight, but Jaragu knew that each bush and rock surrounding the entrance to the mine hid one of Chief Chingana’s warriors.
All through the long hot day they watched. They ate sparingly of the deer meat which Jaragu broiled over a small fire.
“We have enough food for a week,” Jaragu said grimly as they chewed on their portions of meat.
“But our water is almost gone.”
“I wonder if there might be a spring somewhere in the mine,” the Captain suggested.
“No,” Jaragu answered. “I have searched everywhere. There is none here. But I have a plan.”
Jaragu pointed to a narrow defile running down the mountainside a hundred yards to the left of the entrance to the mine and explained his plan.
“There is a small stream there,” he told them. “When it is dark and before the moon comes up I shall crawl out and get water.”
Both Sunshine and the Captain protested that the risk was too great for Jaragu to try such a feat.
“It is the only way. We must have water,” he insisted. “Neither of you could hope to get through the circle of Chingana’s men and back again without being seen. I can do it,” he said with self-assurance.
The Captain admitted the truth of this, and together they drew in the dirt a plan of the course Jaragu would take. The Captain insisted on crawling outside in order to cover Jaragu’s return with his gun should the jungle boy be discovered by the enemy.
When at last the thick shadows of night covered the mountain Jaragu and the Captain worked their way out through the opening.
The Captain crawled behind a rock near the entrance and watched Jaragu move toward the enemy guards that encircled them. Over the boy’s shoulder was slung an empty native water bag.
Jaragu moved forward stealthily on his hands and knees. He made no sound at all. Every few feet he flattened himself on the ground and listened to determine whether he had been noticed.
Once he passed within a few feet of a spearman. The little man sat huddled up behind a rock, for it was cold on the mountain height at night.
But the guard did not even lift his bowed head as Jaragu passed.
Jaragu reached the mountain stream without mishap. He carefully filled the pigskin water bag he carried, and then he started the dangerous trip retracing his way to the mine.
It was harder returning because of the heavy water bag, now filled. He followed the same route he had used in coming, but as he neared the rock where he had passed the lone spearman on the way out, he saw half-a-dozen of Chingana’s men blocking the way.
Jaragu stopped to consider.
His cunning, jungle-trained mind instantly devised a means of getting them out of his path. He picked up a large stone and hurled it far down the slope.
The ruse worked. The rock landed far down and rolled farther with a fearful clatter. There were startled cries from below, and the group between Jaragu and the mine rushed down the slope to see what was the matter.
Springing to his feet Jaragu made a dash for it. He was halfway to the mine entrance before the trick was discovered.
A guard cried the alarm. A spear whistled over Jaragu’s head. Darting from side to side, Jaragu ran like a deer.
Chingana’s men rushed forward in hot pursuit, but Captain Adams fired a volley of shots into their midst.
Appalled at the gunfire, they fell back in confusion.
“That was a close shave, Jaragu,” the Captain greeted the boy. “In with you,” he urged, while he himself backed toward the entrance firing two more shots to cover their retreat.
Safely behind the barricade, Jaragu unslung his full water bag with a broad grin of pleasure.
“Now we can hold out for at least a week,” he said triumphantly.
“In the meantime,” the Captain answered, “we’ve got to plan some means of escape.”
For two more days and nights Jaragu and his companions took turns at standing guard. Chief Chingana’s men did not attack again, but they showed no signs of giving up their siege. They knew that the prisoners could be starved out.
“Chingana doesn’t mean to let us get out of here alive,” the Captain remarked at the close of the second day.
“We have food and water enough for three more days,” Jaragu replied.
“Where is Sunshine?” the Captain asked suddenly. “I haven’t seen that black rascal for some time.”
“He took a torch and went back into the mine,” Jaragu answered. “But that was hours ago. Perhaps he has lost his way. There are many passages and deep pits.”
“One of us had better go look for him,” the Captain asserted.
But before they could settle who was to go they heard a call from far down the passage of the mine.
A moment later Sunshine came running up, waving his torch and shouting for joy.
“I’s found it! I’s found it!” he yelled.
‘‘Found what?” the Captain demanded.
“A way outa dis place,” Sunshine gasped, out of breath. “The mine leads inter a cave an’ the cave goes down ’n’ down ’n’ down. Law’, but I thought I’s gonna come out in China but I ain’t.” Sunshine’s eyes were as round as an owl’s in the cave.
“Where did you come out?” the Captain asked trying to control the eagerness he felt.
“ ’Bout a quarter mile down the mountain, I should jedge, Cap’n. It’s jes’ a li’l hole all covered with bushes. It ain’t never been used in a long time, I guess. I jes’ stumbled on it kinda accident like, suh.”
“You’re a lifesaver, Sunshine,” the Captain praised. “What do you think, Jaragu? Can we give Chief Chingana’s men the slip by going out that way?”
“I feel sure that Sunshine has found a way out,” Jaragu replied. “But we must start immediately. It will be dark by the time we reach this lower opening and we must cross the mountains in the night.”
They hastily packed up their food supplies.
“What ’bout all dat gold?” Sunshine asked.
“We will each take one small bag. If we find it gets in our way we’ll have to drop it,” the Captain decided.
Jaragu set about building a fire.
“We must make Chief Chingana think we are still here,” he said.
The jungle boy selected wood for his fire that was slow burning and smoky. He wanted it to last as long as possible after they had gone.
“Now,” the Captain said when all was in readiness for their retreat. “Lead the way, Sunshine.”
“I sure hopes I can find dat way out agin,” Sunshine avowed fervently, as he led the way down into the depths of the mine.
It was a long, stumbling journey.
Sunshine was successful. He led Jaragu and the Captain to the hidden exit from the mine. It was dark when they reached it and they set out across the mountains without delay.
As they looked back up the mountain, they could see the campfires of Chief Chingana’s warriors in a circle around the main entrance to the mine.
“Are you sure there are friendly white people beyond the mountains?” Jaragu asked. “I have never been beyond the mountains.”
“Yes,”, the Captain answered. “There are towns on the Pacific coast and a railroad running down into Columbia. But the coast and the railroad are a good fifty miles away, and between here and there lies a country no white man has ever laid eyes upon.”
“This region is peopled by the Hatu,” Jaragu warned. “They are little men, even smaller than the men of Puyadas.”
“I’ve heard they hunt with blow guns.”
“Yes,” Jaragu replied. “They shoot feathered darts from long hollow pipes. The tips of the darts are dipped in poison.”
“I don’ hanker to meet up with any o’ dem little fellers,” Sunshine remarked.
By dawn they had crossed the mountains and started their way down the western slope.
“Look,” Jaragu cried suddenly.
The youth pointed to the jungle far below.
“There is a river flowing toward the south. It would take us to this Pacific Ocean you have told me about.”
“That’s our best bet,” the Captain agreed. “If we can reach that river and build a raft we’ll be safer than trekking through the treacherous jungle.”
They pushed on as fast as their load of food and gold would permit, but before the sun was halfway up the heavens Jaragu called a halt.
“We have been seen, and are being followed,” he warned. “A moment ago I saw one of the Hatu watching us from a high tree as we passed. He will signal the tribe.”
“You’re right, Jaragu. Listen!” the Captain said.
The lad nodded, for he had heard the sound.
Through the jungle came the slow, menacing boom of a signal drum. A moment later they heard another drum, and then another, and another.
“Come,” Jaragu urged. “We must reach the river before they can gather their tribesmen together or we are lost!”
For an hour they pushed on at a jog trot while all around them the jungle echoed and re-echoed to the throb of native drums. Their presence had been discovered, and the jungle telegraph was carrying the message.
“We must be getting near the river,” Jaragu observed as the ground became soft underfoot and the trees and vines became more thickly entangled.
Even as Jaragu spoke these encouraging words, there was a faint hissing sound.
With a sharp thud a feathered dart whizzed over his head and stuck in a tree behind him.
“There he is,” the Captain yelled.
Whipping out his revolver he fired at a little brown man crouched behind a bush. There was an answering cry of pain, and the bushman dropped his blow-pipe and fled into the jungle.
“He don’ like dat,” Sunshine observed with a grin.
The trio jogged on.
“I see the river,” Sunshine called a moment later.
They rushed pell-mell toward a small clearing on the bank of the stream, just as a party of the little men were closing in on them.
“I’ll hold them off with my revolver,” the Captain promised. “Sunshine will help you, Jaragu. Get to work on a raft. Use trees, logs, vines. Use anything you can lay your hands on. It’s our only chance of getting away from these little devils.”
Jaragu and Sunshine set to work with feverish haste.
As the afternoon wore on, the jungle around the clearing swarmed with increasing numbers of the little men.
Once some of them tried to come close enough to use their deadly blow-pipes, but the Captain winged three of them and the roar of the revolver terrified the rest.
After that the pygmies kept their distance and seemed to be waiting for darkness before closing in again.
By sundown Jaragu and Sunshine had flung together a crude raft made of logs bound with vines.
“I hopes it don’ come apart,” Sunshine remarked, as he eyed the swiftly flowing river that seemed to be alive with crocodiles.
“We’ll have to chance it,” the Captain asserted. “Quick! Put the gold and food on it. We’ll get it in the water while there’s still enough light to see by.”
They struggled and heaved to get the heavy raft into the water. The Captain had to lay aside his gun to help.
Seeing that their quarry was about to escape, the little men grew bolder and began to close in. They were ready to attack.
At last the raft was in the water and floating.
“Now,” cried the Captain, “in with you!”
Together they waded out into the stream, pushing the heavy raft before them. They then climbed aboard, and Jaragu seized a long pole he had fashioned to help keep the raft in midstream.
Meanwhile, the little men of the jungle had not been deceived. They rushed into the clearing with wild shouts of rage. A rain of poisonous darts sailed toward Jaragu and his friends. All fell short but one.
As fate would have it that one dart struck Sunshine in the fleshy part of the shoulder, and he fell forward with a cry of fear and pain.
Knowing that the tiny dart was tipped with deadly poison, the Captain acted accordingly.
“Keep the raft in the middle of the river,” he called to Jaragu and sprang to Sunshine’s side.
He rolled the black boy over and tore his shirt from his back. There was no time for trifling. Unless something was done and done quickly, Sunshine would be past saving.
The Captain seized the feathered dart and jerked the barbed point from the boy’s flesh. Sunshine clenched his teeth and groaned. Swiftly the Captain took his hunting knife and cut the wound open. Sunshine flinched and mumbled to himself, but he managed to keep from crying out.
“Steady,” the Captain murmured softly.
Then the Captain pressed the wound open and sucked out the blood and poison. Taking a bottle of iodine from his first-aid kit, he poured it into the cut and bandaged the wound.
The Captain knew that it was safe to suck Sunshine’s wound, because the poison was of a kind that was harmless in the stomach but deadly in an open cut or scratch.
All through the night Sunshine’s body fought off the poison. His face and hands swelled up to twice their normal size, but he lived through the agony. Toward dawn his breathing became easier and he was able to take a little food.
During the night Jaragu and the Captain took turns keeping their raft in midstream. As the river widened, the danger of attack from the shore grew less, but at dawn a new danger presented itself.
They came to a long reach of the river and saw two dugout canoes afloat, waiting to intercept them.
There were several little men in each canoe, all armed with the deadly blow-pipes.
“Lie down on the raft, Jaragu,” the Captain warned. He himself crawled to the front end of their cumbersome craft.
As they drifted within range the Captain aimed carefully. Making every shot count he picked off three men in each of the two dugouts. Seeing the fate of their comrades, the others paddled frantically for shore.
“I hope they don’t try that again,” the Captain said grimly, and showed Jaragu his gun.
He had exactly two cartridges left.
The Captain’s hopes were fulfilled. The little men had learned their lesson. They did not attack again. As the sun was setting once more, the trio saw the most welcome sight that had met their eyes in many a day.
It was a railroad bridge.
At the end of it they found an outpost of army men.
An armed guard took them in and fed them, and later that night transported them down to the seacoast town of Palma in a small motor launch.
“Well, Jaragu,” the Captain said after he had taken Jaragu to a store to be outfitted. “We brought out enough gold to keep you for life, and now we’re taking you back to your own people.”
“You must take half of the gold, Captain,” Jaragu replied. “If there is not enough for all of us, then perhaps one day we will go back to the mine for more.”
“Well, we shall see,” Captain Adams answered. “But come now, Gerald.” The Captain chuckled as he called the boy by his right name. “I guess we’d better leave that jungle name of yours back in the mountains along with your loin cloth and your spear.”
“Yes,” the boy answered, and examined his new white tropical worsted with pleasure. “I suppose ‘Jaragu’ would be a strange name for anyone who owns such a fine suit.”
“Suppose we compromise on ‘Jerry,’ ” the Captain suggested. “Don’t worry. You’ll get used to living like a white man in no time. I’ve chartered a schooner to take us to Panama City and from there we’ll take a big boat to New York.”
“I will like that,” the boy answered smilingly. “Sunshine has told me that there they have houses that reach up to the clouds and trains that run under the ground. I shall want to ride on one.”
“You can ride all you like, Jerry,” the Captain answered heartily. “But now we must go and join Sunshine on the boat.”
Captain Adams had found the gold mine he had set out to look for when his plane had crashed. To be sure, it turned out to be somebody else’s property, but he looked at Jaragu—or Jerry, as he must call him now—with a proud, swelling of his heart. Perhaps, he decided, he had found something worth far more than gold, for Jerry already was regarding Captain Adams as his foster father.
Ahead was happiness, and new adventures, too, perhaps.
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